Freelance journalist Sherwan Amin Sherwani has been detained by Kurdish authorities for weeks; CPJ is calling for his release. (Photo by Hushyar Sherkawaye)
Freelance journalist Sherwan Amin Sherwani has been detained by Kurdish authorities for weeks; CPJ is calling for his release. (Photo by Hushyar Sherkawaye)

Journalist detained for weeks in Iraqi Kurdistan, accused of anti-state acts

Beirut, February 21, 2019–The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned the prolonged detention without charge of freelance journalist Sherwan Amin Sherwani by Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq and called for his immediate release.

Sherwani, a Kurdish journalist and outspoken critic of the region’s ruling Kurdish Democratic Party, was arrested by party-affiliated security forces in the Iraqi Kurdistan city of Dohuk on January 28, and was accused by the Asayish intelligence service of committing acts against the security of the state; if charged and convicted, he faces a lifetime prison sentence, according to news reports and his lawyer, Xetab Omer, who spoke with CPJ.

Sherwani was on his way to a protest in northeastern Duhok when he was arrested along with 25 others, according to his lawyer. The demonstration was against the Turkish Army and local Kurdish security forces which, on January 26, had killed one protester and injured several others during a crackdown on a rally against Turkish airstrikes in the region, according to news reports.

“People in this volatile region are entitled to all the footage, facts, and opinions that they can get,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Representative Ignacio Miguel Delgado. “Reporting and criticism are not grounds for a day in jail, and we call on the Kurdish regional authorities to release Sherwan Amin Sherwani immediately and allow journalists to do their job freely.”

Sherwani’s Facebook feed shows that he often goes to protests to take pictures and live stream to his more than 10,000 followers. He had recently recorded and posted videos about the Turkish airstrikes in Iraqi Kurdistan, including one posted the day before his arrest naming all the people killed in such strikes since May 2017.

On February 1, Sherwani was moved to Zirka Prison in Duhok, which is run by the Asayish intelligence service, Omer told CPJ. According to his lawyer, the intelligence service has accused Sherwani of violating Article 156 of the 1969 Iraqi Penal Code–an accusation more severe than violating Iraqi Kurdistan’s press laws–which states that anyone who willfully violates the independence, unity, or security of the country can be punished with life imprisonment. Asayish agents have cited Sherwani’s posts on social media in their accusations, according to Omer.

Of those arrested en route to the protest, Sherwani and 18 others remain imprisoned and have been accused of violating Article 156, according to Ragaz Kamal, co-founder of local press freedom group 17Shubat for Human Rights, who spoke to CPJ.

On February 13, Sherwani was transferred to the Asayish-run Gishty Prison in Dohuk, where he has been in solitary confinement, according to Kamal.

Kamal told CPJ that Sherwani had been collaborating as a freelance investigative journalist with 17Shubat since 2016. Kamal said that, in early January, Sherwani’s research was featured in a video documenting politically motivated killings committed in the Dohuk and Bahdinan regions since 1991.

Sherwani is also the founder and president of Tekoshan, a nonprofit based in Dohuk that promotes ethical journalism and is licensed by the Kurdistan Regional Government.

On January 26, Asayish security forces detained two TV crews working for Kurdish broadcaster NRT, which had covered the protests, and shut down the broadcaster’s Dohuk office, as CPJ reported at the time, and the office remains closed.