Sherwan Sherwani
Iraqi Kurdish freelance journalist Sherwan Sherwani was given an additional four-year sentence on July 20, 2023. He was previously due to be released on September 9. (Sherwan Sherwani)

Imprisoned journalist Sherwan Sherwani given additional 4-year sentence in Iraqi Kurdistan

Beirut, July 20, 2023—Iraqi Kurdish authorities should release journalist Sherwan Sherwani at once, drop all charges against him, and allow members of the press to work freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.

On Thursday, July 20, the Erbil criminal court sentenced Sherwani to an additional four years in prison over a complaint by the Erbil Adult Correctional Directorate for allegedly fabricating documents, according to news reports as well as the journalist’s lawyer and brother, who both spoke to CPJ over the phone.

Sherwani, who has been imprisoned since October 2020, was previously scheduled to be released on September 9, 2023, after his sentence was reduced by Kurdistan Regional President Nechirvan Barzani.

“Iraqi Kurdish authorities must drop all charges against journalist Sherwan Sherwani and free him immediately,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, in Washington, D.C. “With the latest decision to extend his imprisonment by four years, Iraqi Kurdish authorities are showing their determination to tell the world how vicious they can be against journalists.”

Sherwani’s lawyer, Ramazan Tartisi, told CPJ that the journalist was accused of falsely signing fellow imprisoned journalist Ghudar Zebari‘s name on a petition submitted by several prisoners in August 2022. Tartisi told CPJ that Zebari was in solitary confinement at the time but had given Sherwani permission to sign on his behalf. 

At a hearing on Thursday, “Zebari confirmed his consent for Sherwani to sign on his behalf, but the judge disregarded that and still imposed punishment on Sherwani,” Tartisi said.

The journalist received 2.5 years under Article 295 of the penal code, which pertains to falsifying documents involving debt or property, and 1.5 years under Article 298, which involves knowingly using a falsified document.

Sherwani’s legal team plans to appeal the decision, according to Tartisi, who described the decision as “unjust and harsh.” Sherwani and Zebari were both sentenced on February 16, 2021, on charges of destabilizing the security and stability of the Kurdistan region.

Barzan Sherwani, the journalist’s brother, described the ruling as “politicized,” adding, “our family will not be subject to such pressure.”

CPJ emailed the Iraqi Kurdish Ministry of Justice for comment but did not immediately receive any response. CPJ also repeatedly called the director of Erbil Adult Correctional Directorate for comment but no one answered.