Iraqi Kurdish freelance journalist Omed Haje Baroshky is serving a three-year prison sentence for allegedly misusing communication devices, disobeying authorities, and involvement in illegal gatherings.
Kurdish police arrested Kurdish Iraqi freelance reporter Omed Baroshky in the city of Duhok on September 13, 2020, after summoning him to the Nawroz Police Station. His arrest came hours after he was released on bail, paying 3 million Iraqi dinars (US$2,500) following a 27-day detention for allegedly violating a law forbidding the misuse of communication devices, according to Aihan Saeed, the Duhok representative of the Metro Center for Journalists’ Rights and Advocacy who spoke to CPJ via messaging app. The new arrest was part of an investigation into a second violation of the same law.
Baroshky was a freelance reporter after he left his job at news website Prs media, which is affiliated with the opposition Kurdistan Islamic Union. From June until his arrest, he contributed to outlets including the opposition broadcaster NRT, which is owned by Shaswar Abdulwahid, a businessperson and leader of the opposition New Generation Party, according to news reports. Baroshky describes himself as a journalist and activist on his personal Facebook account, where he often posts criticism of the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party and has over 1,500 followers.
Dindar Zebari, the regional government’s coordinator for international advocacy, told CPJ in September 2020 that Baroshky was re-arrested on the grounds of a new lawsuit against him for again allegedly violating the law on misuse of electronic devices. Zebari did not specify what Baroshky allegedly did to break the law and CPJ was unable to determine who filed the lawsuit.
According to CPJ’s review of Baroshky’s Facebook page, he posted just once in the period between his release and his rearrest, when he wrote: “Just like other arrests, this arrest was no doubt made because they are afraid of the freedom-loving, rights-wanting people of Badinan and they tried to silence Badinan’s dissent.” Badinan is another name for Duhok and adjacent areas where the Kurdish Badini dialect is spoken.
Saeed told CPJ he believes that Baroshky was initially arrested on August 18, 2020, for two social media posts: one video on Facebook that shows Kurdish security forces raiding the home of activist Badal Barwary, and another Facebook post the same day, in which Baroshky wrote that the KDP security forces broke Barwary’s son’s hand during the raid.
On June 22, a Duhok court in the northwestern Iraqi Kurdish city of Duhok sentenced Baroshky to one year in prison on two counts of improper use of his media devices, according to Saeed, and Ragaz Kamal, founder of the local human rights group 17 Shubat for Human Rights, both of whom spoke to CPJ via messaging app. In addition to the jail term, Baroshky was fined 240,000 Iraqi dinars (US$165) for disobeying an order of a public official in violation of Article 240 of the Iraqi Penal Code, according to those sources.
Baroshky’s defense lawyer, Reving Yaseen, told the Iraqi Kurdish broadcaster NRT that the defense team has appealed the court’s decision.
Baroshky’s other defense lawyer Bashdar Hassan told CPJ via messaging app on September 7 that no date has yet been set for Baroshky’s appeal and he is also facing three counts of anti-state charges. A hearing on those charges had been initially scheduled for September 13 but was postponed until October 12 and then postponed again for October 19, according to news reports.
Saeed told CPJ via messaging app on September 20, 2021, that Baroshky will face the same charge as the rest of the imprisoned journalists, namely Article 156 of the Iraqi Penal Code, which states that any acts with intent to violate the independence, unity, or security of the country can be punished with life imprisonment.
On September 20, 2021, Baroshky began a hunger strike, according to a human rights activist who spoke to CPJ on the condition of remaining anonymous for fear of reprisal. The strike was ended in late September, Ragaz Kamal told CPJ via messaging app in early November.
In an email to CPJ on September 29, Dindar Zebari, the Iraqi Kurdistan regional government’s coordinator for international advocacy, said Baroshky’s conviction was not related to his journalistic work. In another email sent to CPJ on October 5, Zebari said that Baroshky is not registered with the Kurdish Journalists’ Syndicate — even though journalists are not legally required to register with the syndicate under the Kurdistan Press Law — and he didn’t state that he was a journalist during the investigation and the court hearing.
Zebari added that Baroshky is currently being held at the Asayish General Directorate in Erbil.
On September 23, 2021, an Erbil court convicted Baroshky on two counts of defaming the regional government of Duhok and the Duhok police on social media, and extended his imprisonment by six months for each charge, according to news reports and Saeed, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app. Separately, the court acquitted Baroshky of defaming a lawmaker with the ruling Democratic Party of Kurdistan.
On October 19, the Erbil criminal court sentenced Baroshky to an additional year in jail for violating Article 222 of the Iraqi Penal Code, which says that participation in or organization of illegal gatherings is punishable with up to 2 years in jail and a fine not exceeding 200 Iraqi dinars ($0.14), according to news reports and a statement by the non-profit Christian Peacemaker Teams.
Initially, Baroshky was expected to face charges under Article 156 of the Iraqi Penal Code of endangering national security and undermining the state.
According to the statement by the Christian Peacemaker Teams, Baroshky denied the accusations against him during the hearing and said that after his arrest he was brought to the Asayish prison and beaten by 20 people, including being hit in the back of his head with rifle butts, and held in an overcrowded cell.
Previously, Baroshky was detained by police while covering a teachers protest in May, 2020 and held for six days in Duhok, as CPJ documented. On August 13, he was assaulted by security forces while covering a ceremony to commemorate the murder of journalist Widad Hussein, CPJ documented.