Qaraman Shukri

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Iraqi Kurdish photojournalist Qaraman Shukri is serving a seven-year prison term after being convicted on anti-state charges during a closed trial in the northwestern Kurdish city of Duhok without a defense lawyer present. He was arrested in January 2021. 

At about 8:30 a.m. on January 27, 2021, Asayish security forces affiliated with Iraqi Kurdistan’s ruling Democratic Party of Kurdistan arrested Shukri at his home in Shilazdeh, a village near Duhok, according to news reports, the journalist’s uncle Shakr Zainadin, his brother Zeravan Shukri Zainadin, and Ayhan Saeed, the Duhok representative for the Metro Center for Journalists’ Rights and Advocacy, the local press freedom organization, who spoke to CPJ in phone interviews.

Shukri works as a freelance photographer and has contributed to the news website Roj News and the broadcaster Sterk TV, which support the opposition Kurdistan People’s Party, according to those sources.

Asayish agents seized the journalist’s electronic devices during his arrest and took him to an unknown destination, according to those news reports and Zainadin, who said that the agents, who arrived in seven or eight cars and wore full face masks, did not disclose any reason for Shukri’s arrest and did not present a warrant or any court papers. They also handcuffed Shukri and shoved the journalist’s mother during the raid, Zeravan Shukri Zainadin said. 

The agents “seized every electronic device they could find in the house, including cell phones, computers, and the kids’ tablets,” Zeravan Shukri Zainadin said.

“They subsequently broke into our [camera] store and seized all the cameras and the computers we use for work,” he added. “They took hard drives containing footage of weddings.”  The journalist’s brother said that he and Shukri often film weddings and other social events, but he believed his brother recently filmed local protests against Turkish airstrikes and over public servants’ unpaid salaries.

“He always carries a camera with him, and he would film the protests that have taken place here and send the footage for publication to broadcasters,” he said. “I think the authorities were very unhappy about this and that’s why he has been arrested.”

Saeed speculated that the arrest may have been prompted by a post on Shukri’s personal Facebook account, which CPJ reviewed but which has since been taken down, which included a statement by the co-chairman of the opposition Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party.

On January 27, 2021, a Duhok-based judge issued an arrest warrant for Shukri which accused him of violating Article 156 of the Iraqi penal code, a clause stating that any person who commits an act intending to violate the independence, unity, or security of the country can be punished with life imprisonment, according to Dindar Zebari, the Kurdistan regional government’s international advocacy coordinator, who communicated with CPJ via email.

The warrant alleges Shukri provided sensitive information about political, military, and administrative personnel to militants affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a political party active in the region. On February 9, 2021, Zebari emailed CPJ and said the case is related to a 2020 case involving Shukri’s alleged connections to that party. 

On June 24, 2021, Shukri told his mother during a prison visit that he had been sentenced to seven years in prison during a closed trial, according to news reports and the journalist’s brother, Zeravan Shukri, who spoke to CPJ on June 28 via messaging app.

Zeravan Shukri told CPJ via messaging app on September 7 that there was no defense lawyer present during the closed trial, where the journalist was convicted of carrying out anti-state activities. 

Shukri did not say when the trial took place or what laws he was convicted of violating, according to those sources; the journalist’s brother said the family is planning to send a lawyer to Zirka Prison, where Shukri is detained in the northwestern city of Duhok, to determine whether they can appeal the verdict. 

“Lawyers are still trying to figure out how to appeal the sentence. He is still being held in jail in Duhok. He calls home three or four times a week, but his situation isn’t good. He is complaining about his situation and no organizations are visiting him,” the journalists’ brother said.   

In an email sent to CPJ on October 5, Zebari denied the charges against Shukri were related to his work as a journalist and asserted Shukri had a public hearing with a lawyer. Zebari told CPJ that Shukri was convicted under Article 1 of Law 21, which says that acts with the intent to undermine the stability, sovereignty and security of the institutions of the Kurdistan region in Iraq are punishable with life imprisonment. 

“He has been arrested and convicted for being a member of an illegal armed organization and carrying out intelligence tasks for it. He is serving his prison sentence at Zirka Prison in Duhok,” Zebari said, adding that the journalist is allowed calls and family visits. 

Previously, Shukri was arrested at his home by Asayish security forces in late June 2020, and was imprisoned for nearly five months, according to CPJ research and news reports.