Sherwan Amin Sherwani

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Journalist Sherwan Amin Sherwani was due to be released in September 2023 after he was jailed on an anti-state conviction, but before he was freed Iraqi Kurdish authorities handed him another four-year prison sentence for allegedly falsifying documents, which was later reduced to two years on appeal.

Sherwani is a freelance journalist who contributes to the independent news website Kiwan and provides reporting and political commentary on his personal Facebook account, which had over 10,000 followers before it was taken down shortly after his arrest. Sherwani covers human rights and corruption and has reported on Turkish airstrikes in northern Iraq.

At 4:30 p.m. on October 7, 2020, 10 Kurdish police officers raided Sherwani’s home in Sebiran, a village on the outskirts of the Iraqi Kurdish city of Erbil, and arrested the journalist, his wife, Rugesh Izzaddin Muheiadin, told CPJ. The Metro Center for Journalists’ Rights and Advocacy also reported on the arrest.

The police officers, four of whom were in plain clothes, seized the journalist’s two laptops, notebooks, and some CDs, Muheiadin told CPJ The officers held a gun to Sherwani’s head, handcuffed him, and pushed him into a car with tinted windows before driving away. She said the officers had a warrant for Sherwani’s arrest, but that it provided no information on why they were taking the journalist; nor did the officers verbally disclose the reason for the arrest.

In a statement sent to CPJ via email on October 11, Dindar Zebari, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s coordinator for international advocacy, said that Sherwani had been arrested under Article 156 of the Iraqi Penal Code, which states that any person who violates the independence, unity, or security of the country can be punished with life imprisonment.

Zebari said that during the preliminary investigation, Sherwani had confessed to receiving funds from abroad to fuel public disturbance, defame social and political figures, promote vandalism during peaceful protests, and threaten judges. He added that Sherwani had been arrested outside his capacity as a journalist, though did not provide further details.

Muheiadin, the journalist’s wife, told CPJ that she believed Zebari’s assertions were false, and she felt it was unlikely that Sherwani made the alleged confession.

Sherwani’s lawyer, Mohammed Abdullah, told CPJ via messaging app that he believes the journalist’s arrest was related to his reporting, although he did not know which specific articles may have drawn the attention of authorities. Abdullah said that during Sherwani’s interrogation, authorities beat the journalist until he handed over his passwords to his cell phone and laptop. He did not have any further details of the alleged beating.

In the days prior to his arrest, Sherwani had published posts on his Facebook account criticizing the Kurdistan region’s prime minister, Masrour Barzani, and urging legislators to ask the prime minister about killings of journalists and human rights activists in the region. CPJ was able to review the posts before the Facebook page was taken down. Muheiadin told CPJ she did not know why Sherwani’s Facebook account had been removed or by whom.

Sherwani was convicted on February 16, 2021, of being part of a group aimed at gathering security information and intelligence about Iraqi Kurdistan and relaying this information to foreign parties for the purpose of destabilizing the security and stability of Iraq’s Kurdistan region and sentenced to six years in jail, according to Sherwani’s lawyer, Mohammed Abdullah, and Rahman Gharib, general coordinator of the local press freedom group Metro Center for Journalists’ Rights and Advocacy, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app, and court documents that CPJ reviewed.

Sherwani pleaded not guilty, according to coverage of the trial published on Facebook by Ali Hama Salh, an opposition lawmaker who was present.

Prosecutors produced flimsy and circumstantial evidence to substantiate the allegations against Sherwani and his co-defendant, journalist Guhdar Zebari.

In a statement issued by relatives of the defendants, which CPJ reviewed, the Sherwani and Guhdar Zebari families said they believe the verdict was the result of political meddling with the judiciary, indirectly referring to remarks Prime Minister Barzani made six days ahead of the trial accusing the journalists and activists arrested in Duhok and Erbil governorates of being spies.

On April 28 and June 27, 2021 respectively, the Erbil Court of Cassation and the Kurdistan Region’s Court of Appeals upheld the six-year sentence of Sherwani, according to news reports and the court decision, which CPJ reviewed.

On February 23, 2022, Sherwani’s sentence was reduced by 60 percent following a decree from Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani, making him due to be released in September 2023, according to his lawyer Bashdar Hassan and Sherwani’s wife, who spoke to CPJ over the phone. However, on July 20, 2023 the Erbil criminal court sentenced Sherwani to an additional four years in prison after convicting him of falsifying documents. The new conviction stemmed from a complaint from the Erbil Adult Correctional Directorate which accused Sherwani 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 in July 2023, “Zebari confirmed his consent for Sherwani to sign on his behalf, but the judge disregarded that and still imposed punishment on Sherwani,” Tartisi said.

On October 29, 2023, Sherwani’s sentence was reduced to two years on appeal. He is held in Erbil Correctional Facility.

Sherwani was previously arrested on January 28, 2019, in Duhok, after he reported on Turkish airstrikes in Iraqi Kurdistan, and was held for 42 days on allegations of committing acts against the security of the state, as CPJ reported at the time.

In April 2012, Sherwani was arrested and held for several days in relation to two articles alleging government corruption, according to CPJ research.

In response to CPJ’s request for comment, Erbil Asayish spokesperson Ashti Majeed told CPJ in late 2023 that “the charges of the three imprisoned journalists are clear, their whereabouts are known. We don’t have anything else to share.”

CPJ messaged Dindar Zebari and Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, Senior Advisor to KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani in October 2023 for information about the journalist’s case but did not receive any responses.