German consulate expresses concern about rule of law in Kurdistan Region

German Consulate General in Erbil (File)

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SULAIMANI — The German Consulate-General in Erbil said on Friday (October 22) that it welcomed the resolution provided by the trials of six activists and one journalist from Duhok governorate, saying that the results of the hearings "ended a more than year-long uncertainty for many of the defendants.”

Saying in a tweet that it observed the trials closely along with the United Nations and the European Union, the consulate stressed that it nevertheless had concerns about rule of law in the Kurdistan Region, particularly the authorities’ use of lengthy periods of pre-trial detention and their denial of access and family visitation for the defendants.

Over the past year, the security forces and judiciary in the Kurdistan Region, particularly those in places controlled by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), arrested and tried dozens of activists and journalists in Duhok and Erbil governorates, sections of which are collectively known as Badinan, as part of a crackdown on protests and public displays of criticism.

In statements, the German government has been one of strongest voices standing up for press freedom and rule of law in the Kurdistan Region, along with the European Union, Canada, France, and the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).

Numerous local and international human rights groups have criticized the conduct of the authorities in the Kurdistan Region, including Christian Peacemaker Teams, the Metro Center for Journalists’ Rights and Advocacy, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International for its handling of their cases.

In its tweet, the German consulate referred to three days of trials in Erbil this week, which saw six defendants convicted of various charges, one acquitted, and four whose trials were further delayed.

On October 19, activist and teacher Badal Barwari and journalist Omed Baroshki were convicted of Article 222 of the Iraqi Penal Code, which concerns involvement with illegal gatherings that incite violence, and sentenced to one year in prison,

They both maintained their innocence of the charges.

They had been in prison since August last year, so Barwari was released the following day on the basis of time served and returned home to Duhok.

In three separate trials since June, Baroshki was found guilty of two counts of violating Article 2 of the Communications Device Misuse Law and three counts of defamation and was sentenced to a total of two and a half years in prison for those alleged offenses, so he remains in custody.

Four activists were set to stand trial on October 20, but it was postponed until November 8.

On October 21, four other activists and teachers from Duhok were convicted of criminal conspiracy and sentenced to one year in prison by the court in Erbil, although they maintained their innocence. A fifth defendant was acquitted of the charge.

They are expected to be released soon on the basis of time served.

In addition to the defendants who were tried this week, three journalists and two activists from Duhok were tried and convicted in February on serious national security charges, which they strongly denied, and sentenced to six years in prison. They remain behind bars.

The trial and two subsequent denials of their appeals attracted significant international and domestic criticism of the KDP and the Kurdistan Region’s judiciary and security forces.

Another journalist from Duhok was also tried secretly on the same charges this summer and sentenced to seven years in prison.

Dozens of other activists from Duhok have been in pre-trial custody for more than a year with no resolution in sight.

(NRT Digital Media)