Questions hang over Kurdistan Region’s judiciary after treatment of Badinan journalists, activists: speaker

Freedom of expression trending ‘backward’
Speaker of the Kurdistan Parliament Rewaz Fayaq (File)

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SULAIMANI — Speaker of the Kurdistan Parliament Rewaz Fayaq has criticized a controversial six-year prison sentence handed down against five activists and journalists from the Badinan area, saying that no one would be doubting the court’s decision if they had been treated fairly.

In an interview with Voice of America (VOA) published on Friday (April 16), Fayaq said that residents’ ability to freely express themselves in the Kurdistan Region is trending backward.

Journalists Sherwan Sherwani, Guhdar Zebari, and Ayaz Karam and activists Shvan Saeed Omar and Hariwan Issa were detained in Duhok and Erbil governorates, sometimes referred to as the Badinan region, in the autumn as part of a crackdown on protest organizers and journalists by the local security forces, which are affiliated with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

On February 16, they were convicted of conspiring to undermine the security of the Kurdistan Region and sentenced to six years in prison, despite the defendants denying the charges and saying that statements presented by the prosecution contained things they never said and had been obtained through coercion.

Local and international human rights groups and press freedom advocates roundly condemned the verdict as a violation of democratic norms and the rule of law, not least because KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani appeared to personally intervene in the judicial process during a press conference ahead of the trial by calling the defendants “spies.”

Fayaq told VOA that “what I was able to do personally and as a parliament speaker, I tired my best, but that was not enough.”

“I should have done more for them,” she added.

Commenting on the issue of New Generation Movement MP Kazim Faruq’s exclusion from Parliament after he threw his shoes during a session earlier this month, Fayaq said that he can return if he apologizes or lawmakers decide to overturn the vote excluding him.

Faruq has declared that he will never apologize.

The speaker also said that efforts to craft a constitution for the Kurdistan Region are ongoing.

“There is no one who would not like the Kurdistan Region to have a constitution,” she said, adding that wanting one and navigating the political currents to actually approve and implement such a document are separate matters.

(NRT Digital Media)