News

October 14, 2020

Iraq : Concern about Iraqi Kurdish journalist’s fate

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is worried about Sherwan Sherwani, an independent Kurdish journalist whose whereabouts and status have been unknown ever since his arrest a week ago in Erbil, the capital of northern Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan Region. His lawyer must be allowed to visit him at once, RSF said.

It was his lawyer who sounded the alarm about Sherwani, reporting that security forces arrested him at his Erbil home on 7 October and that, since then, no one has been able to discover where he is being held. Movement for Change representatives in the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad issued a statement saying his life could be in danger.

The Kurdistan regional government’s international advocacy coordinator, Dindar Zebari, has accused Sherwani of receiving “foreign funding with the aim of destabilizing the country” – a charge punishable by life imprisonment. Zebari has also accused him of endangering the lives of judges and encouraging violence during anti-government protests.

RSF has been told that Sherwani, who had information about a politically-sensitive matter, has been forced to confess to these offences, probably under torture.

“We are very concerned about Sherwan Sherwani’s fate in prison,” said Sabrina Bennoui, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “It is essential that the prison administration should allow his lawyer to visit him, and his family to communicate with him in order to be reassured about his state of health. The authorities must conduct judicial proceedings in a completely transparent manner and in accordance with their own constitution.”

This is not the first time that the Iraqi Kurdish authorities have harassed Sherwani. In 2012, he was arrested for investigating a case of corruption and was sued for defamation a few months later by a nephew of Masoud Barzani, the Kurdistan Region’s president. He received death threats during a referendum on Kurdistan’s independence in 2017. And he was briefly detained after covering a protest on the Turkish border in 2019.

Iraq is ranked 162nd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.