Berivan Ayoub, a woman who has been in pre-trial detention since October 2020 on a charge of being part of a WhatsApp group that is alleged to have been used in ‘planning sabotage against Iraqi Kurdistan’s national security’, finally faced court on 6 March. After a single hearing in an Erbil (Hewler) court, she was ruled guilty – with no evidence – and sentenced to a prison term of two years.
Mother of five Ayoub (36), was detained in the context of 2020 demonstrations in Iraqi Kurdistan that started in protest against the government’s failures in providing public services, especially water, electricity and roads, and over unpaid salaries.
Hundreds of activists like Ayoub, as well as teachers and journalists, were detained in the Badinan region in Duhok province and elsewhere during the 2020 demonstrations, and have been held in detention without access to court for extended periods of time. They beecamoe known as the ‘Badinan activists’, or ‘Badinan detainees’ in local and international news.
According to lawyers and NGOs, Ayoub was denied visits by her children and her lawyer throughout her 17-month detention.
Speaking to the New Arab in a phone call, Bashdar Hassan, head of a team of lawyers for the Badinan detainees and also Ayoub’s own lawyer said: “The court also refused to let us see the full charges against our client. The judge gave us only ten minutes to read 100 pages of charges filed against her.”
The judiciary in Iraqi Kurdistan is reported to rely on the statements of ‘secret witnesses’ or ‘secret informants’ in convicting the accused, just as the Turkish judiciary does in court cases involving Kurdish activists, and the secret witnesses are not always as reliable as expected.
“The KRSC [Kurdistan Region Security Council] has no proof of their accusations, and they basically depended on the statement of a secret informant. Moreover, the testimony of the KRSC’s witness is in fact in favor of Berivan, as the witness denied knowing her or having ever seen her before.”
Hassan also stated that Berivan Ayoub’s sentence was to be reduced by three months for each year of her prison term, and that she was expected to be released by the end of March.
Eighty prisoners, some of the Badinan activists among them, went on a hunger strike in February in protest against unfair trials and poor prison conditions, and the Kurdistan Regional Government now seems inclined to resolve the issue of the Badinan detainees through snap trials and prison sentences that will generally be roughly equivalent to the time already spent in pre-trial detention.
Furthermore, many Badinan detainees will now serve shorter sentences following a presidential decree by Nechirvan Barzani.
One of the best known activists in custody is Sherwan Sherwani, a journalist and human rights defender. His prison sentence is expected to be reduced through the presidential decree, by 50%, and considering the time he has been kept in custody, he is likely to be released in eight months.
The sentences of some other activists will be reduced by 60%.