A number of civilians were killed by Turkish shelling and air strikes on the town of Sheladize (Şêladize) on 23 January 2019.
Thousands took to the streets protesting against Turkey’s military presence, but Nechirvan Barzani, President of the Kurdistan Region, targeted the protestors and announced that an investigation was to be launched against them.
Hundreds of people, including journalists, activists, writers and intellectuals were detained staright after Barzani’s statement.
The NRT TV team who made a live report of the reactions of the people in Sheladize were detained by Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) security forces on their way back to Duhoq after the broadcast. Their offices were shut down, and all their equipment seized, including cameras and memory cards.
As the pressure on journalists, activists, writers and academics gradually increased after the Sheladize protests, detentions and arrests continued in 2020.
House raids were launched on 13 June 2020 in Duhoq, Behdinan, Amiye, Şêladize, and Qeladize and continued for several days. Approximately 400 people were detained in the raids. 320 were released, but 76 were formally arrested.
Journalists and activists Guhdar Zêbarî, Harîwan Îsa, Şıvan Seid, Şêrwan Şêrwanî and Eyaz Kerîm were each sentenced to six years in prison on 16 February 2021 by Erbil (Hewlêr) Criminal Court.
The sentences given to the five were approved on 20 June.
In addition to the five journalists and activists each sentenced to six years, journalist Qehreman Shukri, was who had already been detained for five months in Duhoq, was sentenced to seven years imprisonment, and another journalist and activist Umêd Beroskî was sentenced to one year imprisonment on acharge of “inciting the demonstrations”.
According to the laws of the Kurdistan Region, all appeal channels against the decision are closed and only President Barzani can release the five by an “amnesty” decision. Lawyers, families, journalists’ organisations and non-governmental organisations have been calling on the Iraqi Kurdistan authorities and Nechirvan Barzani to release them.
“First, they claimed that the journalists and detainees had relations with the US, British and German consulates and that they were endangering the security of the Kurdistan Region; then they accused them of having relations with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party [PKK],” said Beşdar Hessen, the lawyer of the jailed journalists and activists in an interview with MA.
“None of these accusations were supported by legal evidence, but based on the testimonies of anonymous witnesses.”
Hessen clarified a point which he defined as a serious violation of current laws of Iraqi Kurdistan: “Citizens of the Kurdistan Region can visit any village they want, but visiting some villages has been deemed as working for the PKK, that is a spurious charge.”
”These are unlawful accusations,” he insisted. “Anonymous witnesses who work in the special forces testified against the journalists and activists, saying that they were working for the PKK. These claims are far from the truth.”
Stating that there is no concrete evidence as well as no crime, Beşdar Hessen said: ”They are trying to break the freedom and will of the people of Behdinan on behalf of these five people. The decision is political, not legal. The government is making the propaganda of freedom and democracy on the TV, but we are moving backwards each and every day.”
Hessen shared his view on the actual ground of why these five people were jailed. “They were jailed because they have reacted to Turkey’s attacks,” he said. “Turkey puts pressure on the KDP government.”
“Turkey does not want a mobility, a protest against them to take place in the region. such arrests are done in order to curry favour with Turkey. They have sentenced the journalists, the activists just because Turkey demanded so.”
“If we accept such unjust treatment, “Hessen added, “They will shut all our voices down and take all our freedoms away. We should prevent political arrests.”