Savan Abdulrahman – Iraqi Kurdistan
On 7 October, police forces attacked Sherwan Sherwani’s house in Sebrian, a village near Erbil in South Kurdistan. They arrested him in front of his wife and three children.
Sherwan Sherwani is a journalist who writes opinion pieces and criticizes the government’s policies and practices through public speeches and his articles. Troublingly, it is twelve days since his arrest, yet no one knows about his health situation. His family and lawyers have been forbidden from seeing him.
Shahin, who is Sherwani’s oldest son, spoke to Zhian Medya: “My mother and I were sitting in the living room whilst the police forces attacked the house. My mother ran to the next room to wear her hijab. They brutally came in. My father tried to hide but they arrested him. They checked everything in the house. They confiscated my father’s laptop, camera and materials. They took possession of my mother’s phone until they had searched throughout the house. They then took my father and they left”.
Dindar Zebari, who is the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Coordinator for International Advocacy earlier announced that “Sherwani had admitted to receiving external funds to cause disturbance and complain about those with social positions in the region”. Rugesh Muheiadin, Sherwani’s wife, rejected what she saw as a false statement by Zebari and declared: “We still don’t have any news about my husband. I reject the accusation that my husband has made such a confession. He was arrested because of the violation of his freedom of speech. My husband has been arrested three times before, but none of them was as brutal as this one”.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, which is an independent, non-profit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide, has demanded that “Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq must disclose any charges against journalist Sherwan Sherwani. If they cannot do so, they should release him immediately”.
Niyaz Abdulla, a journalist and civil rights activist who is also a friend of Sherwani and who has collaborated with him on various occasions, states that the “Kurdistan region is at a very dangerous stage due to the group of political people who are currently in power in the region and who are ignoring human rights and freedom of speech”.
Abdulla added: “Arresting Sherwani in Erbil and transporting him to Duhok for the reason that his legal claim is there, is a very weak reason to use. This is not a correct way to take revenge on Sherwani just because he has written about corruption and because his words have found an audience.
“Zebari’s announcement is totally false. Even if Sherwani has admitted to that under harsh torture or if it is a fake confession under his name and even if they bring him on screen to force him to admit to this, to us he will remain a defender of human rights and we know he is a person who believes in peace and the civil rights struggle”.
The Being Free organization, which is an independent civil rights organization in Sulaymaniyah, issued this statement that was addressed to public opinion and the United Nations: “International organizations should create more pressure based on internationally recognized principles to make the government of Kurdistan adhere to the concepts of democracy and human rights”.
On 18 October, more than twenty civil rights organizations in Duhok and Sulaymaniyah protested about Sherwani’s lack of freedom and many activists participated in a ‘Free Shewan Sherwani’ initiative. They gathered in front of Sulaymaniyah court to protest against his detention and demand his freedom. In their press statement, they noted that “freedom of speech in the Kurdistan region is under the most extreme of threats”. In their statement addressed to the Kurdistan parliament and the United Nations, they called for “their support to stop these kinds of acts by the government and to immediately free all journalists who have been arrested because of violations of their freedom of speech”.
As of today, there is still no news about Sherwani, and the peoples anger increases daily due to the neglect by the government to solve the problems of corruption and the use of police forces to silence any critical independent voices demanding social and political change.