Guhdar Zebari, a journalist and activist in Iraqi Kurdistan, received a six-month extension to his prison sentence in a court ruling attended by diplomatic representatives from the Netherlands, Canada, Germany, France, Britain and the United States. The extra sentence was imposed for possession of what the authorities claimed to be an “illegal weapon”, which his mother said was an antique rifle dating back to Iraq’s British era.
The defence team representing the Badinan prisoners, of which Zebari is one, said that the Erbil court’s decision was “political, not legal”, and asked to appeal. Omed Baroshki, another journalist and activist, said that Zebari’s case had been politicised and noted also that his health was deteriorating after he had been on hunger strike. Baroshki urged human rights organisations to intervene in the court’s decision.
Zebari was initially arrested on 22 October 2020 by the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s (KDP) security forces and charged with espionage and sabotage. Despite a lack of substantial evidence, he was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison following a trial that took place on 15-16 February 2021. The sentence was upheld twice on appeal. Zebari was due for release on 16 August 2023.
However, Erbil security forces initiated a fresh case against him for possession of the antique rifle, leading to the recent extra sentence. This follows a previous extra sentence in March 2023, when Zebari received an additional seven months for “misuse of communication”, later reduced to five months.
Zebari has been separated from the other Badinan prisoners since 29 August 2022 after being accused of leaking information to the media. The prison security has put forward numerous different accusations to justify this separation.
The Committee to Protect Journalists Middle East and North Africa (CPJ MENA) expressed disappointment over the court’s decision, stating it was based on “flimsy accusations”.