On 28 April, the Kurdistan Region's Court of Appeal in Erbil upheld the six-year prison sentence against Badinan activists and journalists Sherwan Sherwani, Guhdar Zebari, Hariwan Issa, Ayaz Karam, and Shvan Saeed.
In its ruling, the court rejected the defendants’ claims of torture and other ill-treatment, citing lack of evidence, while confirming the charges brought against the five activists and journalists include receiving money from the consulates of the USA and Germany, sending sensitive information to foreign entities and cooperating with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The court's decision straight away resulted in international condemnations by foreign countries and international organizations.
The US, Germany, France, and Canada condemned the decision of the court regarding the imprisonment of journalists and activists in Duhok.
German Foreign Office in a statement said, "we are very concerned about references to contacts of some of the accused with the German Consulate-General in Erbil in the court of cassation's justification for its decision. Informative and regular exchange with civil society, with journalists and activists, is part of the daily work performed by diplomats around the world and is an expression of a vibrant civil society to which the Government of the Region of Kurdistan-Iraq also attaches great importance."
The US Consulate General stated that their country hopes that every government will respect the diplomats who meet with journalists and various people to complete their transactions.
"We are also surprised by the references to meetings with foreign consulates in court docments; meeting with foreign diplomats should not be a crime. The UK calls for full and scrupulous adherence to due process and the rule of law in the KRI, as everywhere else in the world," the British Consulate General said in a statement.
Furthermore, International organizations in defense of the Badinan activists intervened and condemned the court's decision.
The International Organization of Freedom and Human Rights asked the Kurdistan Regional Government for the release of the activists, along with compensation for their illegal detention, also asked "for a quick investigation into their trial, their transfer to another city, their detention in an inappropriate place and their torture during the questioning.
"In the events of the government not releasing the journalists and civil activists, Freedom and Human Rights Organization will issue a complaint in the international court to put pressure on the judicial authority in the Kurdistan Region-Iraq. The organization also asks all consulates to halt granting visas to the participants of the trial," The International Organization of Freedom and Human Rights said.
Committee to Protect Journalists also called on the KRG to respect freedom of the press.
"Today’s sentencing of journalists Sherwan Amin Sherwani and Guhdar Zebari is not only unfair and disproportionate, but it also proves that the Iraqi Kurdistan regional government has finally dropped the pretense of caring about press freedom," CPJ Middle East and North Africa Representative Ignacio Miguel Delgado said. "Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq should immediately release both journalists, drop the charges against them, and cease harassing the media."
Amnesty International also joined the list of foreign bodies to condemn the Kurdistan Region’s court's decision.
"The decision of the Kurdistan Region's Court of Appeal to approve the imprisonment of the 5 journalists and activists of the Badinan region, has sparked many condemnation and anger at various levels, in a way that puts the region’s reputation under accountability, especially since the detainees were "convicted" for visits they made to official international consulates that operate in Erbil," In a letter to KRG Coordinator Office for International Advocacy (OCIA), Dr. Dindar Zebari, Amnesty International said.
Political parties in the Kurdistan Region including the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Goran, also said they viewed the verdict as an attack on freedom of expression.
The co-presidents of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan condemned the court's ruling on many occasions.
Lahur Talabani, PUK co-president said he calls "upon the esteemed President of the Kurdistan Region to use his powers, and spare the courts from any political interference, dissolve the sentences of the Badinan detainees, and to counter the attacks on the diplomatic missions."
During his recent meeting with the European Union's Ambassador to Iraq, Martin Huth, Lahur Talabani said, "we believe the court decision will have a negative impact on the reputation of the government and the Kurdistan Region, which we have fought for, for many years and sacrificed to reach the current state".
"We have not been with political punishment, we will not be with it, we do not want Badinan youth to become victims of political objectives, we will continue our attempts to liberate them, and I ask the president of Kurdistan to use his powers on this issue and we must all prevent this dangerous development," PUK co-president, Bafel Talabani said.
Twelve MPs from Goran published a statement on social media saying that the sentence “goes against the international human rights treaties and the freedom of expression.”
Furthermore, A senior official from the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Adham Barzani in February said, "I hope Kurdistan's judicial authorities review their ruling about sentencing the Badinan detainees. I hope this review will lead to the return of the detainees to their families."
Violation of the detainees' rights
In a TV program called "Lagal Ranj", which was aired on Rudaw TV, Lawyer Ghazi Zangana, a cadre of Lawyers Organization Office of 2nd Branch of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), who has no tie with the case claimed that the lawyers of the arrested journalists and activists were present during the investigation stage of the 5 journalists and activists.
Lawyer Bashdar Hassan, a member of the team of lawyers of the journalists and activists of Badinan, denied to PUKmedia that they had any presence during investigations with them, saying that "they were not even allowed to see them."
"We have made a statement to answer those allegations and reveal the truth, and we affirm that apart from not being there, we have not even been allowed to see the 5 Badinan journalists and activists during the stage of the investigation not even a second," he explained.
"According to information available to Amnesty International, the five men are detained in overcrowded cells with no room to sleep, stand or walk. Throughout their detention, the five activists and journalists were forcibly disappeared, some for more than three months," Amnesty International said.
PUKmedia - Baha Amin