AI Index: MDE 14/016/2006 (Public)
News Service No: 079
28 March 2006
Iraq: Prosecutions threaten freedom of expression in northern Iraq
Amnesty International is greatly concerned by the prosecutions of two critics of the Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq and the threat these pose to freedom of expression in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region.
Kamal Sayid Qadir, an Austrian national of Kurdish origin, has been imprisoned since October 2005 for allegedly defaming Kurdish political leaders, while high school teacher and journalist Hawez Hawezi is facing prosecution, also on defamation charges.
Kamal Sayid Qadir was first tried in December 2005 before the Second Criminal Court in Arbil. He was charged with defamation arising from two articles which he had published on the internet, in which he strongly criticised the leadership of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), one of the two parties holding power in the Kurdish-dominated region of northern Iraq. The trial did not satisfy international fair trial standards and at the end of it Kamal Sayid Qadir was convicted, although he denied the charges and reportedly presented evidence to support his criticism of KDP leaders, and given an extraordinarily heavy sentence of 30 years’ imprisonment. This sentence was subsequently overturned by the Court of Cassation, which sent the case back to a criminal court in Arbil for re-trial. On 26 March 2006, the court imposed a new sentence of 18 months’ imprisonment.
While imprisoned prior to his December 2005 trial, Kamal Sayid Qadir was reportedly held incommunicado for three days in solitary confinement and denied food, water or access to toilet facilities. He says Kurdish intelligence officials coerced him into signing a statement relating to the defamation charges that were brought against him. He is also reported to be in fear for his own safety because of threats made against him by Kurdish intelligence officials and supporters of the Kurdish leaders.
Amnesty International does not have all the details related to his case but is concerned that Kamal Sayid Qadir may be a prisoner of conscience, who should be released immediately and unconditionally. The organization is also calling for a prompt, independent investigation into his allegations of ill-treatment in pre-trial detention and for any officials found responsible for such ill-treatment or other abuses to be held to account.
Hawez Hawezi, a 31-year old high school teacher and journalist, was detained on 17 March 2006 by security forces affiliated with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the other main party in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region. He was released on bail two days later, but also faces defamation charges for a recent article that he published in the Kurdish weekly newspaper Hawlati which criticised the local Kurdish authorities. He is reported to have been assaulted by PUK-affiliated security officials while being driven to the detention centre in Sulaimaniya after his arrest.
Amnesty International is calling on the Iraqi government and local Kurdish authorities to ensure that the charges against Hawez Hawezi are dropped immediately and unconditionally, and also to ensure that his allegations that he was assaulted by PUK officials are promptly investigated and that any officials found responsible are held to account.
Amnesty international is also calling on the Iraqi government and the Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq to ensure full protection of the right to freedom of expression and to review and amend existing legislation which criminalises the peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression.