Journalist Qahraman Shukri sentenced to seven years in prison

Journalist Qahraman Shukri, imprisoned in southern Kurdistan, has been sentenced to seven years in prison in the absence of his legal counsel. The charges brought against the 24-year-old are unclear.

Journalist Qahraman Shukri has been sentenced to seven years in prison in the absence of his legal counsel. This was made public by family members of the 24-year-old. Zerevan Shukri told the RojNews news agency, which is based in southern Kurdistan (Kurdistan Region of Iraq), that his brother, who is imprisoned in the Zirka prison in Duhok, had told him in a telephone conversation about the sentence handed down by a court in the KDP-controlled governorate. On what basis Shukri was found guilty and what charges were brought against him, the journalist himself did not know. Neither his defense lawyer was informed about the court date last Thursday, nor his family, he said.

Not the first time in prison

Qahraman Shukri, who worked for RojNews and other aagencies, was arrested and abducted in Sheladize east of Amadiya at the end of January. During the raid by a masked special unit of the KDP, the apartment was vandalized and family members were insulted. It has only recently become known that Shukri is being held in Zirka prison. For months, the authorities refused to provide information about his whereabouts and the reason for his detention. However, this is not the first time that Shukri, a son of the well-known journalist Shukri Zaynadin, who was the victim of a murder by "unknown perpetrators" in late 2016, has been in prison.

Reason for arrest criticism of government?

Shukri was released on bail only last October after several months in prison. At the time, the security authorities accused him of being involved in organizing protests against attacks by the Turkish army in southern Kurdistan. In June 2020, Shukri had reported to the Kurdish television station Stêrk TV about a Turkish air strike in the village of Sîda near Sheladize in which four people were killed. Shukri had commented live on the massacre from the scene and mentioned that protests were planned in the region. He also criticized the passive attitude of the South Kurdistan government in the face of the deadly airstrikes. Earlier in 2019, Shukri had been arrested and detained for 22 days while documenting the Sheladize uprising against the Turkish military.

Destruction of the South Kurdistan media landscape

In southern Kurdistan, freedom of the press is not in good shape. Journalists work in a highly politicized environment in which the media are seen primarily as instruments in political competition. The Metro Center, based in Sulaymaniyah, attributes the repression of critical media professionals and the lack of press freedom in South Kurdistan to the ruling KDP’s extreme intolerance of dissent. According to the organization, which advocates for the rights of persecuted and harassed journalists, there were at least 385 attacks against 291 media workers and agencies as well as newspapers in 2020, including physical attacks, arrests, office closures, and apparently unfounded or wanton or harassing lawsuits. Not only the Metro Center and other local organizations, but also initiatives abroad have long expressed alarm about the situation of press freedom in South Kurdistan, including Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Especially since Prime Minister Barzani took office in July 2019, the situation for critical media professionals has been particularly dramatic.

Five journalists currently in detention

As of today, there are five journalists behind bars across Iraq. All of them are critical voices from the Kurdistan autonomous region who are to be silenced: Qehreman Şukrî, Omed Baroshki, Sherwan Sherwani, Guhdar Zebari and Ayaz Karam.