Letter from Kurdistan

Last night on national television the ABC afforded former Prime Minister, John Howard, the opportunity to rebut criticism of his government’s decision to invade Iraq and Afghanistan post 9/11. Howard repeated the justification and lies he and his followers used to take us into those wars. Howard failed to mention the millions who have died as a direct result. The ineptitude of the occupation of both countries is already well documented. Following on closely the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the fall of its puppet government, we publish these heartfelt pleas from Kurdistan in Northern Iraq where instability and injustice abounds. This letter (a second report) is from a community worker living in the region. Should the US withdraw from Iraq, will there be a similar takeover by fundamentalists as in Afghanistan? The main focus of the letter is the arrest and detention of 76 journalists and civil activists from the Badinan region. They are now on trial in a court of the (Kurdistan) regional government. – Ian Curr, WBT Editor, 19 August 2021

Kurdistan Update August 2021

My team attended two more trials for Badinan activists and continues to do advocacy for all those locked up on unjust charges.

In both these cases the witnesses brought forth were other imprisoned activists and as soon as they took the stand they denied the statements the judge had read and said they were not witnesses against the accused. Their bravery in court was awe inspiring. 

Sherwan Sherwani faced the court in Badal and Omed’s trial and said, “That statement is not mine. I was forced to sign it and 50 documents like it that I was never allowed to even read. I was being tortured and threatened.” 

Sherwan Sherwani’s son (click on CC for subtitles)

Ayaz Karam stood up in a similar manner, facing the room rather than the judges and pointing directly at the representative for the security council, saying “It is not mine. They forced me to sign this document. We didn’t have any rights!”

The courthouse was full of family and supporters even though they were not allowed into the courtroom. For many of them who had not been allowed to see their loved ones, this was the first time in months they could lay eyes on them for themselves. Even from inside the courtroom you could hear them roar as the witnesses were being brought down the hall. “Azadi, Azadi, Azadi!” (freedom, freedom, freedom). The security was yelling at them to stay behind the line but you could feel their desperation to just get close to their family members they had not been allowed to see for almost a year, family members who they had heard whispers of being tortured and had by now lost so much weight and had their hair turn so grey they were almost unrecognisable. Julie described it as almost a riot, with them standing on chairs, shouting and pushing back against the line of guards as the witnesses and accused were once again taken away and into closed Asaish custody. Away from the public eye, away from legal counsel, away from their family.

The security had seemed shocked that after all they had done and threatened these men still refused to witness against their friends. That they refused to bow down to fear, even as they accepted that there was unlikely to be any justice from the court.

One family member told us his brother had said, “Don’t worry about me anymore. There is no hope for me, don’t get yourself in trouble as well.” 

Today marks one year since Badal Barwari was first arrested. He was a teacher for 23 years. A community leader and non-violent activist. Since his arrest he has spoken to a lawyer once for 10 minutes. 

We are continuing to tell their stories and advocate for them at local and international levels and doing what we can to support their families and help with legal matters. I still hope that with enough pressure the KRG will just let them go.

We have also been continuing our campaign for villages on the border being bombed by Turkey. Mohammed and Julie drove to Duhok last week and met with the Deputy Governor to discuss the situation in the Nahla Valley. In the last year about 11 new checkpoints have been built in the area and the residents of the valley are finding it even harder to continue living there. 

These KRG* checkpoints have been built on the roads leading into the valley, effectively cutting them off from the rest of Kurdistan and locking them on the same side as the PKK*/Turkey conflict. Theoretically these checkpoints should not impede their travel to and from major urban centres but be there to stop PKK traveling through. In reality however they are being used to make arbitrary decisions and cause a multitude of difficulties for these Christian villagers. For a while they were not allowed to bring any flour through the checkpoints and another time they were only allowed to bring two kilos of tomatoes and another time family members were stopped from coming to visit.

We have been appealing to local Christian leaders and organisations who have some influence in government to ask for better regulation of the checkpoints, if they cannot be removed completely. The people want a list of what can or can’t come through and a way to get permission if they need it. This is hopefully a manageable request, especially for a government that likes to pride itself on looking after minorities. 

CPT community worker
in Kurdistan (Northern Iraq)
19 Aug 2021

* PKK = Kurdistan Workers’ Party – The Australian National Security lists the PKK as a terrorist organisation. It is fighting for an independent Kurdish state, autonomy and increased human rights for Kurds within Turkey.
* KRG = Kurdistan Regional Government – the executive body of the autonomous Kurdistan Region of northern Iraq. The President of Kurdistan Region is also the commander-in-chief of the Peshmerga Armed Forces.

Click link to the CPT statement:

Accusation Without Evidence

Statement from CPT Regarding the Observation of Badal Barwari and Omed Barushky’s Trial

Omed Barushky, on left, and Badal Barwari, on right, have spent almost a year in prison without full access to their lawyers. Witness Statements

On 29 July 2021, CPT observed the court trial for the Badinan activists Badal Barwari and Omed Barushky. Badal Barwari has been a teacher for 24 years, as well as a  political organizer. Omed Barushky is an independent journalist who is 21-years-old. Badal and Omed were imprisoned in August 2020 after they organized a demonstration where they demanded the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) pay the salaries of government employees. 

Prior to Badal and Omed’s court case, CPT observed all of the announced court trials involving activists and journalists from the Badinan region imprisoned for their criticism of government corruption. After witnessing several court appearances of the Badinan activists and journalists, CPT is confident that if given a fair trial, all of the prisoners would be immediately released. The lack of evidence is astounding. In each trial, witnesses brought forth by the Security Council and Prosecution have sided with the Defense. Each witness directly stated that they will not testify against the prisoners because the evidence being used is completely fabricated. Several witnesses have also confirmed that their written testimonies were drafted without their knowledge and consent and the witnesses were forced to sign them under conditions of torture. 

The most recent trial of Badal and Omed revealed that the cases of the Badinan prisoners are contingent on one statement signed by Sherwan Sherwani. During questioning at Thursday’s trial, the representative of the Security Council stated that this document was used as sole evidence in the arrest of Omed and Badal, as well as several additional activists from the Badinan region. 

Sherwan was then brought forth as a witness for the side of the Prosecution on behalf of the Security Council. Sherwan stated to the judge that all the information in the documents containing his signatures was false. Sherwan said he was forced to sign approximately 50 documents while he was being beaten and security forces were threatening to sexually assault his wife. Sherwan was not allowed to read what he had signed and is hearing their contents for the first time in various trials for fellow activists now called the “Badinan Prisoners.” 

In addition to Sherwan, Eyaz Karam, Guhdar Zebari, Hariwan Issa, and Shvan Saeed were all summoned by the Security Council to provide testimony on Thursday. When brought before the judge, Eyaz Karam told the  court, “This statement is not mine.” He pointed at  the Security Council  representative and said, “They forced me to sign this document. We didn’t have any rights!”

“This statement is not mine. They forced me to sign this document.”

All witnesses summoned to provide evidence for the Prosecution have denied that they are witnesses for the Prosecution, stating time and again, “That is not my statement”, and “No, I am not a witness to this,” solidifying the position of the Defense. 

The documents that Sherwan Sherwani and fellow prisoners signed under torture have been used to arrest and detain several civil society activists and journalists involved in organizing public protests and bringing forth the issue of corruption and non-payment of salaries by the Kurdish Government. 

Furthermore, the physical condition of the Badinan detainees is very concerning. They have all drastically lost body weight. Several have also exclaimed that they were tortured during brief statements in court. 

Finally, it is appalling  that the Badinan activists and journalists have been denied access to their lawyers, some for the entirety of their detainment.  As Badal and Omed were forced out of the courtroom by Asayish security on Thursday, Omed shouted to a room full of Parliamentarians, Lawyers, and International Observers, “I have been in prison for a year and haven’t seen my lawyer yet!” These were the only words spoken by the defendants in court that day. Badal’s lawyer reported to CPT that he was only allowed to visit his client once, in a ten minute visit with Badal’s oldest son. As soon as this visit changed to address  issues of his client’s case, the security forces immediately ended the conversation. A fair trial cannot be held if the defendants are not allowed to explain their case to their lawyers prior to trial. 

“I have been in prison for a year and haven’t seen my lawyer yet!”

— Omed Barushky

CPT calls for the immediate release of Badal Barwari and Omed Barushky and all of the Badinan Prisoners. Lack of evidence, statements signed under torture, and denial of access to defense is overwhelming cause for these trials to be thrown out of a free and fair court. 

A summary transcript of the Prosecution’s witness statements for the court trial of Badal Barwari and Omed Barushky (as reflected in notes taken by CPT during the court proceedings) can be found here: Witness Statementscptik


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