Baghdad [Iraq], February 20 (ANI): The sentencing of Iraqi Kurdish journalists Sherwan Sherwani and Guhdar Zebari to six years in jail "for jeopardising Kurdish national security" is "unfair and disproportionate", according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
The duo journalists were arrested in the Kurdish region of Iraq in October last year following their coverage of anti-government protests in Duhok, a province controlled by the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party, Al Jazeera reported.
On February 16, the freelance journalists were found guilty by an Erbil criminal court for putting at risk Kurdish national security, citing social media exchanges wherein they had criticised the government.
According to a report by Voice of America (VOA), Sherwani's lawyer said journalistic materials were presented as evidence of spying, and others pointed out that the region's prime minister had described the journalists as spies in a press conference a week before the trial.
"With this verdict, the Kurdish authorities are sending a clear message: the press freedom that they claim to defend and to uphold and to respect is not being respected," Ignacio Miguel Delgado, the CPJ Middle East and North Africa representative, told Al Jazeera.
"Iraqi Kurdistan keeps claiming that it's the only democracy [in the region] and it takes pride in that...But what we have witnessed throughout 2020 and into this new year is the exact opposite, at least as far as press freedom goes," said Delgado.
Meanwhile, the VOA has reported Sherwani as saying that he was tortured both mentally and physically during the investigation.
"While I was under investigation, I was not allowed to see my lawyers, I got tortured physically and mentally, they threatened me of raping my wife," Sherwani told the court. (ANI)