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Family of jailed Iraqi-Kurdish journalist fear he is being tortured

Relatives plea for Sherwan Sherwani's freedom

THE family of jailed Iraqi Kurdish journalist Sherwan Sherwani issued an emotional plea for his release today amid fears that he is being tortured by Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) intelligence officials.

His wife, Rugash Izzaddin Muheiadin, said that their four children, Shahin, Shahbaz, Shahzad and Shalin, were deeply traumatised after seeing their father being handcuffed with a gun pointed at his head as they stormed the family home last week.

In an open letter, she appealed to the British and German consulates in regional capital Erbil to press the KRG for information on her husband’s whereabouts and his immediate release.

“My children have been traumatised; they want their father back. It is the fourth time that my husband is taken and his crime is that he is a free soul and wants freedom and equality for all.

“We want Kurdistan to progress. We want journalists to be able to write without fearing intimidation, torture or arrest,” Ms Muheiadin said.

The situation for journalists in Iraqi Kurdistan has worsened during the Covid-19 pandemic. Critics of the Kurdistan Democratic Party-led government have come under increased pressure, with censorship and jailing used to silence dissent.

In April, the Kurdistan government’s health minister demanded the suspension of the NRT television station for allegedly inciting the public to ignore the curfew.

The reasons for Mr Sherwani’s latest period of detention are unclear.

KRG international advocacy co-ordinator Dindar Zebari said that authorities have accused him of “receiving external funds to create turmoil,” a charge which he and his family have dismissed as “absurd.”

Mr Sherwani regularly writes about human-rights abuses and Turkish air strikes in Iraqi Kurdistan.

In the days before his detention, he published social-media posts critical of Prime Minister Masrour Barzani and asking legislators to question him about killings of journalists and human-rights activists.

Ms Muheiadin called on the KRG to stop the arrests, intimidation and violation of journalists’ rights.

“At a time when the entire world, and especially our part of the world, needs tranquillity, love, compassion, solidarity and freedom more than any time, my family is expressing this horror.

“This pandemic has brought more woes to our society's crisis. My husband has always fought for his freedom and he has never traded his freedom for anything, that’s the price he is paying now,” she said.

Ms Muheiadin pleaded for the international community to support her and her children’s fight for Mr Sherwani’s freedom, insisting that he is the victim of political repression,

“We want to be assured that Sherwan has not been tortured. Meanwhile, we also want Sherwan's lawyers to meet him. We also reject any confessions that he may make under torture or without presence of his lawyers,” she wrote.

The KRG was contacted for comment.

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