Iraq : RSF and MRG ask UN experts to press for Kurdish journalist’s release

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Geneva-based MENA Rights Group (MRG) have asked UN human rights experts to do everything possible to obtain the immediate and unconditional release of Sherwan Sherwani, a Kurdish journalist who has been held for the past eight weeks by the authorities in northern Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan Region.

RSF and MRG referred the case to the UN special rapporteurs on torture and freedom of expression and to the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances on 27 November because of the arbitrary nature of this journalist’s arrest and the torture to which he has reportedly been subjected.


The referral by RSF and MRG stresses both the illegality of Sherwani’s arrest under Iraqi law and the allegations of torture, and calls for an impartial and independent investigation into his enforced disappearance and mistreatment in detention.


After ten plainclothesmen took Sherwani from his home in Erbil, the Kurdistan Region’s capital, on 7 October, his family and lawyer spent 19 days without knowing where or why he was being detained. It was only on 26 October that his lawyer was finally able to see him at the Kurdistan intelligence agency’s detention centre in Erbil, where he learned that Sherwani had been tortured during interrogation and was in solitary confinement.


“This journalist must be freed at once for the sake of his human dignity and his physical and psychological integrity,” said Paul Coppin, the head of RSF’s legal unit. “We call on the UN’s human rights experts to ensure that he is released without delay and that those responsible for mistreating him are prosecuted in accordance with international standards.”


Sherwani was arrested after a senior official in the Kurdistan regional government claimed on Twitter that Sherwani had received “foreign funding with the aim of destabilizing the country,” a charge punishable by life imprisonment. The official also accused Sherwani of endangering the lives of judges and encouraging violence during anti-government protests.


No evidence has been produced in support of these accusations and, according to the information gathered by RSF and MRG, the real reason for Sherwani’s arrest is his criticism of Masrour Barzani, the Kurdistan region’s prime minister, and his investigative reporting on Barzani’s alleged involvement in the deaths of journalists and human rights defenders in Iraqi Kurdistan.


This is not the first time that the Iraqi Kurdish authorities have subjected Sherwani to harassment and intimidation in reprisal for his journalism. In 2012, for example, he was arrested for investigating a case of political corruption and in 2019 he was briefly detained after covering a protest on the Turkish border.


Iraq is ranked 162nd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.