A recent gas crisis in the Kurdish region of Iraq shows just how dangerous intra-Kurdish conflict can be.
Sulaimaniyah City, Iraq – Imprisoned Kurdish journalist Sherwan Amin Sherwani has been held in solitary confinement for nearly two months and was allegedly tortured by security forces in Erbil on “politically motivated charges”, his lawyer, wife and rights groups say.
Sherwani – editor-in-chief of monthly magazine Bashur, which is critical of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region’s political elite – was arrested at his home in Sebiran, a village on the outskirts of the capital Erbil, on October 7.
He was critical of authorities in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq on social media, especially the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the powerful Barzani family based in Erbil and Duhok provinces.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has been called out by international watchdogs for abusing human rights, restricting the civil liberties, freedom of expression, and freedom of the media.
Muhamad Abdulla, a lawyer defending Sherwani, told Al Jazeera in a phone interview his psychological state is deteriorating after being held in solitary confinement for more than 50 days.
“I met my client at Erbil General Security Directorate for only several minutes where Sherwani told me he has been tortured,” Abdulla said.
“His imprisonment has no legal basis. It is rather politically motivated since he is writing about the corruption of the Kurdistan region’s authorities.”
Abdulla said Sherwani was being accused of “endangering the Kurdistan region’s security”, attempting to participate in protests in 2018, and publishing confidential information.
He faces five years to life imprisonment if convicted, he added.
Abdulla accused KRG security authorities in Erbil of “injustice” in their nearly two-month interrogation of Sherwani. He said they mistranslated alleged confessions from Kurdish into Arabic and did not allow him to see the full list of charges against his client.
Dindar Zebari, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s coordinator for international advocacy, said Sherwani was arrested and detained based on a court warrant and he is subject to due process of the law.
“It is important to note that Mr Sherwani was arrested outside journalistic capacity. He is involved in libel, defamation, and other acts that endanger public safety,” Zebari said.
Al Jazeera contacted Tariq Nuri, spokesperson for Erbil’s security forces, but he declined to comment on Sherwani’s case.
The Rights and Freedoms Advocacy Committee, an NGO, published a statement on November 22 accusing the government of abuses after more than 280 people were arrested in August after a peaceful protest demanding civil servants’ salaries be paid.
“Among them were teachers, civil servants, journalists and human rights activists, some of whom have been subjected to physical and psychological torture, prolonged solitary confinement, and denied access to legal aid and visitations,” it said.
Rugash Izzaddin Muheiadin, Sherwani’s wife, said her son has been traumatised after witnessing his father being taken away forcefully by police. She accused security forces in Erbil of forcing him to sign altered confessions.
“My husband has been beaten and tortured since he refused to give his laptop’s password to the KRG security forces. His arrest is politically motivated as he was a critical journalist writing about corruption of the ruling parties, especially Erbil authorities,” Muheiadin told Al Jazeera.
Gulstan Saed, deputy chairwoman of the parliament’s human rights committee, said she has pressed KRG officials on Sherwani’s case as well as others in detention but has received no information from authorities.
“I have also sent a letter to the speaker of the parliament in which I disclosed there are beatings at the KRG detention facilities, and detainees did not have access to families and lawyers’ visits. These are all breaches of the law,” Saed told Al Jazeera.
Zana Khalid, another member of the human rights committee, said: “We did not hear those allegations of torture from formal sides. If those allegations are true then they are regarded as abuses against human rights. We are treating these with formal procedures, not what is being said on media.”
Rahman Gharib from the Metro Center for Journalists’ Rights and Advocacy said Sherwani’s arrest was the result of him expressing his opinions.
“Since Sherwani was a critical journalist, his case should have been treated according to the region’s code for regulating journalism. He should have been freed on bail,” Gharib said.
He called on international human rights organisations to call on the KRG authorities to free the journalist.