Political prisoners excluded from Iraqi Kurdistan general amnesty bill
The executive and legislative authorities in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq are attempting to pass a general amnesty bill that excludes imprisoned journalists and political prisoners, according to defence lawyers and Kurdish lawmakers, as well as revealed by an exclusive copy of the bill obtained by The New Arab.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) ministry of labour and social affairs, in coordination with the KRG council of ministers, has prepared the bill and plan to send it to the Kurdistan parliament to formalise it as a law.
What is at stake in the draft is that it does not include hundreds of Kurdish activists and journalists who have been sentenced under the Kurdistan region's code of national security, law number 21 for the year 2003.
"Crimes that were committed against the internal and external security of the Kurdistan region or Iraq are not included within the scope of the general amnesty," stipulates Item 2 of Article 6 of the bill.
Tens of Kurdish journalists and activists, most of whom have been sentenced for "endangering national security" on what many view are politically-motivated charges are currently being kept behind bars at the Adult Reform Prison in Erbil administered by the KRG ministry of labour and social affairs.
Journalists Sherwan Amin Sherwani and Guhdar Zebari, and activists Shvan Saeed, Ayaz Karam, and Hariwan Issa, who all have been sentenced to six years imprisonment in February 2021, are notable figures excluded from the amnesty.
Bashdar Hassan, a lawyer defending tens of imprisoned Kurdish journalists and political prisoners, said in a statement that as per the above-mentioned article, political prisoners will not benefit from the general amnesty, and called on the presidency of the Kurdistan parliament to drop the article.
"I think the journalists from Badinan area [of Duhok] were sentenced unfairly, and they should be included in the general pardoning bill," Zikri Zebari, a Kurdish lawmaker from the ruling Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and member in the Kurdistan parliament’s human rights committee, told TNA during a phone interview.
"Currently, the parliament is on its winter vacation, thus the bill might be discussed in March. We will continue with our efforts so that the general pardon will include most people. There are nearly 6,000 inmates in the Kurdistan region jails, it is not acceptable for all our prisons to be full of people," he added.
A spokesperson for the KRG ministry of labour and social affairs was not available to comment when contacted by TNA.
"Torturing of prisoners is not allowed at any reform prison related to my ministry. Initially, there were some cases of beating prisoners [at the KRG-run prisons], all those who tortured the prisoners were severely punished," Kwestan Mohamad, the KRG minister of labour and social affairs from the Kurdish Change Movement (Gorran) said during an interview with The New Arab last September.
A well-informed Kurdish source, speaking on condition of secrecy, said to TNA that the reason behind the pardon bill is that (KRG) is under pressure from international human rights organisations since its prisons run by the ministry of labour and social affairs are "too crowded and below the international standard".
The bill also does not pardon prisoners convicted under the Kurdistan region's anti-terror law and those convicted on charges of killing women under the pretext of honour.
According to the bill, special pardons will be given to various types of convicted prisoners at the reform prison houses run by the ministry. Those sentenced to execution will have their punishment changed to 15 years behind bars if reconciliations are reached with the complainers, otherwise, they would be imprisoned for 20 years.
In both scenarios, the period that the prisoners have already spent in jail will be taken into consideration in reducing their sentences.
"The KRG used national security reasons to justify systematically targeting critics, journalists, human rights defenders and other civil society activists through prosecutions. KRG security forces arbitrarily arrested tens of people for social media posts, news articles or reporting on demonstrations," Amnesty International said in its 2021-2022 annual report.
"The trial was marred by serious violations of fair trial standards, including convictions based on statements or 'confessions' extracted under duress, failure to provide in a timely manner the case documents to defence lawyers, and failure to order investigations into the defendants' claims of torture," Amnesty International's report added.