A Kurdish-American activist files defamation lawsuit against KRG's prime minister  

A Kurdish-American activist files defamation lawsuit against KRG's prime minister  
A Kurdish-American citizen raises a legal case in the United States against Masrour Barzani, the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) on defamation charges.
5 min read
30 November, 2022
Masrour Barzani, the prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). [Getty]

Shnyar Anwar Hassan, a US citizen from the Iraqi Kurdistan region, has filed an "assault, battery, and defamation" lawsuit against Masrour Barzani, the KRG's prime minister, in the US District Courts, Virginia Eastern District Court, defendant lawyers and the plaintiff told The New Arab

Political magazine The American Prospect published an investigation by Zack Kopplin, a journalist working for the US-based Government Accountability Project on 7 December 2021. The investigation found that Prime Minister Masrour Barzani and his family owned several properties through shell companies - including an US$18.3 million CVS pharmacy in South Beach, Miami.

Shnyar and her husband, Sarkawt Shams, a former member of the Iraqi parliament, re-posted links to the story on Twitter and Facebook and translated the article into Kurdish.

On 9 December 2021, several news outlets in Kurdistan reported a statement in response to Kopplin's article that was issued in the Kurdish language by the Office of the Prime Minister of the KRG, in which it falsely and maliciously claimed that Shnyar and Kopplin – whose names were not included but were immediately identifiable – were having an extramarital affair.

"Masrour Barzani, current prime minister of Kurdistan, falsely accused Shnyar Anwar Hassan, an activist for women's rights and free speech in Iraqi Kurdistan, of having had an affair with a journalist who had written an article showing that Masrour Barzani and his family have secret, illicit wealth that they use to invest in properties and other hidden investments in the United States and elsewhere," John P. Rowley, an American lawyer defending Shnyar, told TNA via email.

"The allegation of infidelity, made in a statement issued on December 9, 2021, was a reckless and dangerous statement in a conservative religious society like that of Iraqi Kurdistan," Rowley said.  

"We are taking steps to formally serve Masrour with the Complaint. Once that happens, proceedings will begin in the federal court in Alexandria, Virginia. This will include the discovery process authorized by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (e.g., requiring Masrour to produce documents, requiring Masrour to attend a deposition at which we will pose questions about his threat, etc.)," Rowley added. "We have asked the court for a trial with a jury comprised of men and women who live in Northern Virginia. We plan to take Masrour's deposition by videotape and under oath. He is not required to personally attend the trial but if he does not, the court and jury will understand that he chose not to attend, and they will judge him accordingly."

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"This lawsuit is seen as the only recourse left to Ms Anwar Hassan to set the record straight and directly address the slanderous and false accusation by Mr Barzani and repeated by his allies online and in the media. We believe this is an important case, and I am confident that a trial jury will agree.  I am happy to answer any additional questions you may have. Thank you for your interest," he further said. 

"WHEREFORE, Plaintiff Shnyar Anwar Hassan respectfully requests that the Court enter judgment in her favour and against Defendant Masrour Barzani, awarding Plaintiff: A. Compensatory damages of not less than US$25,000,000, or in a such additional amount to be proven at trial; B. Punitive damages to the maximum extent permitted by the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia but not less than US$350,000 on each count; C. Expenses and costs, including attorneys' fees; and granting such other and further relief as the Court deems appropriate," according to a copy of Shnyar's complaint sent to TNA by her lawyer.

"Last year, Masrour Barzani issued a defamatory statement against me to threaten my life, it was a call to kill. My only problem with him is that I posted on my Facebook page about his undeniable reports of his corruption in the United States. I seek justice in the United States as an American citizen to make him pay the price for his actions," Shnyar told TNA via WhatsApp.  

TNA contacted Jotyar Adil, the KRG official spokesperson, Safeen Dizayee, the head of the KRG foreign relations department, and Lawk Ghafuri, head of the foreign media affairs, but they either did not answer to requests for comment or declined to comment. 

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"This is something that really should be getting some attention in U.S. media and just isn't? Obviously, I'm extremely biased here because it disrupted my life too, but it's stunning that such a big press freedom issue is being ignored," Koplin wrote on Twitter after Shnyar tweeted that her lawyers had filed the lawsuit against Barzani.

 The Government Accountability Project, on 9 December 2021, hit back at the PM office's statement, calling it "libel".

"Rather than addressing the serious allegations, Masrour Barzani accused our investigator of being motivated by having an affair with a Kurdish anti-corruption activist. Our investigator has never met this activist," their statement read.

"This is a sexist and libellous attempt to distract from the Prime Minister's corruption. It is also a dangerous abuse of power, coming from the office of the Prime Minister," the statement added.