Sherwan Sherwani

Live: Journalists condemn Sherwani treatment, Kurdistan financial crisis looms, Quran protests intensify

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Iraqi President meets with Christian religious figures

Iraqi President met with a number of Christian religious figures in Baghdad today, including Bishop Mor Ephrem Youssef Abba, Head of the Syriac Catholic Church, and Bishop Nerses Joseph Zabarian, Patriarchal Administrator for the Armenian Catholics. 

In a readout of the meeting published by his media office, the president emphasized his support for coexistence and all of Iraq's religious and ethnic minorities. "I won't side with anyone against anyone. I will stand in the middle with all of Iraq's sons an equal distance from everyone," he is quoted as saying as he explained the reasoning behind the retraction of the presidential decree.

The Christian delegation, for their part, stressed that the President is a key ally and they support all his decisions that comply with the law and the constitution, according to the readout.

Iraq's Christian minorities, heavily persecuted over the past two decades, are under immense pressure from all prominent political actors in the country. They're often compelled to issue statements supporting the decisions of ruling political actors in the regions they live in, both in Kurdistan and Iraq.
رئيس الجمهورية يستقبل مجلس الطوائف المسيحية والديانات الأخرى ويحضر وقفة احتجاجية ضد الإساءات المتعمدة للقرآن الكريم استقبل فخامة رئيس الجمهورية الدكتور عبد اللطيف جمال رشيد، اليوم الأحد 23 تموز 2023 في قصر بغداد مجلس الطوائف المسيحية الذي ضم المطران مار افرام يوسف عبا رئيس طائفة السريان الكاثوليك في بغداد، والمطران نرسيس جوزيف زباريان المدبر البطريركي للأرمن الكاثوليك، والأب مينا الاورشليمي رئيس طائفة الأقباط في العراق، والأب شمعون يونس أصلان مسؤول كنائس بغداد للكنيسة الشرقية القديمة، والأب يونان الفريد الوكيل العام لمطرانية الروم الأرثوذكس في العراق، إضافة إلى الشيخ أنمار عوده مهاوي أمين سر المجلس الروحاني الصابئي. وفي مستهل اللقاء، رحب فخامته بالوفد، معربا عن دعمه المتواصل للطوائف والأديان في العراق وبما يرسخ التعايش السلمي والتآخي والتكاتف بين جميع مكونات المجتمع العراقي، في هذا السياق أكد السيد الرئيس أن رئاسة الجمهورية ستخصص مستشارا لمتابعة شؤون الطوائف والأديان. وأضاف رئيس الجمهورية أن فخامته لن يكون مع أي طرف في اختلافه مع طرف أخر، وأنه يقف في منطقة وسط بين أبناء الشعب العراقي وعلى مسافة واحدة من…

Snap analysis of the CoIA's statement

Though the statement implies that Sherwani tried to falsify the others' signatures to submit the document without their knowledge, this isn't accurate. Neither of the two individuals has made any statements to such an effect nor have they brought any charges against Sherwani. In fact, one of the prisoners, whose fingerprint the government alleges Sherwani falsified, also had his term extended on charges relating to his car having an off-brand sticker.

As we mentioned before, the document in question was a mere formality at the time since, when it was signed, the prisoners should have already been free as they had officially served their full time in prison. However, the government delayed the release of all five prisoners to varying degrees.

Iraq's penal code itself is also subject to criticism by a number of human rights organizations and the KDP itself. Largely written when the country was under the control of a ruthless dictatorial government, many of its articles are outdated and regularly abused by both the governments in Iraq and Kurdistan to punish dissent.

KRG responds to Sherwani furore

The Coordinator for International Advocacy (CoIA) for the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has issued a statement in response to a report from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) regarding the extended imprisonment of Sherwan Sherwani.

According to the statement, Sherwani had submitted a document on behalf of all five Badinan prisoners, requesting the annulment of a previous request for "conditional release." They had already served their sentence when the President Nechirvan Barzani used his powers to reduce their sentences.

The CoIA reports that the fingerprints of two of the five individuals were "falsified." An investigation claims to have revealed that Sherwani had substituted his own fingerprint for that of another prisoner, which led to the General Prosecutor bringing new charges against him.

Sherwani's trial took place on June 20th, resulting in a four-year prison sentence based on Paragraphs 295 and 298 of Iraq's updated 1969 penal code, related to the falsification of "ordinary" documents.

Paragraph 295 stipulates penalties for falsifying an ordinary document that establishes debt, disposes of property, discharges a person from debt, settles debt, or can be used to establish rights of ownership. The penalty may be a prison term not exceeding seven years or detention. If it is the falsification of any other ordinary document, the penalty will be detention.

According to Paragraph 298, any person who knowingly uses a falsified document is punishable, depending on the circumstances, by the penalty prescribed for the offence of falsification.
Prime Minister Sudani held meetings today with prominent Shiite leaders and members of the Shiite Coordination Framework (SCF), Ayad Al-Allawi and Ammar Al-Hakim.

The prime minister's media office reports that both meetings emphasized the need for support of the government's program from all political factions.

Lacking significant independent political backing, the Prime Minister leans heavily on the politically-diverse and loosely-aligned SCF for support. He not only takes part in the SCF's regular meetings, but also frequently holds individual discussions with key leaders to ensure the ongoing support of his cabinet from all principal SCF players. Navigating these waters is a delicate balancing act as he attempts to appease a variety of political actors, often with conflicting interests and policies.

Masoud Barzani meets Cardinal Sako

KDP leader and former President of the Kurdistan Region, Masoud Barzani, met today with Cardinal Louis Raphael I Sako, the Patriarch of the Chaldean Church.

According to a statement issued by Barzani HQ, Sako praised the culture of coexistence in the Kurdistan Region and thanked Barzani for his role in promoting harmony, peace, and unity. He expressed his disapproval over the Iraqi President's decision to withdraw the presidential decree recognizing him as the Patriarch of the Chaldean Church, citing it as unconstitutional.

In response, Barzani welcomed the visiting delegation, assuring them that "Kurdistan is the land of coexistence." He also voiced disappointment at the President's decision, expressing hope for a reconsideration.

The President's move to retract the decree is widely perceived as politically motivated, coming amidst Sako's ongoing dispute with Rayan Al-Kildani, a prominent militia leader sanctioned by the US for human rights abuses. Sako has responded by choosing to relocate to the Kurdistan Region.

The KDP, spotting an opportunity to enhance relations with Christian minorities and improve its international image, was quick to extend a warm welcome to the Patriarch. Upon his arrival in Erbil, he was greeted by a high-level delegation, which included the Minister of Transportation, Ano Jawhar Abdoka (a Christian and member of a Christian party with strong links to the KDP), the Minister of Endowment and Religious Affairs, Pshtiwan Sadq Abdullah (KDP), and Fazil Mirani, the head of the KDP's Executive Committee.

Iraq offers to mediate end to Yemen war

Iraq's top diplomat said Sunday that the country is offering to mediate an end to the war in Yemen, which has raged on for years. The proposal was made by Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein during a visit from his Yemeni counterpart.

The conflict began when Iran-backed Houthi rebels seized Yemen's capital, Sanaa, in 2014. The following year, a Saudi-led military coalition intervened to support the internationally recognized government. The fighting, along with related factors such as food shortages, has led to hundreds of thousands of deaths. The United Nations has described the situation as one of the world's worst humanitarian crises.

A six-month truce brokered by the UN expired last October, but fighting has largely remained at a standstill. "Currently, there is an unofficial truce. In practice, there is some form of ceasefire... We hope this situation leads to dialogue between all Yemeni parties," Hussein said during a press conference with Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmed bin Mubarak.

"Iraq is ready to help in this matter. We have good relations with all parties. We can use our influence for stability and security in Yemen, and we can act on a regional level," he added.

Iraq has made several efforts to position itself as a regional mediator, hosting multiple rounds of relatively low-level talks between regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia starting in April 2021.

In March, Saudi Arabia and Iran announced the resumption of diplomatic relations in a surprise deal brokered by Beijing, a development that raised hopes for peace in Yemen. However, the Yemeni minister said, "Unfortunately, for now, we have not seen any direct impact of this agreement on the situation in Yemen."

"We remain hopeful," he continued. "We believe the time has come to put an end to this war in Yemen."

In April, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Yemen, Mohammed Al-Jaber, traveled to Sanaa as part of a plan to "stabilize" the truce. Although no agreement was reached, Jaber later said the warring parties are serious about ending the conflict.

The Danish Refugee Council's office in Basrah was subjected to an "armed attack" on Saturday. The non-governmental organization, which aids communities affected by displacement and conflict, was seemingly targeted in response to protests in Denmark that desecrated the Quran, the holy book of Islam.

Lilu Thapa, the organization's executive director for the Middle East, confirmed that "staff on the premises at the time were physically unharmed, but there has been damage to the property with structures set on fire." The NGO denounced the attack, stating, "aid workers should never be a target of violence."

While attacks on aid workers are relatively rare, the torching of offices is more commonplace in Iraq, where armed militias can easily target them with impunity. It remains unclear if the protests and violence sparked by events in Europe will continue in Iraq. Some militias have called on their members to target Swedish individuals based in Iraq, though no such attacks have been reported thus far.

Meanwhile, in Sweden...

Here's a totally organic and spontaneous expression of support for "the patriotic position of the directives of the Iraqi Prime Minister, the Honorable Professor Muhammad Shayaa [Sic] Al-Sudani"

The expensive looking protest banner is by the Iraqi Community Centre in Sweden's Media and Religious Committee.

Not sure what's odder, the protest itself or the fact media and religion share a committee.
بالصور.. وقفة مؤيدة لقرارات رئيس الوزراء محمد شياع السوداني من المكان الذي أُحرق به القرآن الكريم في السويد
Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak has made a rare visit to Iraq, where he's meeting several top officials, including his Iraqi counterpart Fuad HusseinPrime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani, and federal parliament Speaker Mohammed Al-Halbousi.

In a joint press conference, both foreign ministers emphasized their nations' friendly ties and vowed to deepen relations further. Hussein expressed Iraq's readiness to support any political initiative aimed at restoring peace in Yemen.

Backed by the Saudi government, the Yemeni government has been locked in a protracted and bloody civil war with the Houthi rebels, who receive support and arms from Iran. A recent ceasefire has brought relative calm to the country in the past year. The rapprochement between the Saudi and Iranian governments has also eased some of Iraq's pressures in its relations with the Gulf countries.
A high-level meeting between a KRG delegation and the federal government that was scheduled for today has been postponed, according to local media. The reason for the delay is unclear, but some local reports suggest it may stem from disputes over the accounting of local revenues in the Kurdistan Region.

Following the passage of the Iraqi Budget law, Kurdistan is entitled to 12% of Iraq's total budget after the deduction of sovereign expenditures. However, due to disagreements between the two sides, no funds have yet been transferred to the KRG's accounts.

The KRG's fiscal woes are further exacerbated by the shutdown of the Iraqi-Turkish pipeline, which has resulted in a decrease in the region's oil exports. The financial strain was underscored today by the region's finance minister, who, when asked when the government would be able to pay public employees' salaries, flippantly replied, "ask Baghdad."

If the two sides cannot reach an agreement soon, further difficulties loom for the region.

Former speaker on the plight of the Badinan Detainees

The former speaker of Kurdistan Region's parliament, Rewaz Faiq, has published a revealing article that offers an insider's perspective on the arrest, trial, and subsequent imprisonment of Badinan journalists and activists. 

"...continuously, through orders to the courts, new charges are brought against the Badinan prisoners. It has long since moved beyond being a normal and legal case before the courts. Both internally and in front of the international community, it has opened a door to a hell that can't be closed easily," Faiq wrote to start her article.

She then chronicles the case from the initial news of the arrests, addressing the separation of branches as MPs attempted to oversee the cases and the challenges the prisoners faced when they were denied family visitations. Notably, Faiq criticizes the Kurdistan Judicial Council, controlled by the KDP, for indirectly accusing her of judicial interference after she tweeted a condemnation of the initial prison sentences. She questioned the council's lack of action when others (whom she didn't name) interfered.

Faiq concludes her piece by writing, "The courts mediate between conflicting interests and decide who is right and who should be punished. Ideally, we should expect the courts to establish justice as they are our last refuge to demand our rights. I hope our courts aren't demeaned and weakened further. The courts aren't a political institution, and the more politicians stay away from them, the more independent, decisive, and trustworthy they'll be. Perhaps one day, one of the region's political leaders or our children will have to stand before the courts."

The Speaker's piece reflects the PUK's strained relationship with the KDP. The region's controversies often escalate into a tit-for-tat game between the KDP and PUK. The PUK's official and unofficial media have extensively covered the Badinan prisoners' cases recently. Conversely, the KDP has concentrated on Green zone protests, with PM Masrour Barzani unusually addressing the protesters' grievances in Kifri directly.

However, Faiq is known for her moderate stance within the PUK and has criticized the state of freedom of expression in Kurdistan.

150 media organizations and journalists condemn Sherwani sentence 

In a press conference, journalist Kamal Rauf read out a statement signed by 150 journalists and 17 local media organizations condemning the additional sentence that will extend Sherwan Sherwani's time in prison by a further four years. 

"The Court of Erbil, under immense political pressure and without any logical justification, extended Sherwan Sherwani's prison term by four years on trumped up charges July 20," the statement begins. 

"It is evident that day by day, freedom of expression, journalistic freedoms and democracy are on the retreat in the Kurdistan Region due to anti-freedom and injustice rule, creating a dangerous environment for independent journalists." 

"As journalists, we condemn this injustice done to Sherwan Sherwani in the name of laws and courts, and emphasize the importance of laws protecting journalistic freedoms. Journalists shouldn't be treated with contempt and hatred," the statement continues. 

The statement ends by demanding the immediate release of Sherwani, urging the public, political parties and foreign missions to pressure authorities to achieve this aim.

Morning briefing 

Good morning! Here are the latest developments in Iraq:

  • In a statement, 150 journalists and 17 media organizations condemn the treatment of the journalist Sherwan Sherwani and demand his immediate release. Sherwan was imprisoned in Oct. 2020, and since then, his sentence has been extended a number of times on charges relating to "falsifying documents."
  • In a press conference, the Kurdistan Region finance minister claims the region no longer has the necessary revenues to pay the salaries of public employees and asks Baghdad to send the region's share, stating "there are no excuses for the delay". A meeting between the KRG and Baghdad's team will occur again soon, according to the FM.
  • Fallout from the protests against the Quran continues in Iraq as prominent leaders issue statements. In one of his signature posts on Twitter, Sadr claims that "talking is no longer useful" and asks God to accept "their revolution for the Quran." He issues a statement asking his followers to "wait," condemning the era in which "defending religion has become unnatural."