The CPT Iraqi Kurdistan team is growing increasingly concerned by the situation surrounding imprisoned journalist Karzan Karim. Karim, who has been imprisoned since late 2011, was found guilty in October 2012 of violating a law criminalizing any act that “harms state institutions” and “undermines the security and stability of the region,” after he published a series of articles calling out corruption he observed in the Erbil International Airport. He is serving the remainder of his two year sentence in a general prison in the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Hawler (Erbil). Prior to October, Karim was held in an intelligence facility,* where he claims the Asaish (security forces) tortured him. Members of the Kurdish Regional Government’s Parliamentary Human Rights Committee visited Karim last year, and affirmed his allegations of torture based on their own observations.
Karim’s case has gained national and international attention: Kurdish human rights groups, as well as organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have been monitoring his situation. However, when CPT visited Karim in December, he told the team that, despite his confidence in his innocence, he was at peace with his sentence. “I feel more safe inside the prison than I would outside,” he said, speaking to the team through prison bars on a crowded visitors’ day. Karim described how his family still receives threats from unknown individuals, warning them to keep quiet or have their son “end up like Sardasht,” referring to the journalist Sardasht Osman, who was assassinated in May 2010 after writing articles critical of the government.
Indeed, when CPT first visited with Karzan Karim in late August 2012, he and his father separately asked the team to not publicize the meeting, such was their fear for Karim’s safety. However, the team visited Karim recently, and this time he gave permission for CPT to write about his situation. He described how his family is still receiving threats, and added, “People have told my wife that when I am released after this sentence [in October 2013], the Asaish will simply re-arrest me on some other charges.” The team asked if Karim had access to his lawyer, and he said yes, but “he has been asking for an appeal [to Karim’s sentence] ... however he has been ignored. There is no answer from the authorities.”
Karim fears that the Asaish “are using their power to scare the citizens and the people” of Iraqi Kurdistan into silence, and added that his family have faced increased hardships in the past months seemingly as a punishment for Karim’s actions.
For more information, see Human Rights Watch’s report on Karzan Karim: http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/10/14/iraqi-kurdistan-journalist-gets-two-years-prison
*Note: the Kurdish autonomous region has detention centers run by the political parties’ intelligence and security forces, as well as “general” governmental prisons.