CPJ calls for immediate release of Syria journalist detained on espionage charge in Kurdistan Region of Iraq News
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CPJ calls for immediate release of Syria journalist detained on espionage charge in Kurdistan Region of Iraq

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on Tuesday called on Iraqi Kurdish authorities to “immediately and unconditionally” release Syrian journalist, Sleman Ahmed. Ahmed has been detained for eight months and is facing a charge of espionage under acts of endangering the national security of the Kurdistan Region. He has already faced restrictions accessing legal representation since his arrest and is due to stand trial on June 30.

According to CPJ, Ahmed was arrested on October 25 while crossing the Syrian Border on the allegation of carrying out “secret and illegal” work for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a designated terrorist organization by institutions and countries, such as the US, Türkiye and the European Union. Ahmed works with the PKK-affiliated Iraqi Kurdish news outlet RojNews.

The charge of espionage under Article 1 of Law No. 21 of 2003 carries a possible sentence of life imprisonment. In addition to the delay of legal representation, the CPJ and MENA Rights Group filed an Urgent Action on April 12 this year to the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances for clarification of Ahmed’s whereabouts and fate as at the time he was unaccounted for six months. RojNews addressed CPJ regarding the charge, stating it “is merely a plot to imprison him. We demand his immediate release.”

The arbitrary detention, physical abuse, and unjust trials of journalists in the region have been condemned by Amnesty International in May, and, ranked 169 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Indicator by Reporters Without Borders. The international organisations describe multiple examples of forcible disappearances and confessions extracted under duress. CJP’s alert reports incidents of four other Kurdish journalists who have similarly been jailed for three to six years under the same article Ahmed is facing charges on.

In Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government is the official governmental body of the Kurdistan Region, located in northern Iraq as an autonomous area, however, it is reliant on the Iraqi Ministry of Finance for funding of employees.