HRW calls on Iraqi authorities to release Iraqi activist
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – A criminal court in Baghdad sentenced an activist for peaceful criticism of security forces for three years in prison on December 5, 2022, Human Rights Watch said in a report on Tuesday.
He was sentenced for alleged criticism of the deceased former head of the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps, Qassim Suleimani, Human Rights Watch said today.
On June 6, the authorities detained the activist, Hayder Finjan al-Zaidi, 20, based on a Twitter post he allegedly made that month but released him on bail after 16 days.
He and his father Hamid, 66, deny that he posted the criticism, insisting that his Twitter account was hacked.
“The one who stole $2.5 billion was released on bail,” his father told HRW. “Meanwhile my son was sentenced to three years in prison for a Twitter post he didn’t even write.”
"The authorities should immediately release al-Zaidi and halt all prosecutions that infringe on defendants’ basic rights and scrap the law that criminalizes criticizing public officials," HRW said.
Adam Coogle, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said that regardless of who posted the Twitter message, "the Iraqi justice system should not be used to as a tool to suppress peaceful criticism of the authorities or armed actors."
“It is a sad reflection on the rule of law in Iraq that an activist like al-Zaidi gets three years in prison for a Twitter post he says he didn’t write while dozens of officials and armed groups enjoy impunity for killing activists and protesters.”
“This sentence is a clear message to activists that any criticism of authorities and the PMF (Popular Mobilization Forces) will be punished,” Salman Khairallah, an Iraqi human rights activist, told Human Rights Watch.
Activists in Baghdad told Human Rights Watch that the Iran-backed PMF were responsible for Hayder’s arrest and legal complaint against Hayder. The sentencing decision states that the PMF is also entitled to financial compensation from Hayder.
The court sentenced Hayder under article 226 of Iraq’s penal code, which prohibits “publicly insulting” the national assembly, armed forces, or any other government agency with a sentence not exceeding seven years in prison.
In another report, HRW said that after two and a half years with former Iraqi PM al-Khadimi in power, his promises of justice for vicious violence against peaceful October 2019 protesters turned out to be empty, and killers are walking free.
Nearly 500 demonstrators were killed in just the first few weeks of protests, the UN said.