Freedom of expression in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq has been increasingly curtailed over the past year, according to a UN report issued Wednesday.
The report documents a concerning pattern, observed from March 2020 to April 2021.
“The pattern of repression documented in this report is deeply worrying," it read.
The report came a week after an appeals court upheld six-year jail sentences for five journalists and activists.
It said 33 journalists, activists, or human rights defenders had been arrested without being told why, denied access to lawyers or held without their families being informed.
Journalists Ayaz Karam, Kohidar Zebari, and Sherwan Sherwani, along with activists Shivan Saed and Harwian Issa, faced multiple charges including "inciting protests and destabilizing" Kurdistan, as well as "spying", and "misuse of electronic devices".
"These men were sentenced because of a biased political will," charged Belkis Wille, senior researcher at HRW.
Sherwani is known for his investigations into corruption and has criticized Kurdish premier Masrour Barzani on Facebook. On October 7, he was arrested for no legal justification and without a judiciary order.
“They had contacted the American consulate and German consulate and took money from them,” reads the appeal court’s ruling, which was made public last week.
Meanwhile, Germany’s Foreign Office has strongly refuted the court’s allegations.