IRAQI KURDISTAN: The Trials of Masoud Ali, Sherwan Taha, Karger Abas, and Bandawar Ayoub

10 November 2021

“I don’t know why I was arrested,” Masoud Ali told the judge. He stood in a cage in the courtroom in Erbil, having already spent almost 14 months in prison and suffered four postponed court dates. Bandawar Ayoub, Sherwan Taha, and Karger Abas, the other three men with him, gave similar responses when asked. They had never been sentenced before and didn’t know why they were arrested. “We were not a part of KDP, and that is why they arrested us,” guessed Ali.

The judge had written confessions, given to him by the security council, who assured the court the men had written them. But each time the judge read out the statements that each began with, “I am a criminal…,” the accused denied that those were their words.

“You don’t have any evidence that I ever even participated in a demonstration,” Abas said.

“How could I make a plan to shoot at the KDP headquarters when my own father works there?” Taha asked. “I’d never even heard of Future Movement before it was mentioned in this courtroom,” he continued.

But the prosecution persisted.

According to the security council, Future Movement was a military group the prisoners had created to overthrow the government and assassinate the Duhok Governor and one of the Prime Minister’s sons. They were also accused of making plans to bring the Tishreen protests from Baghdad up to Kurdistan with the help of the US consulate.

According to Ali, Taha, Abas and Ayoub, Future Movement was either made up or might have been written on the edge of a logo they found on the internet and shared in a WhatsApp group they are a part of through the Coalition for Democracy and Justice.

“For 20 years, I served as a teacher and I never even hit a student. How could I have a military group? I wouldn’t even have time for it,” Ali countered.

“I have seven martyrs in my family. How could I make a plan to destroy the government they died for?” Ayoub asked.

The list of accusations was confusing and unclear at times. “Did you share information with Maki Amdei?” Ali was asked. “No, I don’t have Facebook, but I have heard of him,” Masoud replied. And that was all on that line of questioning.

The US, German, and French consulates were also dragged into the case. According to the security council, the prisoners wrote a joint statement against the Turkish cross-border bombings in which they accused the KRG of being complicit in the attacks and asked these countries to condemn the attacks.

It wasn’t clear if this alleged statement was the reason they were being charged with espionage. But when the prosecutor asked in her final statement for Taha’s charges to be dropped and for prison sentences to be given to the other three under Article 156 of the Iraqi Penal Code, the lawyers for the defence objected. They told the court that charges under Article 156 did not fit the alleged crimes of the prisoners. They explained, “That law is for espionage, and you haven’t mentioned any evidence for that. Everyone knows who is actually conducting espionage in Kurdistan.”

They then proceeded to point out all the concerns with the way the judicial system carried out the case.

“You referred to secret witnesses, but you never brought them forward and we never got a chance to cross-examine them. Your only other witnesses were five prisoners who all said they had nothing to testify. There were no lawyers present for any of the investigation process. All the prisoners have denied the written confessions the security council claims are theirs. According to the law, the security council should not be in here for the trial, helping the prosecution.”

The judges didn’t answer these claims and decided to postpone their decision to 8 November. One of the judges decided they did not want to be part of the decision and withdrew from the case. The other judges also wanted time to check the authenticity of an alleged voice recording of Sherwan Taha and the handwriting of a letter allegedly written by Masoud Ali. The lawyers for the defence said these verifications weren’t necessary as the letter and recording weren’t incriminating. But the security council who had brought them insisted.

Outside the court, families of the accused were unsure what this might mean but hopeful that the release of Badal Barwari the previous day might mean they too would be reunited with their loved ones within the next few weeks.

Unfortunately on 8 November, all four were convicted without substantial evidence under Article 1 of Law 21 (2003) of the Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament. Massoud Ali was sentenced to three years and six months, Sherwan Taha to two years and six months, and Bandawar Ayoub and Karger Abas both received one year and two months and were released on time served.

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