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 Kurdish critic 'Dr.Kamal' and captive stages hunger strike

 Source : Washington Post
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Kurdish critic 'Dr.Kamal' and captive stages hunger strike 3.3.2006
By Nora Boustany

Kamal Kadir Karim , an Iraqi-born Kurd and Austrian citizen who was jailed by Kurdish authorities in October, went on a hunger strike Monday to protest his incarceration, according to his relatives and friends in Austria and Germany.

His jailers are not the Baath Party apparatchiks of the old regime, but the Kurdish leadership of this semiautonomous region of Kurdistan in northern Iraq.

Karim, 48, who is a graduate of the University of Vienna and the Diplomatic Academy in Vienna and has doctorates in law, political science and international diplomacy, was one of the numerous experts consulted by the State Department and the European Union in the drafting of Iraq's new constitution.

From Austria, Karim had written Internet articles critical of the Kurdish regional government and the Kurdish Democratic Party headed by Massoud Barzani , alleging corruption, abuse of power and maltreatment of women. One article alleged that the KGB made payments to Barzani when the Soviet bloc was supporting Kurdish separatists in their quest for autonomy.

Dr Kamal Said Qadir, Austrian citizen, an international legal expert, writer and human rights activist

Karim returned to Erbil, a city in Kurdistan (northern Iraq), in September to take up a teaching position at Salahuddin University's school of political science. On Oct. 26, he received a telephone call from people claiming to be his students and requesting a meeting at a local hotel, according to his sister, Galvarej Zaman , who lives in the German town of Heilbronn, near Stuttgart.

At the hotel, Karim was abducted by KDP members and thrown into a small jail cell, according to his relatives. He was deprived of food and water and was tortured, they said. The family received no news from him for five days.

Two weeks later, following an uproar in the Kurdish media, the KDP admitted it had detained Karim, relatives said. It was not until January that Karim was visited by officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross. International pressure led to his transfer to a larger cell.

Karim was not allowed to choose a lawyer and was informed of the charges against him, which included defamation, just one hour before his trial began. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison, according to a friend, a physician in Austria, who spoke on condition that he not be further identified because he feared reprisals against family members still living in Iraq.

Karim had expected to receive a reduced sentence at a court session Sunday, but the judge adjourned the case until March 9 to give the defense time to produce articles written by Karim in the last six months, his brother-in-law, Taha Mohammed Zaman , said in a telephone interview from Germany on Wednesday.

Karim's hunger strike was prompted by the postponement of the trial after four months in jail, said Galvarej Zaman, his sister.

"I will remain on hunger strike until I am released or until my death," Karim said, according to his sister and reports in the Kurdish press.

Another sister, Araz Kadir Karim , lives in Erbil and visits Karim daily, Zaman said.

Nijyar Shemdin , the representative of the Kurdish regional government in Washington, said by telephone Thursday that Karim had "used profanities and unsubstantiated information slighting the honor of certain Kurdish families. He has no right to slander."

"He has asked for a pardon, and maybe the verdict was disproportionate to the crime committed, but this law is now being discussed for review," Shemdin said. "I think the court may slash the 30-year sentence to 15 years. So whether the law was just or not is now being discussed. His reports, however, showed a lack of manners."

Karim said he was prepared to apologize to officials for the distress he had caused them but would never concede that his information was false, according to his friend the physician, also of Kurdish origin.

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad , Austrian officials, Amnesty International and other rights groups have lobbied on Karim's behalf. "Kamal Karim's sentence of 30 years in prison for expressing an opinion is an outrage that focuses international attention on the arbitrary nature of the justice system in Iraq's Kurdistan," wrote Ann Cooper , the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. "We call on President Barzani to dissociate himself from this draconian punishment meted out by a court that did not grant the defendant a fair hearing and due process. We urge the court of appeals to overturn the conviction."

After obtaining verbal assurances from the Barzani clan, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari , himself a Kurd, informed the Austrian envoy in Baghdad, Gudrun Ha rr er , that Karim had been freed. The Austrian foreign minister, Ursula Plasnik , posted news of the release on the foreign service Web site and praised it as one of Harrer's first accomplishments as an envoy to Baghdad. But the announcement had to be retracted after Austrian diplomats were informed by Karim's sister in Erbil that she had just visited her brother in jail, according to Zaman and the family friend.

In a letter written to Khalilzad and shared with The Post, Karim's friend in Vienna wrote: "The criminal proceedings are clearly against international standards of the rule of law and also against democratization in Iraq." If not lifted, "the verdict would tarnish the credibility of America and its democracy-building efforts" and "could help the forces hostile to democracy in Iraq."   


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