Sherwan Sherwani is on the left, Kamal Chomani is in the middle, and the writer (Diary Marif) is on the right. Picture taken in Choman town, Iraq.  @Culturico

Pen behind bars: A letter to the relentless spirit of my friend Sherwan Sherwani in prison

Diary Marif

Diary Marif

Diary is a Kurdish journalist and non-fiction writer. He is an author at New Canadian Media, and a former documentary researcher at KNN TV, Iraq. He earned a master's degree in History from Pune University, India, and can be found on Twitter @diary_khalid.

My article is a letter to my journalist friend Sherwan Sherwani who has been punished since 2020. Despite the fact he was set to be released on September 9th, 2023, he was recently sentenced to an additional four years. He was sentenced not because he committed any crime, but rather because he fought illegality, injustice, and corruption. In this letter, I encourage him to continue to be strong.
Sherwan Sherwani is a prominent Kurdish journalist based in Erbil, Iraq. He has fought against violence, nepotism, and corruption. Masrour Barzani, the prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government, gave the Erbil criminal court the order to punish him because of his influence over people. He has been detained since October 2020 on suspicion of spying for the United States and its allies. He was set to be released on September 9th, 2023. On July 20th, the court sentenced him to an additional four years in jail after hearing a complaint from the Erbil Adult Correctional Directorate over allegedly fabricating documents.

Sherwan Sherwani is on the left, Kamal Chomani is in the middle, and the writer (Diary Marif) is on the right. Picture taken in Choman town, Iraq. @Culturico

Dear Sherwani,

As I write this letter, you could be in a queue waiting for food, or thinking about your family or being tortured by the brutal guards. Unfortunately, due to your imprisonment, we are prohibited from participating in any shared activities, such as simply talking or holding gatherings. I wonder if you remember the time when we visited our friend, journalist, Kamal Chomani in his town, Choman, in 2015. That day was International Friendship Day, on July 30th. Three Iraqi-Kurdish journalists together. I wish we could talk and reminisce about the sweet memories of that day, which included hiking, swimming, and picnicking. Once we left Kamal’s home we did not know that it would be our last gathering. Because of the atrocities committed by the Kurdish government, you are in prison, Kamal had to leave for Germany, and I had to move to Canada.

Remembering how things were, makes me want to hear your stories about your wonderful family, especially your adorable son Shaheen. In your absence, he takes over the duty of looking after your chicken coop and sells eggs to provide for the family, but I’m certain you haven’t heard from them either.

My friend, I still vividly recall asking you how your precarious journalistic work was going, and you said that you were being bullied. The people you wrote about promised you numerous privileges and money if you didn’t criticize them. When they discovered that you weren’t drawn to money, they intimidated you and their security personnel sought to make an arrest. You once said, “They can’t kill me, or else they would have by now.” Your prediction came true in every way; however, they jailed instead of killing you, since doing so would have cost them significantly on the international level.

You should know that the majority of the Kurdish people are aware that you are not guilty of any crime. You became the voice of the voiceless since you have assumed the responsibility of challenging and contesting the actions of the Kurdish authorities. Only a person with integrity and honour could take on a task that involves such a great risk. I was a little taken aback when I learned that you had been given an additional four year sentence a few days ago. After reading your quote in front of the judge, I quickly had a change of heart.

I am not broken. Rather, it is those who frantically oppose my will, resolve and vitality who are truly broken. The fraudsters are those wielding power through fabricated elections, stolen money, and illegitimate authority.”

I am confident after reading your thoughts, that you are now less afraid than you were during your previous incarceration. Even though the Prime Minister has millions of funds obtained illegally, a violent military, dozens of TV and radio stations, and hundreds of social media sites, he is unable to respond to your allegations. You are confined within four walls, but your mind cannot be imprisoned. While the Prime Minister is free to travel the world, he is maybe held captive by your thoughts.

I wish I could share your sorrow for losing your father and talk to you, but I am not allowed to. I recall you telling me that your father supported the Prime Minister’s grandfather, Mustafa Barzani, and his father, Masoud Barzani, from the late 1960s until his death. However, the violent militias of the current Prime Minister prevented him from visiting you in jail and did not allow you to attend his funeral. I would like to state that he is not a real Prime Minister, but rather a Prime Monster akin to the creation of Frankenstein.

The authoritarian Prime Minister thought he could control you and eventually deter others from following your path. He was unaware of your conviction and the inner strength and resilience that you hold. There are many people who think like you, follow you, and demand justice and freedom of expression.

Finally, I won’t ask you to be strong because I know you are already. Just like the world’s most revolutionary journalists, such as Maria Ressa, Muhammad Bekjanov, and others who fought against injustice and brutalism but were labelled as traitors and terrorists and imprisoned on multiple allegations. Once they were released, they became global symbols of resistance and reconciliation. I am sure you too will be free.

Love, Hugs and Hope for your freedom.


Diary Marif


Received: 26.7.23, Ready: 16.08.23,. Editor: Federico Germani and Robert Ganley

The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Culturico, its editorial team and of the editors who revised the article.

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