Iraqi activist sentenced to 3 years in prison for a tweet

BAGHDAD — An Iraqi activist has been sentenced to three years in prison for allegedly criticizing state-sanctioned militias, drawing criticism from human rights monitors and local activists.

Hayder al-Zaidi, 20, who took an active part in popular anti-government protests that began in October 2019, was convicted in a criminal court in Baghdad for comments on Twitter he claims he did not write. He had been charged under a section of the penal code that prohibits publicly insulting any government institution or official.

The tweet in question, posted in January on al-Zaidi’s account, posted a photo of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of the Popular Mobilization Forces, an umbrella group made up mainly of Shia paramilitary groups, mocking of his designation of “martyr”. by many in Iraq and describing him as a “spy agent”.

Muhandis was killed in a January 2020 US strike that also killed General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force.

Al-Zaidi was arrested for the tweet in June and released after 16 days on bail. He claimed his account had been hacked.

Human Rights Watch deputy director for the Middle East, Adam Coogle, said in a statement: “Regardless of who posted the message on Twitter, the Iraqi justice system should not be used as a tool to suppress peaceful criticism. authorities or armed actors.

He added that the harsh sentence imposed on al-Zaidi on Monday was a “sad reflection on the rule of law in Iraq” given that “dozens of officials and armed groups enjoy impunity for killing militants and Some protestors “.

Zaidi’s father, Hamid al-Zaidi, claimed his son was tortured while in detention in June. He told The Associated Press he expected his son to be fined or released after Wednesday’s hearing and was shocked by the sentencing.

“I’m surprised the thief who stole billions of taxpayers’ money is getting out of jail and Haidar is being sentenced to three years because of a tweet,” he said. “What kind of justice is that?

Al-Zaidi was referring to a high-profile corruption case involving the alleged embezzlement of $2.5 billion in tax funds. Nour Zuhair Jassim, a well-connected businessman, was arrested in late October in connection with the case but was later released on bail.

Some political figures also rejected the heavy sentence imposed on Haidar al-Zaidi. Independent MP Ali Saadi sent a statement to the prime minister and prosecutor following the verdict calling for Zaidi’s release and demanding that the Popular Mobilization Forces drop their charges against him.


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