Press freedoms groups and relatives of an Iraqi Kurdish journalist jailed for two years for allegedly harming national security insisted on Monday he was being targeted for writing critical reports.
The sentence against Karzan Karim was handed down on Sunday in a closed session at the main criminal court in the Kurdish regional capital of Arbil, with family members and media rights organisations complaining that no specifics were given of the charges against him.
Kurdish authorities insist that the accusations relate to his work at Arbil airport's VIP lounge, and not to any of his published articles.
"The trial took place in a closed session, we were not allowed to enter the hall, and I did not even seen Karzan until the verdict," Kamran Karim, the accused's brother, told AFP on Monday.
Niaz Abdullah, the head of Kurdish press freedoms group Metro, said the organisation had "major concerns over this decision, and its impact on the future of journalists in Kurdistan."
As well as working at Arbil airport, Karim wrote articles under a pseudonym for the Kurdistan Post website detailing accusations of corruption and nepotism at the airport.
In a statement on its website on August 8, the autonomous Kurdistan region, made up of three provinces in north Iraq, said the charges against him were "based on his conduct as an officer of the region’s security agency" but gave no specifics.
It dismissed criticism that the accusations were related to Karim's reports, arguing that "there are hundreds of articles published daily in Kurdistan that are critical of the authorities and the leadership without any fear of retribution."
Though widely seen as enjoying greater security and freedoms than the rest of Iraq, the Kurdish region has frequently been criticised for clamping down on media rights, with Paris-based Reporters Without Borders earlier this year pointing to a wave of violations against media rights in Kurdistan.