Interview with persecuted young atheist, former Muslim, in Erbil; editors illustrate the story with a photo of a church

Jalil Khayat Mosque in Erbil

Ahmad Sherwan, 16, says he was first arrested last year when he was only 15.

“I was tortured with electric shocks, imprisoned in dark solitary confinement, threatened to be killed, attended trials and now waiting for my final trial, simply for having voiced my opinion that I no longer believe in God and proud of being an atheist,” he said in a phone interview with Your Middle East.

“My father and I had a debate on 13 October 2013, during which I revealed I no longer believe God and that religion is just a myth. This was the fruit of my extracurricular readings. But father was furious; left home and reported me to the police. I was arrested at home at 11:00 pm,” he said.

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Interior of the Jalil Khayat Mosque in Erbil

“Three policemen hit me with belts, kicked me with jackboots and tortured me with electric shocks at the Azadi police station in Erbil. I felt unconscious and whenever I tried to open my eyes, they insulted me, spat on me and beat me until I was unconscious again.”
Sherwan says he has provided police with recordings of death threats received in phone calls from followers of the Kurdistan Islamic Group (KIG).

He says in the past seven months he contacted many Kurdish media outlets in Erbil, but all refused to run his story.

The award-winning private Awene newspaper finally published the story last week. It went viral on social media and led to a public campaign condemning Erbil authorities, signed by hundreds of Kurdish writers, journalists, artists and activists calling for the trial to be revoked.

The media outlets owned by or tied to the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party-Iraq (KDP-Iraq) have responded with a smear campaign stigmatising the teenager as a “drug addict whisky drinker.”
Alcohol drinking is widespread in Iraqi Kurdistan and modern bars have become a more common sight on the streets of Erbil. That trend is set to continue as five star hotels flock here and the city was recently named Arab Capital of Tourism in 2014.

The smear campaign in the media has led his family to eventually support him, publically announcing that they regret to have reported Sherwan to the Erbil police in the first place.

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One of the worst aspects of this report in Your Middle East is that they have illustrated the story with a photo of an Assyrian Christian Church, although from the above text, it seems clear that he was a Muslim.  The involvement of the Kurdistan Islamic Group and references to alcohol make that clear.

Assyrian Christians are a tiny minority but to avoid offending Islam, the editors were able to dig up a photo of a church (click link to see).