FREEDOM OF THOUGHT: Interview with persecuted young atheist in Erbil

[28 May 2014] - 

A teenage school student from Erbil has made headlines after it was revealed that he was imprisoned in solitary confinement, severely tortured, simply for openly saying that he is an atheist.
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 11:00pm," he said.
"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. 
"At 2:00am on 14 October 2013, I woke up to splashes of cold water on my face then was told a judge ordered my transfer to Erbil criminal prison, where I was tortured again in the same way. I remember all the preparations for electric shocks on a sensitive part of my body, but I cannot remember the rest because afterward I was just lifeless."
Sherwan spent 13 days inside Erbil criminal prison before he was released on bail.
"My uncle came and deposited the assets needed for my bail. I attended a trial, but the judge insulted me. I talked about the right to free speech, he replied shouting that there is no place on earth for disgraceful infidels like me."
He claims an investigative judge and a social worker also insulted and threatened to kill him while in prison.  
"A social worker visited me, who clearly saw the blood on my face from the severe beatings, but said it was religiously permissible for anybody to kill me. I demanded to meet an investigative judge, who told me to get out of his office or else he would right away put his shoes in my mouth."
Sherwan says he has provided police with recordings of death threats received in phone calls from followers of the Kurdistan Islamic Group (KIG).
Although he is under age and legally considered a child by all Iraqi and Kurdish laws, he is waiting for his final trial scheduled to take place on 1 June 2014, expected to prosecute him as an adult similar to previous trials.
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.


Your Middle East

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