Zakho, Iraq – The death sentence against an Ezidi teenager in Iraq is currently causing outrage amongst Ezidis. The 20-year-old Khaled Shamo is accused of being responsible for the murder of a Kurdish Sunni in Shingal on August 3, 2017. The incident caused a conflict between Ezidis and the Sunni tribe which the murder victim belonged to. The tribe had even threatened with war.
The verdict was wrong and aimed at an innocent, said the family of Shamo, who barely just survived the genocide conducted by the “Islamic State”. To back up their claims, the family provided strong evidence which apparently was consciously withheld by the court. The dimension of this case, however, is more far-reaching than initially assumed. The conflict may develop into an escalation as Ezidi military commanders, including Haydar Shesho and Khal Ali, have also spoken out. What happened?
On August 3, 2017 two men were attacked with automatic weapons on the Iraqi side of the Syrian-Iraqi border area in the north of the Shingal region. The area near the town of Khanasor is uninhabited and notorious as a smuggling route. One of those men died at the scene of the crime, the second one survived seriously wounded and suffered consequential damages, including the complete loss of his eyesight.
Both men are members of to the Kurdish-Sunni Gargari tribe. Rojava-Peshmerga, who are stationed in the vicinity, accuse the PKK of being responsible for the attack. The PKK, on the other hand, denies its involvement and accuses the Peshmerga of carrying out the assassination. The Gargari tribe casts the blame on Ezidis and threatens with war.
On October 6, 2017, three men were subsequently arrested. Nawaf H., Ibrahim H. and Khaled Shamo were said to have committed the crime together. Nawaf H. and Ibrahim H. were soon released but Shamo remained in custody. The authorities were given his name by the victims’ tribe.
The indictment against Khaled Shamo, filed by the Niniveh court, accused him of being the perpetrator. He was said to have driven the perpetrators’ vehicle. Furthermore, the indictment referred to him as “Khaled Shamo Qirani from Bara” who was “a member of the PKK” and “(co-)responsible for the murder”.
The survivor of the attack appeared as a witness at the trial and, despite having lost his eyesight, claimed to have identified Khaled Shamo as the perpetrator. The court asked no further questions.
Shamo’s family strongly disagrees with the allegations. Shamo and his family are from Siba Sheik Khidir, a town located in the south of the Shingal region. Khaled Shamo had never visited Bara or Khanasor nor had he ever been part of a combat unit, his family claims. During the time of the attack he had just turned 18 years old and had been in 9th grade. After the „Islamic State“ onslaught on Shingal, his family fled to the Kurdistan Region where they have been living in the Qadia refugee camp near Zakho since 2014.
Khaled Shamo had neither a driving licence nor did he know how to drive a car, according to his father. On the day of the attack, his son had been in the refugee camp where he was taking part in a commemoration marking the 3rd anniversary of the Ezidi genocide. Ezidi activists backed up this claim by providing pictures and videos of the commemoration, proving Shamo to be present at the event.
The name of the accused stated in the indictment is also exceptional. The accused is referred to as “Khaled Shamo Qiran”. “Qiran”, however, is not part of the official name of Khaled Shamo and neither written on his identity documents nor has he personally been using “Qiran” in public. He has been using that name on his Facebook profile only, which prompts the Shamo family to suspect that Iraqi authorities negligently entered his name Khaled Shamo in the Facebook search field and identified the next best person as the perpetrator. Khaled Shamo as a name appears numerous times in the search results list. This would also explain why their son was not arrested until after more than two months. Apparently, the authorities had been anxious to close the case quickly.
But the strongest evidence of Khaled Shamo’s innocence is provided by the police themselves. The police testified that Khaled Shamo was in the refugee camp at the time of the attack. The court, however, ignored the police’s statement and turned a deaf ear to the counter-evidence without any discernible reason.
The police’s statement is consistent with witness statements from both Ezidi and Muslim witnesses from the Qadia refugee camp who confirmed that Khaled Shamo was at the refugee camp at the time of the attack. The judge, however, showed no interest in those statements either.
The Ezidis supect a judicial scandal behind the sentence. The judge who handed down the sentence against Khaled Shamo is a Muslim Kurd and a member of the Kechala tribe from Shingal. The majority of the Kechala tribe had joined the „Islamic State“ during its onslaught on Shingal and was responsible for the murder of numerous Ezidis.
There is a well-founded suspicion that one of the leaders of the Gargari tribe, Masoud Saadoun, who had threatened Ezidis with war, pushed for a conviction and colluded with the judge. Saadoun had repeatedly stirred up his tribe against Ezidis. However, there is no clear evidence of a collusion between Saadoun and the judge.
For the Ezidis, however, there seems to be no other explanation for the judge’s disregard of the counterevidence. Why does the court ignore statements of the police, turn a blind eye to photographic evidence and insist on evidently false statements?
Verdict and indignation
On February 4, 2020 the court issued a judgment and sentenced the 20-year-old Khaled Shamo to death by hanging on the basis of anti-terrorism laws. The death sentence is supposed to be carried out on March 10, 2020.
In their desperation, the Shamo family turns to the public, asking in particular the Ezidi community for help. The community has been outraged by the event, prompting high-ranking Ezidi personalities to take a stand on the incident. The Ezidi MP Saeb Khidir announced to take legal action against the judgement.
The incident could worsen the already tense relationship between Ezidis and Islamic tribes in the Shingal region. The Shamo family hopes the verdict can be appealed and their son’s life be saved.