Iraqi Kurdistan: Ongoing retaliation against anyone who criticises the governing authorities
On 7th December 2021, the security forces in the city of Dohuk in Iraqi Kurdistan arrested Halkaft Abdulsattar Ashoyi, an employee of the Foundation of Mine Action in the city of Dohuk, and took him to an unknown destination. After his and dozens of his colleagues’ contracts were recently cancelled, they organised a protest in front of the Foundation of Mine Action, demanding that they be allowed to return to work. They also made statements to the media against the officials who ordered their dismissal.
Separately but on the same day as the above mentioned protest, on 7th December 2021, the security forces in Iraqi Kurdistan arrested two peaceful demonstrators, Duran Mahmoud and Arian Mustafa, after their participation in the student protests that erupted again on 6th December 2021 in front of the doors of some colleges at the University of Sulaymaniyah. The protesters demanded the implementation of the authorities’ promises to provide monthly allowances for students and improve the conditions of the internal housing departments. They were released after five days in detention.
On 1st February 2022, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) published a periodic report on human rights violations in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. According to the report:
“Policies of repression and violations continue, including arrests of civil society activists and journalists, and even ordinary citizens who express their opinions contrary to those of the local government and security authorities in the Iraqi Kurdistan region.”
This finding is substantiated by the recently-published 2021 annual report of Metro Center for Defending the Rights of Journalists which documents 353 violations committed by local authorities throughout 2021 against male and female journalists in the Kurdistan region. This pattern of retaliation against anyone who exercises their legitimate right to report or criticise the actions of governing authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan was also highlighted in a report issued by the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq in May 2021.
On 16th January 2022, the security forces in Erbil arrested Karwan Abdulrahman after he criticised the local government for increasing taxes on public services, during an interview with a local news channel. Clips from his interview were posted on social media. He was released on 25th January 2022, after nine days in detention.
On 7th January 2022, security forces in the city of Sulaymaniyah arrested political activist Ghazi Kirkuki at his home and took him to an unknown destination. Kirkuki is a leader in the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and local sources say his arrest comes as a result of internal political disputes.
After a sermon delivered on 31st December 2021, the Ministry of Awqaf (Religious Affairs) in the Kurdistan Region banned cleric Dr Sayed Ahmed Penjwini, an imam and preacher from a mosque in Erbil, from giving sermons due to his criticism of the security authorities and the local government in relation to their mishandling and arrest of student protesters and other innocent citizens. The Ministry of Awqaf also requested that the Ministry of Culture in the region prevent the publication of his sermons in the media. In December 2021, a number of other clerics were also targeted for criticising the authorities. On 11th December 2021, the security forces arrested a young cleric, Mullah Bukhari Sirkotki, in Zakho district of Dohuk Governorate and on 10th December 2021, the security authorities prevented Sheikh Radwan Brushki from delivering religious sermons from the pulpit of a mosque in the city of Dohuk due to his criticism of the government and encouragement that people demand social justice.
On 20th December 2021, the Advocates for Prisoners of Conscience in the Kurdistan Region announced that the Court of Appeal had received the file of the preliminary ruling issued by the Second Erbil Criminal Court on 8th November 2021 against political activists Shirwan Taha Cougar and Masoud Ali Sinjari. They were sentenced to two and a half years and three and a half years respectively.
On 9th December 2021, Kurdish newspapers and media websites published an appeal sent by journalist Kohdar Mohammed Amin Zebari from prison, in which he mentioned the poor conditions suffered by prisoners of conscience, in addition to the physical and psychological torture that detainees from the Shiladze sub-district of Amadiya district in Dohuk Governorate continuously face. On 16th February 2021, the Second Criminal Court in Erbil sentenced five activists and journalists, including Zebari, to six years in prison on charges of endangering Kurdish national security.
On 1st December 2021, security forces arrested political activist Hiwa Haji Agha, a fifth-year student at the Choman Private Institute in Choman District of Erbil Governorate. He is one of the cadres of the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). Local reports confirmed that the reason for his arrest was his continuous criticism of the local government on his Facebook page.