Thousands protest over social ills in Iraqi Kurdistan, facing tear gas and live ammunition

Peaceful Assembly

At least five people were killed and 80 injured during protests in the town of Rania, Iraqi Kurdistan in late December 2017. According to news reports, thousands of protesters had gathered to decry the Kurdish government and the lack of basic services as well as express anger over issues of corruption and unpaid salaries. As the confrontation between police and protesters quickly escalated, live ammunition and tear gas were reportedly used to quell the demonstration. To prevent further protests, a curfew was later imposed in some areas of the region. 

As previously covered on the CIVICUS Monitor, human rights watchdogs claim that there has been a worrying decline in civic freedoms in the region since the September 2017 referendum over independence. Given the scale of the protest and the ensuing clashes, on 21st December five MPs from two political parties in Iraq's Kurdish Regional Government resigned in response to the unrest. 

Expression

Journalists and media outlets continue to assume great risks in order to report and operate in Iraq. In the context of continued protest in Iraqi Kurdistan, media workers and outlets in the region have faced increased harassment and detentions as the authorities attempt to muzzle coverage of lethal clashes that erupted during the protests. 

According to Reporters Without Borders, dozens of journalists were arrested and subjected to violence and intimidation while attempting to cover protests that broke out on 19th December 2017 in Iraqi Kurdistan. Among those targeted were KNN TV reporter Ari Luqman who sustained an injury to the hand while covering a protest in Chamchamal, a city located between Sulaymaniyah and Kirkuk, and his cameraman, Hemn Ahmed, sustained an ankle injury.

On 19th December 2017, dozens of journalists were arrested and the offices of TV channel NRT were stormed by more than 200 armed members of Iraqi Kurdistan’s internal security forces. They confiscated some broadcasting equipment, smashed other equipment, and asked the personnel to leave the building. 

Bahoz Nesradin, a reporter for NRT channel's website, was arrested and held from 22nd to 27th December 2017 in the city of Sulaymaniyah and NRT's Digital Media Director Suhaib Ahmed was arrested at Sulaymaniyah airport on the night of 24th December 2017. The authorities had accused NRT of encouraging the above-mentioned protests. As reported in the last update on the CIVICUS Monitor, NRT has been repeatedly harassed over this turbulent period since the referendum took place in September 2017.  

The Iraqi Center for Reporting Freedom of Speech documented cases of 36 journalists and media workers wounded in the line of duty, as well as the deaths of four journalists in 2017. The Center also documented other violations against journalists, including 15 cases of beatings and attacks, ten arrests in the Kurdistan region, five threats against journalists, six cases of release and three cases of abduction and disappearance. The summary of abuses against media workers in 2017 comes at a time when international scrutiny of Iraq is increasing. 

Following her official visit to the country, UN Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary executions Agnes Callard urged Iraqi authorities to prioritise the protection of journalists. A statement released on 27th November 2017 noted that: 

"The Special Rapporteur also spoke to people particularly vulnerable to killings, such as journalists and people from the LGBTI community, whose protection she said had to be a priority for the Iraqi Government".

Attacks against the media also continue in other parts of Iraq, with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reporting an attack against satellite TV channel Diljah in Baghdad on 2nd January 2018. According to the report, unknown assailants set fire to its bureau.

TV channels have also been forced to close in recent weeks. On 17th December 2017 according to CPJ, independent TV satellite channel Al-Sharqiya was ordered to close by the governor of the western Iraqi Al-Anbar province, Mohammed Rikan Al-Halbusi. The order came a few hours after the TV channel had broadcast a report claiming that Al-Halbusi and other politicians were planning to rig elections.

On 1st January 2018, a photographer from Al-Furat satellite channel, Ali Abdul Abbas, was reportedly assaulted and arrested in Dhi Qar, according to the Iraqi Center for Reporting Freedom of Speech. There is also credible evidence to suggest that Abbas was subjected to mistreatment, including potential torture during his detention.