General: Iraqi Kurdistan: Local authorities must respect public freedoms and release all peaceful protesters and activists


The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) calls for the release of all protesters, activists, teachers and journalists arrested during protests in Iraqi Kurdistan in August 2020 and previously. The authorities must respect the rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

On the evening of 22 August 2020, large demonstrations took place in various cities of the Kurdistan region of Iraq, including the cities of Sulaymaniyah, Halabja, Darbandikhan, Kalar, Chamchamal, Koya, Zakho, Akre, and Shiladze, where people demanded payment of salaries which have not been paid in six months, and also rejected the government's decision to cut 21% of employees’ salaries despite the delay. Demonstrators also stressed the need to put an end to rampant corruption, and to form an independent election commission in Iraqi Kurdistan under the auspices of the United Nations.

The demonstrations were also scheduled to start in front of the Erbil Citadel, and from Nowruz park in Dohuk, but the security forces in the Governorates of Erbil and Dohuk banned any gatherings of citizens for peaceful demonstrations. They also threatened to arrest and prosecute any activists who call for demonstrations in the streets in the two Governorates, which contributed to preventing them from taking place.

Since 17 August 2020, the security forces, including the Asayish (Internal Security Service), have launched a widespread campaign of arrests in the cities of Erbil and Dohuk, including more than dozens of civil society activists, journalists, and teachers, to prevent them from demanding their legitimate rights in peaceful demonstrations.

On 19 August 2020, the security forces in the city of Zakho in northern Kurdistan, bordering Turkey, suppressed a demonstration by a number of drivers working on the Ibrahim Al-Khalil border crossing with Turkey, and arrested 18 of them.

Journalists have also confirmed to GCHR that they are gravely concerned that the authorities in the Kurdistan region are severely restricting the public freedoms of citizens, including freedom of the press, and preventing different media outlets from covering the demonstrations in various areas.

In addition, reliable reports indicate that the security forces in the Governorates of Erbil and Dohuk made arbitrary arrests without a judicial order, and placed the detainees in prisons that lack health care and cleanliness. One of the detainees, journalist Farouk Omar, who was among those released, stated that he was deprived of water and food for two days, while being held in the Asayish headquarters in Zakho. He said that it was difficult to breathe in detention and he witnessed the impact of the poor conditions on the health of journalist Ahmed Zakhoy and activist Junkir Sindi, before they were released on 22 August 2020.

On the evening of 18 August 2020, Asayish forces arrested teacher and activist Badal Abdulbagi Barwari, teacher and activist Dilshad Koharzi, teacher and activist Saleh Abduljabbar Dosky and activist Omid Brushki, after raiding their homes in the city of Dohuk, and they remain in detention.

On 13 August 2020, the authorities arrested some activists and citizens who planned to organise a special ceremony to mark the fourth anniversary of the assassination of journalist Wedat Hussain Ali, and they were all released later that day.

On 27 June 2020, the Asayish forces in the Shiladzi region arrested photojournalist Qaraman Shukri (photo on the left above) from his home without a court order after a demonstration in the area condemning the authorities’ silence on the attack carried out by Turkish aircraft on 19 June 2020, which killed six civilians. The authorities had previously arrested Shukri last year, when he remained in prison for three weeks after his participation with the people of Shiladzi in protests condemning Turkish aggression, which at that time resulted in the death and injury of a number of civilians.

On 18 September 2019, the security forces had arrested five activists, all of them residing in the Chiladze region, for their participation in the popular protests against the attacks of the Turkish forces. They are, Jamal Tahsin Bahauddin Jevi Dosky Gawari, Villar Ali Oremari, Kav Hasan Mohammed Oremari, Lazvin Abdullah Oremari, and Hazem Shehbaz Rajkani. They are still being detained.

The list of teachers, activists, protesters and journalists who were arrested in Iraqi Kurdistan during the month of August 2020 and later released includes:

1. Gabriel Rikani, peaceful protester - Amadiya district

2. Mehvan Majeed, journalist - Zakho district

3. Kamal Ramzi, journalist - Zakho city

4. Junkir Sindi, activist - Zakho city

5. Jalal Guy Dosky, activist - Shiladze district

6. Nihad Oremari, correspondent for NRT TV in Amadiya district

7. Karwan Sadiq Mahidi, correspondent for GK Kurdish TV - Dohuk city

8. Shakiran Ramadan Zebari, journalist and correspondent for NRT TV - Akre district

9. Ahmed Zakhoy,  journalist and correspondent for NRT TV - Zakho district

10. Azad Mahmoud, Activist - Simele district

11. Ali Shurahfani, activist - Simele district

12. Azad Spindari, peaceful protester - Dohuk city

13. Yousif Salim Silifani, activist - Simele district

14. Sherzad Cougar, activist - Simele district

15. Bakhtiar Dohuki, activist - Dohuk city

16. Abdul Hamid Mandani, teacher and activist - Simele district

17. Ayhan Saeed Omar Brushki, journalist and representative of the Metro Center for Journalists' Rights and Advocacy - Dohuk

18. Defaa Harki, journalist and representative of the Metro Center for Journalists' Rights and Advocacy - Akre

19. Kedar Hussain, journalist - Akre district

20. Amjad Yousif, activist - Shiladze district

21. Mousa Ghazi, activist - Shiladze district

22. Abdullah Othman, peaceful protester - Zakho district

23. Jamal Mashkhti, peaceful protester - Zakho district

24. Ramadan Gabriel, peaceful protester - Shiladze district

25. Sepan Luqman Rikani, peaceful protester - Shiladze district

26. Sherwan Saeed Omar, activist - Dohuk city

27. Kamal Ramzi, journalist - Zakho district

28. Sabah Dosky, teacher and activist - Shiladze district

29. Hashem Mustafa Tayeb, activist - Dohuk city

30. Karwan Sadiq, journalist, Dohuk city

31. Kaur Nazir, activist - Dohuk city

32. Jalal Jie, activist - Shiladze district

33. Hefal Nusrat, activist - Dohuk city

34. Mohammed Saeed Dosky, journalist - Duhok

35. Abdullah Mikael, activist - Akre district

36. Mir Naroy, Journalist - Deraluk town  

37. Marin Cerny, Journalist - Deraluk town

38. Yuonis Mahmoud, activist - Dohuk city

39. Aram Shaker, activist - Dohuk city

40. Aziz Hassan, activist - Dohuk city

41. Rabeer Yassin, activist - Dohuk city

42. Sherwan Cougar, activist - Dohuk city

On 24 August 2020, activist Siran Mohammed (photo on the right above) was arrested with her two children while she was walking in the market in the city centre of Erbil. She is a member of the Tavgari Movement (Kurdistan Free Society Movement). They were only released on 31 August 2020. Local reports confirmed that the reason for her arrest was her posts on her Facebook page.

GCHR denounces in the strongest terms all the arbitrary measures taken by the authorities in the Kurdistan region. The Kurdistan Regional Government should immediately and unconditionally release all detained teachers, activists, journalists, and peaceful protesters. The authorities must fulfil their constitutional obligations not to violate public freedoms, including freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of expression, and freedom of the press, which can be respected while protecting public health.