General: Iraqi Kurdistan: Campaign continues of arbitrary arrests carried out by local authorities
Since August 2020, local authorities have continued targeting various activists, arresting them, and curtailing public freedoms, including media freedom and freedom of peaceful assembly. Dozens of activists, teachers, and peaceful protesters who demonstrated to demand an end to corruption in the region, the improvement of public services, payment of salaries of employees that were delayed for months, and the implementation of comprehensive reforms. Although many of them have been released, a large group of them are still in prison, according to reports received by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
Local authorities have carried out a new campaign of arrests against activists since the beginning of October 2020, due to their use of social media to demand the release of detainees, as well as for criticising government performance and poor living conditions.
At 8:30 a.m. on 22 October 2020, Kurdistan Internal security forces (Asayish) raided the home of political activist Mullah Shafan Saeed Omar Brushki (photo 1), the official in charge of the Dohuk branch of the Alliance for Democracy and Justice, and took him to an unknown destination. He was arrested without a judicial order, in front of his family members and children, who were struck by fear and panic when they saw the security forces inside the house.
On the same day, journalist Ayaz Karam (photo 2) was arrested in Dohuk city, teacher and civil society activist Hariwan Issa Ahmed (photo 3) was arrested in Muserky town in Simele district in Dohuk governorate, and journalist Kohdar Mohammed Amin Zebari (photo 4) was arrested in Akre. They were taken to unknown destinations, and the reason for their arrest and the nature of the charges against them was not known.
On 07 October 2020, security forces raided the home of journalist and civil society activist Sherwan Sherwani in the city of Erbil and took him to an unknown destination after they confiscated his personal computer, books, and other electronic devices. It was not possible to locate him initially, and local sources reported that his family had contacted the local authorities to find out the reason and place of his detention, but they did not obtain any information, as the authorities refused to allow his family or his lawyer to visit him in detention. Subsequent press reports received by GCHR stated that his wife, Rokesh Ezzeddine, had confirmed that he was being held in a prison run by the Asayish in the city of Erbil and visited by the International Red Cross. Two counts of “insulting the national security of the Kurdistan Region” and “receiving money from outside parties working Against the Kurdistan Region" were made against him.
The security authorities are still threatening to arrest a number of other activists and journalists, and have charged them with abuse of social media targeting the regional government.
On 06 October 2020, photojournalist, Qaraman Shukri (photo on the left) was released by the Asayish in the city of Dohuk. Shukri was arrested on 27 June 2020, when Asayish forces in the Shiladzi area took him from his home without a court order after a demonstration in the area condemning Turkish attacks and the authorities’ silence about the attack carried out by Turkish planes on 19 June 2020, which resulted in the death of six civilians. The authorities had previously arrested him last year, when he remained in prison for three weeks, after participating with the people of his region in the Shiladzi protests condemning the Turkish aggression, which at that time resulted in the death and injury of a number of civilians.
On 04 October 2020, the First Criminal Court in Dohuk held its first session headed by Judge Dr. Abdulrahman Zebari, who decided to reject the complaint against human rights defender Badal Abdulbaghi Barwari (photo in the middle) and accept the appeal submitted by the defence team, closing the case permanently pursuant to a ruling under Article 130/A on Criminal Fundamentalism. The Court ordered his immediate release, but the authorities have not released him so far.
In its decision in Barwari’s case, No. 158 of 2020, the court stated, “The video clips and publications attributed to him on social media sites criticising government performance, existing manifestations of corruption, failure to take into account the living conditions of the region’s citizens according to his point of view, and not paying employees’ salaries. ... Likewise, calling for peaceful demonstrations for this purpose has become commonplace on social media, as well as the satellite channels, and therefore this matter is not considered among acts punishable by law as long as it does not violate order and is not accompanied by violence and sabotage.” The Judge further noted that Barwari’s comments were “within the limits of freedom of expression and assembly that are protected under Article 38 of the Federal Iraqi Constitution of 2005, as well as international conventions and international covenants ratified by the regional authorities.”
Previously, on 26 August 2020, the Duhok Investigation Court decided to refer Barwari to the Dohuk Misdemeanour Court to stand trial for the charge against him in accordance with the provisions of Article 2 of Law No. 6 of 2008 of the Law on Prevention and Misuse of Communications Equipment, but the defence team filed a discriminatory appeal against this referral on 22 September 2020.
On 29 September 2020, writer and journalist Bahroz Jafar (pictured right) was released on bail. He was arrested on 22 September 2020, after a complaint against him by the President of the Republic, Barham Salih, which was registered by his representative. The complaint relates to an article that Jaafar published with the title, “For How Long Will the President of the Republic Go Against the Direction?” Jaafar is a writer, journalist, and director of the Mediterranean Institute for Regional Studies (MIRS) in Sulaymaniyah and a member of the Kurdistan Journalists Syndicate. He uses his Facebook page to express his views and publish various articles.
The Metro Center for Journalists' Rights and Advocacy has demanded that journalists not be tried under the Iraqi Penal Code that give judges the right to consider publication cases as criminal cases, and to detain them due to their professional journalistic work.
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) denounces in the strongest terms all these arbitrary measures, including the ongoing campaign of arrests, carried out 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 fulfill their constitutional obligations not to violate public freedoms, including freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of expression, and freedom of the press.