General: Iraqi Kurdistan: Authorities use lethal force against peaceful protesters


Mass demonstrations broke out in various parts of the Iraqi Kurdistan region, particularly in Sulaymaniyah Governorate, earlier this month and continued until the publication of this report by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) on International Human Rights Day. The security forces used live ammunition and tear gas canisters in their efforts to disperse the protesters, killing at least six protesters and wounding dozens, as well as severely beating a number of them.

The protests began on 05 December 2020 by employees and teachers in Sulaymaniyah who demanded payment of back wages and financial dues that they had not received for many years. The protests gained popular momentum due to poor living conditions for citizens, deteriorating public services, rampant financial and administrative corruption, lack of transparency in oil revenues, and ambiguity of contracts made with foreign oil companies.

The protests intensified in the city of Sulaymaniyah, expanding from the famous Mawlawi Street to include most of the city’s main streets down to Saray Azadi Square in the city centre. However, the security forces attacked the demonstrators, most of whom were activists and young demonstrators, and arrested dozens of them and put them in prison. On the evening of the same day, 05 December, the security forces released all detainees.

That same evening, the Kurdish security forces were deployed widely in all the alleys and main streets of the city, and they controlled the situation completely, including by using tear gas against the demonstrators.

Journalists who were covering the protests were targeted with excessive force and a number of them were arrested. The security forces destroyed the equipment needed for external broadcasts by a number of television channels, several of which were prevented from covering the demonstrations.

On 07 December 2020, the Ministry of Culture in the Kurdistan Region announced the closure of the NRT channel and stated, “The channel was closed due to its failure to comply with the instructions related to the regulation of the audiovisual media field, and irresponsible behaviour at this time and far from the law, and describing the security forces as militia and bandits, despite the channel’s alert several times.” The statement added, “We decided to stop the broadcasts by the NRT channel for a whole week.” The NRT channel reported on the same morning that security forces stormed its headquarters in Sulaymaniyah and seized the equipment. Local reports confirmed that the security forces had settled in front of the canal building inside the German Village in Sulaymaniyah after they closed its main entrance.

The protests continued on 06 December 2020, as demonstrators expressed their dissatisfaction with the government's failure to provide them with a prosperous future which forces them to consider emigrating outside the country.

The council formed by employees, teachers and activists threatened to organise large protests in the Kurdistan region and a general strike throughout the region in response to widespread corruption and the delay in salaries.

There is no doubt that the Kurdistan Regional Government was unable to pay the salaries of its employees, despite its reliance on the salary saving system, which provides for deduction of 21% of the salaries of employees. It has now distributed only three salaries for the current year and three salaries for the past year, and started at the beginning of December to distribute salaries for the month of October after deducting 21%.

The most important events that took place within the administrative boundaries of Sulaymaniyah Governorate on 06-07 December 2020:

- Peaceful protester Adham Yahya was killed during the demonstrations in the Chamchamal district, with live bullets in front of the Kurdistan Democratic Party headquarters in the city;

- Peaceful protester Ako Suleiman was killed in Kifri district in the main street leading to the headquarters of the Kurdish parties;

- On the evening of 06 December, journalist Horaz Ahmed, a correspondent for the website Sharbars, was attacked and beaten by the security forces in the Bira Meh Karon sub-district of Sulaymaniyah Governorate, who punched and kicked her while she was carrying out her journalistic work.

- Three peaceful demonstrators were injured as a result of bullets fired by the security forces in Halabja Governorate, and the condition of one of them is precarious;

- The demonstrators from Bazian district blocked the main road between Sulaymaniyah and Kirkuk, preventing the passage of commercial cars and trucks transporting oil to protest the widespread unemployment among the youth of the region.

The most important events that took place in the Kurdistan region on 08  December 2020:

- Journalist Harim Majeed, director of Digital Bazian News, was arrested by the security forces while covering the events of the demonstrations in Bazian district, near Sulaymaniyah;

- The Zayan news network team was attacked by the security forces in the Kalar district, in the Garmian region, in the north of Kirkuk Governorate;

- Angry popular demonstrations broke out in Warmawa sub-district in Sulaymaniyah Governorate;

- Popular demonstrations in Rania district continued for the third consecutive day;