General: Iraqi Kurdistan: A report on the popular protests and related human rights violations



Since mid-August 2020, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq has witnessed a widespread mass and popular protest campaign, organised by a group of civil society activists, including teachers and journalists, from various segments of society. They demanded an end to political and financial corruption, improvement of public services, respect for the rights of employees and the payment of salaries that have been delayed for many months due to the continuing financial and economic crisis afflicting the region and Iraq, which in turn led to the deterioration of the living conditions of all citizens. However, the security authorities, instead of responding to the demands of the people, launched a widespread campaign of arrests against civil society activists.

In Sulaymaniyah Governorate, many activists were arrested, but all of them were released after a short period. More than 50 activists were arrested in Dohuk Governorate, and dozens were arrested in Erbil Governorate during the past three months. A number of them have been released at different times, but some of them are still in prisons run by the Asayish forces (Internal Security). Journalists who covered the protests were targeted with excessive force, and a number of them were arrested. The security forces destroyed the equipment of external broadcasts for a number of television channels, a number of which were prevented from covering the demonstrations.  

This report by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) documents human rights violations related to the popular protests in Iraqi Kurdistan.

False charges brought against detained activists

The authorities laid false charges against detained civil society activists, including undermining national security, attempting to overthrow the Kurdistan Regional Government, and insulting local authorities.

Ill-treatment of detainees

During recent months, the authorities did not allow the families of detainees, who are held collectively in the Asayish General Prison in Erbil, to visit them, and even their team of volunteer lawyers was not allowed to meet them in prison. This constitutes a clear violation of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules).  

On 22 December 2020, the team of lawyers defending the detained activists was able to visit five detainees in the Asayish General Prison in Erbil, including teacher and civil society activist Badal Abdulbaghi Barwari, for the first time since his arrest on 18 August 2020. Also, on the same day, teacher and political activist Mullah Shafan Saeed Omar Brushki, the official in charge of the Dohuk branch of the Alliance for Democracy and Justice, called his family for the first time since his arrest on 22 October 2020, and assured them of his health.

On 06 January 2021, for the first time, the authorities in Erbil governorate allowed families to visit detainees, many months after some of them were arrested. The authorities have not yet set a date for the next visit.

A list of names of detained activists      

The list below includes the names of detained activists (including their arrest date) from the Governorates of Dohuk and Erbil who have not been released by the security authorities so far:




Date of arrest


Teacher and civil society activist

Badal Abdulbaghi Barwari 



Journalist and civil society activist

Omid Haji Brushki



Civil society activist

Tahsin Yassin



Civil society activist

Masoud Sinjari



Teacher and civil society activist

Karkar Abbas Ali Rostinki (Dosky)



Civil society activist

Bahlawan Adel Banavi Barwari



University Professor

Jamal Khalil Sindi



Civil society activist

Bindawar Ayoub Rashid



Civil society activist

Suleiman Kamal Hariki



Civil society activist

Suleiman Mousa Zebari



Civil society activist

Dr. Amer Dohuki



Civil society activist

Walat Jamil Koda



Journalist and civil society activist

Sherwan Amin Sherwani



Teacher and Political activist

Mullah Shafan Saeed Omar Brushki (Dosky)



Journalist and civil society activist

Ayaz Karam Burji



Teacher and civil society activist

Hariwan Issa Ahmed



Journalist and civil society activist

Kohdar Mohammed Amin Zebari


The arrest of several Kurds from Turkish Kurdistan in Makhmour district  

Kurds from Turkish Kurdistan were also arrested in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, including 19 refugees who live in the Makhmour refugee camp (also known as the Martyr Rustam Judi camp) located in Makhmour district of Erbil Governorate (the main photo), who were arrested by the security forces on 11 October 2020. They fled the oppression of the security forces in Turkey since the 1990s and have been living since in this camp.

The names of those who were arrested and subsequently released are:

1. Haji Mousa Yildirim

2. Aijan Abdel-Aziz Chalabi

3. Saeed Kara Abdullah

4. Abdulkarim Kara Yousif

5. Sadiq Bulut Ahmed

6. Aiden Siddiq Aiden

7. Orhan Rashid Bulut

8. Roken Siddiq Mohammed

9. Karush Rustum Yakoub

10. Shafan Mohammed

11. Zilan Saleh Sahib

12. Fadr Saleh Sahib

13. Maher Mohammed Amin Spirti

14. Gorbet Mohammed Tong

15. Ihsan Sheikh Suleiman

16. Ashraf Qutbuddin Kurhan

17. Yousif Gamal

18. Robar Sadiq

19. Dalil Gia

They were released on three dates - the first group was released on 12 November 2020, the second group was released on 20 November 2020, and the last group on 30 November 2020. The Camp Relations Committee who provided GCHR with this information also confirmed that three refugees from the camp have been detained by the security authorities in the Governorate of Erbil for a long time. They remain in a prison under the supervision of the Asayish, without any specific charges being brought against them, nor are visits by defence lawyers allowed.

The three detainees are:

1. Othman Nader Haji, date of arrest 06/13/2019

2. Maarouf Aziz Maarouf, date of arrest 12/4/2019

3. Mustafa Mousa Sherine, date of arrest 07/20/2019

Other arrests

On 13 October 2020, the security forces in Shiladze sub-district of Amadiya district in Dohuk Governorate arrested 15-year-old twin brothers Ayman Saadullah Artisi (Dosky) (photo 1) and (Amin Saadullah Artisi (Dosky) (photo 2) on charges that include running a Facebook page calling for demonstrations, demanding employee rights and the improvement of public services.  As of the publication of this report, they remain in detention.

On 26 December 2020, the security forces in Erbil Governorate arrested Mazen Hayas, known as (Mazen Jamila) (photo 3), a fifth-year student at the College of Medicine at the University of Sulaymaniyah and the owner of the famous Keto Restaurants project in the cities of Sulaymaniyah and Erbil. This arrest came just one day after he opened his restaurant in Erbil. Reliable local sources confirmed that the Asayish charged him with membership in a political party despite the fact that he does not belong to any political party, and the authorities have not released him so far. Local sources confirmed also to GCHR that the reason for his arrest is his widespread popularity among young people in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, as he provides healthy meals in his restaurants and advises youth groups to maintain physical fitness and follow a healthy, appropriate diet.

On the evening of 24 December 2020, the security forces also arrested journalist Awat Ali (photo 4), director of the Nalia Media Foundation and the NRT satellite channel, at Sulaymaniyah International Airport upon his return from a trip to Sweden. He was released hours after his arrest on the morning of 25 December 2020.


GCHR calls on the Kurdistan Regional Government to immediately and unconditionally release all those detained in violation of their right to assembly. 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.