General: Iraqi Kurdistan: GCHR’s periodic report on human rights violations in the Kurdistan Region

08.04.21

During the past year, Iraq’s Kurdistan Region witnessed many forms of violations of human rights, activists and journalists. The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) has documented numerous violations in its periodic reports, including the arrests of activists and journalists in violation of their rights to freedom of expression.

After the verdict was issued on 16 February 2021 against five activists and journalists, the same court issued an arrest warrant for a new group of activists and journalists charged due to their relationship with the five convicted men.

In the first case, the Second Criminal Court in Erbil sentenced five men to six years in prison. They are journalist and civil society activist Ayaz Karam Burji from the city of Dohuk, teacher and civil society activist Hariwan Issa Ahmed from Simele district, journalist Kohdar Mohammed Amin Zebari from Aqrah district, journalist and civil society activist Sherwan Amin Sherwani from the city of Erbil, and political activist Mulla Shafan Saeed Omar Brushki.

During the investigation and court proceedings, other names were mentioned, and as a result, a number of activists and journalists fled from Dohuk and Erbil to Sulaymaniyah, which is under the control and influence of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), for fear of being arrested by the security forces.

Among those who fled to Sulaymaniyah is political activist Ayhan Saeed Omar Brushki, a member of the policy and diplomacy section of the Kurdish Change Movement (Gorran), who is the brother of the detained activist Mulla Shafan Saeed Omar Brushki. He could not return to Erbil or Dohuk because of an arrest warrant issued against him.

Political activist and journalist Defaa Herki, a member of the Kurdish Change Movement (Gorran) was informed on 22 March 2021 that an arrest warrant was issued for him after his name was mentioned in the trial hearings of the five activists and journalists. In a phone call, he confirmed to GCHR that he cannot return to his hometown, the city of Akre in Dohuk Governorate, until his case is settled by the local government. He considers the arrest warrant issued against him to be a purely political matter which has nothing to do with the law and the courts.

Two other political activists, Kedar Hussain and Jalal Tahsin, members of the Kurdish Change Movement (Gorran), fled from Dohuk Governorate to the city of Sulaymaniyah, fearing that they would be arrested after their names were mentioned in the trial hearings of the five activists and journalists, and they have not been able to return to their homes.

After the verdict was issued, the defense team of the five convicted men appealed the court’s decision and called on the Court of Cassation to review the ruling. It is worth noting that, according to the laws in force in the region and Iraq, the Court of Cassation must issue its final judgment in any legal case within a month of the issuance of judgment decisions against the accused, but until the time of preparing this report, the court has not issued any decision on the case of the convicted men.

Meanwhile, the defence team of the five activists and journalists have not yet been allowed to visit their clients, and even their families have not been allowed to visit them since their verdict was issued on 16 February. Activist Sherwan Sherwani was only allowed to make telephone contact with his wife and family one time after the verdict was issued.

In another case, reliable press reports confirmed that on 28 January 2021, Turkish Kurdish political activist Omar Bartan was handed over to Turkish officials, blindfolded and handcuffed by the security forces in Erbil, and then sent to Branch T prison in the province of Sırnak, Turkey. On 22 February 2021, Bartan phoned his family and told them the details of his arrest and surrender to the Turkish authorities. Bartan was arrested on 03 July 2019, less than a month after his settlement in the city of Erbil, by the Asayish (Internal Security) and spent 19 months in prison before his forcible deportation. He was previously arrested by the Turkish Gendarmerie due to his political activities and spent more than 12 years in prison, and after his release, he was subjected to constant targeting and was forced to move to Iraqi Kurdistan in June 2019.

Under Iraqi law, the Kurdistan Region is not permitted to extradite political refugees to other countries, as only the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Iraqi judiciary may decide to hand over fugitives or refugees. According to Article 4 of the Iraqi Political Refugee Law, whereby it is prohibited to hand over a refugee to his country in any circumstances, and when a person’s request regarding acceptance of his asylum in Iraq is rejected, he may be deported to a country other than his own, according to the recommendation of the competent departments and with the approval of the Minister. Also, according to the Iraqi Political Parties Law, no political party has the right to interfere in any official state institution, meaning that the law does not allow any political party to negotiate directly with any other country in the context of its affairs.

At 6:30pm on 26 February 2021, the deputy in the Iraqi parliament for the Kurdish Hewa (Hope) parliamentary bloc, Dr. Ghalib Mohammed Ali, was attacked by a person who stabbed him with knives in front of his home in the city of Sulaymaniyah. The deputy was transferred to the hospital directly, where he received the necessary treatment. Three days after the incident, the security authorities in Sulaymaniyah province announced that they were able to identify the accused in this attempt, Hamid Sofi Darwish, a member of the Rizkari forces of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, who lives in the same province where the attack was carried out. He was smuggled to an unknown destination by influential leaders.

On 28 February 2021, Kurdish representatives in the Iraqi Parliament demanded that the federal government in Baghdad intervene to protect opposition representatives in the Kurdistan Region, after Representative Dr. Mohammed was subjected to this assault. Likewise, the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee denounced the attack on Dr. Mohammed. The Committee considers it an assault on all representatives, since their most important task is to monitor the performance of the executive and judicial authorities and legislate laws. The Committee called on the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq to open an investigation into the assault on the deputy and to refer the aggressors to the judiciary for trial.

At midnight on 04 March 2021, the security forces arrested a young man, Marwan Mohammed Haji, in the Gereh Kuh residential complex in the Simele district of Dohuk Governorate. Haji is from Turkey's Kurdistan Region, and has lived in Iraqi Kurdistan since 1994 with his family and hundreds of other families displaced due to the repression practiced by the local Turkish authorities against them. His family informed GCHR that they did not know the reason for his arrest and had no information about his whereabouts. Local sources confirmed that he was not allowed a lawyer or contact with his family. 

On 27 March 2021, journalist Wrya Hama Karim, director of the NRT channel office in Halabja governorate, was arrested by a security force and the Peshmerga affiliated with the Fifth Infantry Brigade for covering the demonstration demanding their rights that was carried out by members of the Peshmerga in the district of Said Sadiq in the Sharzor region. He was arrested and not allowed to report, and released after several hours in detention on the same day.

On 01 April 2021, a delegation from the Social and Humanitarian Affairs Committee in the Parliament of the Kurdistan Region visited the Asayish General Prison in Erbil, to examine the humanitarian conditions of the detained activists and journalists. It became clear to them that the conditions inside the Asayish prison were very bad, and the prison cells were all crowded with prisoners. In each cell measuring 50 square metres, there were 150 prisoners or detainees. The delegation witnessed the deterioration of the health and psychological conditions of the detainees, the spread of diseases among them, and noticed that they were suffering from a shortage of medicines and medical supplies, while living in a narrow cell.

 Recommendations:

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.