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

23.08.21

Authorities in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region have violated the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, including suppressing online speech and closing down media. In its latest periodic report on the region, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) also documents the trials and arrests of civil society and political activists.   

Badal Berwari and Omid Haji Brushki

On 30 July 2021, the Second Criminal Court in Erbil, capital of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, held a first hearing for the trial of teacher and civil society activist Badal Abdulbaqi Berwari and journalist and civil society activist Omid Haji Brushki. The court heard testimonies about the two men by five activists and journalists sentenced to six years’ imprisonment -  journalist and civil society activist Ayaz Karam Burji from Dohuk, teacher and civil society activist Hariwan Issa Mohammed from Simele, journalist Kohdar Mohammed Amin Zebari from Akre, freelance journalist and civil society activist Sherwan Amin Sherwani from Erbil, and political activist Mulla Shafan Saeed Omar Brushki (Dosky) from Dohuk. They emphasised that these activities are related to the two men's defense of freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful protest. The court decided to postpone the trial until 30 September 2021.

A statement by the team of lawyers defending prisoners of conscience, directed to the presidency of the region, the Council of Ministers, the United Nations Human Rights Committee, parliamentary blocs, and foreign consulates in the region, revealed that the prisoners of conscience from Dohuk Governorate, known as the Badinan detainees, were subjected to torture and humiliation, in addition to psychological pressure exerted by the administration of the Asayish General Prison in the city of Erbil, where they are being held, to force them to make confessions proving their conviction of the charges against them.

GCHR received a copy of the statement, which confirms that the conditions of the detainees are very bad, and measures are being taken against them that are incompatible with the principles of human rights. The statement also says: "We call on you to respond to our demand to remedy the bad conditions of the detainees due to the deterioration of their health conditions and the very bad treatment by the employees and officials of the Asayish General Prison in Erbil with the Badinan detainees." The statement added, "There are no justifications or arguments for the authorities to continue imprisoning them or keeping them in the Asayish prison. Authorities should hand them over to a prison elsewhere under the supervision of the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs."

On 22 June 2021, the Halabja Misdemeanor Court sentenced Omid Haji Brushki to one year in prison and a fine of 240,000 Iraqi dinars (approx. USD $165), after he was convicted of misuse of social media and calling for peaceful and popular demonstrations, to demand the rights of employees and comprehensive reform in the region.

In view of the deteriorating health of Berwari, who is languishing in the Asayish General Prison in Erbil, his defense lawyers requested that the trial date be brought forward, in the hope that he will be released, as the charges against him are linked to his peaceful and legal activity. The court decided to hold the second session on 20 September 2021.

Three political activists arrested

On 10 June 2021, the security forces in Erbil arrested Jihad Hassan, representative of the Autonomous Administration in northern and eastern Syria in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and Mustafa Aziz Masti and Mustafa Othman Khalil, members of the Relations Committee of the Syrian Democratic Union Party, while they were on their way to receive their guests at Erbil International Airport.

On 22 June 2021, the representative of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria in the Kurdistan Region published on its Facebook page a statement issued by the Department of Foreign Relations in the Autonomous Administration, which stated: "Since 10 June, the fate of Jihad Hassan, representative of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria in Erbil and the members of the Syrian Democratic Union Party, Mustafa Masti and Mustafa Khalil are unknown, after the security authorities of the Kurdistan region kidnapped them without any warning, not even revealing their fate so far."

On 01 August 2021, the same page published the following: "After arbitrary arrest by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) forces for 49 days, the KDP released two days ago the two members of the Syrian Democratic Union Party relations and kept the representative of the Autonomous Administration in Erbil imprisoned without any reason mentioned by those security agencies, which originally arrested the three politicians." On 02 August 2021, the page stated, "Today we received accurate information about the deterioration of the health of the representative of the Autonomous Administration in Erbil, Jihad Hassan, after his arbitrary arrest by the security forces of the Kurdistan Democratic Party for 53 days."

Peace and Freedom delegation prevented from entering the region

On 10 June 2021, the security forces detained at Erbil International Airport an international delegation of activists, defenders of the environment, human rights, parliamentarians and a number of Kurdish politicians, who came from Europe to Erbil in the name of the peace and freedom delegation, with the aim of delivering a message of peace and discussing the dangers of Turkish attacks on the region and its destruction of the environment in Kurdistan. The delegation was detained for a whole day and then the local authorities deported them on another plane to Germany. The delegation included 16 international activists and five Turkish Kurdistan activists.

Civil society activists arrested

On 09 June 2021, the Misdemeanor Court in the city of Halabja sentenced journalist and civil society activist Naseh Abdulrahim Rashid to six months in prison on charges of misusing social networks and electronic means, including his Facebook page, due to his writings on corruption in the health sector in Halabja Governorate. GCHR obtained a copy of the ruling, which stated that the court issued its ruling due to the misuse of social media and in accordance with Article (182) of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

On 05 July 2021, the security forces in Shiladze sub-district of Amadiya district in Dohuk Governorate arrested a young civil society activist, Salar Rekani. The security authorities have not released him yet, and the reasons for his arrest are unknown.

On 05 July 2021, the security forces in Qaladiza district arrested a young civil society activist, Saman Mohammed, on charges of misusing social media, specifically his Facebook page, and criticising the government.

On 12 August 2021, the security forces in Shiladze district arrested civil society activist Berhat Mahdi Tawfiq Rikani, head of the Kurdistan Student Association in the Amadiya district of Dohuk Governorate, on charges of misusing social media, and participating in the peaceful demonstrations that started last year. He was released after six days of detention on 17 August 2021.

Three feminist activists arrested

On 05 August 2021, the KDP's Asayish forces arrested a delegation consisting of three members of the Kurdistan Free Women's Organisation (Rajak), feminist activists Siran Ahmed Hassan, Joanna Abdulbaqi and Khawla Mohammed Hassan. The delegation was arrested by Asayish personnel at the Kalak checkpoint in Erbil Governorate while they were returning from the Yazidi genocide memorial ceremonies that were held in Sinjar district. The fate of the delegation is still unknown since the day of their arrest, as the Asayish did not disclose any information about the delegation being detained by them.

Media institutions raided and forcibly closed