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


Authorities in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq continue to violate freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly, including firing teargas at demonstrators, arresting student protesters and shutting down media. In its latest periodic report on the region, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) reports on the arrests of nearly 300 people from the region, most of whom are student protesters and civil society activists, in addition to the trials and sentencing of journalists, civil society and political activists. 

Student protests erupt

 Late in the night of 21 November and into the early morning hours of 22 November 2021, peaceful demonstrations took place, involving thousands of students, inside the university campus and in front of the entrance to the University of Sulaymaniyah. 

They raised slogans demanding payment of suspended financial grants, and the improvement of housing conditions, such as the accommodations that were previously provided in their designated internal departments. 

The demonstrations broke out in the Sulaymaniyah Governorate and the areas of Rania, Garmian, and Koysinjak in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and then spread to Erbil Governorate on 23 November 2021. 

The protesting students closed the main roads inside and outside some cities during their marches and stopped traffic, including on the roads connecting the city of Sulaymaniyah and each sub-district Taslujah, the city of Kirkuk, as well as the main road leading to the city of Erbil, in addition to the Pengwin road leading to Kalar.

The Asayish (Internal Security) forces used tear gas and batons to disperse the students so they could open closed roads inside the city of Sulaymaniyah, as well as roads leading to other cities. 

It is worth noting that the students of universities and institutes in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq were receiving dues and financial allocations as grants to help them complete their studies in universities and institutes and relieve them of the burden of study. Each student received an amount of 60,000 Iraqi dinars annually, or USD$40 per month for everyone who lived in the city centres and 100,000 dinars, or USD$68 per month for each student who lived outside the city centres, in addition to accommodation in the student’s internal departments, but these financial grants have been suspended since 2014. 

Most prominent developments during 5 days of student protests 

As soon as the student protests began at the University of Sulaymaniyah from the student dormitories and extended to the Sulaymaniyah Polytechnic University, the security forces took to the streets in order to stop the demonstrations and arrest their organisers.

On 22 November 2021, the demonstrations expanded to include all segments of the people, led by students, in which these protests covered all the main streets in the city of Sulaymaniyah. Asayish forces dispersed these demonstrations by using tear gas canisters against the demonstrators before firing shots into the air to force the students to disperse. After that, hit and run operations took place in the city between the security forces and the demonstrators, and dozens of them were arrested and imprisoned, and many of them were wounded.

On 23 November 2021, student protests continued and spread to other universities in the cities of Rania, Erbil, Dohuk, Zakho, Soran, and Halabja, where the security forces in Erbil arrested a number of student demonstrators.  

The security forces also placed obstacles in the way of media coverage of the demonstrations, and did not allow many TV channels to cover the protests, including the Kurdish satellite channel NRT, Speda satellite channel, and many local media networks. 

Student protests continued on 24 November 2021, in particular in the cities of Erbil and Sulaymaniyah, and the security forces arrested at least five protesting students. In Zakho, they did not allow Speda satellite channel to cover the protests of Zakho University students who gathered at the entrance to the university in support of students in other universities who called for their rights, including to access financial grants and improved conditions of internal departments, as well as protesting corruption. 

On the same day, two correspondents of the Kurdish Roj News Network, Barwa Asaad and Barham Latif, were kidnapped in the city of Sulaymaniyah by the security forces because of their coverage of the protests. They were released on bail the next day, but their personal and media equipment, including mobile phones and cameras, were not returned. Al-Baghdadia TV correspondent Abbas Mohammed and Al-Eshraq satellite channel reporter Razan Majed were arrested by the city's security forces, and later released.

On 24 November 2021, student protests spread to the Bira Meh Karon sub-district of Sulaymaniyah Governorate. On the same day, the security forces arrested Mam Waria Brakhas and Kaka Salah Kayani in Shahrizor district, on charges of inciting people and students to participate in the demonstrations. Also, the security forces arrested civil society activist Dleir Ibrahim in front of the University of Sulaymaniyah building on the pretext that he was filming and covering the student protests there. They also arrested four civil society activists, Mustafa Bahir, Omid Hussain, Kamiran Latif and Mahmoud Hallaq, as a result of their presence among the protesting students and their support for their demands.