General: Iraqi Kurdistan: GCHR’s periodic report on human rights violations in the Kurdistan region
Policies of repression and violations continue, including arrests of civil society activists and journalists, and even ordinary citizens who express their opinions contrary to those of the local government and security authorities in the Iraqi Kurdistan region, according to this latest periodic report by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR). The security forces have used various means against people protesting about the poor conditions in the region. Severe resentment prevails among society as a result of rampant corruption in government facilities, deterioration of public services, delays in paying employees’ salaries, and decisions related to increasing fees and taxes on citizens.
The security forces also targeted the media and prevented them from covering current events. They also beat journalists in several cities in the Kurdistan Region, including with electric batons. According to the annual report of Metro Center for Defending the Rights of Journalists, the local authorities committed 353 violations during 2021 against 260 male and female journalists in the Kurdistan region.
Civil society activist and journalist imprisoned
On 26 January 2022, a member of Community Peacemaker Teams in Iraqi Kurdistan announced that 16 months after her arrest, civil society activist Berivan Ayoub Hassan Dershi, a resident of the city of Dohuk, will be brought to court for the first hearing in her trial on 14 February 2022. She was arrested on 13 October 2020, after organising and participating in the peaceful demonstrations that took place in Dohuk Governorate and the rest of the region to demand full reforms in the region. She will be tried in accordance with Article 1 of Law No. 21 of 2003, which is related to undermining the national security of the Kurdistan Region. Dershi is a 36-year-old mother of five who was divorced by her husband after her arrest and imprisonment. Her court hearings were postponed several times and as a result she went on hunger strike six times. Press reports confirmed that she developed diabetes after entering prison.
On 09 December 2021, Kurdish newspapers and media websites published an appeal sent by journalist Kohdar Mohammed Amin Zebari from prison, in which he mentioned the poor conditions suffered by prisoners of conscience, in addition to the physical and psychological torture that detainees from the Shiladze sub-district of Amadiya district in Dohuk Governorate continuously face. He called on the international community and civil society organisations to put pressure on the Kurdistan Regional Government to release them. On 16 February 2021, the Second Criminal Court in Erbil had sentenced five activists and journalists, including Zebari, to six years in prison on charges of endangering Kurdish national security.
Clerics silenced and arrested over critical sermons
After his last sermon on 31 December 2021, the Ministry of Awqaf (Religious Affairs) in the Kurdistan Region issued a decision banning cleric Dr. Sayed Ahmed Penjwini, an imam and preacher from a mosque in Erbil, from giving sermons in the mosque due to his criticism of the security authorities and the local government in relation to their mishandling of the file of student protests and their arrest of innocent citizens. The Ministry of Awqaf also asked the Ministry of Culture in the region to prevent the publication of his sermons in the media.