Geneva – The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor revealed the testimonies of demonstrators and journalists against whom security forces committed flagrant violations in Iraqi Kurdistan in a new report published on Wednesday. These violations were committed over their participation in the demonstrations and publication of views opposing governmental policies.
The report, entitled “Iraqi Kurdistan: Exacerbating Crises and Stolen Rights”, documented the killing of five and injury of 70 demonstrators at the hand of security forces. During the demonstrations that sparked in different areas in the region from May to August, about 200 demonstrators were detained in two months only. Security forces detain protestors without any legal ground and commit various violations against them during the detention period.
On December 18, 2017, demonstrations sparked against corruption and late salaries as demonstrators wanted to oust the region’s government and bring radical reforms over the ongoing economic crisis. The crisis caused a rise in poverty and unemployment rates at a time where the coronavirus pandemic made life harder.
During times of crises and public protests against authorities, the region’s authorities commit various violations against the press work, undermining freedom of expression and restricting journalists from doing their work. In the first half of this year, 98 violations, such as detention, beating, threats of execution, and banning coverage, were committed against journalists, according to the report.
In an interview with Euro-Med Monitor, lawyer Khattab Omar, who defends many prisoners of conscience in the region, stated: “In Dohuk district, security forces arrested some citizens without legal ground or charges. They were tortured and threatened, and some of them were forced to sign pledges not to publish any information regarding the current situation nor engage in any civil activity regarding claiming their rights.”
Regarding the arrest of activist Jankeer Hussain Jankeer, Khattab noted that "On August 21, 2020, security forces, Asayish, stormed Jankeer’s house and arrested him without any legal basis after he videotaped himself calling on civilians to participate in the demonstrations." Jankeer was transferred to an Asayish prison, and he was kept in solitary confinement in unfavorable conditions. He was deprived of water, which caused him health problems in his kidney. He was subjected to frequent physical and psychological torture.”
Khattab added that his client remained detained for nine days, where he was tortured, interrogated, and asked to confess that he was responsible for provoking people to demonstrate, but he refused.
Regarding the conditions of detention centers, the report revealed that detention centers in the region suffer from difficult circumstances and do not meet public safety requirements at a time the coronavirus pandemic requires adopting strict health measures to prevent the spread of the virus among detainees.
In an interview with Hayman Mamend, a journalist and a civil activist, stated that he was arrested over his criticism of the authorities' performance in dealing with the COVID19 pandemic and the economic situation. During detention, he was transferred to several security centers. All of them didn’t apply COVID19 preventive measures.
“I arrived at al-Mahatta Central Prison in Mosul Road in Erbil after I was prisoned in several security centers. During deportation, despite the COVID19 outbreak, there was no respect for health measures as no one wore masks or used sanitizers. They do not practice social distancing as the vehicle was overcrowded. When I arrived, I was prisoned in a room measuring about 5*10 meters with 50 other prisoners convicted of serious felonies such as murder, rape, and abuse,” said Mamend in his testimony.
He added, “Health requirements were not adequately met; We used to share the same bathroom; there were not any sanitizers. During detention, we were deprived of sunlight.”
Tariq Lewa, Euro-Med Monitor’s legal advisor, stated that domestic and international laws prohibit all violations committed by security forces against peaceful demonstrators. These violations are prohibited be it freedom of the press, freedom of opinion and expression, and arrest, or any other violations related to torture and inhumane treatment.
The Iraqi Kurdistan authorities should stop the arbitrary detention of activists and journalists. Instead, they should respect people’s right to peaceful assembly and opinion and stop closing media outlets and prosecuting media staff without any legal ground.
The Iraqi Kurdistan authorities should respond to protestors’ demands by adopting a practical plan to improve economic conditions and eliminate corruption at official institutions.