Geneva – The Kurdish authorities’ use of violence against student protests that took place in several provinces of the region and resulted in the injury and arrest of dozens of protesters is condemnable, Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor said Wednesday in a statement.

Large-scale student protests swept through Sulaymaniyah city in the Kurdistan region of Iraq on Monday, demanding the payment of financial grants that have been suspended for years. The protests also demanded the improvement of the conditions of government university housing, which lacks the basic necessities of a decent life.

   The security forces’ repression of demonstrators in Kurdistan is a grave attack on freedom of opinion and expression, and the freedom of peaceful assembly, which are guaranteed by the Iraqi constitution in Article 38.   

Omar Al-Ajlouni, Legal researcher at the Euro-Med Monitor

The protests spread to other cities, including Erbil, Dohuk, and Halabja, as the protesters' demands extended to the dismissing of Sulaymaniyah’s governor, investigating the suppression of previous peaceful demonstrations, and making reforms in the region, especially as thousands of citizens risk their lives seeking asylum in Europe due to poverty and unemployment.

Kurdish asylum seekers constitute the largest proportion of asylum seekers and migrants stranded at the Belarusian-Polish border.

Eyewitnesses told Euro-Med Monitor that the authorities used a violent security policy to suppress demonstrations in Sulaymaniyah, as the security forces, in cooperation with individuals in civilian clothing, assaulted demonstrators with fists and batons and by dragging them in the streets. The forces also fired live bullets in the air, spread snipers on the roof of the Sulaymaniyah Governorate Headquarters to intimidate the demonstrators, and fired dozens of tear gas canisters at the protesters causing dozens of demonstrators to suffocate.

One of the serious incidents that Euro-Med Monitor documented was when the security forces locked up about 20 girls in one of the university dormitories of the University of Sulaymaniyah and fired tear gas inside the hall, causing many of them to suffocate before the students escaped the hall.

During the ongoing demonstrations, the security forces arrested about 20 people, and in some cases, used individuals in civilian clothing to join the demonstrations and arrest the protesters.

On Tuesday evening, gunmen affiliated with the regional authorities in Erbil kidnapped three protesters: Ahmed Ali, Amer Raad, and Hidi Jawri.

Murad Kordestani, director of the Future Policy Center and one of the participants in the demonstrations, told Euro-Med Monitor: "We went out in demonstrations that started from the University of Sulaymaniyah towards the governorate building. Then we headed to Al-Salem Street, and there, the security forces began to attack us with beatings and tear gas canisters. Some protesters were arrested, while several others sustained bruises and suffered suffocation.”

Omar Al-Ajlouni, legal researcher at Euro-Med Monitor, said, “the security forces’ repression of demonstrators in Kurdistan is a grave attack on freedom of opinion and expression, and the freedom of peaceful assembly, which are guaranteed by the Iraqi constitution in Article 38, which stipulates that ‘The State shall guarantee in a way that does not violate public order and morality: First, freedom of expression using all means. Second, freedom of press, printing, advertisement, media, and publication. Third, freedom of assembly and peaceful demonstration, and this shall be regulated by law.’”

"It would have been better for the authorities to address the causes of the protests, listen to the demands of the demonstrators, and seek to achieve social justice instead of using repression and force," Al-Ajlouni added.

The Kurdish authorities should:

  1. stop repressing protests and immediately and unconditionally release all those arrested in connection with the demonstrations;
  2. hold all those responsible for the use of violence against demonstrators accountable to ensure that such illegal practices are not repeated;
  3. respect the right of individuals to exercise their constitutional rights to express opinion and peaceful assembly;
  4. stop pursuing and arresting activists and journalists based on malicious charges;
  5. implement political and economic reforms to improve conditions in the region at various levels.