Security forces in the Iraqi Kurdistan region continue to commit violations against civil society activists and journalists, as well as clerics and other citizens, who criticise the performance of the local government, or express their opinions in various media and social media. The security authorities violate freedom of opinion and expression, and throw those with dissenting opinions into security prisons without trials. Many young activists have spent more than a year in detention, without being brought to trial or allowed lawyers to defend them. This periodic report issued by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) deals with a large number of violations that occurred during the past three months, including the imprisonment and murder of women human rights defenders.
Woman human rights defender murdered
On 06 March 2022, 20-year-old woman human rights defender and Internet activist Eman Sami Magdeed, known as (Mari Sam), was murdered in the city of Erbil by her brother and uncle, because of her peaceful activities such as her defence of women’s rights in Iraq on social media networks, including her Facebook page. Her death came two days before International Women’s Day.
She was suffering from the hard psychological effects of her forced early marriage at the age of 12, which ended in divorce by her will. She has also been threatened with death several times for her posts, specifically defending women’s rights.
Days before her murder, Magdeed wrote on Facebook, “I read and suffer for the human being, for the oppressor and the oppressed, I suffer for the lack of love and sacrifice.” She also wrote, “I am not afraid of pain, because it is always a part of me.” In her third Facebook post in August 2021 she wrote, “I believe that humans will always suffer at the hands of other humans.”
GCHR mourns the untimely death of human rights defender Eman Sami Magdeed and shares the deep sorrow and grief with all her fans, and calls on the local authorities to take the necessary legal measures to bring the perpetrators to trial. The Kurdistan Regional Government should make every effort at all levels to ensure that all women are fully protected.
Civil society activist sentenced to two years in prison
On 06 March 2022, the Criminal Court in the city of Erbil sentenced civil society activist Berivan Ayoub Hasan Dershi to two years in prison, after convicting her of charges that include allegedly insulting the Kurdistan Region, endangering its security, and calling on citizens to demonstrate. A member of the defense team for the detainees of the Badinan region (in Dohuk), lawyer Bashar Abdulrahman, stated in a press conference in front of the court building, “The documents presented by the security authorities to convict the defendant were weak, but unfortunately the court has convicted her.” He added, “Nevertheless, we will appeal against her sentence.” He explained that, “six months of the sentence was calculated for the conditional release, and she spent one year and five months in prison, so she has one month left of her sentence.”
It is noteworthy that the trial was attended by representatives of the Kurdistan Parliament, representatives of diplomatic bodies in the region, the head of the Human Rights Commission, and organisations defending the rights of journalists.
Dershi, a 36-year-old mother of five who participated in the 2020 demonstrations in Dohuk Governorate, was arrested on 13 October 2020. She has not been released yet.
Two civil society activists and Syrian citizen arrested
On 13 February 2022, security forces in the Shiladze sub-district of Dohuk Governorate arrested a young civil society activist, Nawzad Mustafa Islam Dosky, on charges of participating in demonstrations and criticising the local government and mismanagement in the area. Also, on 15 February 2022, young Syrian citizen Youssef Shukr Suri, a resident of Shiladze who was working legally there, was arrested. The reason for his arrest and the place of his detention are not yet known.
On 10 March 2022, anti-terror forces arrested civil society activist Sohaib Rikani in Shiladze, and took him to an unknown destination. He did not know the reason for his arrest, but he is an activist on social media, and he declared his solidarity with the activists arrested by the security forces.
Civil society activists prevented from conducting peaceful activism
On 13 April 2022, the security authorities in Erbil Governorate prevented a group of activists and representatives of civil society organisations working in the field of genocide research from gathering in front of the Anfal victims’ memorial in the city. They were prevented from giving a speech demanding the rights of the victims of this campaign of genocide in 1988, authorised by order of the former dictator Saddam Hussein. They were thus forced to deliver their speech away from the monument.
Journalists arrested and released
On 15 March 2022, the security forces in Dohuk Governorate arrested journalist Taif Goran, the correspondent of the Kurdish NRT satellite channel, with a crew of photographers, after they tried to cover a fire incident of a hotel in the city. The security forces confiscated all their belongings, including cameras and mobile phones. They were released after being held for one hour, during which they faced ill-treatment.
On 22 February 2022, the security authorities in Dohuk Governorate released journalist and civil society activist Omid Haji Brushki, after he spent one year and seven months in prison. On 18 August 2020, security authorities arrested Broshki during a raid on his home in Dohuk. He has previously been arrested more than five times due to his constant criticism of the local government.
On 05 February 2022, the security forces in the city of Zakho arrested two journalists, Mushir Ahmed from Speda satellite channel, and Barzan Hassan from the local Khabir channel in Zakho district. They were released after a two-day detention.
Students peacefully protest
On 13 April 202, the security authorities in Erbil prevented student protestors at Salahaddin University from peacefully demonstrating, demanding the payment of their monthly stipends by the local government, which was delayed for two months in a row. Despite this, the protesting students continued to demonstrate and gathered in front of one of the university’s gates, and announced a boycott of work. It is worth noting that university and institute students throughout the Kurdistan Region had previously held peaceful demonstrations several months ago, calling on the local government to improve the conditions of internal departments and their living conditions and to pay their monthly allowances. The local government was forced, due to the pressure, to disburse the allowances for only one month.
Kurdistan Region Teachers’ Council plans strike
On 05 March 2022, the General Council of Teachers of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq announced in a statement that they will begin to boycott work throughout the Kurdistan Region due to non-payment and delay of their salaries, and a halt on promotions for teachers and employees, despite the high prices of necessities in the market. The government acceded to some of their demands and the strike was suspended.
Five prisoners of conscience organised many hunger strikes
On 26 March 2022, a year after their arrest, five prisoners of conscience, who are residents of Shiladze, made an appeal to public opinion through their families when they visited. They asserted in their appeal that they had been tortured in the prisons of the Kurdistan region and were forced to sign papers whose contents they did not know, and requested to meet with representatives of the United Nations office and the volunteer lawyers’ team.
The five detainees are civil society activists Kovan Tariq Gabriel and Youssef Sherif Ibrahim, in addition to political activist Mohmoud Naji Siddiq, who were all arrested on 13 December 2020, and political activists Ahmed Youssef Mustafa Rikani and Nechirvan Badi Haji, who were arrested on 14 December 2020.
In their letter, the detainees announced that they had started a hunger strike to protest their ill-treatment, and the lack of access to lawyers to defend them. Local sources confirmed that they organised many hunger strikes demanding their rights, including to be referred to a fair trial.
Political activists released
On 13 April 2022, the Court of Cassation in Erbil decided to commute the sentences of political activists Masoud Ali Haji Sinjari and Shirwan Taha Amin Cougar to two years in prison each. They were released on conditional release bail after spending more than 19 months in the Asayish (Internal Security) prisons in the city of Erbil.
It is noteworthy that on 08 November 2021, the Second Erbil Criminal Court sentenced Sinjari to three years and six months in prison, and Cougar to two years and six months in prison, on charges of violating the national security of the Kurdistan Region and for their participation in peaceful demonstrations demanding the civil and human rights of citizens. Protesters called for employee salaries not to be delayed, public services to be improved, and an end to rampant corruption. The decision to release them was implemented the day after the Court of Cassation’s ruling.
Detained political activist sends letter from prison
On 06 April 2022, the letter of political activist Sherwan Saeed Haji, known as (Shirwan Saeed Simele), from the Birmam district of Erbil Governorate, was published. He was arrested by the security and intelligence detachments of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). He has remained in prison so far without trial and without evidence that proves his involvement in any anti-regional activity.
In his letter, a copy of which was obtained by GCHR, he stated that he was arrested in 2007 and detained in the Asayish General Prison in Erbil, and that no charges were brought against him, nor has he been summoned for interrogation except once, on 06 February 2018, by the Investigation Committee in the Asayish prison, where he faced ill-treatment. Haji asked everyone to show solidarity with him.
Political activist arrested
On 10 March 2022, the security forces in the city of Shaqlawa in Erbil Governorate arrested Turkish political activist Masoud Jeftji, after he came from Sulaymaniyah Governorate to transfer his family from Erbil to the city of Sulaymaniyah. Jeftji has been residing in the Kurdistan Region for nearly six years after being accepted as a political refugee, and he lives in the city of Sulaymaniyah. He was released on 04 April 2022.
Anniversary marked of the sentencing of five activists
On 15 February 2022, on the occasion of the anniversary of the verdict issued against journalist and civil society activist Ayaz Karam Burji from the city of Dohuk, teacher and civil society activist Hariwan Issa Ahmed from Simele, journalist Kohdar Mohammed Amin Zebari from Akre, writer and civil society activist Sherwan Amin Sherwani from Erbil, and political activist Mulla Shafan Saeed Omar Brushki (Dosky) from Dohuk, they issued a statement from the prison. They stated, “The verdict issued against us will not break our will and our morale.”
They explained in their letter, “The overall process of arrest, investigation, trial and ill-treatment by the security, governmental and judicial institutions in Erbil, shows deep injustice and historically unfeeling treachery against the provisions of the Iraqi constitution and the principles of international human rights.” They further asserted that they were prevented from seeing their lawyers, that violence was used against them despite their not guilty pleas and that they were forcibly arrested by the local government in Erbil.
On 16 February 2021, the Second Criminal Court in Erbil issued a six-year prison sentence against the five men. The Court of Cassation in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq upheld the decision on 28 April 2021.
According to the allegations directed against the five activists and journalists, as noted in the appeal ruling, they were convicted of the following charges: organising a group with the intention of targeting sensitive areas and devices in the region, destroying security and stability in the region and causing sabotage operations, and forming links with foreign persons and strangers for the purpose of carrying out their sabotage objectives.
Clerics targeted and property of religious association confiscated
On 11 December 2021, the security forces arrested the young cleric Mullah Bukhari Sirkotki in Zakho district of Dohuk Governorate. Then on 05 February 2022, they seized the contents of the headquarters of the Society of Preserving the Holy Qur’an owned by Mullah Bukhari, who is still imprisoned. The association’s goal is to teach children and young people to read and memorise the Holy Qur’an. He was released after several days of detention.
The Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs (Endowments) in the Kurdistan Region decided to expel the cleric Mullah Ahmed Sufi Hamid, the imam and preacher of the Saeed Al-Nursi Mosque in the Soran district of the Erbil Governorate, on the pretext that he had obtained a study leave and did not devote himself to his work as a preacher and imam of a mosque. This was stated in the Ministerial Order No. 309 on 03 April 2022, which bears the signature of the Minister of Endowments and Religious Affairs Aliyah (of which GCHR obtained a copy).
Hamid explained that the reason for his expulsion from working as a preacher for the mosque was a political reason due to his criticism of the mismanagement of the country, and the absence of basic public services. During the past year and this year, many clerics have been excluded from their work as preachers of mosques under various pretexts, but the main reason is their lack of support for the policies of the local government.
Citizen dies after Turkish bombing
On the evening of 15 February 2022, Hussain Haydar Rikani, unarmed resident of Shiladze, died as a result of the Turkish bombardment on Shiladze. The Security authorities asked his family to speed up his burial to prevent the reoccurrence of popular demonstrations condemning the Turkish occupation and its continuous attacks on the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
Call for a peaceful demonstration in Shiladze district
On 06 March 2022, the Shiladze Youth Council issued a statement calling on the citizens to hold a popular and peaceful demonstration, in protest against the arrest without trial of dozens of youths from their region and neighbouring area, who are also not allowed to have access to lawyers. The security forces did not allow them to demonstrate.
Innocent civilians arrested
On 31 March 2022, after the Turkish army launched a military landing in some villages of the border area of Bradost of Erbil Governorate, the security forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government arrested Mam Sulaiman and Akram Mohsen from the village of Shakira in the Seidekan sub-district of Soran district in Erbil Governorate. They were referred to the Asayish Directorate in Soran, and the reason for their arrest is not yet known. The detainees work as shepherds in the border villages and were busy in their work caring for their livestock at the time of their detention.
On 04 March 2022, the security forces in the Barzan area arrested five young men from Shiladze on the pretext that they were in Barzan without informing the security authorities. The five young men are Nozdar Mustafa Rikani, Delovan Gendy Rikani, Mateen Soubhi Rikani, Hamza Setteyi Rikani and Youssef Sidani Rikani. These young men went to the Barzan area with the aim of reaping the mountainous spring crops, which is not one of the forbidden areas, but the security forces accept only members of the Barzan clan to be present in the area. The five young men are still in detention by the security forces.
The Kurdistan Reginal Government should ensure that journalists, media professionals, women’s rights defenders and all human rights defenders are able to carry out their legitimate human rights work without fear of reprisals and free from all restrictions including judicial harassment.
GCHR calls on the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all civil society activists, journalists and other prisoners of conscience whose civil and human rights, including freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly, are being violated. The authorities must fulfill their constitutional obligations not to violate public freedoms, including freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of expression, and freedom of the press, and to provide full protection for journalists and media professionals. They must furthermore guarantee women’s rights and protect the rights of those who defend women’s rights.