Free and Open Public Discourse in Iraqi Kurdistan is Under Threat
Human rights report by Christian Peacemaker Team, August 2017
(Full report can be downloaded in pdf here)
The authorities of Iraqi Kurdistan have planned a referendum vote for independence of Iraqi Kurdistan from the Central Iraqi Government set to take place on September 25th, 2017. As part of its mandate, Christian Peacemaker Teams – Iraqi Kurdistan (CPT) as an international human rights NGO sees the issue of the referendum as a right for the people of Iraqi Kurdistan to decide and holds no official position as to a desired outcome.However, we are obliged to observe the current status of human rights in Iraqi Kurdistan throughout this process. The discourse regarding the referendum has greatly impacted many people throughout the region.
The upcoming referendum vote for Kurdistan’s independence has been a political highlight for the people of Iraqi Kurdistan but engaging in the process of critique and debate has proven difficult for many activists and journalists. The Kurdish political parties, civil society, religious leaders and journalists have been divided between two groups: one supporting the referendum, and the newly formed “No for Now Movement” standing in opposition. The “Yes” campaign is being led by the two central governing parties in Iraqi Kurdistan, with the No for Now Movement being organized by some members of parliament, local businessmen, members of civil society, religious leaders and journalists. Supporters of the “No for Now” campaign in Sulaimani, Duhok and Erbil cities, as well as several districts, have found it difficult to openly debate and critique this issue. They often face threats of or even direct violence. In addition to physical violence and harassment, the two main KRG political parties have directed warnings of expulsion from Iraqi Kurdistan towards those publicly voicing criticism to the referendum.
To date, The Kurdistan Regional Government has not provided the civil society, journalists and other political or nonpolitical groups with a safe space to express their views freely. Despite all the challenges that the above named groups are presently facing, in the past many people have been killed, threatened, imprisoned, beaten or expelled from their cities and homes. The late events in Iraqi Kurdistan such as the ongoing financial crises, the non-functional Parliament, corruption and a lack of safeguards protecting freedom of speech and political expression, coupled with the slated referendum vote for Kurdish Independence has made a volatile political climate in the region and set a stage for increasing human rights violations.
Current findings of persons at risk
Christian Peacemaker Teams – Iraqi Kurdistan, would like to bring your attention to several members of civil society, journalists, religious leaders and members of Parliament that have been affected by the latest events. The following is just a sample of an influx of reports coming from within the region.
Sherwan Sherwani, an outspoken journalist, activist, and human rights defender. Currently, Sherwan is involved in the “No for Now” campaign for the upcoming referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan. Recently security forces raided his home and he is currently being monitored by unknown people. Sherwan told CPT that security forces in Erbil and Duhok have threatened, imprisoned and insulted him in the past. Furthermore, the party media has started numerous social media accounts in a campaign of defamation targeting Sherwan and his family. Sherwan is seriously worried about his safety and the safety of his family members due to the continuous threat from the security forces in Erbil. He urges the international community to ask the Kurdistan Regional Government to protect his family as well as the rest of the people in the region.
Farhad Sangawi, is an activist, member of Parliament and a journalist. Currently, he is part of a ‘’No for Now’’ campaign for the upcoming referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan. His brother’s house was recently raided while Farhad was present. He was then abducted by unknown men accompanied by governmental security forces and later released. Mr Sangawi has been verbally threatened for his stance on the referendum campaign as well as been asked to leave the country.
Sami Othman Faraj (Mala Saman), is a religious leader and political activist in Chamchamal district. Mala Saman has been very outspoken about women’s rights, the political status of the KRG and corruption in the region. On August 18th, 2017 while he was going to mosque to give his Friday speech, he was stopped by a BMW car and beaten severely. Mala Saman told CPT that five people in the car injured his head. Mala Saman also reported to CPT that the people who beat him were sent by the Chamchamal security forces. Furthermore, officials told him to leave his work or he would be assassinated. In 2011, the government fired him from his job for four years due to his involvement in demonstrations demanding freedom of speech and an end tocorruption in public sector.
As Iraq is a signatory of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is the Kurdistan Regional Government’s duty to provide protection to people living within Iraqi Kurdistan and to safeguard their inherent human rights including their rights to safety and freedom of speech.