Iraq

Cracking down on protesters in Iraqi Kurdistan legitimizes corruption

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Geneva – The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq should respond effectively to the demands of protestors and improve living conditions in the oil-rich region which produces about 15% of Iraq's oil, Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor said on Tuesday, 25 August 2020.

The demonstrations swept through the region for the third day in a row and continued until the late hours of the night, including the governorates of Sulaymaniyah and Halabja, in addition to the cities of Rania, Darbandikhan and Chamchamal.

The protesters demanded putting an end to corruption, paying salaries of employees and retirees, opening an investigation into the wealth of members of the two main parties in the region, the Kurdistan Democratic Party led by Masoud Barzani (Head of the KRG), and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party, led by the family of Jalal Talabani.

M. N., who asked to be identified by his initials, an activist participating in the protest, said: “activists decided to continue protesting until corruption and hegemony of the two parties that share jobs, power, and the oil-money end.”

“Hunger has increased. The number of beggars has sadly jumped up significantly. While relatives of officials live in luxury using our money," he added.

Masoud Barzani condemned the protesters in a statement including burning governmental and party buildings and private property and threatened protestors with accountability for committing "criminal acts.” At the same time, his statement did not mention the security forces' use of excessive force against demonstrations.

According to testimonies obtained by Euro-Med Monitor, the security forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government carried unjustified attacks on the demonstrators, including the forcible dispersal of some gatherings, and the arrest of more than 50 demonstrators.

According to local human rights reports, the security forces in the region have launched an intense campaign against journalists since the beginning of the year. The campaign intensified with the expansion of the demonstrations in recent days, as the Kurdish security forces (Asayish) forcibly closed the office of NRT TV Channel, which covered protests in the Zakho region.

Honer Ihsan, the channel’s Deputy General Manager, said in a press statement: “After midnight of August 23, a force from Asayish stormed our channel’s office in Dohuk and confiscated all equipment and arrested the channel’s correspondent in Zakho, Ahmad Zakhoy. He has not been released yet.”

The region’s authorities are responsible for adopting serious and practical actions to hold officials suspected of being involved in corruption and misuse of public funds accountable instead of suppressing demonstrators and using unjustified force against them, the Geneva based organization said, calling on the government to adopt serious plans within a specific timeframe to bring about change. The organization stressed the need for bringing all persons involved in corruption to account and to punish those responsible.

Individuals are entitled to peaceful assembly and to express their views freely, as Law No. 11 of 2010 – known as the Law on Organizing Demonstrations in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq – clearly guarantees the right to protest, assigning the police to protect protests. The law provides that authorities should listen to the demands of the protestors and meet them.

Iraqi Kurdistan authorities should stop dealing violently with demonstrations, respect freedom of the press, release all protesters and enable individuals to exercise their legitimate right to peaceful assembly and expression of opinion without restriction or prosecution.

The authorities should expedite the disbursement of employees’ salaries, improve living conditions and develop solutions to end corruption at official institutions as well as the economic crisis afflicting the oil-rich region.