HRW calls on Kurdish government to release opposition activists detained in Erbil

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Sgt. Maj. Raad Ahmed Ali of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces inspects an underground Islamic State bomb shelter, part of a network of tunnels built in the city of Sinjar, Iraq. (BEN KESLING/WSJ)

ARA News

Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Thursday called on the Kurdish government to release six protestors who were arrested on 4 March after protesting against the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, after tensions erupted between Kurdish parties in Sinjar.

31 unarmed protestors were arrested in Erbil on 4 March during a pro-Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) march against the KDP’s Sinjar policies, but most of them were released, apart from six who remain in prison.

“KRG authorities appear to be detaining protesters for no good reason,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “They are also using threats and retaliation to discourage future protests, undermining freedom of expression and assembly in the Kurdish region.”

Swara Hassan, a journalist for the pro-PKK RojNews, said that at 2 p.m. he and two local activists parked their car about 500 meters from the demonstration. They headed to the protest, which Hassan said he was planning to cover for RojNews, when a protester who was leaving the area warned them that people were being arrested.

Hassan said he and the two activists decided to leave but that as they headed for their car, an officer ordered them into a police vehicle.

The police took them to Erbil central police station, and held them with nine others. At about 3:30 p.m., he said, guards moved him and another protester into another room holding eight female detainees. He said that two told him they were children, ages 13 and 15.

“Erbil authorities have arbitrarily banned workers from nongovernmental groups and even the Kurdistan Region’s parliament speaker, Yusuf Mohammed, a member of the Gorran party, from entering Erbil,” HRW said.

“Security forces have an obligation to protect the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” it said.

“While the organizers of the protest on March 4 had not sought permission, as local law requires, international law protects the right to peaceful assembly without restrictions, except in very limited circumstances,” HRW added.

“If the only crime these men are being charged with is participation in an unregistered protest, authorities should drop all charges and release them immediately,” Fakih said.

Tensions have increased between the PKK and the KDP after the KDP-affiliated Rojava Peshmergas and the PKK-affiliated Shingal Resistance Units (YBŞ) clashed in Sinjar on 3 March, killing seven PKK fighters.

On 14 March, one protestor was killed, and dozens were injured by KDP-affiliated security forces in a PKK protest against the KDP in Sinjar.

Moreover, parliamentary factions condemned the KDP stopping a seminar at the Standard think tank on 15 March.

“’Standard’ think tank had been holding forum on peaceful end to Sinjar crisis when armed men loyal to Barzani occupied building,” Gorran Change, a Twitter account of the opposition faction Gorran said on 15 March.

“Yesterday, I was prevented by a huge Presidential force to held a debate about the causes of tension between PKK and KDP and how to avoid intra-Kurdish fighting in Erbil,” Mohammed Kayani, an ex-politician of the Gorran movement told ARA News.

“The force commander said they have been ordered by the highest presidential authority to stop me to talk in the meeting. The other speaker was Abdulla Agrin, a member of KDP leadership. The debate was hosted by Standard establishment for research,” he said.

In Syrian Kurdistan, since 3 March over 40 members and supporters of the pro-KDP Kurdish National Council (KNC) were arrested by security forces or armed groups with ties to the PKK-linked Democratic Union Party (PYD), with some of them released.

Furthermore, several buildings of KNC-parties were torched and attacked in several Syrian Kurdish cities, despite promises of the local Asayish police to protect them.

On Wednesday, the PYD-led Rojava Self-Administration reportedly shut down some 23 offices of KNC-linked political parties in Hasakah, Qamishli, Amude and Kobane for not applying for a permission from the local administration, after it gave the parties a 24 hours deadline –during a press conference on Monday– to register based on the political party law.

“We are serious and obligated to close the offices of all the parties, whether they are Kurdish, Arabic, Syriac or of any other component,” Canaan Barakat, the head of internal affairs of the Cezire canton (Hasakah), said on Wednesday.

On April 17, 2014, the PYD-led administrations passed a law on political parties for the cantons of the Cezire, Kobani and Efrin, setting a deadline of forty-five days to apply for authorization. The KDP-linked KNC immediately rejected the law.

This week the canton-administration in Cezire decided to apply this law years after the deadline as a result of the worsening relations between the KDP and the PKK.

Observers expect the tensions between the PKK and KDP to continue in both Iraqi and Syrian Kurdistan in the coming days.

Source: ARA News

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