In Kurdistan’s Bahdinan region gun rules and activists are fugitive

27-08-2020 06:09
A late-night protest in Zakho led to unrest in the whole region


It has been a dangerous week for Bahdinan activists. Few nights pass without a youth taken out of his home to a prison for "the crime" of a Facebook post or calling for a protest against injustice in Kurdistan.

Only within last week, around 100 people have been arrested, most of them are activists and journalists.

The situation in Duhok is called "mass arrest" by the city’s youth as it is done without a court order or arrest warrant.

"What is happening in Duhok is not just arresting, but a mass arrest, as tens of journalists and activists have been detained without a court order," Said Ayhan Saeed,  journalist and activist from Bahdinan.

Bahdinan Region is one of the areas of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq which covers the cities of Amedi, Akre, Zakho, Shekhan, and Duhok. The Kurdish dialect of the people in this region, which is called Bahdini, differs from the rest of the Kurdistan Region, including Erbil and Sulaymaniyah, called Sorani.

Security forces in Bahdinan, affiliated to KDP, are always being used as a means to pressurize KDP’s dissidents and contain any protest and demonstration, similar to the events of the last week in Duhok and Zakho when security forces protesters and arresting many participants.

According to Ayhan, the arrest campaign is mostly practiced at night; when security forces suddenly raid on houses, taking the targets and violently beating them. "The number of arrested people has reached 100 persons, of which 90% are illegal. This mass arrest is an attempt to frighten and silence Bahdinan community."

The arrest campaign followed a protest in Zakho late on August 19, which soon turned to turmoil due to gunshots and scuffles causing injuries to both civilians and security forces.

"What Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) is practicing will not succeed because the law allows protests and people can voice their complaint concerning salary cuts and living conditions," said Ayhan, who also asked political parties to break their silence towards the KDP.

The protest is coincident with people’s harsh living conditions and the government’s financial crisis. Up to now the salary for March 2020 has been paid out with a 21% cut.

As its latest stance, the KDP Political Bureau issued a statement about the protests and demonstrations calling for using the law to limit those "who use protests to attack, stone and burn hospitals, government buildings and offices of political parties."

The statement also warns that "those people are never to be treated as protesters." The statement goes, "We support all legal attempts that legally put a limit to all riotous people and groups misdirect the peaceful and civil environment of demonstration towards violence, political unrest and disturbing social peace of the people of Kurdistan."

Like other areas in Kurdistan Region, Bahdinan Region has multiple political parties, but only the KDP dominates the area and wins the votes successively.

According to the results of the 2014 Governorate Council elections in Duhok, the KDP won 19 seats out of 28, gaining 357,000 votes out of 500,000.

The spokesperson of the KDP’s first branch in Duhok Masuod Serni told Peregraf, that the demonstration in Zakho was only a few truckers who were asking for jobs, "but supporters of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and New Generation and some of Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU) turned it into turbulence and attacked security forces."

According to Serni, security forces was the main victim of the turbulence with 68 injuries, "they [protesters] wanted to control Ibrahim Khalil border crossing."

He also pointed out that they have no problem with "true demonstration", but not "unruly demonstration". The KDP official elaborates that "The latter is arranged by the PKK and Shaswar Abdulwahid which is intolerable and we will arrest them, and we will arrest those who support it in activist and journalist disguise. We will detain them and do not allow disorder."

This confirmation from the KDP’s official corresponds to the statistics related to arresting journalists and activists for supporting demonstrations, as apart from detaining tens of journalists and activists, the NRT television office in Duhok is closed down.

"Any decision from Duhok Governorate is made in cooperation with the KDP branch, the governor and the police. Those who have been arrested are accused of supporting riotous demonstration," said the spokesperson.

According to Peregraf investigations in Duhok, it has been a week that a number of temporary checkpoints are settled and security forces have been increased in number in order to contain any gathering and abrupt protest.

Journalist and activist in Duhok Akram Kulli told Peregraf, "in other cities demonstration is allowed to some extent, but in Bahdinan the authorities do not allow demonstrations and they directly tell people they should not ask for their rights."

He also says that when people plan for a protest, tens of journalists and activists are sent to jail just as we see now.

Apart from Bahdinan, protests took place in Halabja, Sulaymaniyah, and Kalar last week. In some of the places, turmoil erupted and some political parties’ offices were set on fire.

Having said nothing about protests in his political party’s dominant area Bahdinan, Prime Minister Masruor Barzani issued a statement about Halabja demonstration threatening to arrest those who set several government buildings ablaze.

However, no international organizations, from the United Nations to foreign country representations in Iraq and Kurdistan Region, have not voiced against Bahdinan situation and have chosen to remain silent.

"Bahdinan authority has gotten ready-made scenarios for any demonstration. They fabricate different accusations for protesters such as blaming a foreign hand, or any other accusations to imprison the protesters," according to Kulli.

He also states that in every demonstration security forces attack journalists first, so "I believe Duhok is far more dangerous than some counties for journalism work."

According to Peregraf investigation, security forces in Duhok use tribal methods, direct and indirect threats in order to silence activists and disobedient people, especially those who criticize and call for a demonstration on social media platforms.

A number of journalists and activists in Duhok disclosed the names of some detainees and in a statement warns about the situation of the detainees and asks that "mass arrest" in Bahdinan must come to an end.

The statement links the arrest campaign to the KDP pressure and describes it as "illegal and undemocratic" as most of the detainees, including civilians, are not allowed to meet with lawyers.

In the history of Kurdish governance, Bahdinan has always been in favor of the KDP. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and later the KIU, have previously been two weak rivals of the KDP without increasing in strength.

Member of the Kurdistan Parliament of the KIU block Ismael Sgeri says the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) does not pay the salaries of its employees and yet prevents them to ask for their rights.

24 MPs from the KIU, Kurdistan Islamic Group (KIG), Gorran, PUK, and Azadi blocs have given a request to the Kurdistan Parliament Presidency to summon Prime Minister, Vice Prime minister, and the Minister of Finance and Economy regarding salary cuts and people’s harsh living condition.

"As for the militarization of Bahdinan and arresting civilians, journalists and activists, the KIU is not responsible. It is true that we are part of Duhok local authority, but we do not have even one military or security member, so in no way the KIU is responsible for what is happening in Bahdinan," Said the KIU MP.

After the latest election in the Kurdistan Region in 2018, the KDP, as the first winner, formed a new cabinet with the participation of the PUK and Gorran Movement. Both the KIU and the KIG have not participated in the cabinet. None of those four parties (PUK, Gorran, KIU, and KIG) have officially voiced against mass arrests in Badinan and have not supported any demonstration and protest. However,  New Generation has called for mass protests several times since the foundation of the current KRG cabinet.