60 days behind bars: Story of a Kurdish teacher calling for public rights

19-10-2020 02:36
Badal Barwari, teacher and activist


He has been held behind prison bars for exactly two months, but neither security and political pressures nor worrying over his children made him soothe his stance; he is still calling for the right of the people.

Badal Barwari, teacher and activist, is about to break the record among those who have been arrested by Duhok security forces only for protesting over unpaid salaries, and unconfirmed accusations.

“He only asked us to try to release him only through international human rights organizations and embassies, not through the rulers, because, as he said, he was arrested unjust and would eventually be released,” said Ari, the son of Badal Barwari, on his last meeting with his father in prison.

Barwari was arrested and taken to prison on August 10, 2020, during a campaign of arresting journalists and activists in the Bahdinan Region. He has been held in custody since then and his release is unknown.

The 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 the Kurdistan Democratic Party (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 August in Duhok and Zakho when security forces protesters and arresting many participants.

The demonstration that led to imprisoning dozens of people sparked in Zakho late on August 19, which soon turned to turmoil due to gunshots and scuffles causing injuries to both civilians and security forces. The protest was coincident with people’s harsh living conditions and the government’s financial crisis.

“My father has been arrested five times without an arrest warrant. Now he has been in prison for 60 days for demanding people’s unpaid salaries,” Ari told Peregraf.

Badal Barwari had been held in prison separately for 22 days, 16 days, and three days twice, before experiencing his longest detention in prison. The reason for all the imprisonments was participation in protests and demonstrations.

After 30 days of continuous attempts to see his father, Ari managed to see him for only a few minutes. “His health was good enough, he said he would eventually release, ‘do not worry about me.’” Barwari has been allowed to make two phone calls to his family so far.

“What worries us is that in Great Zirka Correctional Prison every prisoner is allowed to meet with their families twice a week, only our father is denied this right,” Ari said.

Barwari is the father of two daughters and three sons.

“Having no other support, the absence of my father has affected us too much, especially financially.”

Badal Abdulbaqi, known as Badal Barwari, was born in Duhok in 1965. He has graduated from the Kurdish Language Department in Basic Education College at Duhok University. He has been a teacher for 28 years and is the deputy manager of Bahdinan School in Duhok. He is also the head of an organization.

“There were two charges against him, the court cleaned him from both charges. But he was not released,” said Khatab Omar, Head of the Voluntary Lawyers Network, who is working on Barwari’s case.

Khatab told Peregraf that the judge said Berwari was not released because he has another charge against him from Asayish [Kurdish Security Forces] accusing him of “trying to disturb social norms through social media platforms,” therefor he remains in custody until the investigation ends.

According to a report previously published by Peregraf, some 100 persons were arrested within a week in August in Bahdinan.

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

In the latest move of the security forces, on October 7, 2020, journalist and activist Sherwan Sherwani was arrested by a security force in his home in Erbil. Disregarding the required legal procedure, up to now neither his family nor his lawyer knows of his whereabouts or the reason for his arrest.

The spokesperson of the KDP’s first branch in Duhok Masuod Serni told Peregraf earlier, “We have no problem true demonstration but not an unruly demonstration. The unruly one is arranged by the PKK [Kurdistan Workers' Party] and Shaswar Abdulwahid [Leader of an opposition party] 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.”

“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.

Human Rights Commission in the Kurdistan Region has not followed the cases of arrest in Bahdinan, including Barwari’s case.

The Commission’s spokesperson Muhammad Gomashini told Peregraf, that the Duhok branch of the Commission has not sent any report in regard to Barwari’s case.

Peregraf tried to reach the Duhok branch of the commission but to no avail.

“If my father has had done any wrongdoings, we ourselves wanted him to pay for it, but has done nothing wrong, only calling for the rights of himself and public employees,” said Barwari’s son.

Ari reveals that every time the authorities add another accusation against his father, for example, political affiliation, but he denies being part of any political party “even for one day.”

A campaign is now initiated in Baghdad to release the detained journalists and activists in Bahdinan. The campaign is initiated by Kurdish lawmakers Sarkawt Shamsadin and Ghalib Muhammad. “The campaign is to support those who were arrested and kidnaped in Duhok. The campaign is supported by lawmakers from all fractions, apart from the KDP,” Shamsadin told Peregraf.

The campaign is working on a proposal aiming at forming a special court concerning human rights violations in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region.

According to Peregraf investigations, security forces in Duhok use tribal methods and 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.

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