A number of journalists and activists have been detained for months in Kurdistan’s Bahdnian area and their relatives and friends, along with lawmakers, have been looking for the answer for one question: why were they arrested and what are the shreds of evidence that prove their charges?
Neither their relatives nor the Kurdistan and Iraq lawmakers have the answer, least about the case have been disclosed, and some detainees’ whereabouts are still unknown.
According to Peregraf investigations, from August to early November this year, more than 100 people have been arrested in Bahdinan, including journalists, activists, teachers and civilians. Some of them are still in jail.
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.
“A masked force, without introducing themselves, took and kidnapped my son forcefully. I still do not know the reason, or where is he now,” Muhammad Amin, Guhdar Zebari’s father, told Peregraf.
Journalist Guhdar Zebari and three of his colleagues and activists in Bahdinan were arrested on October 22, 2020. No information on their indictment and place of prison is disclosed so far.
Muhammad does not ask for his son’s release; instead, he at least thinks that if his son is accused of something, he must have a lawyer, or their relatives must know about his whereabouts.
The father has turned to many places for his son, but his question remains unanswered. Now he calls on international organizations for help, “our son was arrested for telling the truth and speaking up for the rights of the public employees, he is not part of any illegal body.”
Even with the internal and international organization pressures to end arresting and raiding on journalists and activists, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) ignores the pressures and has released least information about the crackdowns and the fate and life condition of the detainees.
Answering journalists’ questions about the condition of the detainees in Bahdinan, KRG’s Minister of Interior Rebar Ahmed said a few days ago that the journalists were faced to law and arrested by an arrest warrant. He confirmed that they would not allow “intrigue, turmoil, and destabilization of Kurdistan.”
Apart from Guhdar Zebari, Shvan Saeed, activist in the city of Duhok, and Ayaz Akram, a journalist in Duhok’s Akre town, and Harun Issa, activist in Duhok’s Semel District have been arrested at the same day with no information about their condition ever since.
Aihan Saeed, a journalist and Shvan Saeed’s brother, told Peregraf that his brother abducted while sleeping by a masked force, “they raided his house and abducted him in front of his children. We still do not know anything about him, we have tried hard, but it was useless.”
According to Aihan, no one knows what the arrested people, including his brother, are accused of, “while even if they are perpetrators, they have the right to have lawyers, but the KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party KDP) arrests innocent people in order to spread fear among people.”
Security forces in Bahdinan, affiliated to the 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.
Part of the negligence, as Aihan states, is from the responsible authorities, including those who organizations who speak under the title of human rights.
Badal Barwari and Omed Baroshki, two well-known activists in Bahdinan, are in jail for more than three months now. And it has been two months that the fate of journalist Sherwan Sherwani is unknown when he was arrested at his home on October 7, 2020.
Gulstan Saeed, deputy chairwoman of the parliament’s human rights committee, told Peregraf, “when Prime Minister visited the parliament we informed him in an official letter that demonstration and protest are main rights of civilians and activists, we have pressed KRG officials on journalists in detention but received no information from authorities.”
She asked the Ministry of Interior the same question a month ago, but it remains without an answer as well.
“I have sent an official letter to the presidency of parliament to inform them that Bahdinan detainees are facing torture, but Deputy Speaker Hemn Hawrami asked for evidence, while I only know about them through public opinion; otherwise I do not know in which prison they are being held,” said Gulistan Saeed.
Legal number of MPs in Kurdistan Parliament officially asked parliament presidency to put the case of arresting journalists and activists in Duhok in a session agenda where the Minister of Interior be invited.
Shakhawan Rauf, Head of Interior and Security Committee in Kurdistan Parliament, told Peregraf, “our committee continues the investigation, part of the detainees are under inspections, and some of them have admitted to things, but we do not know why they were arrested. what matters is that we are online for the case.”
He says that they are going to visit Duhok for this case to speak about the detainees with the local authorities.
The recent crackdown 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.
The protest was coincident with people’s harsh living conditions and the government’s financial crisis that led to salary cut and delay.
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.
In the history of Kurdish governance, Bahdinan has always been in favour 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.