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Targeting of activists and journalists continues in Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan

Locals gather in a tea shop in the town of Zakho in Duhok governorate, Iraq, 31 December 2018
Locals gather in a tea shop in the town of Zakho in Duhok governorate, Iraq, 31 December 2018

Geovien So/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

This statement was originally published on gc4hr.org on 10 March 2019.

On 26 January 2019, a demonstration was held against the presence of Turkish forces at a military barracks in Shiladze in the governorate of Dohuk, by a group of citizens. Some of the demonstrators set fire to the barracks, and Turkish forces opened fire indiscriminately, killing two demonstrators and wounding more than ten others.

As a result, Dohuk's intelligence agency (Asayish) arrested dozens of citizens who took part in the demonstration. They were detained until forced to sign a pledge not to demonstrate in the future.

Later that same day, Asayish arrested more than 50 activists and journalists while they were preparing to hold a solidarity sit-in with demonstrators against the Turkish presence in Shiladze. According to reliable local sources, the activists were blindfolded and tortured while they were interrogated by Asayish.

Most of the arrested activists and journalists were released. However, independent journalist and civil society activist Sherwan Al-Shirwani and civil society activists Ayaz Karam, Rikan Rashid and Takur Zardashti are still being held in Zarka prison in Duhok.

Sherwan Al-Shirwani had used his Facebook page, with more than 16,000 friends and followers, to publish news reports on various protests, including videos about the Turkish airstrikes in Iraqi Kurdistan. On 27 January 2019 he had published a post in which he named all the citizens who were killed by these airstrikes.

Journalist and civil society activist Mustafa Bamarni, who was also among those arrested on 26 January 2019, was arrested again on 1 March 2019 by security forces and remains in detention.

Information received indicates that the charges against them are in accordance with article 156 of the amended Iraqi Penal Code No. 111 of 1969, in connection with "prejudice to the independence, unity or territorial integrity of the country" despite the suspension of the work of this article which carries the death penalty in the Kurdistan Region under Law No. 21 of 2003.

On 27 January 2019, security forces confiscated all the transmission and communication equipment of Kurdish TV channel NRT in Duhok governorate and suspended the channel. Five staff members of NRT were detained for several hours by the security authorities in relation to their coverage of the protests against the presence of Turkish troops in the governorate.

In the governorate of Najaf, the National Security Directorate ordered the arrest of journalist Hussam Al-Kaabi, NRT correspondent in Najaf, where security men in a civilian car arrested him from a city street late on the night of 07 January 2019. Al-Kaabi was arrested after a complaint was filed against him by the National Security Adviser, who accused him of defamation resulted from publications he made on his Facebook page. He was released the next day.

In the governorate of Basra, security forces belonging to the Ministry of the Interior arrested journalist Muslim Al-Mayahi, radio correspondent, after he had covered their forceful dispersal of a peaceful demonstration in the centre of Basra. He was released shortly afterwards.

The Metro Center for Defending the Rights of Journalists and the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) call on the authorities in the Kurdistan region of Iraq to release Shirwan Al-Shirwani, Ayaz Karam, Rikan Rashid, Takur Zardashti, and Mustafa Bamarni immediately and unconditionally and respect the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. In addition, the Metro Center for Defending the Rights of Journalists and the Gulf Center for Human Rights urges the authorities in Kurdistan, and the federal authorities in Iraq to respect public freedoms, including freedom of the press and freedom of expression, and refrain from targeting journalists and other activists.

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