Regarding the disappearance of three people on 10 June, identified by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in a press conference as Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) Erbil representative Cihad Hesen and PYD members Mistefa Xelil and Mistefa Ezizone, a Defend Kurdistan Initiative delegate stated in a Medya News podcast that: “These three friends went to the airport in Erbil to pick people [from the Defend Kurdistan Initiative] up. And that was the same day that 12 delegates arriving into the airport were deported and sent back to their countries of origin. And the three who we are talking about who came to the airport to pick up the delegates were arrested by the Asayish security forces in Erbil airport.” The Asayish is the primary intelligence agency operating in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.
Another Defend Kurdistan Initiative delegate added: “The worst news is that we still haven’t heard anything about them. We have no news about them. We haven’t heard a thing: we are extremely worried about our friends. We don’t know where they are, why they have been arrested, what is happening to them so we really want to call for people and listeners to spread this news and put pressure. It is absolutely unacceptable for the Kurdistan Regional Government and Erbil airport security to arrest three people and make them disappear as if nothing happened.”
The delegates reiterated their concern: “We do not know when and if they will be released.”
PYD: ‘We condemn the crime committed against our friends’
Concern has also been expressed from other quarters. The PYD confirmed that the three people had gone to Hewlêr Airport to greet delegates from the Defend Kurdistan Initiative “but ended up being detained by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). We have not received any information about our friends and we are concerned about their safety. Such incidents strain our diplomatic and political relations.
“These practices do not serve Kurdish national unity. On the contrary, it serves the enemies of the Kurds. It is especially useful for the Turkish state that seeks to invade Kurdistan. We condemn the crime committed against our friends. We urge the KDP to release our friends as soon as possible. We also call on the Kurdistan Government, the regional parliamentary assembly, and the political parties in South Kurdistan not to remain silent in the face of what is going on.”
Aldar Xelîl: ‘We do not know what kind of interrogation they are under’
Aldar Xelîl, the Co-leadership Council member of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) also voiced his concern: “The AANES and PYD representatives were detained in Erbil. They were detained two weeks ago. Why were they detained? They represent the Kurds and the people there. They have not done anything bad, anything wrong, they have not committed any offence. They have not interfered in anything. They have not meddled with any internal affairs.
“Rojava’s representatives are in custody and we do not know what has happened to them. In fact, according to information I have received (I’m not 100% certain), Turkish intelligence officers came and interrogated our colleagues. This is a dangerous situation. We do not know where our colleagues are now. We do not know what kind of interrogation they are under, what they are being asked.”
Amnesty International expresses concerns over arbitrary detentions in KRI
Concerns about the well-being of the three disappeared officials are not misplaced given the concerns that have been raised by a number of human rights organisations regarding the nature of enforced disappearances in Iraqi Kurdistan. Less than two weeks ago, Amnesty International highlighted severe human rights violations in the region. It stated: “Over the past year the authorities in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) have ruthlessly cracked down on journalists, activists and protesters exercising their right to freedom of expression, including by arbitrarily arresting and forcibly disappearing them. The crackdown which first began in March 2020, intensified after widespread protests in August 2020 demanding an end to corruption and better public services.
“‘Authorities in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq have launched a chilling crackdown in their efforts to silence critics over the past year. They have rounded up activists and journalists and prosecut[ed] them on trumped-up charges in unfair trials and harass[ed] or intimidat[ed] family members who were kept in the dark about the status of their loved ones,’ said Lynn Maalouf, Deputy Director for Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International. The Kurdistan Region of Iraq authorities must end the crackdown and immediately release all of those who have been arbitrarily detained.”
Rand Hammoud, a member of Amnesty International’s Iraq research team, expressed the following concerns recently about the situation in Iraqi Kurdistan: “At least 100 protesters, activists and journalists were arrested in Kurdistan in 2020, 30 of whom remain in detention – including six who were ‘forcibly disappeared’ for periods of up to three months. ‘The Kurdish authorities must put an end to this crackdown and hold perpetrators, including members of the Asayish – the Kurdistan Regional Government’s security and intelligence [agency], and Parastin – the Kurdistan Democratic Party intelligence [service] forces, accountable for the violations committed,’ he told The Media Line.
“‘They must also investigate all allegations of torture made, with an aim to provide redress to the victims.’ The KDP is the largest party in Iraqi Kurdistan and the senior partner in the regional government. ‘The international community must continue its pressure on the Kurdish authorities to respect the rights of individuals practicing their basic rights,’ Hammoud said.”