After more than a year in custody, postponement of court sessions and an unlawful ban on any contact with lawyers and family members, six more detainees in Iraqi Kurdistan joined a hunger strike after court sessions were once again postponed on 6 September.
As the families of two detainees (Umîd Barûskî and Bedel Berwarî) who are on hunger began demonstrating and protesting in front of Erbil (Hewlêr) Prison to raise public awareness about the situation, the Christian Peacemakers Team (CPT), an international human rights organisation with an office in Sulaymaniyah, called for the release and fair trial of all journalists and human rights activists – including Barûskî and Berwarî – who were detained in Duhok last year.
Four other activists, Mesud Elî Haci, Bendewar Eyub, Karger Ebas Elî and Sêrwan Teha Emin, in custody since June 2020, also joined the hunger strike as their second hearing – due to have been held on 6 September at an Erbil court – was postponed due to a change of the presiding judge.
CPT representative Kameran Osman objected to the ban on contact with family members. “These practices are illegal. The Federal Kurdistan Government and the Court of Appeal should review the case and the activists should be released,” he said.
More than 80 people were detained in Duhok on alleged charges of ‘espionage’ and ‘undermining national security’ in the Kurdistan Region.
The detainees, all of whom have been imprisoned for more than a year on the basis of no substantial legal grounds, and most of whom do not even have trial dates in process, have launched a hunger strike, according to information provided by the CPT representative.
The CPT representative had received news from, and spoken on the phone to Sherwan Sherwani, a journalist who was sentenced to six years in prison last February by the Erbil Criminal Court along with two other journalists, Guhdar Zebari and Ayaz Karam, and activists Shvan Omer and Hariwan Issa.
The CPT representative stated that Sherwani had appealed to people to take action in solidarity with the 81 detainees, who have all gone on hunger strike. “He is particularly worried for the situation of his friends who haven’t been heard in court yet and remain in Asayish prison,” the representative added.
Trials of a dozen activists have been postponed over the past few months due to various reasons, including reported changes in the judges of the court.
A representative of the detainees’ families, Ayhan Seîd Emer, called on the United Nations, the Iraqi parliament, the Iraqi Kurdistan parliament, foreign government representatives and human rights organisations to visit the detainees. Speaking on NRT TV, a regional television network, Emer appealed to these parties to put pressure on the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) to show respect to the rights of the detainees.
“The rights to meeting with lawyers and families and access to a trial are violated,” Emer said. “The detainees did not commit any crime. They were detained only for their opinions and this whole situation endangers the process of democratisation in the region.”
While scores of people were detained in house raids before, during and after the waves of demonstrations organised in Duhok last year against the anti-democratic practices of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), and sent to Asayish (KRG security and intelligence) detention centres in Erbil, only five people have been through a trial to date.
In mid August – at the height of the demonstrations – two bureaus of NRT were closed down by the KRG administration and three of its journalists were arrested over claims that its coverage of the protests was ‘inciting violence.’
In December, one demonstrator was shot dead and two wounded as protestors rallied outside the headquarters of the KDP and the rival Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).