As protests over the suspension of student allowances spread to all towns with university campuses in Iraqi Kurdistan, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) made an announcement on Wednesday and provided no assurance that it would reinstate the allowances. The announcement practically rejects the university students’ demands. It instead expressed “dedication for financial support to improve the condition of dormitories, institutions and students.”
Lahur Sheikh Jangi, a prominent figure in the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), released a statement expressing both support for the peaceful demonstrations and concern against “mixing demands with political problems and conflicts.”
“The local security forces broke the prestige of the university again by using tear gas and shooting over students, trying to prevent their demonstrations,” Jangi noted in his the statement. Jangi was reportedly expelled from the party three weeks ago.
Amnesty International’s Iraq branch published a statement on Twitter: “We are disheartened but not shocked. The violent dispersal of students in Kurdistan Region’s Sulaymaniyah city is only the latest attack by Kurdistan’s security forces on freedom of expression and assembly.”
While no official figure on the number of students in custody has been announced, there are various reports by local sources including student-journalists. Renwar Najm said on Twitter on Wednesday evening that up to 300 protesters had been arrested in Sulaymaniyah, according to activists.
Renwar Najm also reported that the KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party) forces did not allow journalists to cover the protests or even come close to the key areas, adding that “despite all preventions and militarisation of the cities, students in Rania and Kfri managed to gather and protest for the fifth day in a row.”
Roj News, meanwhile, announced that two of its reporters went missing as they were covering the demonstrations in Sulaymaniyah. It has been reported that the two reporters, Berhem Latif and Birwa Eshed, have been missing since Wednesday evening.
Roj News has stood out as one of the most active news agencies during the protests, covering demonstrations in all towns with numerous street interviews.
A student in Erbil said they were on the street both for the reinstatement of their allowances and to express solidarity with protesters in other towns.
“We gathered today in front of the Ministry of Education to demand our right to receive allowances,” she said. “It’s a basic right for us to receive student allowances and we demand it. We gathered also to express our support for the protests in Sulaymaniyah.
“Yesterday, there was chaos and attacks took place there. The events have been covered extensively in social media. There has been a great concern especially for a woman lying on the ground. It has depressed us. Today, we’re protesting both to express support for that woman and for our right to receive allowances.”
A protester in Halabja criticised the government for its inability to fulfil a popular demand.
“We’ve got demands, we’re concerned with our rights. It’s not something we’re supposed to get by force, it’s our right. If you say you’re the government and you’re still unable to fulfil our demands, what kind of a government are you? Is it such a difficult situation that you can’t fulfil our demands?”
“It’s such a shame that a government can’t arrange for the accommodation of the students,” another student in Halabja said. “We don’t even have a place to stay in. We could rent the places we’re staying in with borrowed money, almost as if it was a favour.”
When asked by a reporter if the students received any response from the authorities after days of protest, a student replied: “They’re saying nothing. They have never been true to their vows. They didn’t even come to say, ‘What are your demands? What can we do?’
“It’s a shame. There are children of poor families here, children of martyrs, children whose fathers are in the frontline. But now, it’s like they think we’re committing a crime. On the other hand, they’re neither paying the allowances of the martyrs’s families nor the wages of the peshmerga. They make payment to nobody. They pocket all the income themselves.”