British resident Beritan, who wishes to be identified with her first name only, continues her hunger strike in solidarity with prisoners in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), demanding an end to political repression. Beritan told Medya News in an interview that she does not believe the Barzani family and the region’s ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) under their control offer any freedom to the Kurdish people.
Over 50 detainees in Iraq’s Badinan region began a hunger strike on 21 July, protesting against the Chief Public Proecutor’s decision to halt their conditional release, expected in May this year. The prisoners were told they would be released after the Eid al Adha (an Islamic festival), which was observed between 8 and 12 July this year, but they were not.
Beritan started her hunger strike on 29 July in her home town of Birmingham, but she moved to 10 Downing Street on Tuesday to continue her protest in front of the British Prime Minister’s residence.
The detainees, who include peaceful protesters and political activists as well as journalists, have been held since anti-goverment protests in October 2020 in conditions they describe as inhumane, and allege torture and maltreatment by prison authorities. Organisations including Community Peacemaker Teams have condemned their detention and what they describe as ‘interference’ with the legal process on behalf of the KDP.
Beritan aims to draw attention to what she described as the British government’s complicity in abuses in Iraqi Kurdistan. Medya News spoke with Beritan at the protest site. She has protested the Barzanis before, throwing eggs and a shoe at Prime Minister Masrour Barzani in April.
Who are you and why have you launched this protest?
My name is Beritan and I’m the mother of two children and a political activist. I came to England in 2017, fleeing the fascist regime in Iraqi Kurdistan. The Barzani family and their KDP repress people in Bashur. Young people in prison have started a hunger strike and I have joined them. At first I was in my home in Birmingham but now I have come here to London in front of 10 Downing Street.
Why are these young people in prison?
Their imprisonment follows demonstrations in the region two years ago, in Bahdinan and the city of Duhok. People were protesting against the presence of Turkish soldiers in the region, and the conditions which mean people cannot access a basic wage, electricity, water, or other essentials. I have spoken to families in the region who say their children are going hungry and craving the smell of food from other people’s houses. During the protests, some young people were martyred, and those who survived have been imprisoned.
How are the conditions in jail?
No-one knows what their situation is, or if they have survived. One detainee’s wife heard nothing for the past two years until only recently receiving a confirmation they are alive in jail, and there are no visitation rights or any information about the condition of the detainees. Photographs from the jail show people are being beaten, having their nails torn out, and forced to eat faeces, as well as being kept in inhumane conditions under the heat of the sun. Detainees do not have any right to see their lawyers either. People are told they must confess to whatever the authorities demand – for example, anyone who is at all religious is told to confess to being in ISIS, while any intellectual is told they must confess to being in the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
What are your demands for the governing authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan?
I am here to demand an end to the repression of the people by the regime in in Iraqi Kurdistan, which has been going on for over 30 years. There is no freedom, hope is lost, and the KDP only help the enemy, Turkey. Their hands are dirtied. All political prisoners must be freed, people must be able to live freely, and indeed be able to draw a single free breath.
If this does not happen, people will take to the streets and will not give in until there is change. The KDP are not the leaders of the Kurdish people. They betray the people and line their pockets in the name of Kurdishness, the Kurdish flag, and Kurdish martyrs. They speak and act in the name of freedom, but there is no such thing in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Why have you come to 10 Downing Street? What are your demands for the British government?
I was at home for three days, but I decided that my voice had to reach the media and the British authorities. People are being killed in Iraqi Kurdistan, and yet they remain silent. The British people must know what is happening, and that their government is supporting the regime in Iraqi Kurdsistan. I have protested before against the Barzanis when they came here to visit the British government, and I have written three times to Boris Johnson. He replied and acknowledged the reports of abuse and arbitrary detention in Iraq, and yet nothing has changed.
How long are you prepared to continue this protest?
Until people are free. My morale is high, though my body hurts – I also have the medical condition fibromyalgia, for which I need medication. I hope that other people will stand up against what is happening. There are people in jail today on hunger strike, and I hope we won’t lose them, but the people here will also take a stance for those in jail across Kurdistan and particularly in the Bahdinan region.