IRAQ LETTER: The situation in the capital city of the KRG remains tense
7 April 2011
IRAQ LETTER: The situation in the capital city of the KRG remains tense
The demonstration that was scheduled today, April 7, in Erbil, the capital city of the Kurdistan Regional Government, was postponed. The organizers of the demonstration have applied many times for permission to demonstrate but they have been denied each time. They have decided to follow through on the legal process, which is to appeal to the courts.
Due to the extreme repression in the city of Erbil, the demonstrators felt that it would be too risky to their lives to demonstrate without having gone through the entire legal procedure. If they lose their appeal in the courts, they will reassess their next steps.
Some other news: a bus full of civilian passengers, some of whom were traveling to the Erbil airport, was turned away at one of the checkpoints entering into the city on April 3. Some of the passengers were German citizens. When the passengers argued that they needed to catch flights at the airport, the checkpoint soldiers opened fire in the air. Nobody was injured but this is another example of fear and intimidation tactics that the ruling party uses to insure silence.
Additionally, four students who are residents of Suleimaniya but study at the University of Salahadeen in Erbil have received threats against their lives stemming from their attempt to read a statement in front of the Parliament building in Erbil back in February 2011. They, along with thousands of other Suleimaniya students studying at Salahadeen University were thrown out of the school and sent back to Suleimaniya in late February. They were allowed to return to school in late March.
One of the four who has received three threats returned to the university on April 4 but was warned by his friends that unknown people have been at the university asking about him. The student then began receiving threatening messages on his cell phone and on Facebook. Upon return to the dorms on the evening of April 7, he saw a group of strange men waiting at the gate. He was able to contact some friends and a Parliament member from Gorran (opposition party) and he was taken to a safe house where he still remains. He was able to get word out about his situation. Human Rights Watch and UNAMI Human Rights have been contacted.
Below is the statement from the Erbil organizers:
An Announcement by the Organizers of the Demonstrations on Thursday Regarding the Response by the Governor of Erbil
In multiple attempts, numerous requests [were] directed to the governorate of Erbilâ€”by influential members of different sectors of the Kurdish society who respect the rule of lawâ€”[for] a civil gathering. The main objective of the gathering would be attempting to solve the current [issues] plaguing the Kurdish society through peaceful and civil means. It would also aim at loosening the uneasiness in Erbil and its residents and [opening] doors of dialogue between the government and the people, which is in our best national interest. But unfortunately the [credibility] of the promises by the president of the region came under serious question when the authorities disenfranchised us from our rights to demonstrate and free speech. Through that decision, not only were the rights and freedoms of people violated but also the promises of the president of the region were broken by his own party officials. The refusal to allow us the right to practice our freedom of speech and demonstration by the authorities in Erbil has angered the vast majority of the people in the city.
1. The speeches by the president of Kurdistan region should not be listened to anymore because they are only lip service [to free speech].
2. It became clear that this current government is not taking the laws of its own parliament seriously, particularly the law [allowing] demonstrations. This had led to a sense of hopelessness among a wide range of the people of Kurdistan.
3. There is no respect for the international standards of human rights, rule of law and freedom of speech and association by the authorities in Erbil.
4. It is clear that the rule of law is only applied to the poor and marginalized. The government is using the law as a shield to protect corruption and abuse public resources.
We, as a group of the people of this city, demanded from the authorities in the city the permission, according to the law [regarding] demonstrations in Kurdistan, to organize a peaceful gathering. Unfortunately, the governor of Erbil responded negatively to our request. The excuses presented [for that] refusal are illegal and illogical; therefore, we answer as follows:
The refusal is based on a legal error; the reply to our request was directed to one person at the time that the request letter was signed by 100 persons and three people were selected as the organizers of the gathering.
- The Governorate: the organizing committee should not be less than three persons and not more than five Answer: the organizers of our gathering are three people: Aral Kakil, Brwa Abdulla and Karwan Hashim
- The Governorate: the request should carry the address and signature of the organizing committee. Answer: Five people had their address, names, and telephone number presented on the request letter. Those five people represented the 100 who signed the letter.
- When people say that there is no emergency situation in Erbil and the city is calm, [our response to that assertion is that] previously a group of forty people put forward a demand for a demonstration but their request was refused again under the excuse that there is an emergency situation in Erbil. It seems that the governorate of Erbil is unaware of the fact that the Ministry of Interior did not allow demonstrations based on the premise that there are emergency situations in the city.
- The notion that the Kurdish public is divided, particularly because of the relative calm situation in Erbil compared to Suleimaniyah, we in Erbil donâ€™t see that at all. There are claims that nobody was detained or exposed to extrajudicial arrest or kidnapping in Erbil, but there is evidence documented by video, audio tapes and photos that many people are being harassed, threatened, and intimidated through various means particularly through threatening phone calls and text messages and e-mails.
The excuses of the governor of Erbil are baseless and we are ready to follow every legal and civil path to protect our right to demonstrate and to free speech. We announce to the beloved people of Erbil that the failure of the governor of Erbil to allow us to demonstrate has no legal basis. This [refusal] will only increase our anger and discontent with this corrupt government. And we shall continue our struggle for a more democratic Erbil and Kurdistan.
On 22-1-2011 [ KRG President] Masud Barzani said, if the authority didnâ€™t allowed people to protest, â€śI swear by God that Iâ€™m ready to go with people to the street and demonstrate with them.â€ť We just ask where is this promise?
Organizers of the Demonstrations on Thursday
5 April 2011