ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – A number of civilians and journalists were arrested and for hours without charge in late March during protests over salary delays that swept across the Kurdistan Region, a rights organization has reported.
At least 84 protesters and four journalists were arbitrarily detained in cities across Kurdistan, including Soran, Zakho, Erbil, and Sulaimani, Human Rights Watch claimed in a report published on Sunday. All but one of the detainees were released without charge after being held for two days.
“The KRG forces’ heavy-handed tactics in responding to peaceful protests seem intended to silence criticism despite the official narrative of respect for free speech and assembly,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
The rights group also said that some of the detainees were forced to sign a document promising not to attend “unlawful protests.”
“People in the Kurdistan Region have the right to peacefully express their frustration with the economic crisis,” Fakih said.
Civil servants held multiple demonstrations in cities and towns across the Kurdistan Region, demanding the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Baghdad put an end to austerity measures and pay salaries which are months overdue. The austerity measures were implemented as a result of a prolonged economic crisis in the region.
At the time, Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said people are allowed to exercise their rights, but warned that the KRG would not allow others to politicize and exploit the situation.
Dindar Zebari, head of the KRG's High Committee to Evaluate and Respond to International Reports released a statement in response, which read, “A number of protesters were arrested by security forces. They were charged with inciting violence."
Regarding reports of violence against those taking part in or covering the demonstrations for the media, he said that KRG “is ready to launch investigations into any violence committed,” but noted that no lawsuit had yet been filed.
The Metro Center for Journalists Rights and Advocacy, a media rights watchdog, listed 78 incidents it claims violate the rights of journalists while covering the protests.
Since then, the KRG has agreed to make changes to austerity measures and reduce the amount being withheld from public salaries.