ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – After mounting pressure from international rights organizations to release the last of the demonstrators and journalists that were arrested at a deadly protest over a month before, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) announced that all detainees still being held in March had been released on bail.
On Jan. 26, hundreds of people in the town of Sheladize, located in the Duhok province’s Amedi region, protested Turkey’s ongoing bombardment of their villages targeting fighters from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) after at least four civilians were killed. Demonstrators took to the streets, holding up signs and shouting slogans calling on the Turkish military and the PKK to “take their fight elsewhere.”
The protest quickly turned violent with some people setting fire to Turkish military vehicles at a base in Duhok. Two protesters were killed, and 16 more were wounded, according to the health directorate in Sheladize. At least some of the casualties were believed to be the result of Turkish forces allegedly opening fire on the crowds to prevent protesters from approaching the base.
The Iraqi foreign minister condemned the Turkish actions, and the KRG released a statement which extended condolences to the families of the victims, but also blamed an unnamed “disruptive hand” for the events.
The following day, local activists, NGOs, and media, reported that Asayish (security) members carried out a wave of arrests in Duhok, detaining tens of protesters, activists, journalists, and individuals who witnesses said may have been bystanders.
“While most of those detained were released on the same day, and some others were released on bail in the subsequent days and weeks, the three arrested in the area of Baadre remain detained and have yet to be brought before a judge,” something that would be in contravention of Iraqi law, Amnesty International wrote in a report released on March 5.
Other international organizations including the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) had earlier called for their release and complained of a lack of access to lawyers and timely due process. Independent journalist Sherwan Sherwani, who has been arrested in the Kurdistan Region multiple times in past years, was mentioned most prominently.
A week later, the KRG disputed some of the claims, writing that prisoners had been “provided with full rights such as the right of access to lawyers and family visits.”
In a statement released on Tuesday, Dr. Dindar Zebari, the KRG’s Coordinator for International Advocacy, announced that since the Amnesty report, “the five remaining detainees including Sherwan Sherwani were also recently released on bail.”
On Tuesday, Kurdistan 24 confirmed with Sherwani’s family that he had indeed been freed, although he still faces criminal charges.
Zebari continued by writing that “media must act responsibly during such events so as not to threaten national security,” and called media coverage of Sherwani’s arrest “misleading.”
He also claimed that the violence at the protest “was encouraged by individuals who wanted to hijack the protest for special political agendas,” but, as in the KRG statement that directly followed the protest, no further explanation was given regarding the identity or specific motives of such individuals.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany