Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) security forces detained at least 84 protesters and four journalists in late March, Human Rights Watch said today. Many of the detentions appeared to be arbitrary, either because persons were detained because they were exercising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly, or because their right under Iraqi law to be brought before a judge within 24 hours was ignored. Twelve witnesses said security forces beat many as they attempted to detain them during demonstrations in the cities of Akre, Dohuk, and Erbil. Human Rights Watch received reports of arrests in other towns, including Shiladze, Soran, and Zakho.
Security forces used unlawful force and threats to coerce some protesters and journalists to unlock their phones and give up Facebook passwords, and held the detainees for up to two days before releasing them, all but one without charge. Some were forced to sign a document promising not to attend “unlawful protests”. One journalist said the security forces told him he was no longer allowed to film protests. He refused to sign a commitment not to do so.
“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. “It is a sign of oppression when authorities try to force people to sign away their basic rights to protest.”