72 Duhok detainees on hunger strike since September 6: families

Left to right: Shvan Saeed, Ayaz Karam, Sherwan Sherwani, Guhdar Zebari, and Hariwan Issa (NRT Digital Media)

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SULAIMANI — Seventy-two imprisoned journalists, activists, and ordinary citizens arrested in Duhok governorate last year have been on hunger strike since September 6, according to the brother of one of the detainees Ayhan Saeed Omar.

Omar, who Introduces himself as a representative of the detainees’ families, said in a statement on Saturday (September 11) that the hunger strike is in response to the alleged psychological and physical torture, injustices, and denial of the legal rights of the detainees, citing a source from Erbil General Asayish Prison.

"Now the condition of some of them is very bad,” he said.

On August 7, defense lawyers said that the detainees were subjected to torture at the Asayish prison where they were being held and wereput under intense pressure from the authorities, which were inconsistent with their rights.

The Asayish in Erbil and Duhok are affiliated with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

Recently, the trials of two groups of imprisoned activists and teachers who were arrested last year were postponed by a court in Erbil.

On Thursday, two journalists and two activists who were controversially sentenced to six years in prison during a February trial were transferred from a facility run by the Asayish to Erbil Reform Prison.

Omar called on the UN, Iraq’s Council of Representatives, Kurdistan Parliament, foreign representatives in Erbil and Baghdad, and human rights organizations to visit the detainees and pressure authorities to provide "legal rights” for them.

The legal rights, he said, include allowing the detainees to meet their families and lawyers, transferring them from Asayish prison to adult reform prisons, holding trials and finalizing their cases, and dealing with the cases in accordance with the articles included in Law Number 11 of the Organization of Demonstrations in the Kurdistan Region.

"They are innocent and have been arrested over different views and this poses a threat to the democratic process and damages the Region’s reputation.”

Following protests in Duhok last year against the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) economic policies, the local security forces, which are affiliated with the KDP arrested dozens of people in a widespread crackdown to suppress expressions of dissent.

Since then, at least seventeen activists and journalists have been tried on serious national security charges, in what have been widely condemned as politically motivated trials that are beset with procedural flaws that do not adhere to international standards of due process and judicial independence.

Foreign and local watchdogs have expressed alarm about the deterioration of freedom of the press and expression in the Kurdistan Region since Prime Minister Masrour Barzani, who is a senior KDP official, took office in July 2019.

(NRT Digital Media)