We post here a report from a community worker in northern Iraq about the dire situation in that country.
Since I was away the team has been doing some brilliant and hard work in documenting the cross-border bombings and amplifying our partners voices, especially since the Turkish military launched operation Claw-Lightning and began taking control of large swathes of land within the Iraqi Kurdistan border. You can see some of the latest reports on these operations and the impact on civilians at cptik.org/reports. They held a number of press conferences with partners and have been asked to come and talk to the Iraqi Parliament about the civilian impacts.
Another major focus has been the arrest and detaining of 76 journalists and civil activists from the Badinan region. Collectively they are known as the Badinan Prisoners and include many of the same activists we accompanied in 2019 when they were arbitrarily arrested and detained for months. Some of them were tried in February and despite being presented with little to no evidence of their charges of espionage and sabotage were sentenced to 6 years in prison.
Today one of my team mates described that trial to me and described how the prisoners, some of whom I know well, were nearly unrecognizable. All of them were stick thin. Eyaz Karam who was already skinny looked deathly thin and shuffled into the room. Omed Barushky who is only 21, had a stoop and looked exhausted and traumatized. It took my team-mates half an hour to recognize Badal Barwari whose hair had gone completely white. That was the appeal case and it lost. But there are many more people still awaiting trial and the case has gained a very high profile here, which has made it much easier for us to talk to consulates and parliament about it.
Today we observed the trial of 4 more of the prisoners (Masoud Ali, Sherwan Taha, Karger Abas, and Bandawar Ayoub) and tomorrow we will attend the trial of another 5. Most of these men are teachers and all of them are were part of a political party that was started by the now President of Iraq, Barham Salih. Being in the political party appears to be part of the evidence against them, as well as having contact with the US, German and French consulates. My team met with the consulates and explained to them how the fact that these men are accused of spying for them should concern them. We had hoped that the German consulate would come today. They didn’t but 3 people from UNAMI came and a dozen politicians.
We filled up all the seats, making sure the judges knew these cases were being observed and providing support for the prisoners whose families were not allowed to enter the room. The 4 were led in by Asaish. They were thinner then in the photos we had seen but their spirit hadn’t been stolen yet and Karger, handcuffed, gave the peace sign before the Asaish knocked his hand down. They were locked together in a big brown cage and forced to stand throughout the proceedings, which ended when the Judges announced they were too tired to continue and simply adjourned it to an unspecified date. As they were led back out of the room and shunted down a corridor away from their families, Karger yelled back, Azadi, Azadi, Azadi (freedom, freedom, freedom). Some of the family took up the chant and soon the Asaish began pushing them back and confiscating phones.
We were able to talk to a few family members. “There will be no justice here, all we have to rely on is God.”
We got close enough to speak quickly and quietly to one of the prisoners and heard that he had been threatened that his wife would be raped if he did not confess to the crimes.
I do not know if there are enough of us here on team that we will be able to attend every trial if they continue dragging on like this one, but it is so important that they are observed and that we can follow up with consulates and people that are also being accused. We called Barham Salih’s office and told him that he was being implicated in the sabotage and espionage charges. How can they be found guilty of being part of a group plotting to assassinate the prime minister of Kurdistan’s son and former governor of Duhok and attempt to weaken and dismantle the Kurdistan Regional Government when the leader of the group that links them all is the current President of Iraq and good friends with the leader of the head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)?