Two protest organizers released, but journalists, protesters remain in custody

More than week of demonstrations
Residents and public sector workers in Sulaimani on December 11, 2020 (NRT Digital Media/Screenshot)

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SULAIMANI — After about 24-hours under arrest, the security forces have released two of the members of Dissatisfied Voices group around midday on Saturday (December 12), while others remained in custody, including NRT Digital Media reporter Karzan Tariq and two former lawmakers.

The security apparatus in Sulaimani has not revealed the whereabouts of arrestees despite pressure from rights groups.

NRT reporter Karzan Tariq was arrested while covering Friday’s demonstration in Sulaimani city. As of the late evening, he remains in custody and the security forces have not revealed his whereabouts.

Several protesters were arrested on Friday by the security forces as they protested against deteriorating public services and living conditions, unemployment and salary delays and cuts.

Two former lawmakers, Abdulla Mala Nuri and Sherko Hama Amin who represented the Change Movement (Gorran) in the previous parliament, were also arrested after they backed Friday’s protest in a statement the previous day.

Sulaimani High Security Committee, which leads the security file in the governorate, said in a statement overnight that the security forces would continue detain those who organize and participate in unauthorized demonstrations.

Two journalists working for Iraqi state broadcaster al-Iraqiyah’s Kurdish service were also arrested while covering the same demonstration, but released after several hours.

The current round of protests began on December 2 in Sulaimani city’s main bazaar, before spreading to nearby towns with the city itself being relatively quiet after a subsequent rally was broken up on December 3.

In recent days, the demonstrations have become increasingly violent, with the security forces using live bullets. Protesters have burned numerous party and government offices, including those belonging to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), and Gorran.

At least nine people have died since Monday, including seven protesters, a KDP cadre, and a Peshmerga who died of a stroke while monitoring a demonstration.

Over the course of the year, the KRG has had trouble to pay public sector workers, missing several monthly disbursements entirely and cutting others by nearly a quarter. Budget disagreements between Erbil and Baghdad, a lack of job opportunities for many young people, and economic disruptions caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic have exacerbated the situation have left many families in the Kurdistan Region struggling.

(NRT Digital Media)