Sulaimani Police, Asayish arrest more than ten men perceived as gay, prompting condemnation from advocacy groups

LGBTI individuals frequently targeted in Kurdistan Region, say groups

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SULAIMANI — More than ten men were taken into custody in Sualimani’s Sarchinar neighborhood on Thursday evening (April 1) in an apparent operation to arrest people perceived to be gay.

Sulaimani Asayish Directorate Brigadier General Pishtiwan Bahadin told an NRT reporter that the Sulaimani Police and Sulaimani Asayish arrested the men in a joint operation between the Asayish and the Sulaimani Police for allegedly “creating chaos and performing immoral acts in public.”

Bahadin added that they will be sent to the court for prosecution.

It was not immediately clear what precise legal charges they may face or if they remained in custody as of Friday.

NRT attempted to contact Sulaimani Police Spokesperson Sarkwat Ahmed multiple times on Friday morning for comment, but did not receive a response by time of publication.

In comments made to a media outlet affiliated with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), Bahadin appeared to suggest that the operation would not be limited to one night or location, but would be ongoing.

The Sulaimani Asayish later released a statement accusing the detainees of prostitution.

“Our forces launched an operation...in one of [Sulaimani's] neighborhoods to eliminate prostitution activities there after we had received complaints by residents of the neighborhood reporting that they were disturbed by increasing prostitution practices in the area,” it said.

The statement added that the operation was part of the security forces' “duties to protect public order only to eliminate prostitution activities in the neighborhood and they had no intention to target any other groups.”

While same-sex relations are not technically illegal under Iraqi law, statutes, like those criminalizing public immodesty, are often used to prosecute lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals.

They also face routine harassment and violence in their day-to-day lives and have no legal recourse when their rights are violated.

Groups that advocate for LGBTI rights quickly condemned the arrests.

“They should be released,” Tanya Kamal Darwesh, director of human rights group Rasan Organization, told NRT on Friday.

Darwesh said that the operation was reflective of society’s ignorance about sexuality and its bias against LGBTI individuals.

She added that if the detainees are guilty of committing ordinary crimes then they should be dealt with normally, but if they are being targeted for being perceived as gay then what the police and Asayish have done is wrong.

“They are just victims and are innocent,” she said, adding that that Rasan will investigate the incident and follow up with the case.

IraQueer said in a statement posted online that “the arbitrary actions” taken by the police forces in Sulaimani are “direct violations of [the] human rights of people who are or perceived to be LGBT+.”

“[The arrests] have no legal basis and claiming that LGBT+ people are a threat to the city’s security is misleading the public. This campaign will put LGBT+ residents of Sulaimani city and Iraq in an even more vulnerable position,” it added.

Yeksani, a group working to “establish social freedom and rights of existence for the LGBT+ community in Iraqi Kurdistan” called on the government to release those who had been arrested.

“We are asking Kurdish authorities [in the Kurdistan Regional Government] to take immediate action against the unlawful arrests Asayish have made and investigate the torture of LGBT+ youth by Asayish officers,” the group said on Twitter.

“These arrests have no basis and are direct violations of human rights,” it added.

IraQueer also raised concerns that the authorities would perform physical examinations of the detainees in a misguided and erroneous attempt to determine their sexuality.

“The claims of planning to ‘examine these individuals’ will directly violate these individuals’ human rights and dignity,” it said.

The arrests sparked furious reaction on social media from people saying that it was reflective of a regressive mindset on the part of the authorities.

Released earlier this week, the US State Department’s annual human rights report for Iraq found that “LGBTI individuals reported they could not live openly [in the Kurdistan Region] without fear of violence at the hands of family members, acquaintances, or strangers.”

The State Department also reported that many “struggled to be accepted by their family members and the [Kurdistan Region] community.”

Rasan’s Darwesh suggested to NRT that this lack of familial acceptance may have made these specific individuals in Sarchinar particularly vulnerable.

(NRT Digital Media)

This story was updated at 5:08 p.m. EBL