Hunger strike by detained journalists, activists entering ‘dangerous phase’: watchdog

A number of Badinan detainees (NRT Digital Media/File)

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SULAIMANI — The Committee of Rights and Freedoms in Kurdistan and Europe said on Saturday (September 18) that the ongoing hunger strike by detainees arrested last year in Duhok and Erbil governorates has reached a "dangerous phase.”

At least 81 imprisoned journalists, activists, and ordinary citizens have been on hunger strike at Erbil General Asayish Prison since September 6, according to multiple sources and human rights watchdogs.

The committee said that the detainees have been on hunger strike for twelve days under the slogan "either death or rights and freedom.”

The committee said that the health of journalist Ayaz Karam, who was sentenced to six years in prison during a controversial trial in February along with two other journalists and two activists, was of particular concern, saying that he had lost consciousness and was allegedly not receiving medical treatment.

The watchdog called on the local and foreign organizations, politicians, and foreign representatives in the Kurdistan Region to help the detainees.

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

On August 7, defense lawyers said that the detainees weresubjected to torture at the Asayish-run prison and were put under intense pressure by the authorities.

The Asayish in Erbil and Duhok are affiliated with the KDP.

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)