Day 44 of demonstration ends in gunfire and injuries

by Michele Naar-Obed

On 1 April 2011, the nonviolent nature of the demonstration at Freedom Square in Suleimaniya Iraq deteriorated quickly.  Two young male provocateurs later alleged to have ties to the PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) and KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party) security forces, led a group of demonstrators to the outskirts of the square and began throwing rocks at the armed forces who were positioned in large numbers on street corners.  April 1 was the forty-forth day of ongoing demonstrations and the government has done little to recognize the demands of the demonstrators or negotiate with them.

Two significant events led to the decision to term Friday's demonstration as the “Day of Anger.”  The Kurdish authorities arrested a prominent Mullah (religious leader) who spoke publicly in support of the demonstrations and encouraged nonviolent revolution.  They charged him with inciting violence under the anti-terrorism law and refused to let two pro bono lawyers take on his case or visit him.

The second event was President Barzani responding to the demonstrators’ demand to prosecute the security forces who injured and killed unarmed demonstrators by saying that all demonstrators or supporters of demonstrators must be prosecuted.

After a spate of rock throwing, the security forces opened fire.  CPTers present at the square heard shots fired consistently for about half hour.  The shooting became closer to the square and the organizers ended the demonstration for the day and encouraged people to go home.  About fifty to seventy-five remained at the square and within an hour’s time, the armed security forces entered the square.  CPTers heard that they tore apart the speakers platform and destroyed the art exhibits that have been on display there.  The group of remaining demonstrators reportedly tried to stop the security forces from destroying their property, and the forces opened fire.  Many people tried to re-enter the square but the forces fired upon them as well.  By the end of the evening, forty-four people were injured including some police hit by the rocks.

The following is a statement written by the Ad-hoc coordinating committee of the demonstrations:

A Message from the Freedom Square's Provisional Committee to the General Public Following the announcement of the "Anger Friday" by the demonstrators in Kurdistan Region, we worked hard to protect the peaceful nature of the demonstrations and to allow the demonstrators to express their anger and discontent against the apathy of the political leadership and authorities through peaceful means.
However, today, April 1, 2011, at the time that we were engaged in our peaceful activities, after the Friday prayer, a group of the demonstrators faced acts of violence by security forces.  Those security forces used live ammunition and bullets against the demonstrators.  Bullets were also aimed at the people gathering in the Freedom Square.

At the time that we stress the fact that we shall continue our civil and peaceful activities, we emphasize that all demonstrators are equal citizens of this country and we are strongly against insulting them by labeling them as thugs, anarchists…etc.  It is the responsibility of the authorities to protect demonstrators, and we condemn every illegal conduct by the government as shooting live ammunitions and bullets and arbitrary arrest of private citizens.

By its conduct today, the government once and again showed that it lacks the will to respond to the demands of the people and has no intention to respect the rule of law.  We, therefore, announce that these conducts by the authorities will not only increase our anger but also embolden our resolve to continue the demonstrations until we fulfill all the rights that we aspire to.  We also assure everybody that we will not stay silent toward those crimes and will announce our decisive position on them.

Freedom Square's Provisional Committee

The CPT Iraq team notified Amnesty International on behalf of Mullah Kamaron and the U.S. Consulate on behalf of the demonstrators.