"I want to vote. I will never give up."

Photo of Karokh Othman F. Abdulla when he spoke to CPT on the October 4th, 2018.

Karokh Othman F. Abdulla is a journalist, political analyst and candidate of Change Movement in the recent parliamentary elections in Kurdistan Regional Government(KRG). On election day, the 30th of September, Karokh was cornered and severely beaten by security forces while he was entering the voting center to cast his vote. He recently visited CPT’s office and shared his story.

In the past Mr. Abdulla was working as a researcher focusing on the relationship between KDP(Kurdistan Democratic Party) and Turkey and oil trade in KRG. His research focused on corruption within KDP and their war on freedom of speech, including on social media and tv.

Prior to the election Mr. Abdulla received threatening phone calls and messages as well as direct threats from people following him in vehicles. He didn’t want scare other citizens so he kept those threats a secret during the campaign season. After the election he planned to file a court case against those who threatened him.

On the 30th of September, during election day Mr. Abdulla made his way to vote at the election center of Qasre Basic School in the town of Qasre, a sub-district of Choman in the Province of Erbil (Hawler). He waited in a que outside the entrance to the election site with many others who wanted to vote. While waiting in the que, Karokh Abdulla greeted numerous security forces (Asaish) who were present. The security forces were letting about 10 people at a time walk through the courtyard and enter the voting center to vote.

When Mr. Abdulla got to the front of the que, the security forces let him along with about 10 others enter the courtyard. But this time the security forces, let the other voters into the voting center while preventing him from entering to vote. They surrounded him after he took about 3 steps into the courtyard. “One held my hands and asked me “Who are you? Where are you going? What are you doing here?” They told him that his name was not on the voting list and he was not allowed to vote here. Mr. Abdulla challenged the security forces, asking how they knew whose name is on the list, because only the election commission has that list and has the authority to determine who votes.

The security forces then demanded to see Karokh Abdulla’s ID, even though by law it is illegal to ask for an ID outside of the voting center.

“I told them that their role is to check for weapons. Only the election commission staff checks ID’s and voting lists. After I refused to give my ID, the security officer started to swear at me and push me. When the security official in front of me pushed me, another security force member came up behind me and also started swearing and pushing me. They tried to kick me out.”

Mr. Abdulla refused to leave and told them it is his right to stay and vote. When the two men pushed him to the ground, his phone fell out of his pocket. As he reached for his phone the security forces started kicking him, beating him with the butts of their rifles, and using tasers on him. By that time 10 to 15 members of the security force were beating him, one of them was the head of Qasre security forces. Mr. Abdulla tried to crawl away but when he managed to stand up, the security forces beat him from the back and knocked him down again.

Finally, the security forces pushed him outside of the courtyard gate. The security force head and another member warned him: “You cannot vote here.” Mr. Abdulla replied, “I want to vote. I want to practice my democratic right. I will never give up.”

Many civilian witnesses outside of the voting center took photos and videos of the incident, but the security forces took their phones and deleted all the evidence. The witnesses tried to talk to the security forces, telling them to let Mr. Abdulla vote. When the security forces refused the civilians tried to escort him in to vote.

By that time, Police from inside of the voting center came out to the gate and escorted Mr. Abdulla inside to a civil society Police room, for his safety. While he was in the Police room, the Captain of the security forces, who was dressed in civilian clothes, came up and angrily told him, “We will not let you vote.” Mr. Abdulla told him, “If you threaten me, I will file a complaint in the Court.” The Captain got very agitated and tried to enter the room along with three other members of the security forces. The police who were there intervened to protect Mr. Abdulla. They put their hands on their guns, and one police officer said: “He is a citizen and has a right to vote. If you come any closer we will start to shoot.” Some civilian witnesses also challenged the security forces and told them to let him vote.

Finally, Mr. Abdulla was able to vote and then left the center with no further incidents. However, he was still worried about his own safety after voting and decided to go to the Change Movement headquarters and stay there. He didn’t want to talk to media so as not to scare other voters. Nevertheless, by 3:30 that afternoon, news about the incident was spreading over different social media platforms. It was even reported that Mr. Abdulla was killed. So he decided to give an interview to KNN TV to let people know that he was alive and safe.

Mr. Abdulla then went to a hospital with a police escort to provide security for him, where he was treated for his injuries. Both a Police report and Medical report were provided. He was advised not to stay at the hospital due to the fear of kidnapping. So he returned to the Change Movement headquarters, where another Doctor checked his injuries. He stayed there until about midnight, then left and traveled outside of KDP area. Mr Abdulla’s father and family is worried for his son’s safety if he goes back to Choman. Currently Mr Abdulla’s sister, who is an attorney, is representing his court case in Choman.

Mr. Abdulla up until this day still has hearing problems, and feels pain in his internal organs due to the severe beating. He was told that his hearing will heal in the future.

Mr. Abdulla is worried about his own safety but is determined to share his story to bring greater awareness about security forces threatening voters and interfering with their right to vote.