“We are not terrorists, not ISIS, we are sons of this town, we are with you!”

Sherwan Sherwani and Haji Rekani who were arrested during a peaceful protest in Duhok city.

On the 23 of January 6 people were killed by Turkey in a cross-border bombing near the Kurdish town of Deraluk. The devastation of the families who had lost their loved ones was felt by many across Iraqi Kurdistan and sparked a protest against the continued Turkish military presence in nearby Shiladze.

On the 26 of January unarmed residents of the nearby villages and towns stormed Turkish military base on Shiladze’s outskirts, with reports stating that they took over the base and handed over captured Turkish soldiers to the local authorities. Two Kurdish male civilians, one of them a teenager, were reportedly killed in the clash and up to 15 others were wounded.

The KRG (Kurdish Regional Government) responded by accusing the protestors of rioting and inciting violence, and began arresting those involved, including some of the wounded civilians after they received medical treatment.

On Monday the 28th, Duhok civil society leaders began organising a support protest for the Kurdish victims in Shiladze and calling for a withdrawal of Turkish military forces from Iraq.

CPT met with Haji Rekani, a local teacher who was involved in the peaceful demonstration.

Haji Rekani explained how people have a growing anger towards not only Turkey but the local government, who refuse to speak out against Turkish aggression in the region. He said that people need to work together to raise their voices and demand their human rights, although he fears that this government will not listen.

As the protestors arrived at their meeting point in Duhok on the 28th of January, they found the Asaish (local security forces) waiting. Haji Rekani explained how they began indiscriminately arresting people in the area. He was aggressively dragged into a waiting vehicle with 8 other people before being taken to a large hall where another 50-75 people were also gathered. They were surrounded by Asaish, many of who were wearing masks over their faces, and ordered to face the wall and not speak to each other.

Haji Rekani at first refused this order and discovered that some of those arrested had not even been going to the protest. “We are not terrorists, not ISIS, we are sons of this town, we are with you!” Haji Rekani tried to explain to his guards.

It was also here that he first heard of the arrest of Sherwan Sherwani and other journalists.

CPTers with Haji Rekani after his release from prison.

Haji Rekani and some other prisoners were released later that same day, but up to 18 other activists and journalists, including Sherwan Sherwani, are still in prison being denied bail.

CPT first began partnering with Sherwan Sherwani in 2017, during the independence referendum. He is a prominent advocate against political corruption in the KRG and was calling for independence only after an end to local governmental corruption. He began fearing for his life and his family after receiving a number of threats from internal security forces and asked CPT to advocate for him and provide accompaniment.

At this stage it is unclear what will happen to him after his arrest in Duhok.

Until last Sunday CPT and Sherwan’s family were not even sure where he was being held and in what condition, with some fearing for his life. When CPT was finally able to gain access to a meeting with Sherwan Sherwani at Zerka Prison he had been moved from the custody of the Asaish to the Municipal Police.

They allowed CPT, as an international human rights organisation, to meet with him. However, the meeting was heavily monitored, with the head of the prison, and another unidentified person, present throughout. We were not allowed to record or take photos. Sherwan was interrupted when he began explaining why he thought he was imprisoned, and told that he was not allowed to discuss politics with us. Instead he told us how he hadn’t been allowed to call his wife, how he didn’t have enough blankets and the cells were too cold. The head of the prison put an end to the meeting after ten minutes, but did tell a guard to check the temperature of the cell.

The General Director of Police told CPT that those who were arrested in Duhok had broken the law, they were causing trouble and the police were just doing their job. However, during our meeting with Sherwan Sherwani in Zerka Prison, he explained that according to the new laws you did not need permission to hold a peaceful demonstration, you need only tell the media. However, he fears that if they charge them under these old laws it will be under Article 156, which carries a sentence of life imprisonment.

CPT supports the right of independent journalists to publish the truth without fear of reprisal from governments and other powers.

We ask all readers to do what they can to spread news about this case in their communities and put pressure on officials to ensure that Sherwan Sherwani and his colleagues are not silenced.