Mullah Kameron Ali Khwarham

by Peggy Gish

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“I felt responsible to go to the demonstrations after the violent response of the authorities to the protesters on 17 February,” Mamosta Mullah Kameron Ali Khwarham told two members of CPT as they sat in his home in the village of Faraj Awa, just southeast of Suleimaniya. I wanted to let the protesters know that they are not alone, that some of the religious leaders are with them.”

Mullah Kameron was arrested twice after speaking out in the anti-corruption demonstrations that lasted from 17 February to 18 April 2011, (62 days) in Suleimaniya, in the Kurdish region of Iraq.

“There’s a passage in the Holy Koran that says if you see those in power oppress the poor, but you remain silent and don’t do something about it, you are standing with the powerful,” he said. “Islam teaches us that there is no justice without freedom and freedom brings justice.”

In his speeches at the demonstrations, Mullah Kameron called for a revolution without violence—a “jihad.” He urged the armed militias to put down their guns. He appealed to the demonstrators to see the soldiers as their brothers and not throw rocks or hurt them. “The Jihad” I am speaking about is not a violent struggle or a struggle of believers against non-believers, but the nonviolent struggle of truth and justice against corruption and injustice.”

“But the authorities took my words and twisted them to use against me. “They picked out the word, ‘jihad,’ and made it look like I was advocating for violence. Government leaders threatened me. Anti-terrorist forces came to my house, put a mask on my head and arrested me. They took me to jail and tortured me after charging me with encouraging people to participate in illegal demonstrations.”

When he was charged under the antiterrorism law, which could have brought the death penalty, 50 local pro bono Kurdish lawyers from the Independent Group of Lawyers, local protest leaders, and members of international human rights organizations, The Christian Peacemaker Teams and Amnesty international, helped put pressure on authorities for his release. After listening to his whole speech recorded by KNN-TV, in which it was clear he was calling for a peaceful struggle, the judge reduced his case to a civil charge and he was fined and released.

Coming from a lower class farming family, Mullah Kameron has long felt the pain of the workers. From his youth, he was gifted as a mediator. He felt compelled to stand with those with little power and to speak out concerning social, economic, or political problems in society.

As he spoke to CPTers in his home, he took time to respond to his four children and held them affectionately on his lap. He helped his wife serve the food and included her in the discussion circle.

Mullah Kameron explained that the authorities often sent in provocateurs to throw stones, after which security forces responded with firing into the crowd. They created violence in order to discredit and stop the protests. The problem is not with our country or the government itself, but with corruption, injustice, and inequality, so the leaders should step down.” Now, after the brutal crackdown on the demonstrations, he has little hope for the current situation to change.

He spoke harshly about the support the powerful countries of the west gave to corrupt and dictatorial leaders here and around the world, thus allowing them to crush their people. The US has two faces. They promote democracy for their own people and dictatorships for the rest of us, to serve their purposes.”

He concluded the conversation with a plea. “You must try to get your government to stop supporting the violence and corruption of our government. Please help your people see that there are many people outside your country who do not have the freedom to demonstrate as they do. Help them to want this freedom for all.”