Ruling party forces opened fire on protesters in two cities of Iraqi Kurdistan on October 9 and 10, 2015. In the days since, security forces controlled by the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) have shut down opposition media and barred opposition party members of parliament from their offices.
Thousands of protesters had gathered in several towns and cities across Sulaimaniya governorate to demand jobs, payment of back wages, and the resignation of Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and head of the KDP. Two protesters and a third man died in the town of Fort Diza on October 9, and two others, both reported to have been unarmed, died in the town of Kalar on October 10.
“Kurdish authorities should, as a matter of priority, get to the bottom of why five people are dead,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director. “The authorities should open a credible and independent investigation to find out who was responsible and whether the use of lethal force was justified, and if not, hold those responsible accountable.”
In Kalar, northeast of Baghdad, on October 10, hundreds of stone-throwing demonstrators surrounded on three sides a tall office building housing the offices of the ruling party. Armed men opened fire from inside the building, killing Uthman Adnan Muhammad, 19, and Araz Bayez, 35. Both were unarmed and stood a few hundred meters away from the building, Araz Muhammad, a local journalist who stood close by, told Human Rights Watch.
Although the circumstances suggest that the gunfire from the KDP building was the cause, party officials have blamed demonstrators. Muhammad said he did not see demonstrators carrying firearms.
On October 9, in Fort Diza, 260 kilometers north of Kalar, people in ruling party offices opened fire at demonstrators who were throwing stones and carrying AK-47 rifles, killing Muhammad Rasul, in his late teens or early twenties, and Muhammad Abdullah, in his late twenties, a Fort Diza resident who said he witnessed the shootings told Human Rights Watch.
The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms require that, “intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.”
On October 10, a fifth protester, Diyar Khidir Rasul, who was in his early teens, died in Raparin, near Fort Diza, when protesters set the KDP offices there on fire. Rasul was inside and apparently unable to escape, said Wirya Fatah, a resident who was on the scene.
Following the protests, the governing party moved to oust members of the opposition Gorran (Change) movement. On October 12, security forces prevented Muhammad Yusif Sadiq, a Gorran member and speaker of the regional parliament, from entering the Erbil governorate, where the parliament is located, three Kurdish activists told Human Rights Watch. On October 11, security forces had barred the four regional government ministers from Gorran from their offices. Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzan, on October 12, asked the Gorran ministers to resign.
On October 10, government security forces entered the offices of the independent NRT satellite television station in Erbil and detained staff, Ramen Gareb, director of Metro Center for Journalists’ Rights and Advocacy in Sulaimaniya, told Human Rights Watch. He said he has been in communication with the detained journalists.
He said the journalists were taken to Sulaimaniya governorate and ordered not to return to Erbil. On October 13, governing party officials allowed the NRT staff to return to Erbil and reopen their offices, the channel reported.
Also on October 10, security forces arrived at the offices of the Kurdish News Network (KNN), a satellite television channel associated with Gorran, and forcibly moved staff to Sulaimaniya province. They have not been allowed to return.
“The KDP claims to be rights-respecting but has a history of shutting down critical voices,” Stork said. “Barring elected members of parliament from doing their job and forcing critical media staff out of the governorate is a new low.”