Fight For Demonstrators’ Rights Reaches Kurdish Capital

ERBIL, Iraqi Kurdistan: As part of the wave of ongoing protests against the Demonstration Law, over a thousand protestors converged on the Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament in Erbil yesterday, resulting in what protest organizers said was a “promise” from the government to review the law.

Kurdistan’s new Demonstration Law requires that prior permission for the holding of a demonstration must be granted by authorities.

This has provoked outrage from civil society organizations and the general populace, and, in a bid to have the law amended, demonstrations have erupted out across the semiautonomous Kurdistan region in recent weeks, with especially fierce and large protests in Sulaimani province.

More than 50 local civil society and rights organizations, who previously urged Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani not to sign off on the bill, have described the law as “undemocratic” and an attack on the freedom of expression.

“The authorities are restricting our freedom,” said 18-year-old university student Dyari Yassin at yesterday’s protest. “This is a threat to future generations.”

Ali Mahmoud, a demonstration organizer from rights group Kurdocide Watch, told Rudaw the protestors’ main aim was to urge parliament to amend the law so as to “further democracy in all spheres of life in the Kurdistan region.”

The protestors – many with gaffer-taped mouths and their hands tied together to symbolize the loss of freedom of speech –  included civil rights activists, opposition lawmakers, students and, near the end of the protest, some of the local journalists who had come to cover the event.

“Freedom of expression is dying on the cross,” read some of the protestor’s placards.

Tension ran high between the demonstrators and the dozens of riot police equipped with shields and water canons when the marchers chanted anti-government slogans, but no violent incidents occurred.

“The police in this region have been heavy handed in the past,” said Kamaran Muhammad, a journalist participating in the protest. “So the public do not trust them anymore and they are opposing [the law]”.

However, Aso Karim, lawmaker with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), defended the law and told Rudaw that Kurdistan’s “current fragile democracy” meant that some restrictions were necessary.

“There are two sets of rights,” said Karim. “One set is absolute and nonnegotiable, but the other set can sometimes be restricted for the general good of the public.”

But Abdulla Malla Nuri, a lawmaker from the opposition Gorran party, said a law that contradicted Iraq’s constitution was unjustifiable.

“There is a political attempt from the ruling parties to exploit this situation in order to make Kurdistan a totalitarian government with a democratic façade,” said Mr. Nuri.

At the end of the demonstration, protest representatives entered the parliament buildings to discuss their demands. According to a protest spokesman, this resulted in the parliament speaker agreeing to discuss the Demonstration Law in parliament in the near future, with the view of possible amendments.

The law was passed with a narrow majority of 52 to 42 votes, and signed off by Kurdistan’s president last month.

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