Activists call for release of Kurdish critic

Activists call for release of Kurdish critic
Analysis: HRW has called for the immediate release of Esa Barzani, a peaceful critic of the KDP, who was arrested after posting pictures on Facebook.
3 min read
23 September, 2015
Masoud Barzani, president of Iraqi Kurdistan, appears to be cracking down on criticism [AFP]

Esa Barzani, reportedly detained for peacefully criticising the ruling Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) in Iraqi Kurdistan, should be released immediately, Human Rights Watch has said.

Barzani was detained on August 4 by KDP intelligence branch agents after posting pictures on Facebook in June and July supporting Abdullah Ocalan and Jalal Talabani, two Kurdish leaders who are rivals to Regional Government President Masoud Barzani.

During his arrest his family were told he was being held for criticising the KDP and President Barzani's family. Officials also reportedly searched the house and confiscated documents and Barzani’s laptop.

"The Kurdish authorities have long claimed to tolerate criticism, but now the ruling party's intelligence service is stamping on peaceful dissent," said Joe Stork, HRW's deputy Middle East director.

According to Sherwan Sherwani, a friend of Esa Barzani and editor of dissident political magazine Bashour, Barzani told him in July that he had been warned by intelligence officials not to criticise the KDP.

Esa Barzani's family said that the agents who arrested him said they were part of the Parastin, a government agency headed by the president's son, Masrour Barzani.

     Esa Barzani has not been allowed any family visits and has not been formally charged according to his family.

On September 9, his family told HRW the Parastin were holding Barzani in Massif, a town close to the president's residence in Sari Blind.

Esa Barzani has not been allowed any family visits and has not been formally charged, according to his family.

Ocalan, who is the leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, is serving a life sentence in a Turkish prison. Talabani, the head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and a former president of Iraq, has been recovering from a serious stroke since December 2012.

HRW reported that on May 9, Barzani posted a picture of Ocalan and Talabani with the caption: "Kurdistan is bleeding, Kurdistan needs you… only these two leaders can move the streets of all four parts of Kurdistan."

On June 12, he reportedly posted a montage of Masoud Barzani, Abdullah Ocalan, and Jalal Talabani over a map entitled "Kurdistan" with the caption: "All to the support of Kurdistan proper," meaning a unified country comprising Kurdish-populated areas in Syria, Turkey, Iraq, and Iran.

Fourteen days later, Barzani posted a picture of three men with PKK flags in the background with the caption: "I bow to the steadfastness and courage of the martyrs."

HRW argues that Esa Barzani's support comes at a sensitive time. On July 24, the Turkish military began ongoing air raids against PKK locations in the Qandil mountains in the Kurdish region of Iraq. This led President Barzani to call on the PKK to leave Iraqi Kurdistan.

Sherwani has also been arrested for his work as a journalist. In April 2012 he was detained and charged with defamation after writing two articles alleging corruption in the municipal administration, said HRW. On September 9, 2015, he was convicted and fined $6,000.

"Kurdish officials' boasts of democratic achievements carry little credence when the government or ruling party detains opponents for their peaceful criticism," Stork said.

"Friends of Iraqi Kurdistan should look with concern at such incidents and press for greater freedom of expression," he added.