Human Rights Watch Calls on Syrian Kurds and KRG to Release Political Prisoners

ARA News – 2017-03-19 00:58 GMT – Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a statement to ARA News called on both the Kurdish PYD-led and KDP-led administrations in Iraq and Syria to release prisoners that were arrested after clashes between Kurdish forces in Sinjar on 3 March.”We are concerned about the apparent arbitrary arrests in both Syria and the KRG [Iraqi Kurdistan] related to the Sinjar clashes,” Lama Fakih, deputy director in Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division told ARA News in an exclusive interview.

“Arresting peaceful protestors only serves to undermine the freedom of assembly and expression. All arbitrarily held political detainees should be immediately released,” she said.  The Asayish security forces led by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria’s Kurdish region (Rojava) have arrested over 40 members of the pro-Barzani Kurdish National Council (KNC) after clashes in Sinjar between the KDP-linked Rojava Peshmerga forces and the PKK-affiliated Shingal Resistance Units (YBS).

This while the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)-led security forces arrested 23 opposition protestors of which six are still being held in prison in Iraqi Kurdistan. According to a KNC member from Qamishli, who talked to ARA News on condition of anonymity for safety reasons, at least 13 KNC offices were closed down by the PYD-led local authorities. “Most of these offices were destroyed and burnt before closing,” he said. The KNC office in Geneva last Thursday released a statement saying that several KNC offices were burned and KNC members were arrested. “More than twenty offices have been torched or demolished, and subsequently were sealed up by PYD security forces,” the KNC said. “The same happened to the office of the Assyrian Democratic Organization (ADO) in Hisiça (Hasakah). Because of frequent reports on human rights violations and torture taking place in PYD prisons, the KNC is concerned about the soundness of its detained members,” the KNC said.

The local canton administration issued a 24-hours deadline last week that political parties had to register according to the law of April 2014 within 24 hours, or face closure. Following the deadline, all offices of non-registered parties were closed. In a press release issued on Thursday, the Syrian opposition’s National Coalition (SNC) said that attacks have been launched “under illegal decisions and decrees that were issued by organizations that do not represent the Syrian people nor respect their will. These decisions and decrees are an attempt by the PYD militias to grant legitimacy to their actions through terror and the force of arms.”

The KDP security forces also stopped a seminar on the Sinjar crisis, preventing Mohammed Kayani, a former parliament member for the anti-KDP opposition party Gorran in Baghdad, from speaking. “I was prevented by a huge Presidential force to held a debate about the causes of tension between PKK and KDP and how to avoid intra-Kurdish fighting in Erbil,” Mohammed Kayani, an ex-politician of the Gorran movement told ARA News on Thursday. Last week, the PKK-affiliated media accused the KDP of threatening Kurdish refugees from Turkey in Duhok that fled from Turkey during the war between the PKK and the government in the 1990s.

Moreover, one civilian was killed when KDP security forces opened fire on a pro-PKK protest in Sinjar last Tuesday, in which also two Kurdish journalists were injured. The tensions are a result of the competition between the affiliates of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) over control in the Kurdish territories of Syria and Iraq.  The KDP-linked media have accused the PKK of being under the influence of Iran, while the PKK-affiliated media have accused the KDP of being under the influence of Turkey. Sipan Seyda, a Kurdish activist in Erbil, told ARA News that only the United States can solve the problems between the two sides. In 1998, the US also forced the Iraqi Kurdish ruling parties –KDP and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)– to solve their differences and end a civil war in which hundreds were killed.

“The Kurds are divided now between different regional axes [countries],” Seyda told ARA News. “Only Americans can solve the problems between the Kurdish parties, since America has relations with both sides.” The US-led coalition supports the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria, while at the same time it backs and trains Peshmerga forces in Iraqi Kurdistan, including the Rojava Peshmerga fighters who are part of the KDP-affiliated Zerevani forces.