Independent investigation urged into police violence in Iraqi Kurdistan

Authorities in Iraq’s Kurdistan region must immediately launch an independent investigation into the violent actions by their security forces against protesters in the northern city of Sulaimaniya, Amnesty International said today.At least 90 people were injured in confrontations between security forces and protesters yesterday in the city. “What happened on Monday was the latest stage in an ongoing clampdown on freedom of expression and protests in Iraq which has been marked by excessive use of force against those who dare to protest in support of demands for political and economic change and an end to corruption among those holding power,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa. “The Kurdistan authorities must rein in their security forces and uphold the right to peaceful protest,” said Malcolm Smart, “and they must take action to ensure that those who use excessive force or commit other human rights violations are held to account, however senior their position.”After more than two months of protests in the region, the government’s Security Committee for Sulaimaniya Province issued a ban on all unlicensed demonstrations in the province as of 19 April.“The authorities in the Kurdistan region must respect the right to freedom of assembly and expression. We are calling on them to allow peaceful protests to continue”, Malcolm Smart said.Yesterday’s violence erupted during demonstrations calling for political and economic reforms and an end to corruption within the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the PUK, the two parties which together make up the Kurdistan Regional Government. Riot police used live ammunition and tear gas to disperse protesters. Members of the  security forces were also reported to be among the wounded.Thousands of Iraqis have taken to the streets since early February 2011 to protest against the chronic lack of basic services, rising prices, mass unemployment and endemic corruption, and to demand greater civil and political rights. In the Kurdistan region, demonstrators have also protested against the two main parties that have dominated local politics for decades and monopolized state resources.At least six people have died as a result of excessive force by the security forces during protests that have gripped the Kurdistan region since mid-February 2011, and dozens have been injured. Several people have been briefly detained; some were tortured or otherwise ill-treated before being released. A number of protesters, independent journalists and opposition activists, have been threatened, and repressive action has been taken against students and academics.The security forces have frequently responded with excessive force to disperse peaceful protesters. Amnesty International is urging the authorities to crack down on the use of excessive force and torture by their security forces, not on the right of people to peacefully protest.