HRW decries Iraqi Kurd video showing protester 'confessions'

HRW condemns Iraqi Kurdish security video showing protesters ‘confessing to crimes’
3 min read
07 January, 2022
Human Rights Watch has condemned a shocking video released by Iraqi Kurdish security forces showing handcuffed protesters in orange jumpsuits confessing to destroying property.
The Iraqi Kurdish city of Suleimaniyah was rocked by protests last November [Getty]

Human Rights Watch has condemned security forces in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq for releasing a video showing protesters dressed in orange jumpsuits confessing to violent acts during demonstrations against the regional government.

Earlier this week the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) internal security forces, known as Asayish, published a six minute video showing 18 protesters wearing orange jumpsuits and handcuffs, with their faces hidden, confessing to the destruction of property during protests against the regional government last November.

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The footage has caused serious concern because of its similarity to videos of hostages released by the Islamic State extremist group, and because the detained protesters have not been convicted of crimes.

“It is shocking that the KRG would display footage like this as it flies in the face of the presumption of innocence and the need for the judicial process to be independent and respected by authorities and the public,” Belkis Wille, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch told the Iraqi Kurdish Rudaw news website on Thursday.

“These video clips raise serious concerns about the KRG’s treatment of a group of young men, who, as far as we know, have yet to be convicted of any crime.”

Last November, thousands of university students protested in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah and surrounding areas, after the regional government cut off payments of a small allowance to students for travel expenses.

Security forces used tear gas, water cannon, and rubber bullets against the protesters.

A shocking video came out at the time showing a member of the security kicking a protester in the head while he was lying on the ground and Bafel Talabani, the co-president of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party which rules Sulaimaniya province apologised to the protesters for the security forces’ “unjust” actions.

Several buildings were also set on fire and security forces blamed unnamed individuals for “infiltrating” the protests and starting violence.

The video released by security forces begins with the words “These accused had a hand in changing the direction of the peaceful protest of the residents of Piramagrun,” a town near Sulaimaniyah.

A detainee is then shown confessing to burning a library and two other detainees make similar confessions. They then state, improbably, that they are confessing of their own free will and had not been forced.

However, the UN last month published a report accusing Asayish security forces of extracting “confessions under torture” and the US State Department and human rights groups have previously accused Kurdistan regional security forces of arbitrary arrest, abuse, and torture of detainees.

Wille told Rudaw that the appearance of the detainees in the video “calls into question whether they consented, or even could have, to confessing on screen”.

“Have they had access to lawyers? Were their confessions forced? Treatment of detainees and prisoners by a government that promotes this kind of material is a real concern,” he added.