A protester shows a tear gas canister to Rudaw's camera at Erbil’s Shanadar Park on Sunday. Photo: Rudaw TV
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – A number of protesters accused of violence during civil servant strikes have been arrested, a KRG official confirmed, while accusing certain political parties of trying to hijack the demonstrations.
“A number of protesters were arrested by security forces. They were charged with inciting violence and handed over to court,” said Dindar Zebari, KRG Coordinator for International Advocacy, noting that the “protest itself did not have a legal permit."
Teachers and health workers across the Kurdistan Region have held days of protests and strikes, calling for an end to the salary-saving system that has seen them without their full salaries for about two years. Violence broke out in Erbil on Sunday after protesters wanted to move their demonstration to the Council of Ministers building, but were prevented by riot police using tear gas and rubber bullets.
Zebari said that no lawsuits have been filed against any of the security forces, but accused protesters of “attacking a security member.” The wounded policeman has filed a case against the alleged attacker, he added.
The government and relevant parties are ready to launch investigations into any violence committed against the demonstrators, Zebari said.
One video that drew fierce condemnation on social media showed an elderly teacher being assaulted in front of Erbil’s Shanadar Park on Sunday. The police have called for the two individuals who carried out the assault to be identified and prosecuted.
“This act is considered a crime and is disrespectful to the dignity of teachers. That is why the Erbil General Prosecutor demands that legal measures be undertaken against these two individuals, after finding out their full names,” read a statement from Judge Taha Abdulghafour Abdulqadir, deputy supervisor of the General Prosecutor's Office in Erbil, on Tuesday.
A press freedom watchdog has called for the KRG to investigate reports of attacks on journalists covering the protests.
“The authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan say repeatedly that they support a free press. The latest examples of thuggish behavior by some of their security forces tell a different story,” said Robert Mahoney, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
At least seven journalists were assaulted and two were temporarily detained, the local Metro Center for Journalists’ Rights and Advocacy told CPJ.
“The Kurdistan Regional Government must bring those responsible for assaulting reporters to justice and return all seized journalistic equipment and materials,” said CPJ’s Mahoney.
The KRG’s Zebari accused political parties of hijacking the legitimate protests of the civil servants and trying to encourage violence.
"In these protests, a number of political parties attempted to capitalize on the right demands of people, particularly teachers, and to derail the demonstrations for their political goals," he said.
"Some rioters snuck into the demonstrations to provoke security agencies by using ugly words and cursing and even some parliamentarians from certain political parties were using slogans to incite violence and were speaking as teachers' representatives,” he said.
“But the protesters themselves did not accept that and told them that MPs must defend people by passing laws, not attempting to seize people's dissatisfaction for their political gains."
Security forces dealt with these alleged instigators to prevent the demonstrations from shifting away from their focus, Zebari asserted.
He noted that legal permits must be obtained ahead of any demonstration and that the security agencies are responsible for protecting the safety of protesters.