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Eighty political prisoners on hunger strike in Iraqi Kurdistan

EIGHTY political prisoners held in Iraqi Kurdistan for more than a year amid conditions of torture have started an indefinite hunger strike, demanding their immediate release.

Known as the Badinan activists, the detainees include journalists and trade unionists critical of the powerful Barzani family, which dominates the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Many have been held for between one and three years without trial and claim to have been subjected to beatings, electrocution and other forms of torture to force confessions of crimes against the state.

Five of the detainees from Shiladze, in Duhok province — Mahmood Naji, Amjad Yusuf, Nechirvan Badia, Yusuf Sharif and Kovan Tariq — were arrested in 2020 during protests over unpaid salaries and a deepening economic crisis.

They joined the hunger strike on Monday and appealed to international human rights organisations and opposition parties in Iraqi Kurdistan to raise their voices for those held in the Barzanis’ dungeons.

Representative for the Badinan detainees Ayhan Saeed insisted that there is no evidence against the prisoners and demanded their immediate release.

Some have been accused of spying for foreign entities, having held meetings with consular officials and representatives from countries including the United States and Germany.

Charges of endangering national security been brought against 17 of the prisoners in trials branded politically motivated and criticised by human rights organisations.

It is is seen as part of a “chilling clampdown” led by the Barzani-dominated Kurdistan Democratic Party to silence its critics via arbitrary arrests, forced disappearances, threats and intimidation.

“The activists say they have been subjected to torture and have asked authorities and the opposition to help them,” Mr Saeed said. “They were videotaped under torture, which is illegal and immoral.”

One of those arrested, mother of five Berevan Hassan, has also joined the hunger strike despite suffering from diabetes. 

Activists have called for human rights organisations and supporters to attend her trial on February 28 where she faces charges of “disrupting national security” after joining public-sector pay protests.

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