Iraqi Kurdish authorities must immediately launch an independent investigation into attacks on those with links to pro-reform protests, Amnesty International said after a human rights lawyer was shot.
Karwan Kamal, a lawyer defending the protesters in the city of Sulaimaniya, was directly hit and two others were hurt when a gunman fired at them on Sunday night.
“There is strong reason to believe that Karwan Kamal was targeted for his work to defend pro-reform protesters,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director.
“The Kurdish authorities must carry out a thorough and impartial investigation into this shooting and bring to justice those responsible. Attacks on human rights defenders must not be tolerated.”
Kamal had just left a restaurant with a friend and was collecting his car from a nearby car park at around 11:30 p.m. when the shooting took place. A gunman in traditional Kurdish dress fired five bullets at close range, one of which hit the human rights lawyer in his left leg, causing him to be rushed to hospital.
His friend and a car park employee were injured by shrapnel when another of the bullets hit a concrete wall.
A second individual is said to have been waiting in a car and then to have helped the gunman escape the scene after firing.
Kamal told Amnesty International that he had not received any threats prior to the attack, but that he knows of others who have received anonymous threats for supporting those involved in protests earlier this year.
Daily protests began on17 February with thousands of people taking to the streets in Sulaimaniya and other Kurdish cities to demand political and other reforms and an end to government corruption.
Some 10 people are reported to have been killed and many others injured. The security forces used excessive force against protesters, shooting some of them, and two members of the security forces were also killed.
A committee established at the request of the Kurdish Parliament to investigate the incidents has called on the authorities “to prosecute both civilians and members of the security forces that the investigation found to be responsible for the violence”.
The demonstrations, inspired by protests across the Middle East and North Africa, came to an abrupt end on 19 April amid a brutal crackdown by security forces. Since then the authorities have prevented any pro-reform demonstrations.
Many suspected protesters have been arrested. Some have allegedly been tortured in detention.
One of the protest leaders, 28-year-old Ismail Abdulla, was reportedly abducted and tortured late last month.
A group of armed men wearing Kurdish military uniforms and balaclava helmets to conceal their faces abducted him and took him to a remote spot, where he was beaten, cut with knives and threatened with death if he took part in any further protests.
“The authorities must put an end to these attacks targeting political and human rights activists and reinstate the right to peacefully demonstrate,” said Malcolm Smart.
“People in Iraq’s Kurdistan region must be allowed to exercise their legitimate rights to freedom of expression and assembly without fearing for their safety.”