The following report was written by Rhona Davis, who is currently teaching English in Erbil, Iraq. Rhona conducts periodic interviews with individuals in and around Erbil in an effort to assess the human rights situation there. This report, from July 2008, focuses on the abuses suffered by members of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) who now live in a refugee camp near Koya, Iraq.
The PDKI was forcibly removed from the border areas between Iran and Iraq in 1994 by the Kurdish parties in Iraq due to pressure from the Iranian government. The party and other Iranian Kurdish groups have collectively lost some 300 people in Iraqi Kurdistan because of the actions of Iranian agents active in that area between 1991 and 1997. For more information on the party, click here.
The PDKI refugee camp near Koya, Iraq was originally built as an army barracks, but when the Iraqi troops withdrew it was given to the PDKI to use as a refugee camp. It is mainly used as living quarters for unmarried men, as well as for TV and radio programmes and newspapers production, while families live in three villages about a kilometre from the main camp. The members of the PDKI were living in the Iranian part of Kurdistan and had been fighting the Iranian regime. However, after the First Gulf War, the Iranian regime started bombarding the region, so they crossed into Iraqi Kurdistan. Now hundreds of families are living in Iraqi Kurdistan, though most of the members of the PDKI are living clandestinely in Iranian Kurdistan.
They emphasize that the reason that all of them were arrested and imprisoned is because they are Kurds, who were fighting for the national rights of Kurdish people. Now they are all active members of “The Council of Defence of Political Prisoners in Eastern Kurdistan,” an organ of the PDKI that tries to help prisoners in Iran through members of the party who are active in Iran and humanitarian organizations. They try to assist prisoners and their families financially and politically, using the media to publicize their situation. Their fundamental desire is to get the same rights as people in more democratic parts of the world. Some of the residents of the camp describe the experiences that led them to move there.
Aisha’s husband, who used to be a commander in the PDKI was terrorized and killed in Iraqi Kurdistan in the spring of 1999 by someone working for the Iranian regime. Her seven children are now aged from 14 to 23 and she has had very little support from anyone. She makes bread for some people living near her and receives some money from the party, which is paid to families who have had a member killed. Her oldest son works as a labourer, building houses in town.
Mohammed lost his leg when he was tortured in prison. He was in the political cadre of the party and while involved in political activity, he was reported by an agent of the regime and arrested. He was tortured so badly and not taken to a doctor for forty days, by which time his leg had to be amputated. He was in prison for eight years and eight months, but his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment when he paid $120,000. The government also took a field that belonged to him. Eventually he was given five days to leave the prison to see his family, but did not go back to prison, which is a normal procedure. Not surprisingly few of those who are allowed out in this way ever go back. Later his wife was on a bus when an explosion happened nearby. Her face and chest were completely burned, but she survived. Now she works in the house and receives $50 a month from the PDKI.
Ahmad was arrested and imprisoned in 1982. He lived alone in a dirty single cell and was tortured. This involved him being tied to a bed by his head and legs and being hit. Sometimes they would hang him by his hands for one to two hours and once for five hours. His body was also burned with cigarettes. Eventually he was taken to court and condemned to 15 years imprisonment. He protested against the sentence, saying that there was no document to confirm that he had been a political activist and eventually the court decided that the report through which he had been convicted had been fabricated. In 1988 he was freed.
Between 1993 and 1997, Borhan was arrested six times because it was reported that he had been active in the party. Every time he was arrested he was tortured in many different ways. The guards used to bring a loudspeaker near to the cell at two or three in the morning and play it loudly so that they could not sleep; they would have a water pipe drip on them in the cell and in winter they were kept outside so that they would get wet. When they were taken to court they would be beaten in the corridor. They threatened to make the torture worse if they told anyone about it. When he was taken to court the judge said that if he said what sort of activities he had been involved in, he would be given time off his sentence, but he refused to say anything.
In 1994 Rahman was imprisoned for eight months and was tortured. At the end of this period he was taken to court, tried and condemned to 20 years in prison. However, after eight years he was helped by a Kurdish soldier to escape and then went to Iraqi Kurdistan to rejoin the PDKI there.
Rahim used to be active in politics with the PDKI. He was arrested in 1993 when he was eighteen and was imprisoned alone in a single cell. After six months he was taken to court, was tried and condemned to nine years in prison, but after six years he was pardoned by the regime and left. He joined the party and became a peshmerga (Kurdish militia member).
Hassan used to be in the political cadre of the party in Iraqi Kurdistan. He went to Iranian Kurdistan clandestinely for political activities, which did not involve an armed struggle, but was reported by regime agents, was arrested and imprisoned for four and a half months in a single cell, where he was tortured. He was taken to court and condemned to death for both legal and religious reasons. Eventually two Kurdish soldiers who had been his friends helped him to escape. Afterwards they also both left Iran and became peshmerga.