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Free and Open Public Discourse in Iraqi Kurdistan is Under Threat


 Current situation surrounding Referendum on Independence


JFO , Aug 2017


The authorities of Iraqi Kurdistan have planned a referendum vote for independence of Iraqi Kurdistan from the Central Iraqi Government set to take place on September 25th, 2017.

JFO obliged to observe the current status of human rights in Iraqi Kurdistan throughout this process. The discourse regarding the referendum has greatly impacted many people throughout the region.


The upcoming referendum vote for Kurdistan’s independence has been a political highlight for the people of Iraqi Kurdistan but engaging in the process of critique and debate has proven difficult for many activists and journalists.

The Kurdish political parties, civil society, religious leaders and journalists have been divided between two groups: one supporting the referendum, and the newly formed “No for Now Movement” standing in opposition.

The “Yes” campaign is being led by the two central governing parties in Iraqi Kurdistan, with the No for Now Movement being organized by some members of parliament, local businessmen, members of civil society, religious leaders and journalists. Supporters of the “No for Now” campaign in Sulaimani, Duhok and Erbil cities, as well as several districts, have found it difficult to openly debate and critique this issue.

They often face threats of or even direct violence. In addition to physical violence and harassment, the two main KRG political parties have directed warnings of expulsion from Iraqi Kurdistan towards those publicly voicing criticism to the referendum.


To date, The Kurdistan Regional Government has not provided the civil society, journalists and other political or nonpolitical groups with a safe space to express their views freely. Despite all the challenges that the above named groups are presently facing, in the past many people have been killed, threatened, imprisoned, beaten or expelled from their cities and homes. The late events in Iraqi Kurdistan such as the ongoing financial crises, the non-functional Parliament, corruption and a lack of safeguards protecting freedom of speech and political expression, coupled with the slated referendum vote for Kurdish Independence has made a volatile political climate in the region and set a stage for increasing human rights violations.




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