Tax on criticism high in Iraqi Kurdistan Region

Idris Masoud, also known as (Idris the Baker) was arrested for publicly criticizing the Kurdistan Regional Government and people of Erbil, the capital of IKR.

By KirkukNow

Without a judicial warrant and without opening a “file” for the case, the Kurdish (Asayish) Security forces in Erbil, capital of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region IKR, arrested Idris Masoud, also known as “Idris Nanawa,” for 18 hours, and without a judicial order, released after his arrest case sparked a wave of protests on social media platforms.

Idris Masoud (Idris the baker) was among a number of bakery owners who gathered on Monday, January 8, in front of the Erbil Governorate building to protest against the decision to reduce the price of bread so that 10 loaves of bread instead of eight to be sold for one thousand Iraqi dinars IQD (USD0.3).

Speaking to a number of journalists who were present to cover the event, Idris said, “My son and I together earn only 35,000 Dinars daily from our work. If this decision is implemented, I will lose 50,000 dinars daily.”

“If you want to implement reforms, start from Yourselves, your brothers, and your relatives... Start with reforms from the heads of the tribes and legions - Kurdish elements who were loyal to Saddam Hussein’s regime -, start with reforms from oil and gas... Why is the poor the one who must pay the tax? he commented, addressing the Kurdistan Regional Government KRG.

After a number of protesters gathered in front of the governorate building tried to interrupt Idris to force him to stop speaking, his tone became harsh and he said, “Erbil was disobedient to Hulegu (Hulagu), but now it has become a place for the enslaved. Do you have any courage?”

The video clip in which Idris went viral on social media platforms, and many expressed their support for what he said. At 5 pm on the same day, an Asayish force raided his house in Erbil and arrested him.

When the Asayish arrived at my house and arrested me, they told me that they had a judicial warrant

After his release - before noon on Tuesday, January 9 -, Idris told (KirkukNow) over the phone, “When the Asayish forces arrived at my house and arrested me, they told me that they had a judicial warrant to arrest me,” without showing him any warrant.

On December 7, the KRG’s Council of Ministers decided to reduce the price of bread and assigned the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Commerce to implement the decision.

Last week, the Mayor of Erbil announced that the decision would be implemented this week and stressed that bakery electricity fees, in return, would be reduced by 50 percent.

The decision stated that the price of a bag of flour will be reduced from 29,000IQD to 24,000 for bakeries, and a free bag of flour will be distributed to bakeries for every ton they receive, as part of a series of measures interpreted as government support to reduce the price of bread.

In total, there are 1,800 bakeries in Erbil, but a small number of bakery owners gathered in front of the governorate building to protest the decision.

"In this way, we will incur losses. Why should the poor pay the tax on government reforms?" Idris said.

The local and international organizations, human rights advocates, members of the Iraqi and Kurdistan parliaments continuously express their grave concern that the journalists, the freedom of press and expression are increasingly under threat all over Iraq including the Iraqi Kurdistan Region IKR.

“A media environment in which press outlets were closely affiliated with specific political parties and ethnic factions, an opaque judiciary, and a still-developing democratic political system combined to place considerable restrictions on freedom of expression, including the press,” said the 2021 Human rights practices in Iraq by the US department of State, published in April 2022.

The report documented human rights issues based credible reports of: serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists, unjustified arrests and prosecutions against journalists; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association.

The arrest of Idris Masoud and the failure to disclose the case for which he was arrested sparked widespread controversy on social media, and many interpreted what happened as a suppression of freedom of expression.

After Idris was arrested, 24 lawyers volunteered to take on the case. Most political parties in the IKR also condemned the Asayish decision and considered what happened “disgusting” and “imposing a tax on expression of opinion,” with the exception of the Kurdistan Democratic Party KDP, which remained silent, who runs the position of the KRG Prime Minister and absolute authority in Erbil Governorate.

Asso Hashem, lawyer, was the first to express his willingness to take on Idris’s case on his Facebook account, and he was the first to be present in the Asayish Directorate of Erbil on the morning of Tuesday, January 9.

“When I arrived at the Asayish to defend Idris and learn about his case, the investigating judge told me that Idris did not have a case file... and no arrest warrant was issued for him to open a file for him,” Hashem told KirkukNow.

Idris Masoud told Kirkuk Now in a phone call that Asayish forces treated him “with respect” the night he spent in prison.

He explained that he did not know the reason for his arrest.

"I did not appear before the judge. They released me at 11 a.m.... I do not know what legal article under which I was arrested or what legal article under which they released me. They did not even ask for a sponsor to be freed on bail."

We will bring you back to the Asayish whenever we want

But during his arrest, they told him, “We will bring you back to the Asayish whenever we want,” according to Idris.

Idris Masoud runs Nile Bakery in the Kurdistan neighborhood in downtown Erbil.

Erbil Asayish did not give any clarification about the incident, and the Asayish media official refused to comment on the case to KirkukNow.

Omid Khoshnaw, Governor of Erbil, said in a press conference regarding the issue, "Some distorted the issue. What that person did in criticizing the government is normal. We are in a democratic country. We accept any point of view or criticism within the framework of logical expression."

Regarding the reason for the arrest, Omid said, “This young man acted with excessive impulsiveness. He should not have said some things about the city and its people. The investigation against him took place in this context, and he is now free and has apologized to the people of Erbil,” he added.


“The government and its institutions do not accept anyone defaming any city,” according to the governor of Erbil.

The Independent commission for Human Rights in the IKR recorded detention of 300 people from August to October 2020 for "organization of protests and disorder mainly in Duhok province.” The KRG has sent over 50 activists and journalists to court in 2020 and 2021 and some of the cases are still pending at court awaiting trial.

After his release, Idris posted a video clip in which he said, "I apologize to the people of Erbil for any inappropriate words I said during my anger."

"The government issued a wrong decision. We must not pay the tax to reduce the price of bread. The government must support us," Idris stressed.

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