Members of the LGBT+ community have said they are scared to leave their homes after security forces launched an operation to arrest “suspected” LGBT+ individuals in the city of Sulaimani, just days after a US human rights report highlighted the dangers the persecuted community face in the Region.
Operation supervisor Pshtiwan Bahadin told local media on Thursday night that security forces have started a joint operation arresting people they suspect to be LGBT+ for immorality, going on to use derogatory terms to describe the community.
“We have promised our people that we will not let anyone disrupt the security of this city, and we will continue our efforts tonight and every night. We will investigate people who have arrest warrants, those who perform destructive acts and want to ruin the city,” Bahadin said.
Repeated phone calls from the kurdish media to Sulaimani Police for comment on the matter went unanswered. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) could also not be immediately reached for comment.
“Our lives are not safe. Everyone cancelled all their plans last night. Even I was afraid of going out, in fear of being caught at a checkpoint,” LGBT+ activist Zhiar Ali said on Friday.
“The Asayish [security forces] were arresting people based only on suspicion of being homosexual, without even having done anything wrong,” he added.
“I am terrified. I was close to the scene when it was happening and I was wondering how I could get home. Now that I am home, I do not want to go out again,” said another individual who wished to remain anonymous.
The operation has “dehumanized” the community, another person said.
“We speak a genderless language. We seek no harm, we never have. We only wish to exist within society as normal civilians.”
“This act dehumanized us to the limit.”
Members of the community face intimidation, threats, violence, and discrimination in the Kurdistan Region, according to a 2020 human rights report released by the US State Department on Tuesday.
“LGBTI individuals reported they could not live openly in the IKR without fear of violence at the hands of family members, acquaintances, or strangers,” it added.
Youth in Sulaimani and across the wider Kurdistan Region have taken to social media to express their outrage and concern at the targeting of a community already incredibly vulnerable in the Region, and Iraq as a whole.
Many of them address a 2019 tweet by Deputy Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region Qubad Talabani, in which he expressed support for equal rights for all citizens in the Kurdistan Region, including the LGBT+ community.