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Protesting an anti-demonstration law in Iraq

Azadi Park in Sulaymaniyah

I find myself in a rather strange situation. I am in the midst of approximately 300 people at a demonstration in the Northern Iraqi city of Sulaymaniyah.

Massoud Barzani, president of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, had just signed the demonstration law, which parliament sent to him for approval. The law makes spontaneous demonstrations or assemblies illegal, requiring 72-hour notice for any gathering. Even then, it is still up to the authorities to grant the request. Organizers met at the end of last month, hoping to find ways to stop it from happening. But the bill was signed into law last week and so we took to the streets to demonstrate on Saturday.

It rained all morning, fatefully clearing up just as the “illegal” demonstration began. Participants stood in a large circle, as speakers huddled under banners and umbrellas spoke. Each speaker was followed by loud chanting: “Parliament: Azadi!” (Azadi means “freedom” in Kurdish.) The chanting became addictive and heartwarming in the cold, damp air about the city center in the heart of the bazaar district.

Not being able to speak or understand Kurdish, I felt a bit set back attending a freedom-of-speech demonstration. However, I have learned enough over the years about civil and human rights to know that when they begin to get taken away, one must speak up—even in a foreign language. So, I joined, and continue to join with my sisters and brothers in chanting “Azadi, Azadi!

Mr. President and members of Parliament, please amend this law. Allow human beings the right to gather together to voice their opinions. The voice of the people is democracy. To stifle one’s ability to speak leads to tyranny.

Bud Courtney is currently serving on a Christian Peacemaker Team in Iraq.