“Most of those threats came through text messages or phone calls,” says Bakhtiyar Haider, the head of the Bar Association. Haider says there is not much his organization can do about the harassment; they issue statements on the topic regularly, he says.
The police can only handle the cases where lawyers are threatened like any other cases, says Hogir Aziz, the spokesperson for the Erbil police. “When any person is threatened, we use the same procedures, regardless of the position of that person.”
Another local lawyer Younis Rawi says he’s been threatened plenty of times. “Most lawyers have,” he confirms. It is the nature of the work, he concedes.
Last year a well-known lawyer in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Erbil, Asso Hashem, was kidnapped. He says it was because of his involvement in a case involving a clothing and textiles dealer who became bankrupt.
His client asked the lawyer to bring him a cheque from the bank worth several hundred dollars but while he was leaving the bank, he was kidnapped. “They wanted to know where my client was but in the end, they released me and only took the bank cheque,” Hashem says.
Hashem believes somebody with military connections became involved in the case. After he was attacked, he filed a complaint with the local police but then later withdrew it. “I know the courts cannot do anything against the powerful people in Kurdistan and I know that if I continue to pursue this my life would be in real danger,” Hashem explained why he decided against taking his complaint any further.
“The problem in Kurdistan is that if a person becomes a defence attorney and if you get involved in any kind of corruption lawsuit, then the authorities see you as the enemy,” Hashem argues.