Present on team: Kathy Thiessen, Lukasz Firla, Pat Thompson, Bud Courtney, Carrie Peters, Garland Robertson
CPT supported six handicapped persons who continued their hunger strike which began on Nov 20. Members of the team visited with them daily, participated in several press conferences, made verbal statements, and distributed a published statement in support of the striker's request to receive increased financial assistance from the community for themselves and more than 125,000 orm yet int he cwith disabilities. The team joined a protest march in support of the striker's attempt to further generate public support for their non-violent witness.
Responding to a request from the strikers, two members of CPT accompanied the group when they moved their presence to the capitol city of Hawler. Being unsuccessful in their efforts to meet with government officials, the group blocked the main road that proceeds in front of the Kurdistan Regional Government Parliament compound and various ministry offices nearby. Security forces soon carried the striking individuals to the sidewalk and took their tent, bedding supplies, and other provisions away.
After 30 days without eating, the strikers met with a representative from the Ministry of Social Affairs. Following this conversation the group agreed to end their hunger strike and to allow government authorities until the first of February to generate a proposed resolution. The strikers vowed that if this proposal is not acceptable they will return to their action in a more aggressive way.
CPT met with two women activists, Parween Aziz and Bahar Munzir, who have spoken publicly in support of women whose human rights are being abused. Traditional family procedures work not only to punish members who are suspected of behaviors that bring dishonor to the family (almost always females) but also to force marriages and to perform female genital circumcisions. Both Aziz and Munzir have reported receiving multiple threats on their phones from unknown male callers, public verbal assaults, and a suspicious case when a gunshot fired in the middle of the night crashed into Aziz's hotel room while she was attending a conference in Hawler.
Incidents apparently intended to frighten women activists who have worked to promote enforcement of legal protection for women have markedly increased following a protest last summer in the village of Kalar. There a young woman was killed by one of her family members after they convinced authorities to return her from a women's shelter that was providing support for her to the custody of the family.
Departing before sunrise on a foggy, overcast, and damp morning, the team traveled 4 1/2 hours toward the mountain village of Ponkon to visit with Nariman and Tahir Qadir. On Sep 1, Iranian soldiers kidnapped these young Kurdish shepherds while they grazed their flock near the border in the Sidakan area. Due to swollen rivers the team was unable to reach Ponkon and received refuge in the home of a gracious family in nearby Permanwan village. The two shepherds walked 3 kms in the rain to meet with CPT.
Nariman and Tahir described their experience of being apprehended, temporarily blindfolded, then beaten and confined in Iranian prisons. They confessed, "We were afraid for our lives; we believed we would never return to our home." The young men said their mother tried to visit with them immediately after she heard of the kidnapping. The Iranians denied her request. Instead they blindfolded her, tied her hands, and detained her for eight hours before releasing her.
Through the services of an Iranian attorney, their father successfully arranged his son's release after Iranians had confined them for 23 days. When the shepherds returned to their flock they discovered that 30 of their sheep were missing. The reason for this loss was not known. When asked what they wished to say to Iranian officials about this incident, they responded, "We want to be able to graze our flocks without the fear of being abused or shot at by Iranian soldiers." The family annually leads their 1000+ flock 80 kms to this ancestral land for summer grazing. The shepherds indicated they plan to return to the same location next April with their sheep.
On December 23, the team gathered with almost 250 other Christians in the Chaldean Cathedral Church of the Sacred Heart in Kirkuk for the Advent 4 worship service. The building can accommodate 750 worshipers. Afterward Bishop Sako hosted the team, serving conversation and dessert, and distributing gifts.