Criticism of Halabja market committee

Man released after arrest for Facebook comments

HALABJA — A man in his 20s detained for criticizing Halabja’s market inspection committee on Facebook was released on Sunday. Baryar Kamal was arrested last Wednesday following comments he made on social media which critiqued the district administration’s handling of local bakeries.

The controversy began after the market inspection committee of Halabja, a district in the Kurdistan Region, announced monetary penalties against two bakeries for overcharging. Kamal’s comments on the district administration’s Facebook page were pointed. “They can’t talk about anything except for bakeries,” Kamal wrote. “If bakeries are closed for two days, the district administration and its committee would have to buy bread from another city because they haven’t baked bread themselves yet. They should be made to bake bread themselves to know how good they are and make fun of them.” In another post, he criticized the committee’s effectiveness, saying, “The committee is supposed to control the market, but the Halabja committee only takes pictures.”

These remarks led to Kamal’s arrest under charges of defamation. Libel in the Kurdistan Region can attract criminal penalties. In many other countries, such a matter would typically be addressed as a civil issue between the local government and the individual.

The district administration claimed that Kamal’s comments amounted to “defamation and disrespect towards the committee.” This incident occurred against the backdrop of a market inspection on June 18, the third day of Eid Al-Adha, which found that two bakeries had been overcharging.

In the Kurdistan Region, the government sets the prices for bread, requiring all bakeries to adhere to these regulations. Any bakery found violating these rules, such as selling bread at higher prices could face punishments from the local authorities.

These government regulations have been faced challenges as several bakeries in Erbil protested in January by closing their doors in response to the Kurdistan Regional Government’s decision to price 10 loaves of bread at 1,000 dinars. Bakery owners told 964media that the new pricing would result in losses due to high flour costs.

The Metro Center for Journalists’ Rights and Advocacy criticized the arrest, calling it an excessive response to free speech. “This kind of harsh punishment for expressing an opinion sets a dangerous precedent for freedom,” the center stated, emphasizing the worrying trend of detaining individuals over comments.