WASHINGTON - Long hailed as a haven for minority groups, Iraq’s northern autonomous Kurdistan region has turned into treacherous territory for many Iranian dissidents and refugees escaping persecution from Iranian authorities, rights activists say.
The most recent victim was Mostafa Salimi, who escaped prison along with dozens of other inmates after rioting in the Iranian city of Saqqez to avoid contracting the coronavirus.
Once outside the prison, Salimi knew where to seek refuge. The 53-year-old Iranian Kurdish activist immediately crossed the border into the neighboring Kurdistan region of Iraq, where he thought he would be protected from Iran’s notorious judicial system. His short stay in Iraq was disrupted when local Kurdish security forces arrested him and deported him to Iran, where he was swiftly executed last month.
In prison for 17 years, Salimi had been charged with “waging war against God” for being a member of an Iranian Kurdish militant group. Since 2016, more than a dozen Iranian asylees and refugees have faced death threats, physical assaults, kidnapping and assassination attempts, according to rights groups, lawmakers and government officials.
Iran has frequently waged missile attacks against Iranian Kurdish militants based in Iraqi Kurdistan.
“Iran can get away with a lot [in Iraqi Kurdistan], whether it’s assassination, kidnapping or detaining somebody who crosses [over] the border,” said David Pollock, a Kurdish affairs expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
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