This article originally appeared in Rudaw.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Rebwar Kurdpour was walking to work in Rojhelat (Iranian Kurdistan) last week when he was confronted by Iranian security officials, arrested, and thrown in jail without charge along with several other Kurds.
“He’s not a political person,” Rebwar’s brother Hadi told Rudaw English, speaking in Erbil on Sunday.
“He’s doing his business and busy with life. He never joined any political party. I was shocked when I heard the news.”
Iran has executed several Kurdish prisoners in recent weeks. Ramin Hossein Panahi was executed in Iran’s Rajaee Shar Prison west of Tehran on September 8. Two others, cousins Loghman Moradi and Zanyar Moradi, were also executed in Mariwan the same day.
Panahi was told a few days before his execution that his death would be used to intimidate other Kurds.
He was executed just hours before Iranian forces fired seven surface-to-surface missiles at the PDKI headquarters in Koya, Iraqi Kurdistan, while Kurdish-Iranian parties were holding a leadership meeting. Seventeen people died in the attack and another 46 were injured.
In protest against the executions and missile strikes, Kurds in Iran held a general strike. Workers in Bukan, Sanandij, Oshnavieh, Piranshahr, Marivan, and Mahabad took part.
“After they executed the people from the Kurdish areas, people started protesting and decided to close their shops,” Hadi said.
“The same day my brother went out, even though his friends recommended he stay home. But he had some issues with his work he needed to attend to, so he went out anyway.
“He was walking, passing by some of the shops which were closed, and that’s when they arrested him and several other people.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen next to my brother or other Kurdish people in Iran. For many years my brother lived in other Persian cities, far away from the Kurdish area. That’s why he never faced problems before.”
After three days in detention, Hadi received news that Rebwar had been released.
“Even though he did nothing wrong and was arrested without reason, they [Iranian security forces] asked for collateral for his release,” Hadi said. He was relieved to hear Rebwar is in good health.
Kurds are often tortured while in custody and denied a fair trial, according to human rights groups.
When protests swept greater Kurdistan in 1999 following the arrest of Abdullah Ocalan, the founder of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), several Iranian Kurds were arrested and suffered mistreatment in custody, Hadi said.
“Most of them, when they were released, their arms were broken because of being beaten and they were covered in blood,” he recalled.
“This is how the Iranian political situation is with Kurdish people. They arrest you and automatically consider you as a terrorist or political party member. They mark you however they want,” he added.
Hadi fled to Iraqi Kurdistan several years ago when he was just out of high school, along with his parents and other siblings. For two years he lived in the same camp in Koya which was targeted by Iran on September 8, before moving to Sulaimani and later Erbil.
While his family lived in Koya, Hadi voluntarily completed two years of Peshmerga military training, but never took part in any conflict against the Iranian regime.
“As a Peshmerga, you go through military training so you can at least defend yourself,” he explained. “Because we were living in a camp and the Iranian regime would attack our camps. I chose Peshmerga to protect myself and my family, not to fight Iran.”
“Here they call us Iranians but we are Kurds. In Iran they don’t consider us Iranians. They call us Kurds,” Hadi said.
“In both countries, we have no identity.”
Hadi, who was granted asylum in Europe during the mass migration in 2015, said he took the risk in order to support his family still living in Kurdistan – a trip that cost him at least $5,000.
“Iranian Kurds take a risk with their lives to travel illegally abroad to be released from this prison,” he said.
Iranian Kurds living in Kurdistan Region camps are unable to obtain passports from the Iraqi federal government as Iraq does not consider them refugees, even though they have UNHCR documentation.
Hadi was only able to acquire an Iraqi passport illegally.
“Only by corruption, people in government can do anything for money,” he said.
For now Hadi’s brother is safe, even if he must go on navigating life in Iran’s rapidly stagnating economy.
“When you live somewhere, you expect peace or at least a normal life, having a job, having food, having a roof, having love. But we [as Kurds] don’t have even the basic human needs,” Hadi added.
“As a Kurd, we are humans, as Europeans, as Americans and other countries. We just want to have the basic needs in life. It’s our right,”
“Writing and talking with our mother language, wearing out traditional clothes, having peace and job opportunities and living as a human, that is all what we ask for.”
Hadi says the world is fully aware of what is happening and must act.
“Humanitarian organizations, UNHCR, United Nation, they know the reality,” he said.
Editor’s note: Names have been changed to protect identities
This article was originally published in Rudaw.