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Iranians Protest Killing Of Kurdish Porters By Border Guards

Kolbar -- transborder porter who is employed to carry goods on their backs across the Iran-Iraq border -- carrying his load across western Iranian mountains.

Iranian social media users pushed the hashtag created in support of Kurdish tansborder porters (kolbar) to the top of trending hashtags in Persian on Sunday.

During the so-called "Twitterstorm" Sunday evening tweets with the hashtag "Don't Kill Kolbars" were retweeted more than 100,000.

The Twitter storm or protest by hashtags was spurred by several new reports about the killing of Kurdish porters by border guards in the mountainous border areas of Iran's Kordestan and West Azarbaijan provinces across from Iraq. According to Hengaw, a Kurdish human rights organization, 6 kolbars were shot dead and 14 others were wounded by Iranian border guards in July.

Thousands of impoverished Kurds engage in the deadly trade of carrying massive loads on their backs across the border with Iraqi Kurdistan through extremely dangerous terrain in return for a small fee. Many get caught in snowstorms in the treacherous mountain paths and others are shot by border guards and patrols.

The practice developed as small-scale, cross-border transport of goods to evade import-export restrictions and customs duties, but after decades it is part of the local life and economy. Some have coined the term "human mules" for the kolbars.

Human rights organizations say authorization of the border-guards to shoot-on-sight has led to the death of 79 kolbars and injury of 66 others in 2019. In December, Hengaw said in the same year twenty-one adolescents and children working as porters had died from soldiers’ bullets or cold weather.

The Twitter campaign against what human rights organizations call "systematic killing of kolbars" followed an online campaign on July 14 with the "Don't Kill" hashtag in response to the confirmation of death sentences against three young men arrested at anti-government protests last November.

The hashtag in Persian trended on Twitter and posts with the hashtag were used more than ten million times and the campaign attracted global attention.

The hashtag was again used to protest to the Supreme Court decision to uphold the death sentences issued against three young men for anti-government protests in December 2017 and January 2019.

Iranian authorities defend the border guards' killing of kolbars by resorting to the accusation of smuggling. Critics, however, say many kolbars engage in the dangerous profession due to the extensive poverty and very high unemployment rates in the regions where the discriminated against Kurdish-speaking population is in majority.