Christian business owners are being charged an extra tax, following a decree by the Kurdish Regional Government.
Shops and businesses in Ankawa, a predominately-Christian neighbourhood of Erbil in Iraq, must pay the extra fee when they renew their business licences.
The local news site Ankawa Today compared the tax to jizya, the traditional tax imposed on subjugated Jews and Christians by an Islamic state, according to classical Islam. The tax was being “exclusively imposed by the Kurdish government on the people of Ankawa and not the other Kurdish towns.”
The tax is also being levied on Semel, another Christian-majority town, and is, “clearly discriminatory against Christians,” according to the news site.
One Christian resident told the Assyrian Policy Institute, “The application process is now much longer and unnecessary … I spoke to my attorney this morning and he said he’s already heard that the officials at the Erbil Centre District expect bribes in exchange for processing.”
Christian residents and business owners claim they are also charged 10% tax when they sell their properties, compared with only 6% in other towns, and say they face discrimination including harassment by the KDP political police.
In June, Barnabas reported on Christians in Shaqlawa, 32 miles from Ankawa, who live with the daily threat of Muslim violence. Shaqlawa was a Christian-majority town until the 1960s but today there are only 200 Christian families and around 10,000 Muslim ones.
The tax news comes amid warnings this week that the number of Christians in the Middle East is dwindling. Christian leaders say their numbers have fallen by two-thirds in Iraq due to violence during Saddam Hussein’s fall and the rise of Islamic State. It is estimated that there were 1.5 million Christians in Iraq before 2003, but fewer than 375,000 today.