Authorities and armed groups continue to target protesters and activists

There is no sign that violence against protesters and activists in Iraq has abated as human rights groups continue to document daily attacks, including numerous murders and assassination attempts in the capital Baghdad as well as in Nasiriyah, Basra and Najaf, among other cities. The Iraqi authorities must take immediate steps to end attacks and to ensure the safety of demonstrators.

Numerous attacks have taken place in the past week in the city of Nasiriyah. On 07 January 2020 after 10pm a group of 15 masked people in pick-up vehicles carrying various weapons, including semi-automatic rifles and pistols, fired live bullets at protesters in Al-Haboubi Square, the centre of protests in Nasiriyah, as well as in the surrounding streets. They also burned the sit-in tents as shown in the picture above. The attacks resulted in injuries to nine protesters, three of whom are in critical condition.

In the early hours of 06 January 2020, unidentified gunmen targeted the home of civil activist Uday Al-Jaberi in the center of Nasiriyah with an explosive sound device which caused only material damage. Through his television interviews, Al-Jaberi had conveyed the demands of the demonstrators in Nasiriyah and used his Facebook page in solidarity and to defend the peaceful demonstrations in which he participated actively.

On 05 January 2020, a group of armed men opened fire on demonstrators at the intersection of Al-Baladiya hall leading to Al-Haboubi Square. This resulted in the injury of three peaceful protesters, including Muhammed Sakban, a 27-year-old who died of a serious head injury the next day in the intensive care unit at the hospital. Other protesters were moderately injured and one of them was discharged from the hospital. Local reports stated that the shooting had taken place in full view of the security forces, who did nothing to prevent or arrest the gunmen.

On 03 January 2019, a unified demonstration took place in Nasiriyah to commemorate the anniversary of the 40th day since protesters were killed by security forces on the Al-Zaiton Bridge on 28 November 2019. Photos of over 30 peaceful protesters who lost their lives in that brutal assault were displayed during the demonstration. Among those remembered was civil society and cultural activist Omar Saadoun Al-Khafaji, a 21-year-old student at the Media College and a fan of Al-Zawra’a Football Club. He lost his life tragically as he ran toward the riot police in an attempt to help an elderly man who was captured, but a bullet hit him in the head, killing him instantly.

On the evening of 02 January 2020, unknown masked armed men riding a motorbike attacked civilian activist Mortada Al-Aqabi after he left Al-Haboubi Square in Nasiriyah. He was taken to the hospital for treatment and reports stated that he is in stable condition.

At around the same time, civilian activist Mortada Jabbar Al-Sheikh Ali was shot by an unknown armed group in the Al-Fadhliya area, south of Nasiriyah, in a failed assassination attempt.

On 30 December 2019, civilian activist Ali Khalid Al-Khafaji was shot by unknown armed men who were riding in a saloon car near the vegetable market, in the centre of Nasiriyah. He was taken to hospital where he died as a result of severe injuries. Al-Khafaji wrote on his Facebook page, “I do not care when and where I will die. I am concerned that the protesters should fill the earth with noise so the rulers will not be able to sleep on the bodies of the poor.”

A number of activists have been kidnapped and murdered in Baghdad. Civil society activist and poet Mohammed Fadhil Al-Aboudi was kidnapped between 8pm and 9pm on 07 January 2020 and his phone was turned off while he was heading from Al-Tahrir Square to his home east of Baghdad. He participated in the protest from its first day and continued Dreaming of a prosperous homeland that is empty of corruption.

On 05 January 2020, civil activist Ahmed Salah Al-Harishawi was assassinated in Baghdad after returning from ongoing demonstrations in Tahrir Square. Reports stated that an armed group shot him with silencer weapons near his home in east Baghdad. Al-Harshawi participated in the demonstrations of Tahrir Square, calling for a free, prosperous, and corruption-free homeland, and in the above image he appears raising the slogan “Our demonstrations are peaceful.”

On the evening of 03 January 2020, a masked armed group in a car without a license plate kidnapped civil society activist Ahmed Hassan Hashim as he left Tahrir Square in Baghdad, and took him to an unknown destination. Hashem was a peaceful participant in the demonstrations in Tahrir Square.

On 25 December 2019, civil activist, computer programmer and expert in fighting electronic blackmail Ahmed Ghaleb Khadim (also known as Ahmed Al-Ghalib), who is 30 years old, was kidnapped in Baghdad by unknown parties traveling in a four-wheel drive vehicle without a license plate. He supported the peaceful demonstrations using his extensive online experience. He stated on his Facebook page that he had received numerous threats and had to change his residence several times, prior to his abduction. He has appeared on many television programs, speaking about how to combat electronic blackmail, and he has received many technical certificates from various institutions.

Elsewhere in Iraq, on 25 December 2019, the Maysan Governorate Police Command arrested the satirical comedian and internet activist Mohamed Laibi (also known as Hamoudi Al-Bashoush) and did not release him on bail until 02 January 2020. Reports by local sources stated that the reason for his arrest was due to the satirical videos he posts on his Facebook page, in which he addresses political and social issues in the country, defends the protesters and invites them to continue their peaceful protests.

On 04 January 2020, civilian activist Muslim Al-Zorfi survived a failed assassination attempt when unknown gunmen opened fire on his car while he was passing through the city of Najaf. Al-Zarfi was shot in his right leg, and was taken to hospital for treatment, while the gunmen fled to an unknown destination. Al-Zorfi, who is the head of the Generations’ Makers Assembly, participated actively in the current protests in Najaf.

On 05 January 2020, armed groups burned the tents set up by protesters at the protest center in Basra, and they also fired live bullets, wounding a number of demonstrators who only carried Iraqi flags. The security forces who arrived after the attack arrested 12 demonstrators after failing to protect them from these militants.

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), the Iraqi Network for Social Media (INSM), the Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights (IOHR), the Metro Centre for Journalists’ Rights and Advocacy, and PEN Centre in Iraq, express their deep sorrow for the killings and kidnappings of activists and peaceful demonstrators, and express their full solidarity with the families of the victims. The NGOs also call on the Iraqi government to seriously work to stop these killings and kidnappings targeting peaceful demonstrators and activists and to fulfill its constitutional obligations to protect public freedoms, including freedom of peaceful protest and freedom of opinion.

Once again, GCHR, INSM, IOHR, the Metro Centre, and PEN Centre in Iraq call on the Iraqi authorities to:

1. Fulfill their international obligations in the field of human rights, especially the respect for civil and human rights of all demonstrators in Iraq, including by protecting dthem from attacks;

1. Conduct an independent, impartial, comprehensive and prompt investigation into the recent assassinations and kidnappings of demonstrators and activists with the aim of disseminating the results and bringing those responsible to justice in accordance with international standards;

2. Release all detainees, peaceful demonstrators and activists immediately and unconditionally, and enable those who remain in detention to contact their families and obtain a lawyer; and

3. Ensure that all human rights defenders in Iraq who carry out their legitimate work in defense of human rights are able to operate without facing restrictions, including judicial harassment.

Source: Gulf Center of Human Rights

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