The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) strongly condemns the Iraqi government’s flagrant failure to fulfill its constitutional obligations to protect the right to peaceful assembly. In the past two weeks, the security forces, including riot police, shock forces, federal police forces and other forces with various names, in addition to paramilitaries acting under the eyes of the security forces, have used lethal force, including live bullets, shotgun pellets, sound bombs and tear gas to directly target peaceful demonstrators in most central and southern cities of the country.
These flagrant violations of the rights of Iraqi demonstrators have led to the death toll of the popular protests increasing to 650 demonstrators, while the number of injured exceeded 20,000, including those who suffocated from teargas, according to unofficial statistics for some civil society organisations. In addition, there are nearly 150 detainees, most of whom were arrested in the cities of Baghdad, Nasiriyah and Basra.
Attacks on Demonstrations
Deadly force was used against demonstrations in the commercial streets, Umm Al-Brom Square, Al-Bahriya Square, and Al-Ashar in downtown Basra. Witnesses reported that some of the demonstrators were tortured and whipped by the shock forces in the city.
These illegal practices against demonstrators, which included the use of live ammunition, were repeated by the security forces carrying out violence alongside armed civilian individuals aimed at suppressing peaceful demonstrations in the sit-in squares and various areas of the cities of Nasiriyah, especially in Al-Haboubi Square, Al-Nasr Bridge, and Fahd Bridge, Najaf, Karbala, the Al-Mafraq Bridge in Baquba, Al-Diwaniyah, Al-Haidariya intersection in Al-Samawa, and near the Education Directorate in the city of Kut.
In the capital, Baghdad, demonstrators were targeted in Al-Sinak Bridge, Al-Tayaran Square near Al-Kilani Petrol Station, Mohammed Al-Qasim Bridge and the Mohammad Al-Qasim Highway, Al-Dora, near the Al-Mechanic Bridge, and the Al-Bataween area, Al-Khilani Square, Al-Wathba Square, and the heart of Iraqi Demonstrations, Al-Tahrir Square, where the security forces, including the riot police, tried to break up sit-ins with the power of bullets and the heavy use of tear gas and shotgun pellets.
Reliable local sources confirmed to the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) that the riot police and federal police forces, during the last two weeks, pursued and arrested demonstrators on the Mohammad Al-Qasim highway, and several videos documented these forces shooting from close range directly at the heads of the demonstrators, which led to many victims falling down dead and wounded. In addition, members of these forces threw some demonstrators from the Mohammad Al-Qasim bridge, severely injuring them and leaving them in serious condition. They are currently receiving treatment.
These forces also, during the last two weeks, destroyed a number of Tuk Tuk vehicles and arrested their owners, near Al-Nahda Garage. In many cases, activists of Al-Tahrir Square were subjected to detention, torture, beatings, and the confiscation of personal property by riot police in the Mohammad Al-Qasim Highway near Al-Khilani Square before they were allowed to return to Al-Tahrir Square.
Students in large numbers participated extensively in the demonstrations, taking the front lines in various Iraqi protest cities. They also staged a sit-in in front of the Directorates of Education and Universities, as well as the Ministry of Higher Education, demanding comprehensive reform aiming to build a legitimate Iraqi state. They were targeted by the security forces who used truncheons and tear gas against them, as well as sometimes being assaulted by armed groups operating outside the law with sticks and batons.
On 27 January 2020 at dawn, paramilitaries in more than 10 white pickups, along with some saloon cars, attacked Al-Haboubi Square in Nasiriyah from three access points, randomly firing live ammunition and burning all sit-in tents and destroying their contents, including pictures, books, and other materials. The security forces did nothing to protect the demonstrators, before or during the militia attack.
As a result of the attack, peaceful demonstrator Abadi Hassan Zuwair Al-Asadi (pictured on the left) was killed and 18 demonstrators were wounded, four of them by live ammunition, while others suffocated due to the fire that badly damaged the neighboring buildings. Demonstrators in Nasiriyah spent the night removing all traces of the fire and rebuilding the protest camp, using bricks to fortify their tents (see main picture).
On 25 January 2020, security forces used live ammunition to disperse demonstrators on Fahd Bridge, which is located on the international highway west of Nasiriyah, which links it to the rest of the Governorates. Security forces took control of the Fahd Bridge and opened the international road, which was closed for six days, after killing three peaceful demonstrators, Mustafa Hussain Hanon (pictured in the middle), 20, Mustafa Hassan Hadi (pictured on the left), 24, and Mustafa Mays Radi (pictured on the right), 29, and wounding 28 others. Various injuries were caused by the gunfire that targeted them.
At dawn on 25 January 2020, shock forces stormed the sit-in at a square in the city of Basra in southern Iraq, and burned tents and arrested a large number of demonstrators. Like those in Nasiriyah, the Basra demonstrators returned to the sit-in with more enthusiasm and built new tents.
Prominent human rights defender Dr. Alaa Al-Rikabi (picture 1), from Dhi Qar Governorate, in a video he posted on his Facebook page on 25 January 2020, called for a peaceful march on foot from all of the central and southern Governorates starting on 31 January 2020 to head towards Baghdad, in order to cordon off the Green Zone and demand the appointment of an independent and impartial Prime Minister, with everyone arriving simultaneously within 14 days, carrying Iraqi flags and a bunch of roses as a symbol of the peaceful march.
On 24 January 2020, peaceful demonstrator Abdulrahman Salah Al-Qaisi (picture 2), lost his life. He was seriously wounded after the security forces attacked demonstrators on Al-Mafraq Bridge in the city of Baquba, the centre of Diyala governorate.
On 24 January 2020, security forces on Mohammad Al-Qasim bridge shot peaceful demonstrator Fahad Wahab Al-Alyawi (picture 3), twice in the head, killing him instantly. He only carried the Iraqi flag. A full funeral took place attended by all the residents of the Al-Zaafaraniya area where his family lived.
On 22 January 2020, a 14-year-old peaceful demonstrator, Mojtaba Ahmed Al-Skeini (picture 4), was killed by unidentified masked gunmen while participating in demonstrations in Al-Andalus Street in Basra. He was called “Zagel Basra (Homing pigeon), as he used to watch the street from the first line, warning everyone about any upcoming danger.
On 20 January 2020, civil society activist Abbas Al-Koukhi (picture 5), a resident of Wasit Governorate, was shot in the neck after he was targeted by the security forces while he was participating in the sit-in at Mohammad Al-Qasim Highway in Baghdad. He was taken to the hospital where he underwent urgent surgery and his condition is stable.
On 28 January 2020, Dr. Mohammad Hussain Al-Quraishi (picture 1), a human rights professor at Al-Mustansiriya University, was assassinated in front of his house in the professors’ complex in Al-Bunuk neighborhood in Baghdad, as he was about to drive his daughter to the university. Three masked gunmen intercepted and shot him, killing him instantly, and fled to an unknown destination. Al-Quraishi was a supporter of the current popular protest movement.
On 11 January 2020, the Secretary-General of the International Historians Association for Culture, Development, and Social Sciences, Dr. Ibrahim Saeed Al-Baidhani (picture 2), was the subject of a failed assassination attempt in central Baghdad by an unknown group that attacked him with sharp weapons. He received several stab wounds and was taken to hospital, where his condition is stable. Dr. Al-Baidhani specialises in modern history and has a prominent and distinguished history in university scientific and cultural committees, colleges, scientific promotion committees, cultural, educational, and administrative committees. He has written more than fifty research papers in various fields of science, American and European history, and in the fields of e-learning, sustainable development and the knowledge economy.
On 24 January 2020, artist Bilal Ali Abdulsattar (picture 1), was the victim of a failed assassination attempt by an unknown armed group who shot him in the head. He was hospitalised with a bullet wound to his face, and his condition is stable.
On 19 January 2020, civil society activist Louay Al-Halfi (picture 2), was assassinated in the centre of Basra by unknown armed men who escaped after killing him.
On the morning of 13 January 2020, unidentified gunmen riding a motorbike assassinated civil society activist Hassan Hadi Muhallal (picture 3), 200 metres away from the police station in Al-Ukaykah district, 35 kilometers south of the city of Nasiriyah. His body was pierced by four bullets from a silencer. Muhalhal was 60 years old, and he participated from the start in the protests in Al-Haboubi Square, where he raised a banner reading, “I want a homeland where there are no thieves.”
On 12 January 2020, civil society activist Muhammad Aflouk (picture 4), was severely beaten in the center of Kut city, by an unknown group after he left the sit-in, which required him to enter the hospital to receive the necessary treatment.
On the evening of 10 January 2020, an unidentified armed group traveling in a Sonata saloon car attempted to assassinate civil society activist Mohammad Abdulazim (picture 5), in the Al-Fadhliya district south of Dhi Qar Governorate after he got in his car after leaving Al-Haboubi Square, the protest center in Nasiriyah. But he managed to escape the bullets fired at him.
Among those arrested on 25 January 2020 is civilian activist Ali Sabah (picture 1), and a group of fellow peaceful demonstrators were arrested when the shock forces stormed the sit-in in Basra. Sabah was an active contributor to the city’s current protests and was previously arrested when the protests broke out in 2018.
On 24 January 2020, an unidentified armed militia kidnapped civil society activist Mohammad Iyad Adnan (Mohammad Al-Zahawi) (picture 2), a resident of Al-Shaab district in Baghdad. He participated in the demonstrations since their inception and erected a tent providing medical services for the demonstrators.
On 22 January 2020, the connection with the civil society activist Ahmad Jum’a Hamid (picture 3), was completely cut off after he left Al-Tahrir Square. He is a resident of the Al-Suwayrah area, and his family does not know anything about his whereabouts.
On 21 January 2020, at seven in the evening, civilian activist Aid Mohammad Hassan Salman Al-Dujaili (picture 4), was arrested by unknown parties wearing military uniforms while he was going to bring first aid materials to Tahrir Square demonstrators.
On the evening of 20 January 2020, Mohamed Hadi Khalaf (picture 1), who founded the electronic blackmail protection team in 2010 and was the director of “The Most Beautiful Smile” cultural gathering, was arrested. He has received several certificates of appreciation for his hard work since 2009 in protecting social media users from electronic extortion and piracy. There is no information about his whereabouts, conditions, or reasons for his detention. He has made use of his Facebook page to provide support to people as well as helpful information about using social media safely.
Another computer programmer and expert in fighting electronic blackmail, Ahmed Ghaleb Khadim (also known as Ahmed Al-Ghalib) (picture 2), has been in detention since 25 December 2019, when he was kidnapped in Baghdad by an unknown group driving a four-wheel drive vehicle without a license plate.
On 19 January 2020, civil society activist Dr. Dargam Majed (picture 1), was arrested by security forces in the city of Al-Hilla, the centre of Babil Governorate, but he was soon released after demonstrators headed to the Governorate Police Command to protest against his arrest. He was previously arrested in September 2019 after a judicial complaint filed against him by the director of the municipality of Al-Madhatiya District, where he lives.
On the morning of 19 January 2020, civil society activist and poet Jawad Adel (picture 2), a student at the Media College of Baghdad University, was released after several hours in the city of Karbala. He was arrested by the security forces without a judicial warrant while he was heading to the sit-in square with a group of demonstrators.
On 19 January 2020, civil society activist and athlete Idris Abdulkarim Al-Samarra’i (picture 3), was kidnapped, and he was completely cut off after around ten o’clock at night after he left Al-Tahrir Square. Al-Samarra’i, who is from the city of Samarra, has participated in the protests since their beginning, contributing to clean-up campaigns, distributing food, providing medical aid and treating the wounded. Some reports confirmed that he has been released in recent days.
On 19 January 2020, at seven in the evening, the connection to civil society activist Mukahled Awad (picture 4), was lost while he was travelling from Baghdad to Nasiriyah. The contact was lost at Al-Batha’s checkpoint. Awad has been known as the “smoke bomb hunter” for his skill in picking up tear gas canisters and throwing them away from other demonstrators. He is a resident of the eastern Hamza district of Al-Qadisiyah Governorate. He picked up about 500 smoke bombs with his hands.
On 17 January 2020, at 9:30 p.m., civil society activist Ahmed Alaa Al-Darraji (picture 5), was kidnapped as soon as he left Al-Tahrir square and arrived at Al-Tayaran Square in Baghdad by unknown gunmen, who took him to an unknown destination. Al-Darraji called for the unity of Iraq, rejected all partition projects, and participated strongly in the Al-Tahrir Square demonstrations.
On 16 January 2020, contact with civil activist Ahmed Fadel Mohammad (Ahmad Taj) (picture 6), was lost, after his phone was turned off. He was kidnapped after he left Al-Tahrir Square in Baghdad, while riding his bike at midnight. He was released on 20 January 2020.
On 14 January 2020 at night, the civil activist and director of relations for the Nour Ala Noor Charity Organisation, Abdulqahar Al-Ani (picture 7), 24, was kidnapped after he left the Al-Tahrir Square. He was released only on 16 January 2020 and in a poor physical condition, which confirms he was tortured. Al-Ani used his Facebook page to demand the release of his kidnapped and fellow detainees.
At dawn on 10 January 2020, civil society activist and poet Mohammad Fadel Al-Aboudi (picture 8), was released after he was kidnapped and detained for three days while he was leaving Al-Tahrir Square in the capital, Baghdad.
On 08 January 2020, civil society activist and paramedic Mohammad Khalil Ibrahim was kidnapped after he left Al-Tahrir Square, and his phone was immediately turned off. He had participated in the protests continuously since 25 October 2019 as he did not leave the scene of the protests except on the day of his kidnapping. He was involved in saving the lives of many demonstrators.
Human rights lawyer Ali Jassab Hattab Al-Heliji is still in custody after being kidnapped on 07 October 2019, in Amara, by an armed group that is known to security forces in the Governorate. Although his father was in shock, he spared no effort to knock on the doors in order to obtain any evidence about his son’s whereabouts, but to no avail.
Attacks on Journalists and Media Freedom
The Media Commission in Jordan decided to stop the Iraqi satellite channel, Dijlah TV, from broadcasting on satellites for one month, starting from 27 January 2020, for “violating the audio-visual media law No. (26) for the year 2015” according to the text of the order which did not provide any details of the nature of these violations. In Baghdad on the same day, after the decision was issued, security forces affiliated with the Iraqi Ministry of Interior removed the employees and close the channel’s office in the capital.
On 20 January 2020, security forces shot and killed activist and photojournalist Yousif Sattar (picture 1), when he was covering the protests, near Mohammad Al-Qasim Bridge in central Baghdad. He was shot in the head and lost his life upon his arrival at the hospital. Sattar was working with Support without Borders, which works to provide support to children, especially orphans and those with special needs. The organisation described him as follows: “He served orphaned children for many years, loved them and they loved him. His goal is a homeland without orphans.”
On the night of15 January 2020, journalist Munther Al-Jibouri (picture 2), correspondent of Al-Ayyam Channel and the director of Medina Radio in Babil Governorate, survived an assassination attempt by unidentified gunmen after he returned from covering the demonstrations in the sit-in square in the center of Al-Hilla city.
On 10 January 2020, security forces in Basra arrested a group of demonstrators who were participating in a protest march near a Governorate Police Command headquarter and also arrested three journalists, Fouad Al-Halfi, Mohammad Al-Fartusi, and Raed Al-Baidhani, who were covering the repression of demonstrators by the police, who also assaulted the detainees. All the detainees were released quickly after the demonstrators crowded around the headquarters demanding their release.
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) expresses its strong condemnation of the killings and kidnappings of activists, academics, paramedics and peaceful demonstrators, and expresses its deep sorrow and full solidarity with the families of the victims. It also calls on the Iraqi government to take immediate and immediate action to stop these killings and kidnappings targeting peaceful demonstrators and activists and to fully fulfill its constitutional obligations that require it to protect public freedoms, including freedom of peaceful protest and freedom of opinion.
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights calls on the Iraqi authorities to:
1. Fulfill its international human rights obligations, in particular respect for the civil and human rights of all demonstrators in Iraq, including protecting them from attacks;
2. Conduct an independent, impartial, comprehensive and prompt investigation into the recent assassinations and kidnappings of academics, paramedics, demonstrators and activists with the aim of disseminating the results and bringing those responsible to justice in accordance with international standards;
3. Release all peaceful and active demonstrators arrested immediately and without conditions and to enable those who remain in detention from them to contact their families and obtain a lawyer; and
4. Ensure that all human rights defenders and activists in Iraq may carry out their legitimate work in defense of human rights without facing restrictions, including judicial harassment.
Source: Gulf Center of Human Rights