Popular protests continue in central and southern cities of Iraq with the broad participation of various sectors of the population, including students and women, despite the risks from security forces and armed groups which continue to target activists, journalists, and peaceful demonstrators. After protesters rejected Prime Minister-designate Mohammad Tawfiq Allawi, the sit-in squares in several Iraqi cities, have also been subjected to violent attacks by armed groups in plain sight of the security forces, who have failed to execute their constitutional role in protecting the demonstrators. This is the second periodic report on violations during the ongoing popular demonstrations issued by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR).
Iraqi women at the heart of the popular movement
On 13 February 2020, thousands of Iraqi women participated in massive demonstrations (picture to the right above) in the capital, Baghdad, and the central and southern Governorates. They renewed their support for the current protests focused on anti-corruption efforts and calling for comprehensive reforms, while also condemning the attacks and mutilation campaigns that targeted their fellow activists and protesters. The women demonstrators raised several slogans confirming the main role of women in the popular movement, including the hashtag #We are your daughters, O homeland.
In the past few days, women and girls have participated vigorously in the demonstrations and raised pictures of victims of the demonstrations, as well as banners (Picture to the left above) showing their intention to continue to participate in the protests and overcome difficulties, obstacles and abuse.
Attacks on the sit-in squares in Najaf and Karbala
On 06 February 2020, armed militias attacked Al-Tarbiyeh (Education) Square in the city of Karbala, the central place for the peaceful sit-ins (picture on the left above), using live bullets, batons, and knives to disperse the protesters and destroy the main platform. The attacks resulted in more than 10 protesters, including a girl, sustaining various injuries. The security forces did not intervene to stop the militia’s attack, but imposed a security cordon around Al-Tarbiyah Square to protect the demonstrators after the withdrawal of the militants. Among the victims of the attack is Taha Hussain Al-Shammari (picture on the right above), who remains unconscious in intensive care.
Previously, on 05 February 2020, armed militias attacked the sit-in square in the city of Najaf (photo above) using live bullets, batons, and knives against peaceful protesters, and also burned their tents. The security forces were watching the situation without interfering to protect the demonstrators or to stop the militants. The shooting lasted for several hours, as militias took control of the sit-in square and the entire surrounding streets. Despite this, the demonstrators returned in large numbers to the sit-in the following day.
Reliable local sources confirmed that the death toll in the Najaf incidents has reached 11 dead and the number of wounded 181, including 24 demonstrators in serious condition. Among those who lost their lives as a result of the attack were peaceful demonstrators Muhannad Al-Qaisi, Karar Uday Al-Yasiri, Hussain Fadel Al-Kalabi, Khalil Ibrahim Al-Qazwini, Hassan Salman Al-Ziyadi, and Hassan Ahmed Al-Sa’abri.
Muhannad Al-Qaisi (picture 1) was studying languages at the University of Kufa, calling for a radical change. Knowing full well the seriousness of the situation at the sit-in, he wrote on his Instagram account before his death, “I am going to the square, please forgive me.
Karar Uday Al-Yasiri (Picture 2), 14 years of age, he left middle school after the death of his father in order to work and provide for his younger brothers. His financial condition was very difficult and he was unemployed recently.
Hussain Fadel Al-Kalabi (picture 3), 20 years of age, was a student in the theatre department of the Institute of Fine Arts. He was a beloved young man who dreamed of ending corruption in his country in order to be proud that he had contributed to this task. He posted a distress call on his Facebook account hours before his death after the sit-in was stormed.
Khalil Ibrahim Al-Qazwini (Picture 4) was a karate champion in Najaf, and he advanced in local championships, especially in the kata event.
Hassan Salman Al-Ziyadi (photo 5) was a student at the Department of Arabic Language at the Faculty of Arts at the University of Al-Kufa. His death was lamented by his teacher, Dr. Ahmed Al-Alyawi, a professor at the university, with a poem in which he said:
I say for the hot bullet
This is the head of an academic student
Maybe he is good at grammar
But he is not good to hide from bullets!
Hassan Ahmed Al-Sabari (photo 6) was shot with a 7.7 mm bullet in the head during the attack and was in critical health, remaining unconscious until he died on 12 February 2020. He was a leaving certificate student in his last year before going to university and dreamed of becoming a doctor.
Attacks on journalists and media freedom
On the morning of 11 February 2020, journalist and general supervisor of the Al-Rasheed Satellite TV Nizar Dhanoun (pictured at left) was assassinated while he was traveling in his car with a driver, in the Al-Jama’a neighborhood, west of Baghdad. His assailant was an unknown armed man riding a motorcycle who was chasing the car and as soon as the car left a gas station, he got off his bike with his face unmasked and shot several bullets at him, leaving the driver unhurt. Al-Rashid Channel was established in 2009 in Baghdad and has offices in several Arab countries.
On 06 February 2020, Ahmed Muthanna Abdulkarim (Ahmad Tito), a civil activist and student in the media department of Al-Farabi College in Baghdad, was kidnapped and returned to his home the next day after he was released. The kidnappers tortured him and shaved his hair as shown clearly in two pictures above, taken before and after the kidnapping. Tito created an Instagram page called @mzajeat which demonstrated its unwavering support for the current protests and published pictures of some of those who lost their lives in defense of their goals.
The Al-Fallujah satellite channel issued a statement posted on its website stating that on 01 February 2020, its staff was attacked while covering the demonstrations in Al-Tahrir Square by a group of people who prevented the protesters from expressing their opinions and stopped the live broadcasting. They also threatened the channel’s reporter Ali Abdulkarim (picture 1 above) and followed him, along with his other colleagues, who they tried to kidnap, but protesters intervened and prevented them from doing so. This assault was documented on a video with audio, which was recorded during the attack.
On 31 January 2020, a group of armed men dressed in civilian clothes in a pickup truck with shaded windows kidnapped the publisher and writer Mazen Latif (picture 2 above) and took him to an unknown destination. Latif owns Mesopotamia publishing house, and he is interested in the heritage of religions and has extensive relationships with various international historians and writers. Latif’s latest project is his publication of the Heritage and Cultural Magazine (Nahariya). It is more like an encyclopedia to show the Iraqi civilization’s beauty. His fellow intellectuals, writers and journalists organised a solidarity gathering with him on 06 February 2020.
The TV presenter Ishtiaq Adel (picture 3 above), announced that on the evening of 30 January 2020, she had been subjected to a failed assassination attempt in front of her Baghdad home. She was shot at by unknown armed men who were masked and riding a motorbike. Adel, who appeared in a video that she posted on her Facebook page, received treatment for bruises on her leg, and fainted as a result of the panic that followed the attack. She also said on her page, “What is our guilt that our blood is wasted?” She added, “I call on the Ministry of the Interior to provide protection for me and my family.” She had received several threats in the form of text messages during the recent period, despite changing her number. Adel has presented a number of TV programs and is currently working at Al-Sumaria satellite TV, where she is presenting the show “Youth/Shabab Extra”.
Targeted attacks and assassination attempts against civil society activists and peaceful demonstrators
On 12 January 2020, human rights lawyer Ali Maarij Al-Azerjawi (pictured above before and after the incident) was the victim of a failed assassination attempt in the city of Nasiriyah near the old court of Dhi Qar. Unidentified gunmen shot him, wounding him with several bullets, and he was subsequently transferred to the hospital for treatment, where his condition is now stable. Al-Azerjawi played a prominent role in defending the demonstrators in the courts, and he was always present in the tent of the Bar Association in Al-Haboubi Square, the central sit-in of the city of Nasiriyah.
On 09 February 2020, civil society activist Karar Karim Al-Amiri (picture 1 above) was kidnapped from the centre of Al-Tahrir Square by an unknown group and released on 13 February 2020. A video was published confirming that he had been tortured by the group that kidnapped him. Al-Amiri is a resident of Wasit Governorate, and he has participated in the protests of Al-Tahrir Square since their inception, providing a voice that has been broadcasted live, and also appearing in TV interviews talking about the goals of the popular movement.
On 08 February 2020, civil society activist Abdulrahman Al-Barzanji (photo 2 above) was kidnapped after he left Baghdad’s Al-Tahrir Square. Al-Barzanji, who is from the Governorate of Kirkuk, has three children to look after since his wife died. He participated peacefully in the protests since their inception on 01 October 2019.
On 04 January 2020, peaceful protester Osama Al-Tamimi (picture 3 above) was kidnapped on his birthday. The security forces burned his Tuk Tuk and hit him in the stomach, which required surgical intervention, and despite that, he returned to Al-Tahrir Square, demanding his rights and the rights of all people. There is no information on his current location.
Civil society activist and volunteer paramedic Khaldoun Al-Saab (picture on the left above) announced on his Facebook page that on 02 February 2020 riot police temporarily arrested him while he was rescuing and protecting civilians, including an old man caught between protesters and riot police forces near Al-Khilani Square in Baghdad, where tear gas grenades were fired. The security forces advanced, beat him with sticks, broke his identification badge, confiscated his equipment, leaving him with various bruises on his back and shoulder, a torn ankle, and injured left leg bone. One of the officers interrogated him, released him, and returned his equipment soon after. Al-Saab is the founder of the International Emergency Relief Group, and provides his first aid services to all peaceful protesters. His Facebook page is full of support for the popular movement and its goals.
There are conflicting reports about the causes of death of the civil society activist and paramedic Hoda Khudair (picture on the right above), aged 23, after her death in hospital on 16 January 2020. Some reports stated that she had died in her home after a heart attack while other reports claimed that she was assassinated by unidentified gunmen after she left the sit-in square in Karbala. Khudair participated in protests since the first day and worked as a volunteer paramedic to provide support to the injured demonstrators. She worked as a nurse in the intensive care department of Al-Hussein Teaching Hospital in Karbala City and she did not have any health problems before, which makes the claims that she died of a heart attack seem suspicious.
Students are among the main supporters of the popular movement
Student demonstrators continued their protests in Baghdad, and the central and southern governorates, announcing their rejection of the Prime Minister-designate of the new government and their demand to bring the killers of over 600 demonstrators to a fair trial, holding early elections and ending the rampant corruption and other demands of the popular movement. Thousands of students participated in massive demonstrations after the attack on the sit-in square in Najaf, as well as denouncing the repeated attacks on peaceful demonstrators, including the students themselves, who had been attacked in Al-Tahrir Square with clubs and knives during the past few days.
On 09 February 2020, activists circulated on social media a video of an attack by an unknown person on journalist Shahad Al-Khalil while she was covering a student demonstration in Al-Tahrir Square. The assailant forcefully pulled her phone out of her hand and threw it away in an attempt to stop her from broadcasting the live demonstration and transferring views of the student protesters.
On 11 February 2020, masked men claiming to be members of a political party shattered the Al-Farabi University tent in Al-Tahrir Square and stabbed a student in the tent with a knife in her shoulder, which required her to be transferred to the hospital.
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) calls on authorities in Iraq to show clearly that they will not tolerate any violent attacks by armed groups against the peaceful demonstrators and their gatherings in public squares. The security forces should be equipped and trained to stop any attacks on demonstrations and protect the lives of citizens.
GCHR also calls on authorities to release all the detained activists, protestors, and prisoners of conscience, in addition to ensuring that human rights defenders, including journalists, are able to do their peaceful work in a healthy and protected environment free from any kind of harassment including judicial harassment.
Source: Gulf Center of Human Rights