Iraq: Authorities target civil society activists in Basra while peaceful protests continue
Credible reports confirmed that a prominent civil activist and academic was kidnapped and released hours later, as well as the arrest by authorities of a number of protest leaders and peaceful protesters in the province of Basra at a time of continuing peaceful protests.
In the early hours of the morning of 01 July 2019, prominent civil activist Dr. Khadim Al-Sahlani (pictured on the left) was kidnapped from a city street on his way back home by masked gunmen driving two Tahoe four-wheel drive vehicles with no numbers. He was released by the kidnappers after hours in the middle of the northern Rumaila desert in Basra, where he was able to walk to a local police checkpoint. Observers said that his rapid release was the result of a massive solidarity campaign conducted by his fellow civil society activists through social media networks, Facebook and Twitter.
Dr. Al-Sahlani is one of the leaders of the city's prominent civil movement. He is also a member of the faculty of the University of Basra. He is known for his strong criticism of corruption in state institutions and his defense of civil and human rights of all the citizens.
In other news, the security forces arrested a large number of protest leaders and peaceful protesters including Ali Al-Zainabi, Osama Abd Ali Hussain, Ali Alaa Jabbar, Hassan Alaa Hassan, Abbas Salim Obaid, Ali Basim Abboud, and Abdelrahman Nazem Abdelrahman.
Demonstrations have been renewed in the past few days as protesters demand the removal of the current Governor of Basra for failing to improve public services in the city, eliminate unemployment among young people, and for failing to hold those responsible for the killing of protesters last year or bring them to justice.
Security forces used live ammunition and tear gas against protesters who passed through the city's main streets and met in front of the main government buildings and senior officials' homes where some clashes took place with the demonstrators. There were reports of a number of injuries among demonstrators.
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) condemns, in the strongest terms, the kidnapping of Dr. Khadim Al-Sahlani and the arrests of dozens of activists, and expresses deep concern over the situation of all human rights defenders in Iraq, including lawyers, journalists and bloggers who continue their work bravely in the face of intense danger.
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights calls on the authorities in Iraq:
- To institute an independent, impartial and thorough investigation forthwith into the kidnapping of prominent civil activist Dr. Khadim Al-Sahlani, to disseminate the results of the inquiry and bring those responsible to justice to get their fair punishment;
- To protect the right to peaceful demonstration of all people, throughout the country;
- To immediately and unconditionally release all detained peaceful demonstrators; and
- To ensure that all human rights defenders in Iraq are able to work without facing restrictions, threats and judicial harassment.