Iraq: Dozens of peaceful demonstrators killed and thousands injured as protests continue across the country
As peaceful demonstrations continued this week in the central and southern cities of Iraq, dozens of protesters have been killed, and thousands injured, many of whom are young people. In addition, two human rights defenders who had taken part in demonstrations, were murdered in their home in Basra, in front of their young child.
Human rights defenders are among the leaders of the protests, which have the broad participation of Iraqi youth, as they demand an end to corruption and the establishment of a state of institutions and genuine citizenship that respects the public freedoms of all citizens and gives them hope to build a prosperous future for themselves and their children.
Reliable reports have confirmed dozens of deaths and thousands of injuries among peaceful protesters after security forces, including riot police, used excessive force, such as firing live bullets directly at the crown instead of overhead, as well as directing water cannons and tear gas at protestors, and using armored vehicles to run over them. Several reports confirmed that snipers on top of buildings are fatally shooting protesters.
In an alarming incident related to the protests, on 02 October 2019, masked gunmen stormed the apartment of human rights defender and cartoonist Hussein Adel and his wife, human rights defender Sara Taleb, in Al-Jenina area located in the center of Basra city, shooting them dead instantly. Their two-year-old daughter Zahra was not physically harmed.
The two activists went home after participating in the ongoing demonstrations in Basra, where they provided first aid to injured protesters. They had previously taken part in popular protests in Basra earlier in 2019, after which they reported to the local police that they had received several threats by armed groups.
Meanwhile, peaceful demonstrations continued in all of the central and southern cities of Iraq, including the capital Baghdad. According to the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights the approximate tally of victims among peaceful demonstrators as of noon on 05 October 2019 are as follows:
- The number of wounded reached 3978
- The number of deaths is listed at 93
- The number of detainees is 567
- The number of those released is 355
Activists monitoring the demonstrations reported that the real numbers are much higher than those announced by the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights, and that some of the injured were in serious condition. They added that the campaign of arrests that took place and continues to this moment is carried out without judicial warrants.
Security forces arrested hundreds of peaceful demonstrators and human rights activists in various Iraqi cities without any judicial warrants, and some of those arrested were reportedly severely beaten, while others were arrested from inside Baghdad hospitals, despite being wounded, according to witnesses.
On 04 October, eight human rights defenders in Basra were arbitrarily detained without warrant by the security forces, including human rights defender Hussam Al-Khamisy. They were held for six hours and released only after being forced to sign a document, which they were not even allowed to read.
According to reliable local sources, the government has continued to shut down the Internet as well as blocking citizens from accessing social networks, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram and other platforms. Access to information in the country is highly restricted and it takes a long time to get accurate information.
Once again, the Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights (IOHR), Iraqi Network for Social Media (INSM), the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), Front Line Defenders, and PEN Center in Iraq condemn in the strongest terms excessive force used by the Iraqi security forces against peaceful demonstrators, including the use of live bullets, water cannons, tear gas, and armored tanks during protests in the capital Baghdad and the country's central and southern cities.
The IOHR, INSM, GCHR, Front Line Defenders, and PEN Center in Iraq call on the Iraqi government to:
- Fulfill its international obligations in the field of human rights, in particular to respect the civil and human rights of all citizens of Iraq, including the protection of their right to peaceful demonstration throughout the country;
- Conduct independent, impartial, thorough and prompt investigation into the targeted killing of Hussein Adel and Sara Taleb in their home in Basra, with a view to disseminating the results and bringing those responsible to justice in accordance with international standards;
- Conduct independent, impartial, thorough and prompt investigations into the killings of participants in street demonstrations, including Murtaza Adel, with a view to disseminating the results and bringing those responsible to justice in accordance with international standards;
- Immediately and unconditionally release all peaceful protesters who have been detained and provide medical treatment to those who need it;
- Respect and protect the right of all citizens of Iraq to access information on the Internet, which should be considered by authorities as one of the most basic human rights; and
- Ensure that all human rights defenders in Iraq, who carry out their legitimate work in defense of human rights, are able to operate without restrictions, including judicial harassment.