Iraq: Authorities must ensure detained human rights defenders and peaceful demonstrators are freed
We, the undersigned organisations, call upon the Iraqi authorities to make the utmost effort to ensure the immediate release of all detained human rights defenders, peaceful demonstrators, and civilian activists who were abducted and forcibly disappeared by unknown armed groups for more than two weeks.
On 07 October 2019, at 7:15 pm, civilian activist and physician Maytham Mohammed Al-Helo was kidnapped as he left his clinic in the fourth police district, west of Baghdad.
According to the Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights (IOHR), eyewitnesses said that, "An undefined armed group in a four-wheel drive vehicle with tinted windows kidnapped him and took him to an unknown destination."
Also, on 07 October 2019, human rights lawyer Ali Jaseb Hattab was kidnapped in the city of Al-Amarah in Maysan Governorate, southern Iraq, by a group of armed men who surrounded his private car, removed him by force and took him to an unknown destination.
Arbitrary arrests and abductions of human rights defenders and peaceful activists will tarnish Iraq's international reputation and transform it into a police state that suppresses its citizens with live bullets used against peaceful protestors, confiscates the freedom of its journalists, and is dominated by outlawed militias with or without its knowledge.
We consider the government’s silence in regard to what is happening to peaceful demonstrators, including human rights defenders and journalists, a repudiation by the government of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi for its constitutional duty to protect citizens. In addition, the Prime Minister’s confirmation that hundreds of detainees of the recent peaceful demonstrations had been released, the continued practice of arbitrary arrests without judicial orders underscores the existence of another parallel state that may destroy any hope that Iraqi citizens have in building a state of trustworthy institutions and true citizenship.
The enforced absence of human rights defenders and journalists and the threat directed to others by security forces and armed groups, coupled with arbitrary arrests of demonstrators – all done under the government's gaze - are pre-emptive steps taken by the authorities and their supporters in order to prepare to face the demonstrations to be launched on 25 October 2019.
These behaviors and procedures do not reflect a true desire to find solutions. Instead of repression, the Iraqi government should undertake comprehensive reforms in the health and education sectors as well as in the industrial and agricultural sectors and eliminate corruption in order to create real job opportunities for unemployed youth. People who are ready to work are tired of seeing little productivity in state departments that are plagued by rampant corruption.
Iraqi civil society should play a leading role in defending the civil and human rights of citizens, urging the authorities to respect public freedoms, including freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful protest and freedom of the press, as well as calling for a fair election law and amending all other unfair laws that perpetuate corruption and entrench the power of large parties.
We call upon the President of the Republic of Iraq Barham Salih, Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament Mohammad Al-Halbousi, and Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to reveal the fate of the abducted human rights defenders and activists, as reform starts with the protection of human dignity, and their absence means that the government has no real intention of reform.
The Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights (IOHR)
Iraqi Network for Social Media (INSM)
Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
PEN Center in Iraq