Iraq: A common pattern emerges of kidnapping and assassinating peaceful protesters, civil society activists and human rights defenders
A chilling pattern has emerged in Iraq, whereby peaceful protesters, civil society activists and human rights defenders are being kidnapped, tortured and assassinated. They appear to be targeted due to their participation in peaceful protests that started in the beginning of October 2019, calling for the formation of an independent government, an end to corruption, social justice and respect for public freedoms. The authorities must take immediate steps to end this brutal assault on civil society.
On 25 November 2019, 19-year-old university student and civil society activist Zahra Ali Al-Qarralucy (photo 1) was thrown in front of her house after she was severely tortured by an unknown group who kidnapped her for 8 to 10 hours. She was electrocuted and stabbed with a knife, and had fractures in her jaw and skull, leading to her death in the hospital the next day. Al-Qarralucy, along with her father Ali Salman, a peaceful demonstrator, distributed food and drink to protesters in Tahrir Square, in the capital Baghdad, and this would appear to be the only motive for her murder.
On 15 December 2019, civil society activist Thaer Karim Al-Tayeb (Picture 2) was seriously wounded after an explosive device placed inside his car exploded while he was traveling in the Al-Iskan area near the Technical Institute in Diwaniyah, the capital of Al-Qadisiyah Governorate, located 185 km south of Baghdad. Civil society activist Ali Al-Madani (photo 3), who had accompanied him from Baghdad, was lightly wounded and received treatment in the hospital. Local sources reported that Al-Tayeb was in critical condition, suffering from hand and leg injuries which required multiple surgeries.
Al-Tayeb and Al-Madani actively participated in the peaceful demonstrations that started in October 2019.
On the same day, in the Al-Sha`b area of Baghdad, unknown gunmen riding a motorbike fired silencer pistols at journalist Hakki Ismail Al-Azzawi, while he was driving his car, killing him instantly. Al-Azzawi participated in the ongoing demonstrations in Tahrir Square and owns a travel and tourism company.
Also, on the evening of 15 December, unknown gunmen in a pickup truck assassinated civil society activist Mohammad Jassim Al-Dujaili (photo 4). They shot him and two peaceful protesters who were accompanying him while he was driving his car on Palestine Street in east Baghdad. Al-Dujaili was seriously injured in the lung, resulting in his death in hospital the next morning. Another man in the car was seriously injured and the third man was kidnapped. Al-Dujaili has recently completed his university education and provided support to protesters in Tahrir Square.
Meanwhile, human rights lawyer Ali Jaseb Hattab remains in captivity since 07 October 2019, after he was kidnapped in the city of Amara by an armed group that is known to the security forces in the Governorate.
In a statement issued on 15 December 2019, the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Iraq announced "a dangerous escalation in the targeting of activists from the peaceful protests that have taken place in Iraq starting two months ago."
In another statement issued on 18 December 2019, the Media Section at the Iraqi Supreme Judicial Council announced that "the investigative bodies charged with looking into the demonstration cases announced the release of 2700 detainees among the demonstrators until today." He added, "107 detainees are still being investigated for the crimes attributed to them according to the law."
All arrests, or kidnappings as Iraqi activists call them, are carried out in an arbitrary manner and without fundamental judicial warrants. One peaceful demonstrator who was recently released stated that detainees are deprived of their most basic civil and human rights, including contacting their families and appointing a lawyer to defend themselves. They face fabricated charges not related to their peaceful civilian activity, some of which fall under Article 4 of the Anti-Terrorism Law 13 of 2005, after being forced to sign false statements.
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), the Iraqi Network for Social Media (INSM), the Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights (IOHR), the Metro Centre for Journalists’ Rights and Advocacy, and PEN Centre in Iraq urge the Iraqi government to seriously work to stop the targeted killing and kidnapping of protesters and activists, in addition to fulfilling its constitutional obligations, which require the protection of public freedoms, including freedom of peaceful protest and freedom of opinion.
GCHR, INSM, IOHR, the Metro Centre and PEN Centre in Iraq, call on the Iraqi authorities to:
- Fulfill their international human rights obligations, in particular respect for the civil and human rights of all demonstrators in Iraq;
- Conduct an independent, impartial, thorough and prompt investigation of the recent assassinations of protesters and activists with the aim of disseminating the results and bringing those responsible to justice in accordance with international standards;
- Release all peaceful protesters and activists immediately and unconditionally, and ensure those who are still in detention may contact their families and obtain a lawyer; 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 facing restrictions, including judicial harassment.