Iraq: Human rights defenders and activists assassinated and kidnapped, as peaceful demonstrations continue


As peaceful demonstrations continue in Iraq, human rights defenders and civil society activists, including doctors and medical support staff, have been arrested, kidnapped, wounded and assassinated by unknown assailants across the country. Many of those who have died have been deliberately targeted.

On the evening of 24 December 2019, human rights defender Thaer Karim Al-Tayyib, one of the leading organisers of the protests in the city of Diwaniyah, died of wounds sustained in an explosion caused by an adhesive device on his car on 15 December. Fellow activist Ali Al-Madani, visiting from the capital Baghdad, was slightly injured in the blast. Al-Tayyib was known for his kindness, generosity, sacrifices and campaigns to provide relief to the poor, orphans and those injured in recent demonstrations in his governorate. He was also a supporter of the current protests against rampant corruption. Thousands of citizens went out to the streets in his home town to participate in his funeral the following day. They declared that they will continue following Al-Tayyib’s peaceful path until they succeed in reaching their objectives for the formation of an independent government, an end to corruption, social justice and respect for public freedoms in addition to putting perpetrators of killings before the court of justice.

On the morning of 22 December 2019, unidentified gunmen traveling in a pickup truck shot at a civil society activist Hassan Naim Al-Bahadli, director of the Al-Kahla Health Center, while he was driving on the public road between the Al-Kahla and Qal’at Saleh districts in the Governorate of Maysan. He suffered an injury to his spine and is now in stable condition in the hospital. Al-Bahdali had previously been subjected to many threats due to his support for the current protests.

Also, on 22 December 2019, well-known activist and comedian Aws Fadel, presenter of the programme Watermelon State, escaped an assassination attempt by masked, unidentified gunmen in black clothes who were riding a motorbike in the Arsat Al-Hindia area in Baghdad. They shot at his car and damaged it. Fadel has supported the current protests and participated in the demonstrations of Al-Tahrir square in Baghdad. Watermelon State deals with the various situations of the country with purposeful criticism. After the accident, he said, "The Iraqi people continue until they achieve their goal."

On the evening of 21 December 2019, civil society activist and poet Hassan Najm was shot in his hand by unidentified gunmen in a pickup truck near Al-Mashrah district, 25 km from Al-Amara city, the centre of Maysan Governorate. Najm, who had previously received threats, was transferred to the hospital for treatment. 

On 20 December 2019, at approximately 5 p.m., 26-year-old civil society activist Ali Al-Asmi was assassinated by masked gunmen in a pickup truck at the Al-Shaibani intersection in Nasiriyah, the capital of Dhi Qar Governorate, who took him out of his car and killed him. Local reports stated that he may have been mistaken for his older brother, civil activist Salam Al-Asmi, who may have been the target. The two brothers have actively participated in the current demonstrations, and together they own a tent in Haboubi Square, the main headquarters of the protests in Nasiriyah. Salam Al-Asmi wrote on his Facebook page, "The one they killed is my little brother, not me, and in months is his marriage."