Iraq: Women are a vital and essential energy that contributes to the ongoing popular demonstrations
Iraqi women, whether they are homemakers, employees, or students, have played a fundamental role in the popular movement that has been taking place since its inception on 01 October 2019. Women human rights defenders, doctors or paramedic volunteers in medical detachment teams, civil society activists, and peaceful demonstrators advancing on the front lines in order to support other protesters are being exposed to all kinds of danger, including being shot at with live bullets, shotgun pellets, sound bombs, and tear gas canisters. Iraqi women are being subjected to beatings, humiliating searches, detention, torture, and even murder, and despite this they did not retreat but occupied the sit-in areas with their activities and their chants of hope to have a prosperous homeland that accommodates everyone.
On the night of 18 January 2020, well-known civil society activist Nahawand Turki, a student at the College of Mangement and Economics and an athlete, was subjected to a treacherous assassination attempt with her father and husband in the centre of the city of Nasiriyah, but fortunately they all survived. They were fired upon repeatedly by masked gunmen shooting from a car, after returning to their home in the Al-Askari neighborhood from visiting a wounded protester, on the outskirts of Nasiriyah. Turki was leading the crowd of student demonstrations, chanting various revolutionary songs, including this chant, which she echoed from 28 October 2019: "Hi, Nasiriyah ... We die ten, we die a hundred ... I am locked in the cause." She said, in a television interview after receiving death threats, "We are continuing and we will regain our rights, and you will not be able to do it for us. Our people are 40 million, and if you kill one of us, five thousand will go out to demonstrate."
On the morning of 20 January 2020, Iraqi security forces arrested a group of juveniles, some of whom were born in the year 2004, after the Ministry of Interior's Security Media Cell published their photos, deeming them “an outlaw group” because they were peacefully cutting off the Highway of Mohammed Al-Qasim located in an area close to Al-Sulaikh district in Baghdad.
As a result, human rights defenders led by women activists organised a solidarity campaign on social media with the hashtag #iraqimugshotschallenge. The campaign condemned the arrest of children and the publication of their photos, simply for claiming their right to a homeland free from corruption and terrorism.
On the morning of 21 January 2020, ten riot police arrested civil society activist and volunteer paramedic Selene Khalid Ismail, who reported in a video that she was detained on the Mohammed Al-Qasim Bridge in Baghdad for a short period, during which she was beaten and humiliated. She demanded the release of her civil society activist brother Walid Khaled Ismail, who was reported to have been released later.
On 22 January 2020, just before midnight, unidentified gunmen in a civilian four-wheel-drive vehicle launched an attack on a group of peaceful protesters near Al-Fayhaa Hospital in the centre of Basra, killing human rights defender and volunteer paramedic and Jinan Madhi Al-Shahmani (Um Janat) and wounding another paramedic in addition to six other protesters who suffered different injuries. They had been returning from the scene of the protests at the time of the attack.
Al-Shehamani, 49, is a well-known activist who devoted her life to caring for orphans and teaching widows sewing and other handicrafts. She had her own tent in the sit-in square in Basra, which she was using to provide first aid to those injured in peaceful demonstrations. Her funeral procession was launched from her tent.
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) calls on the Iraqi authorities to end targeted arrests and attacks on paramedics, demonstrators and activists, and to particularly ensure that women are not threatened with violence. Furthermore, GCHR calls on the authorities to respect the rights of children and to refrain from arresting them or publishing personal details about them. The authorities must ensure that all women and men human rights defenders, activists and paramedics in Iraq may carry out their legitimate work in defense of human rights without facing the threats of arrest or death.