Iraq: Seventh periodic report on violations during popular demonstrations

17.08.20

In its seventh periodic report on violations during the popular demonstrations which began in Iraq in October 2019, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) documents ongoing attacks on peaceful protesters and targeted assassinations and kidnappings of members of civil society, including activists, academics and journalists. Despite the high temperatures, demonstrations have taken place across Iraq, including Kurdistan, since the beginning of July 2020, and some of them have been met with force. GCHR applauds the efforts of the authorities to hold those responsible for past human rights violations, and to pass a domestic violence law. However, GCHR is alarmed at the ongoing pattern of violations of the rights to freedom of assembly and expression, and the lack of information about the whereabouts of those kidnapped, dating back to October 2019.

On 30 July 2020, Hisham Daoud, an advisor to the Prime minister, announced that the number of victims of the current popular movement who lost their lives due to violence had reached 500, most of whom were protesters, whose families the government will support. Daoud said, "The government will establish a fact-finding committee to uncover the circumstances of the events that accompanied the demonstrations." He added, "The government will announce the parties involved in the violence against the demonstrators, after the results of the fact-finding committee." Local human rights groups have suggested that the number of deaths may be higher.

On 03 August 2020, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kazemi received 17-year-old Mohammed Saeed (photo above) in his office and offered him an apology after he was subjected to a brutal assault by some members of the Law Enforcement Forces for participating in the protests in Al-Tahrir Square. The Prime Minister ordered the removal of the commander of these forces from his post and the formation of an investigation committee to determine who was involved in the attack in order to dismiss them from service. The Ministry of the Interior announced at a later time the identification and arrest of the perpetrators of this attack. On 01 August 2020, in a video widely circulated on social media, Saeed appears to have been stripped of his clothes while members of the Law Enforcement Forces interrogated and insulted him and cut his hair with a sharp object. The incident took place on 14 May 2020 in an alley in the Al-Sinak area in central Baghdad, and Saeed was held in a Baghdad police station for 10 weeks after that, during which time his family had no news of him.

Academics, journalists, and activists kidnapped and forcibly disappeared

On the evening of 21 July 2020, German civil society activist Hela Mavis was kidnapped near her office by an unknown armed group. Mavis runs various artistic programs and helps to hold an exhibition and training art workshops at Tarkib House, which she founded and has managed since 2015. Tarkib House focuses on "Empowering youth, especially women, and artistic works that constitute the boundary between art and everyday life, and discovering new cultural and social spaces.” She supported the current popular movement and was in a meeting with the protesters in Al-Tahrir Square prior to her kidnapping.

Mavis has fallen in love with Baghdad, with its sunshine, its heritage houses, and its love for Iraqi folklore, since her first visit in 2010, accompanied by a theatre group from Germany. She visited repeatedly and was planning joint artistic projects. In 2011, she decided to live in Baghdad and participate in the activities of the German Goethe Institute for Culture in Baghdad, in which she worked as a director of the cultural department and also participated in teaching the German language. A video clip spread on social media showing her kidnapping while she was traveling on her bicycle near Tarkib House on Abu Nawas Street in the centre of Baghdad. Local reports stated that the incident took place under the watchful eye of a police officer in a nearby police headquarters, who did not intervene to stop the kidnapping. On 24 July 2020, the Iraqi authorities announced that she had been freed and had left Baghdad to return to Germany. No information was available about those responsible for the kidnapping, which means it is unlikely that anyone will be held accountable and brought to trial.