Iraq: GCHR’s tenth periodic report on violations during popular demonstrations

23.12.20

This is the tenth periodic report of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) about violations during popular demonstrations in Iraq. This report sheds light on killings, abductions, prosecution and intimidation by filing lawsuits against human rights activists and protesters in Iraq.

Activists taking part in the demonstrations are still exposed to assassinations, kidnappings and intimidation by the authorities and armed groups in Baghdad, the capital, and other central and southern cities.

With the increasing acts of violence, which can clearly be described as systematic, there were not any noticeable steps taken by the Iraqi government in order to ensure justice for the victims and hold the perpetrators accountable, which has led to an increase in violations against activists in Iraq.

In the midst of the violations committed against activists and protesters, in November 2020 the Iraqi Parliament sought to pass the Cybercrimes Law, which human rights organisations consider as a method to restrict freedom of opinion and expression, and an attempt to gag civil society online.

GCHR has documented at least 43 activists who were threatened with death in southern Iraq, forcing all of them to leave their cities and flee to other cities.

Violations and assassinations were not limited only to activists and demonstrators at protests, but also carried out against those who supported them. On 01 November 2020, unidentified gunmen assassinated tribal leader Sheikh Abdul Nasser Al-Tarfi Al-Taie (photo 1) in front of his house in the city of Amara, southern Iraq. Al-Taie is one of the most prominent tribal sheikhs who support and defend the protests, and has appeared in repeated videos defending protesters.

On 20 November 2020, a civil society activist who was in charge of the tent for retired people in Al-Tahrir Square, retired Brigadier General Ghazi Al-Tamimi Abu Mohammed, died in a Baghdad hospital (photo 2), after his health deteriorated as a result of serious injuries sustained during an assassination attempt on 06 November 2020. Eyewitnesses stated that unidentified gunmen in a car shot him with a silencer weapon while he was in his car on Mohammed Al-Qasim Road after leaving Al-Tahrir Square.

On 20 November 2020, civil society activist Bashar Al-Nuaimi (photo 3) was wounded after an assassination attempt that occurred while he was returning from the funeral of Ghazi Abu Mohammed in Al-Tahrir Square in central Baghdad. Al-Naimi was wounded in the shoulder with a silencer weapon, and was then transferred to the Medical City Hospital in Baghdad.

Activists on social media continued to support the protests in Basra, Dhi Qar and other Governorates, despite risks from the armed groups which continued to monitor them. On 22 November 2020, unknown assailants targeted the home of civil society activist Ammar Al-Khazali (photo 4) in Al-Siniyah sub-district of Al-Qadisiyah Governorate with an explosive device, in addition to shooting at the house. Al-Khazali is considered one of the most prominent protest activists in Diwaniyah. People close to him told GCHR, "The attack on Al-Khazali almost claimed the life of his family, and the aim was to push him to retreat from the protests."

On 25 November 2020, prominent civil society activist Akram Athab (photo 5) was subjected to an assassination attempt by gunmen in the Talbiyah area, east of Baghdad, hours after his participation in a protest stand in Baghdad against the Cybercrimes Law, which the Iraqi Parliament was planning to pass into law.

A video shows the moment of the assassination attempt on the activist Akram Athab, when a gunman got out of a white car and fired shots inside a shop where Athab and his colleague Omar Al-Taie were present. Al-Taie spoke to GCHR about the moment of the assassination attempt, explaining: "At eight o'clock on the twenty-fifth of November, a masked person carrying a silencer got out of a car and shot at Athab, who fled the bullets." He added, "Athab escaped and entered a Mini Market but some other masked guy got out of another car and shot him, hitting him with three bullets in the abdomen and the leg."

A bloody night in Dhi Qar

On 27 November 2020, clashes took place in Al-Haboubi Square in Dhi Qar Governorate between protesters and an armed group, claiming the lives of five activists. They are Tahseen Raed Adnan (no photo available due to privacy concerns), Haydar Khalid Al-Nasiri (photo 6), Abbas Hussain Ali (photo 7), Ahmad Radi Jalab (photo 8) and Ali Ihsan Fleifel (photo 9).

The protesters in Dhi Qar were preparing to commemorate the first anniversary of the Nasiriya Massacre, known as the "Zaytoun Bridge Massacre", which occurred on 28 November 2019 during Abdul Mahdi's government, when 500 protesters were killed, wounded and injured by tear gas, but before they solemnised this memory they were attacked by gunmen.

Despite the attacks they were exposed to that night and the burning of their tents by the gunmen, the protesters returned to Al-Haboubi Square and set up their tents again, denouncing the government's "silence" about what they suffered, and subsequently demanding the government of Prime Minster Mustafa Al-Kadhimi to resign. They also appealed to the United Nations to defend them.

On 27 November 2020, demonstrator Anwar Al-Iraqi (photo 10), a resident in Karbala, was arrested at the entrance of Dhi Qar Governorate, after his participation in the first anniversary of the Zaytoun Bridge Massacre in Al-Haboubi Square.

On 28 November 2020, peaceful demonstrator Hussain Katea (photo 11) died of burns covering his body after he set fire to himself and attempted suicide in protest against the security forces' incursion into the main protest square in the centre of the city of Kut, in Wasit Governorate, when they took down his tent.

On 28 November 2020, civil society activist Hussam Al-Abedi (photo 12) survived an assassination attempt by unknown gunmen in Al-Shamiya, a district located in the west of Al-Qadisiyah Governorate. Al-Abedi posted the details of the incident on his Facebook page and mentioned the following, “I was in the sit-in square and I was broadcasting live and pitying the martyrs of Nasiriyah and talking about the subject. I ended the broadcast and headed home. A car was driving behind me slowly. One minute after I entered the house, very heavy gunfire began on the house and car, the shooting lasted more than seven minutes, and the bullets entered the house through the windows, causing minor damage and panic and fear among the family and neighbours ... The number of bullets was more than 80."

Al-Abedi uses his Facebook page to support the popular movement and urge youth to act so that corrupt candidates are not elected again in the upcoming elections.