Iraq: GCHR’s 12th periodic report on human rights violations during popular protests
This is the 12th periodic report by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) on human rights violations during popular demonstrations in Iraq. The report sheds light on the killings, arrests and prosecutions as part of an ongoing pattern of targeting human rights activists and protesters in the country; and documents the acts of violence that affected peaceful demonstrators who protested against corruption and poor public services.
The protests focused in recent weeks in Dhi Qar Governorate, which remained the only governorate with continuous protests in the last period, as protests had stopped in the rest of the country's governorates. This was followed by the launch of protests in many governorates, including the capital, Baghdad, in solidarity with protesters in Dhi Qar Governorate. In the past days, the Governorates of Babel, Wasit, Qadisiyah and Al-Muthanna witnessed continuous demonstrations calling for the removal of corrupt officials, holding the killers of protesters accountable, and improving the people's living conditions.
Murders of peaceful protesters and civil society activists
Activists are still being killed as a result of their participation in the protests to lobby the Iraqi government to reform the situation in the country and hold the killers of protesters accountable. On 09 February 2021, during the protests which resumed in Wasit Governorate, civil society activist Fouad Al-Majidi (Photo No. 1) was shot dead by security forces. Following the killing of Al-Majidi, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi dispatched the head of the National Security Agency, Abdul-Ghani Al-Asadi, to the governorate to meet with the demonstrators and calm the situation there.
Al-Kadhimi's delegate met with the protesters, who gave him a three-day period to fulfill their demands, the most prominent of which were the dismissal of the local government in Wasit, headed by Governor Mohammed Al-Mayahi, and the release of all detained activists. During the meeting, the demonstrators demanded that the authorities drop all complaints against them, which amounted to more than 75 judicial complaints. In addition, they called for a committee to be formed to uncover the killers of demonstrator Fouad Al-Majidi, whom the demonstration's coordination accused the intelligence forces of killing with a pistol from a distance of 15 metres.
On 09 February 2021, a civil society activist in Wasit Governorate, Sajjad Salem, narrated the details of the bloody violence that accompanied popular protests calling for the dismissal of the local government. Salem said that "the departments that the demonstrators closed during the past days have resumed their work today. As for the demonstrators, they are stationed in the sit-in square in the city of Kut, the capital of the Wasit Governorate." He added, "The security forces entered into clashes this evening with the demonstrators, which later turned into a violent clash in which the security forces used live bullets and other weapons. The clashes with the security forces resulted in the killing of demonstrator Fouad Majidi in Tamoz square, in addition to more than 40 wounded."
On the same day, the government security information service announced that more than 150 people had been killed in violent protests in Wasit Governorate, southern Iraq.
On 22 February 2021, peaceful protester Ali Kamel Al-Rikabi (Photo No. 2) was killed during the renewed protests in Dhi Qar Governorate. Al-Rikabi, 16 years old, has been a participant in the protests since they first started in October 2019. Al-Rikabi, who is classified as a child according to the 1989 International Convention on the Rights of the Child, was killed in a protest while he was calling for the dismissal of Governor Nazem Al-Waeli.
On 25 February 2021, civil society activist Sajjad Mohammed Baden (Photo No. 3) was killed after being shot by the security forces. According to activists, "Baden died shortly after his injury - he couldn't make it to the hospital."
Activists in Dhi Qar told GCHR, "The security forces used all methods of violence against us and were continuously firing live bullets at us."
During the demonstrations that took place on 26 February 2021, according to security sources who spoke to GCHR, nine demonstrators were shot dead by security forces, while more than 100 were wounded.
On 26 February 2021, Governor Al-Waeli resigned after the continuing protests that demanded his resignation and the many casualties of killed or wounded. His resignation was accepted by Prime Minister Al-Kadhimi, and Abdul-Ghani Al-Asadi was appointed as Governor of Dhi Qar in his place, in addition to holding a position as head of the National Security Agency.
GCHR monitored excessive violence by the Iraqi security forces against the protesters in Dhi Qar (Photo above on the right), which indicates a great danger threatening the lives of demonstrators and civil society activists during the next stage of protests.
Members of death squad arrested
On 15 February 2021, the Iraqi Prime Minister posted the following tweet in Arabic, Kurdish and English: "The death squad that terrified our people in Basra and spread death in our beloved streets and killed good lives, fell into the grip of the heroes of our security forces in preparation for a fair and public trial. The killers of Jinan Madhi and Ahmed Abdel-Samad, and the killers of Reham and Al-Hashemi and all those murdered will face retribution in the near future... justice will not sleep."
Local press reports mentioned detailed information about the death squad's criminal activities and its 16 members, four of whom were arrested: Aqil Hadi Wahib Shukri, an employee of the Basra Oil Company, Hamza Kadhim Khudhair, a commissioner in the Judicial Police in Basra, Asaad Khalaf Al-Lami, a student at the College of Law, University of Basra, and Haider Fadel Abduljaber Al-Robaei, the director of the Technical Development Contracting Company. They have all admitted that they belong to a criminal outlaw group headed by Ahmed Abdulkarim Damad (also known as Ahmed Tawisa) who managed to escape, in addition to other accused fugitives.
Among the many assassinations carried out by the death squad were a number of personalities in Basra, including civil society activists and journalists.
On 22 January 2020, just before midnight, gunmen from the death squad in a civilian 4x4 car attacked a group of peaceful demonstrators near Al-Faiha Hospital in the city centre of Basra, killing human rights defender and volunteer paramedic Jinan Madhi Al-Shahamani (Umm Jannat) (Photo No. 4) and wounding a colleague of hers, a paramedic, and six other demonstrators, as they were on their way back from the protest square.
In another case linked to the death squad, on 10 January 2020, gunmen riding a motorcycle fired their weapons at a correspondent of the Dijlah satellite channel, journalist Ahmed Abdel-Samad (Photo No. 5), killing him instantly after shooting him in the head, while his colleague, journalist Safaa Ghali (Photo No. 6), was transferred to Basra General Hospital after being hit by three bullets in the chest, and died due to severe injuries.
On 22 February 2021, hundreds of citizens, including the families of the victims, demonstrated in the centre of Basra Governorate, demanding that the government disclose the results of the investigations into the death squad and not bow to any political pressure seeking to change the course of the investigations and close the case.
Assaults and assassination attempts against civil society activists
The killings were not limited to participants in the protests, but the number of deaths during the past month could have been more if some of the assassinations of civil society activists outside the demonstration squares had not failed.