Iraq: GCHR's 14th periodic report on human rights violations during popular protests

09.05.21

This is the 14th periodic report of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) on human rights violations in Iraq. The report sheds light on killings, arrests, and prosecutions within the ongoing targeting of human rights activists and critics of the current unstable situation. This report also documents the acts of violence that have affected the peaceful demonstrators who have been protesting against corruption and poor public services in the country, which have led to excessive suffering for Iraqis for decades.

Killings and assassinations of civil society activists

Despite the decrease in demonstrations and the approaching elections in the country, the killings of demonstrators and the assassinations of activists have not stopped. Furthermore, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi's government has not been able to prosecute those responsible for these murders nor put an end to the death toll.

Human rights activists, in their conversations with GCHR, affirmed their lack of confidence in the Al-Kadhimi government regarding its commitment to end rampant human rights violations. They consider that the authorities have miserably failed to hold the killers of demonstrators accountable despite the many promises made, and have been unable to provide protection for those who remain alive.

On 08 May 2021, prominent human rights defender Ihab Jawad Al-Wazni, the head of the Karbala Coordination for the Civil Movement (photo 1), was assassinated by unknown gunmen riding a motorbike, who shot him with bullets in front of his home in the centre of the city of Karbala. He had already survived an assassination attempt on 08 December 2019, after two gunmen in the middle of the security-fortified Old City assassinated his colleague, prominent human rights defender Fahim Al-Tai, using silencer weapons.

Al-Wazni has been distinguished by courage and fortitude. He has participated in all protests since 2011. Al-Wazni also used his Facebook page, which is followed by thousands, to coordinate various peaceful activities and report news of the main sit-in square in the city of Karbala (Al-Ahrar Square).

On 04 April 2021, he wrote on his page the following, "Formation of the October Martyrs Families Association. We are with you, beloved. Glory and eternity to our martyrs." On 06 April 2021, he also wrote, "A country that exports 4 million oil barrels per day and its sons are begging at intersections!! Iraqis, do not seek good from this political class." 

On 25 April 2021, commenting on the fire that occurred in Ibn Al-Khatib Hospital, he wrote, "We are looking for a decent way to die."

On 24 April 2021, Iraqi security forces ran over peaceful protester Mohammed Sattar (Photo 1A) in a southern subburbs of Baghdad, killing him during demonstrations to demand services and denounce the power outages.

Eyewitnesses to the incident said, "One of the security forces' wheels ran over Sattar in the Al-Wahda neighbourhood and killed him." On that day, security forces injured nine protesters, even though the demonstrations were peaceful. This video clip shows a group of Iraqi security forces gathering around the body of Sattar after he was run over.

Hundreds of residents of Al-Wahda gathered at Sattar's funeral, condemning the actions of the Al-Kadhimi government, its failure to respond to their demands, and its failure to hold accountable the security personnel who ran over the demonstrator.

On the same day, as the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, Al-Kadhimi directed leaders of the security forces to open an investigation into the killing of Sattar, but the government did not announce any results.

A member of the Human Rights Commission in Iraq, Ali Al-Bayati, said in a statement published by a media outlet, "The same scenario is repeated every time and everywhere, as well as the government methods and behaviour. The lack of services continues, people make demands without a response, demonstrations last for days without interference, then anger which causes reactions from the security forces with weapons, killing and an angry reaction again, and the problem is exacerbated."

On 15 April 2021, unknown gunmen assassinated a well-known civil society activist in the Rifai district of Dhi Qar Governorate, Hassan Ashour (Photo 2), in front of his house after a series of threats were made against him, according to his friends.

Ashour's friends told GCHR that "their colleague was receiving threats from armed groups because of his activities in the protests standing against the assassinations and assaults that affected the protesters."

They added that "Ashour passed away immediately after being transferred to the hospital when he was shot by unidentified persons near his home." Activists and bloggers condemned the assassination of Ashour, and considered it a new message that those with free voices would be killed if they did not back down from defending the goals of the popular movement.

Violence against women

On 22 April 2021, 25-year-old Iraqi teacher Maryam Majed Yousif (Photo 3) was killed in Al-Sadeer district in Al-Diwaniyah Governorate in southern Iraq, and her body was thrown into the river.

The Ministry of Interior declared on its Facebook page, less than three hours after the crime took place, that a 33-year-old taxi driver was arrested who admitted during the investigation that the victim had asked him to drive her to her house when he picked her up on the public road returning from work. The official spokesperson of the Ministry of Interior added that "the taxi driver confessed to killing the victim after he beat her, then suffocated her with his hands and threw her in one of the nearby rivers in the Al-Sadeer area."

This crime preoccupied Iraqi public opinion and angered people, especially since Yusif, the mother of two children, was pregnant. Activists and bloggers used the hashtag #Maryam_Majed to defend her and hold the perpetrator of the crime accountable, and her case also reminded people of the need to defend women's rights in Iraq.

Civil society organisations hope that this heinous crime will stimulate the competent authorities in Iraq to make serious efforts as soon as possible to enact a law that works to stop domestic violence, including gender-based violence, prosecute those responsible for it and provide real legal protection for children and women.

Imprisonment and detention of civil society activists

The prosecution of activists and demonstrators for expressing their opinions continues, either by arrests, or by threats of lawsuits.

On 25 April 2021, the Babylon Governorate Criminal Court sentenced human rights lawyer Hassan Maharj Al-Toufan (Photo 4) to two years in prison in accordance with Article 226 of Iraqi Penal Code No. 111 of 1969, which relates to insulting the state and the courts.

Article 226 states, "Anyone who insults the National Assembly, the government, the courts, the armed forces, or other statutory bodies, public authorities, departments, official or semi-official departments shall be punished with imprisonment for a period not exceeding seven years or with imprisonment or a fine."

Al-Toufan devotes his efforts to fighting corruption in his Governorate of Babylon, and as a result, he was subjected to constant targeting. He had revealed that the former Governor Karar Al-Abadi had converted green spaces into residential plots and distributed them to some judges, in a television interview two years ago, that led to his arrest. After popular demonstrations took place, the competent authorities were forced to release him on bail, until this recent two-year prison sentence was issued against him.

Al-Toufan uses his Facebook page to fight corruption and support the popular movement. A letter was published on his page that he wrote from his cell in the Hattin police station after the verdict was issued against him, in which he stated, "Iraq, which is marked by their misdeeds, is unlike any country of this world! Despite everything, we are patient and steadfast, and I do not regret it. It is not like me to regret ... life is a challenge, and free people are obligated to rise to its difficulty."