Iraq: GCHR's 15th periodic report on human rights violations during popular protests


This is the 15th periodic report of the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) on human rights violations in Iraq. The report sheds light on the assassinations of human rights activists and journalists in Iraq, as part of the continuous targeting campaigns against them and all those who criticise the current situation, which is characterised by instability and lack of respect for the public freedoms of citizens. The report also documents the violence against peaceful demonstrators who are protesting corruption and poor public services in the country that Iraqis have suffered for decades. This report also documents the demonstrations that took place to call on the Iraqi government to hold the killers of the demonstrators accountable and refer them to the judiciary for a fair trial.

Civil society activists assassinated

After the assassination of prominent human rights defender Ihab Jawad Al-Wazni, head of the Karbala Coordination for Civil Movement, a wave of protests escalated in the country, amid demands by demonstrators to reveal his killers and the killers of all civil society activists and protesters.

Al-Wazni was assassinated by unknown gunmen in front of his home in the centre of the city of Karbala.

Security cameras documented his assassination by two gunmen who were riding a motorcycle in a fortified security area, during an attack similar to the assassination of prominent journalist and security expert Dr. Hisham Al-Hashemi on 06 July 2020.

Activists in Karbala who are colleagues of Al-Wazni told GCHR that when he was killed "Al-Wazni was returning from a meeting with the demonstrators to maintain the momentum of the protests and mobilise for large demonstrations during the coming period."

The assassination of Al-Wazni aroused widespread interest and a large reaction in Iraq, and the hashtag (#Ihab_Al-Wazni) was trending on social media. Days later, activists published a new hashtag (#Who_Killed Me?) with pictures of Al-Wazni, activists and journalists who were assassinated, in an attempt to pressure the government to hold the perpetrators accountable.

On 14 June 2021, demonstrators hung up banners with the hashtag phrase in the districts and neighbourhoods of Karbala, along with a picture of Al-Wazni and other activists who were killed. On 18 May 2021, demonstrators in Basra also hung up a picture of Al-Wazni as part of the "I am Iraqi, who killed me?" campaign.

That wasn’t enough for the activists, so they hung banners bearing the phrase "Who killed me? I am Iraqi" in a number of Iraqi provinces, in an indication of the growing anger among the protesters and the heightened pressure on the authorities to reveal the killers.

Nine days before his death, Al-Wazni participated in a demonstration in Karbala calling for the disclosure of corruption in the Turkish Hospital. He appeared in a video clip denouncing the failure to re-open the hospital after it caught on fire, despite the governorate’s need for it.

On 12 May 2021, Al-Wazni’s family announced in a press release that they "will not hold a condolence meeting, nor will there be a memorial service, until the killers are punished." The activist's family gave a speech in the city of Karbala, in which they demanded the governor, the operations commander, and the police chief to resign from their positions, and also demanded that "the killers of our son be revealed."

On 13 May 2021, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi said, "The killers of the martyr activist Ihab Al-Wazni in Karbala will face the same fate as the killers of Ahmed Abdul-Samad in Basra and the rest of the martyrs for the crime they committed against our people and our youth."

Despite Al-Kadhimi’s statements and the announcement by the Security Media Cell that, “The Karbala Governorate police have mobilised their efforts, in search of the terrorist elements who assassinated civil activist Ihab Al-Wazni,” no results have been announced, and the authorities have not revealed who killed him.

On 10 May 2021, the Commission for Human Rights in Iraq remarked, "The assassination of civil activist Ihab Al-Wazni in the holy Governorate of Karbala came as a continuation of the series of assassinations against activists and free-speech proponents."

On 10 May 2021, journalist Ahmed Hassan (photo above) miraculously survived an assassination attempt in Al-Diwaniyah city, capital of Al-Qadisiyah Governorate, southern Iraq. Al-Furat satellite channel, for which Hassan has been a correspondent for 15 years, broadcast a video clip of the moment when its reporter was shot in the head with live bullets. Hassan appeared in the video while parking his car after returning to his home in Al-Shamiya district of Al-Diwaniyah.

Due to the seriousness of his condition, Hassan was transferred to Baghdad in an ambulance, where a specialised medical team at the Neurosurgery Hospital performed an emergency operation, during which a part of his skull bone was removed and the bleeding in different areas of his brain was stopped. He was then transferred to intensive care.

Hassan appears in television reports, conveying the suffering of citizens and the poor in Al-Diwaniyah Governorate, where he resides. The day before his assassination, he was preparing a report on bakeries and their employees in Al-Diwaniyah, according to one of his colleagues who spoke to GCHR.