Iraq: GCHR’s 21st Periodic Report on Human Rights Violations in Iraq
This twenty-first periodic report issued by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) on the situation of human rights in Iraq covers a range of issues and topics, including the assassination of civil society activists, weak government accountability procedures, and intimidating judicial rulings against peaceful demonstrators. The report also touches on children's rights and freedom of the press, in addition to the latest developments in the protest movement in Iraq.
Massacre in Jableh
On 30 December 2021, an officer with the rank of captain working in the anti-drugs forces in the capital, Baghdad, took advantage of his position and gave misleading information to the security forces about his father-in-law, claiming that he was a drug dealer, due to family disputes. The security forces tried to arrest him at his home in Jableh district, in northern Babil Governorate, and an exchange of gunfire took place. A large group of reinforcements subsequently arrived carrying various types of medium and heavy weapons that were used to storm the house, which led to the killing of all 20 people inside their house, including 12 children. It was later revealed that the head of the family is not wanted by the authorities. The Iraqi authorities arrested a number of officers and security personnel after the massacre. On 03 January 2022, the Supreme Judicial Council announced that, "The competent investigative judge confirmed the statements of thirteen defendants, including nine officers and three affiliates, in addition to the informant who gave incorrect information."
GCHR condemns this criminal incident against an innocent family whose members, many of them children, were all killed in cold blood. There is no doubt that the main reasons for the occurrence of this massacre are the incompetence of the Iraqi security forces, mismanagement, lack of professionalism, and the weakness of the state in general to the extent that it allowed a member of the security services to use his own force to settle personal and family disputes, forgetting that the main mission of the security forces is protecting citizens, not killing them.
Remembering the victims of the protests who lost their lives
Most cases of civil society activists and protesters who were assassinated during the last two years are still clearly neglected in Iraq, where the government's measures to bring justice to the victims and prosecute the perpetrators are described as weak by local observers.
On 08 December 2021, citizens, including a number of human rights defenders (main picture), recalled the second anniversary of the assassination of prominent human rights defender Fahim Al-Taie (pictured above) in Karbala governorate, southwest of Baghdad.
During the remembrance, participants demanded that the Iraqi government take serious measures to prosecute the killers of the protesters and bring them to justice. Al-Taie, who was assassinated on 08 December 2019, is considered one of the most prominent leaders of the protests in Karbala Governorate, and his assassination marked a turning point for the protesters in the governorate, and demonstrated the security risks for activists.
In 2019, GCHR documented the assassination of Al-Taie, who was shot by two masked persons on a motorcycle carrying guns equipped with silencers before they escaped in the security-fortified Al-Baroudi area in the city centre. Al-Taie had announced in the morning that he had received threats from the same armed group that targeted his colleague, academic and civil society activist Muhannad Al-Kaabi with an adhesive explosive device. The photo above on the right shows how Al-Taie bravely stood up to his killers to set an unforgettable example of a human rights defender who did everything in his power to fight corruption and defend the civil and human rights of citizens.
On 28 November 2021, dozens of peaceful protesters in Nasiriyah, capital of Dhi Qar Governorate, demonstrated to recall the massacre known as the "Zaytoun Bridge massacre" in 2019, in which dozens of activists were killed. In 2019, GCHR documented the massacre that took place on 28 November 2019, during the rule of former Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, in which 500 protesters were either killed, wounded or injured by tear gas.
Arrests and sentencing of civil society activists
The judicial intimidation carried out by Iraqi political parties against activists has not ended. After the assassinations they have been subjected to over the past two years, political parties have used lawsuits to silence some of the voices participating in the protests.
On 12 January 2022, civil society activist Dr. Dergham Majid Mahdi published a video on his Facebook page in which he explained the circumstances of an arrest warrant issued against him by the Anbar Appeals Presidency. He said he went to surrender himself to the security forces of Babil Governorate where he resides, but they asked him to wait. Mahdi was accused of defamation by some politicians after he organised a demonstration headed to Anbar Governorate, but it was not allowed to enter the governorate. He thanked his colleagues and all citizens in various governortes for their solidarity with him. He also confirmed that peaceful protests in front of the judiciary in the governorate would continue to call for the malicious lawsuits against the protesters to be dropped, and for the judiciary to be reformed.
Mahdi has been targeted several times in the past, including an incident documented by GCHR on 30 April 2021, when unknown assailants shot at his house in the western Hamza district of Babil Governorate. Fortunately, the incident did not result in any injuries.
On 19 December 2021, Iraqi security forces in Basra arrested activist Ammar Al-Halfi on charges of incitement, according to Article 328 of the Iraqi Penal Code.
On 27 December 2021, Al-Halfi’s wife wrote on her husband’s Facebook page: "I am the wife of activist Ammar Al-Halfi. Ammar’s session was postponed by the judge. I appeal to every honest Iraqi to save Ammar. Ammar defended your rights and said words of truth and this is the result. I appeal to the Basra government and the head of the Security Committee. Ammar has five children and lives in a rented house, and the Iraqi judiciary is supposed to do justice for him and stand with him and not be against him. I hope you will consider the case of Ammar and his five children, for where do they go?"
Al-Halfi uses his Facebook page to show solidarity with his fellow civil society and anti-corruption activists. On 18 December 2021, he wrote: "Every Basri is committed, honourable, and suffering from the bitter health reality, to prepare for a demonstration to demand the dismissal of the failed and corrupt director of Basra’s health unit. There is no going back without his dismissal."
On 10 January 2022, Al-Halfi was released, and wrote on his Facebook page: "Praise be to God, today I was released. Thank you to everyone who stood with me from the heroic Basra revolutionaries and the provincial revolutionaries for their honorable stance. Thank you to the lawyers…. Thank you to the Iraqi popular movement for their honoured position."
On 12 December 2021, the Muthanna Court of Appeals, in southern Iraq, issued a four-month prison sentence against activist Abu Ayham Al-Nuaimi on charges of communicating with foreign countries.
During the period in which Al-Nuaimi was imprisoned, activists in Al-Muthanna and other southern governorates organised vigils to demand his release. Ten days later, on 22 December 2021, he was released because none of the charges against him were proven.
Attacks on civil society activists and demonstrators
The attacks perpetrated against civil society activists and demonstrators continue, despite government promises to help end them and hold the perpetrators to account. These attacks constitute a source of concern and danger for the participants in the protests.