Iraq: GCHR’s 25th Periodic Report on Human Rights Violations in Iraq
This report, issued by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights GCHR), documents the human rights situation in Iraq during the period from 09 August to 15 December 2022, when grave violations took place against citizens, including peaceful demonstrators, human rights activists, and a journalist. The report documents the killing of two demonstrators by the security forces and the torture of another citizen. It also presents an analysis of a repressive new law restricts freedom of expression, assembly, and peaceful demonstrations.
Parliament ends first reading of law that suppresses public freedoms
On 03 December 2022, the Iraqi parliament completed the first reading of the law on freedom of expression, assembly, and peaceful demonstration, which was submitted by the Human Rights Committee. After an analytical study conducted of all the articles of this law, GCHR stresses that it is a repressive law that seeks to restrict the public freedoms of citizens.
In Article (1), the law inhibits freedom of expression with the condition that it does not “disrupt public order and public morals.” In Article (2), it is repeated that freedom of expression, in addition to freedom of peaceful demonstration and the right to knowledge, is constrained by this same condition. There is no doubt that terms like “public order” and “public morals” are loose and general terms that are easy to use in order to imprison peaceful dissidents and protesters.
Article (7) requires citizens to obtain prior permission from the head of the local administrative unit at least five days in advance before holding any peaceful demonstration. Practically, this means subjecting the right to peaceful demonstration to the political mood of the heads of administrative units which often leads to the rejection of permits for any protests. This law rescinds Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) Order No. 19 of 10 July 2003, which required only reporting, not approval, for demonstrations in public places.
Once again, Article (8) IV requires protesters not to raise banners and slogans, nor to make statements "contrary to public order or public morals." This means, in practice, largely restricting freedom of expression, as the authorities may describe everything that protesters do as "contrary to public order and public morals."
Article (9) denies school and university students their right to peaceful demonstration, which is a natural right that must be granted to them so that they can peacefully protest and express their views on any issues of concern to them in their academic or public life.
As for Article (10), it specifies the time for organising demonstrations mut be between 7am and 10pm, and thus eliminates the citizens' right to a continuous peaceful sit-in.
Article (11) is a very dangerous paragraph within this law, as it gives the security authorities the right to use force to disperse demonstrators if their protest leads to “destabilising security.” This is another phrase that has been added which would allow the government to consider every peaceful demonstration as "destabilising" to its security, and to use force to disperse it, in this clear disregard for citizens' right to life.
The text of Article (13) includes the reinstatement of the Iraqi Penal Code No. (111) of 1969 which violates the right of citizens to enjoy freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful demonstration. In practice, this means the application of Articles (220), (221) and (222) of this law, which include prison sentences for one or two years against citizens for demonstrations without the approval of the authorities or according to their interpretations of the objectives of the demonstrations.
Demonstrations commemorate anniversary of popular movement’s launch
On 01 October 2022, demonstrations took place in Al-Tahrir and Al-Nisour Squares in the centre of the capital, Baghdad, in which hundreds of protesters participated, in commemoration of the third anniversary of the popular movement that began on the same day in 2019. The demonstrators raised Iraqi flags and pictures of a number of victims of the protests who were killed by security forces or armed militias. They also denounced the spread of youth unemployment, poor public services, the collapse of infrastructure, and the lack of respect for public freedoms. They demanded that the killers of the demonstrators be brought to justice, an end to practise of kidnapping and disappearances, and comprehensive reform. There were limited clashes between the demonstrators and the security forces, who used tear gas. Several cases of suffocation were recorded among the protesters, and a number of members of the security forces were slightly injured in these clashes.
Baghdad and several other governorates also witnessed limited demonstrations on 25 October 2022, which raised the same demands. Reliable local reports confirmed that, in the days preceding the start of these demonstrations, the security forces conducted campaigns of searching the homes of civil society activists in the Governorates of Baghdad, Babil, Najaf, Dhi Qar and Basra, with the aim of preventing them from participating in these popular protests.
Peaceful protester sentenced to three years in prison
On 05 December 2022, the first panel of the Al-Rusafa Criminal Court sentenced civil society activist Haider Hamid Finjan Al-Zaidi to three years in prison, according to the ruling which was given to GCHR by the defendant. He was sentenced under Article 226 of the Iraqi Penal Code, which is concerned with insulting state institutions. The court's decision also stated, "The affected party, which is the Popular Mobilisation Forces, reserves the right to claim compensation" and "confiscates the mobile phone" belonging to Al-Zaidi, and the judgment can be appealed.
In a video circulated on social media networks, Al-Zaidi explained that he was arrested on 06 June 2022, and released on bail on 19 June, because he posted tweets on his Twitter account, which were later deleted. The Popular Mobilisation Authority filed a legal complaint against him claiming that these tweets are offensive to them.
Sources close to his family confirmed to GCHR that a force affiliated with the Popular Mobilisation Forces arrested him and that he suffers from health and physical problems due to torture that he alleged he was subjected to during his detention.
His fellow protesters launched a massive campaign to demand his release, using the hashtag: #Freedom _ for _ Haider _ Al-Zaidi
Two peaceful demonstrators killed