GCHR’s eleventh periodic report on violations during the popular protests – Part II

This is the second part of the eleventh periodic report prepared by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) on the human rights situation in Iraq, which includes research on press freedom, arrests, threats and protests.

Iraq remains an insecure environment for independent journalists, human rights activists, and advocates, as well as all those who defend the protests and seek to combat corruption in the country.

Freedom of the press

On 23 December 2020, late at night, an armed group burned the car of journalist Ahmed Shukri Al-Jadri (Photo 14), who works as a presenter for programmes on Al-Iraqiya TV, in front of his home. Al-Jadri was one of the journalists who supported and defended the protests. Local human rights groups considered the burning of his car as an attempt to intimidate media voices who host the protesters in their programmes and support their true demands.

On 16 January 2021, a military force affiliated with the Anbar Operations Command arrested journalist Quds Al-Samarrai (Photo 15), according to an arrest warrant issued against her by the Ramadi Investigation Court in the Anbar Governorate, west of the country.

She was detained overnight by individuals working for the Tourism Security Directorate in a hotel in Baghdad. The arrest warrant was issued in accordance with Article 433 of the Iraqi Penal Code No. 111 of 1969, on charges of libel and defamation, based on a complaint against her by Major General Nasser Al-Ghannam, Commander of Anbar Operations Forces Command.

Major General Al-Ghannam sent a military force consisting of two military Hummer vehicles, accompanied by the legal official in the Anbar Operations Command, who arrested her and returned her to Anbar Governorate. The investigating judge decided to release her on bail after taking her statement on the same day. Al-Samarrai uses her Facebook page to fight corruption in the Iraqi state, especially the Ministry of Defense.

On 18 January 2021, she wrote on her Facebook page, “My question is to the lawyers and judges in general, and to the Ministry of Defense and Joint Operations in particular: is Major General Nasser Al-Ghannam entitled to transfer a journalist with an arrest warrant for defamation according to Article 433 of the Penal Code without a summons, taking her by military Hummers from the Anbar Operations Command, and in each car there are three armed men and the legal representative of this command from Baghdad to Ramadi – is this the duty of army or police?”

GCHR calls on the Iraqi authorities to protect journalists, respect their duties, and forbid the military authorities to pursue them in these illegal ways. Journalists should not be arrested on publishing-related charges.

Arrests and threats

Despite the decline of the protests in Iraq, arrests and threats to activists are still continuing. On 18 January 2021, activist Mohammed Jadou wrote on his Twitter account (Photo 16) that “Amer Al-Janabi (government General Director working in Endowments) has called me to threaten me and hinted at using his influence against me, due to uncovering the truth.”

On 24 December 2020, the security forces arrested demonstrator Abdullah Haider (Photo 17) in the city of Nasiriyah, the capital of Dhi Qar Governorate. The security authorities charged Haider because of his activities in the protests, and asked him about the parties behind their support, accusing him and other activists of fueling the situation in the governorate.

Activists in Dhi Qar told GCHR that “the security forces always charge detainees with allegiance and loyalty to other countries, and compare us with terrorists. They consider what we are doing as violence or terrorism, and do not consider this to be a human, constitutional and legal right.”

On 29 December 2020, security forces in Wasit Governorate arrested civil society activist Nashwan Al-Nahi (Photo 18) on charges of “insulting the state” after he criticised the Al-Marhla party, founded by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, on his Facebook page which he uses to defend the popular demonstrations and to fight corruption.

On 17 December 2020, Al-Nahi published the following: “Do not forget me – the last word that Sajjad Al-Iraqi (Al-Mushrifawi) said for those who were with him and the silence in his head.”

On 19 September 2020, Al-Iraqi was kidnapped by an armed group, and there has been no information about his whereabouts since then.

On 05 January 2021, security forces arrested civil society activist Abbas Khalaf Al-Salhi (Photo 19) in the Islah district in Dhi Qar Governorate, without an arrest warrant and without specifying the charges, except for his support for the protests. During his detention, Al-Salhi was charged with a torrent of charges related to “employment, loyalty to those outside the country, destabilising the political system and insulting the state.” After about a week, Al-Salhi was released due to great pressure from protest activists in Dhi Qar.

On 07 January 2021, security forces arrested civil society activist Ihssan Al-Hilali (Photo 20), which inspired renewed protests in the city of Nasiriyah by dozens of people who roamed the streets to Al-Haboubi Square. They called on the Crisis Cell concerned with managing the security file in the governorate, which was formed by the central government, to stop the campaign of arrests against activists and to drop “the malicious charges against them.”

On 10 January 2021, security forces released Al-Hilali after his arrest triggered mass demonstrations that developed into confrontations between protesters and security forces.

On 10 January 2021, Iraqi security forces in Baghdad arrested civil society activist Ahmed Maher (Photo 21) from Tayaran Square in Baghdad on his way back to his home. Maher is considered one of the most prominent faces of the protests in the Iraqi capital. After four days, he was released but with signs of torture on his body. Activists close to him told GCHR that “Maher was tortured for many hours to extract confessions from him on cases he did not know about. Accusations were leveled against him in regard to the protests and their support from countries hostile to Iraq.”

On 25 January 2021, prominent activist and one of the founders of (The National Home – a new political party) Hussain Al-Gharabi (photo 22) wrote on his Facebook account, “It is easy for me to endure for the sake of the road ‘we want a homeland’, forcibly displaced from my city, but it is difficult for my family to leave the city as well, although they do not really belong to the Octobe protest in actual fact as I do. I apologise from the heart for the inconvenience I caused, my beloved mother.”

News of sit-in squares and new demonstrations

Despite the assassinations and kidnappings carried out by armed groups, and the arrests carried out by the Iraqi authorities, civil society activists are still pursuing peaceful civic activities in Baghdad and the governorates.

On 31 December 2020, on New Year’s Eve, a young Iraqi woman in Al-Tahrir Square in Baghdad, where the protests began, lit candles in remembrance of the victims’ souls who had fallen demanding a homeland free from corruption and terrorism, she wrote under her image, “I love you”.

On 07 January 2021, the city of Nasiriyah in Dhi Qar Governorate witnessed continuous confrontations between hundreds of demonstrators and security forces, who used live bullets and tear gas grenades to disperse them, after a series of arrests by security forces that included a group of activists.

The confrontations continued until the early hours of dawn, and renewed again at noon on 08 January 2021, especially in Al-Haboubi Square, Sumer Street, Nabi Allah Ibrahim Bridge, and Al-Bahou Street.

On 10 January 2021, the tag “The Army is with Us” was trending on Twitter in Iraq after the Iraqi army stood with the demonstrators in Al-Haboubi Square. A video clip spread on social media showing that they were shooting in the air and protesters were sheltering behind them, forcing riot police and Federal police forces to leave after failing to control Al-Haboubi Square.

On 12 January 2021, a group of riot police carrying weapons and batons stormed the Markazia High School building in the city of Nasiriya and forcibly pulled a demonstrator out of the school administration room and abused him. The protester had entered the school building to seek protection.

A video widely circulated on social media showed the details of the attack, which sparked widespread public condemnation.

GCHR urges all members of the riot police to work to protect the rights to freedom of assembly by demonstrators and the general population, as it is their primary duty, and to refrain from violating the sanctity of schools and all educational institutions.

Despite the end of the sit-ins in Al-Tahrir Square in Baghdad, and the opening of its access roads since 31 October 2020, many peaceful activities are still taking place.

On 14 January 2021, the Baghdad Students’ Union published on its Facebook page a statement under the title, “Elections determine a fate,” in which it called for participation in a student march that began on 17 January 2021 in front of the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, reaching Al-Tahrir Square in Baghdad.

The union urged citizens to update their data in order to participate in the elections this year, emphasising the continuity of the popular movement while chanting, “They said you are tired … No, we will not get tired.”

On the same day, 14 January 2021, a meeting was held between some prominent civil society activists in the city of Nasiriyah with the leaders of the security forces, in the presence of the head of the Court of Appeal of Dhi Qar Governorate.

It was agreed that all of the arrested demonstrators would be released, the arrests would stop, and the relevant government authorities would investigate allegations that some government agencies had tortured demonstrators, provided that the demonstrators would not escalate the protests.

On 15 January 2021, a protest took place in Al-Haboubi Square in Dhi Qar Governorate in support of civil society activist Sajjad Al-Iraqi (photo above), who was kidnapped on 19 September 2020. His fate is unknown.

Since 2019, engineers in Maysan Governorate in southern Iraq began their sit-in in front of the doors of Maysan Oil Company (photo above), demanding a chance to work and practice their fields of study.

On 18 January 2021, Maysan engineers posted on Instagram a video clip showing that riot police sprayed them with cold water using a large hose, in addition to a number of riot police spraying protesters with hot pepper.

GCHR denounces the flagrant violations committed by the riot police against an educated group of society, who are demanding in a civilised and peaceful manner their civil and human rights, as guaranteed by the Iraqi constitution.

On 24 January 2021, Maysan University students protested against the decision of the Ministry of Higher Education regarding “the actual attendance in exams”. The Maysan Students’ Union issued a statement, and the demands of Maysan University students were submitted to the university presidency.

GCHR’s Recommendations to the Iraqi government:

1- Protect human rights and civil society activists from attacks;

2- Hold accountable armed groups that practice acts of violence against human rights and civil society activists;

3- Stop illegal and unlawful arrests in cases related to public freedoms including freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of the press;

4- Provide protection for the protest squares, as guaranteed by the Iraqi Constitution and international agreements and treaties; and

5- Ensure a safe political environment for the participation of protesters including civil society activists in the upcoming elections; and end the acts of violence committed against those preparing for the elections.

Source: Gulf Center of Human Rights