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

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."

On 02 April 2021, demonstrator Bashir Abbas (Photo 5) was sentenced to 10 years in prison, and his family said: "In recent events, after the announcement of the general mobilisation in Basra and the escalation of the actions of the people of Basra against the political parties, the local government and parties filed lawsuits against the people of Basra, including demonstrator Bashir Abbas, who was arrested in 2018 due to a malicious case filed by MP Faleh Khazali, and got out of detention in 2020, due to insufficient evidence."

They added, "On 20 March 2021, he was summoned by the Basra Police Command in order to pledge not to demonstrate again, but he was surprised to be arrested, put on trial, and the verdict was issued on 31 March 2021, with a term of 10 years and two months in prison."

On 03 April 2021, Abbas’ mother appeared in a video calling for help to release her son.

On 05 April 2021, lawyer Mohammed Al-Artal stated on his Facebook page that, "This human being is a young man who was sentenced to ten years and two months according to Article 342/2 / G in two lawsuits. The first of the complainants is the Basra Governorate and the second is the deputy in the Iraqi parliament, Faleh Al-Khazali. In the case of burning the governorate building and burning the office of the deputy, I invite all the people of Basra in particular, and Iraq in general, to stand with this young man, as he was tortured during the investigation that led to his confession against his will."

On the same day, lawyer Fouad Al-Abidi visited his family and met his mother and posted on his Facebook page the following, "From the house of demonstrator Bashir Abbas, who was sentenced by Basra Criminal Court to 10 years. He was visited in prison and gave authorisation for a team of lawyers. We will prepare an appeal regarding his case and submit it to the Federal Court of Cassation. I wish everyone to show solidarity with Bashir and his family, because he is wronged and his mother’s condition is very bad."  

On 06 April 2021, the security forces in the Karbala Governorate arrested civil society activist Hussain Dakhel (Photo 6) after he held up a picture, on which was written "the Men of Nasiriyah", referring to the courage and bravery of the demonstrators in Dhi Qar Governorate.

Following his arrest, on 07 April 2021, dozens demonstrated in the city of Nasiriyah, the capital of Dhi Qar Governorate, to demand his release without charges. Those close to him told GCHR that "their friend was protesting in a legal and peaceful manner guaranteed by the Iraqi Constitution, international charters and declarations of human rights."

However, the Karbala Governorate Police Directorate published on 07 April 2021 a statement on its Facebook page saying, "There is no detainee in any of the Karbala Governorate’s holy police stations with this name, and this is incorrect news."


On 27 April 2021, security forces in Najaf Governorate arrested activist Hassan Ali Al-Mansouri (Photo 7) when he and dozens of demonstrators were protesting to denounce corruption, poor services and intimidation of activists.

Following Al-Mansouri's arrest, protesters blocked a street in Najaf Governorate with burning tires to demand his release. A friend of his told GCHR, "The arrest of Al-Mansouri was a message for us not to go out in new demonstrations. They tried to file malicious charges against Al-Mansouri, but they did not succeed due to the pressure we exerted on them."

On 28 April 2021, a security source announced the release of Al-Mansouri after a night of continuous protests.

Threats against bloggers and civil society activists

Activists and bloggers are exposed to threats during conversations in which they participate on the  Clubhouse application, including prominent blogger Hussain Ali (also known as Hussain Taqriban) (Photo 8), who spoke about these threats on 04 April 2020 in press statements published and confirmed by GCHR, in which he said, "The militia members first try to enter into a dialogue, but when they start losing the arguments against evidence and numbers, they resort to their nature of dealing, which is to launch incitement, threats or defamation."

Taqriban uses his Facebook page to spread his views on public issues of concern to citizens, including rampant corruption and the intrusion of armed militias outside the authority of the state. His pinned post at the top of his page reads the following: "Mustafa Al-Kadhimi is selling you an illusion." On 14 April 2021, he wrote, "In just five years - from 2015 to 2020 - there are 12,000 people forcibly missing, some of them from liberated cities. Dozens of activists have been forcibly missing from Nasiriyah, Baghdad and elsewhere in October, and the government does not know what happened to them."

On 25 April 2020, civil society activist Hassan Maher Sattar (also known as Hassan Basketball) (Photo 9) left his place of residence due to threats from armed groups. He posted on Facebook that his family's home in the city of Nasiriyah had been raided by a group of gunmen who also threatened to blow up the house. He also posted on his Twitter account a text that he attached to a video recording in which he confirmed that the targeting of his family is to pressure him to leave his peaceful activity in support of the popular movement, but he emphasised that, "Whatever the results, the tax of my love for this country must be paid.”

Basketball is from a group of civil society activists who left their cities or Iraq in general to escape the brutality of armed groups and their constant threats of death, but it seems that these groups have recently started to resort to using the activists' families as pressure points against their sons.

Kidnapping of a civil society activist and two demonstrators

On 01 April 2021, unknown persons kidnapped protest activist Haider Khashan (Photo 10) in front of his house in the Al-Hakam neighbourhood in Samawah, the capital of Al-Muthanna Governorate, before he was released hours later. Immediately after his release, Khashan filed a complaint with the police.

Earlier, Khashan was threatened with death if he did not stop participating in the demonstrations. On the same day, prominent human rights lawyer Hussain Al-Gharabi wrote a comment on his Facebook page about the kidnapping of Khashan in which he said, "my friend Haider Khashan has been kidnapped in front of his home in Samawah hours ago. Haidar is one of the purist and bravest protesters, and if his disappearance continues, that would inflict the anger of the protestors against the authorities."

Also, after his release, Khashan met with the prominent figures of his city, where he explained to them the details of his kidnapping by this group, and the death threat he received from them if he does not end his participation in the popular protests that demand the dismissal of the Governor of Al-Muthanna, Ahmed Manafi, and confront corruption, according to this video recording that documented the meeting.

On 16 April 2021, gunmen kidnapped two demonstrators and prevented others from holding a protest at the scene of a bombing which took place at the time in the Al-Habibiya area, where demonstrators were intending to demonstrate to denounce a terrorist act that struck civilians in eastern Baghdad.

Assassination of a lawyer in the city of Nasiriyah

Armed outlaw groups often resort to assassinations to neutralise prominent community activists and influential figures in society, including lawyers, in order to spread chaos in society and stop protests against corruption and poor conditions in the country. These attacks are frequent in the central and southern governorates, and although the protests occur much less frequently than their previous level, these attacks are still continuing.

On 12 April 2021, lawyer Ali Raheef (Photo 11 & 12) survived an assassination attempt in the centre of Nasiriyah, the capital of Dhi Qar Governorate, by three masked persons, who stabbed him with knives.

Raheef is a member of the Nasiriyah Mandate Chamber of the Dhi Qar Federal Court of Appeal, and prior to this attack, he was subjected to death threats by the perpetrators and filed a judicial complaint against them, to no avail, according to security sources.

According to reliable local sources, "the details of the incident relate back to a demand to Raheef to withdraw from one of the murder lawsuits against the defendants who committed the stabbing incident."

Raheef has good relations with lawmakers in his governorate, as shown by the photos he posted on his Facebook page in the past. The Dhi Qar Governorate branch of the Iraqi Jurists Union condemned the attack and added in a statement posted on its Facebook page that the attack was "a result of performing his professional duty," and demanded, "that legal measures be taken against the perpetrators who must be brought to justice." It demanded the local government "take security measures to preserve the lives of citizens and restore the prestige of the state."

Journalist kidnapped by a military force on eve of World Press Freedom Day

Late on the night of 02 May 2021, journalist, poet and civil society activist Abbas Al-Rafi'i (Photo above left) was kidnapped by an armed force in Karbala without a judicial order. Upon his arrest, the protesters declared their solidarity with him and their demand for his release through the following hashtag on Twitter: #Freedom_for_Abbas_AlRafi'i.

Al-Rafi'i works as a reporter for the 25 October satellite channel, which monitors news of popular protests. He also participated strongly in the activities of the main protest square in Karbala. He uses his Facebook page to transmit news of peaceful activities from the main protest sit-in in Karbala and supports the popular movement.

On 06 May 2021, he was released in good health.

On World Press Freedom Day, held annually on 03 May, journalist Mohi Al-Ansari (Photo above right), who lives in Baghdad, wrote the following tweet: "Real journalists cannot be tolerated!! So I am proud of more than an arrest warrant aimed at restricting my freedom of expression, dozens of threats and prosecutions, as well as harassment and psychological warfare, and forcing me to leave my city and home multiple times and stopping me from working due to political pressure. This is what World Press Freedom Day represents for me."

Demonstrations continue across the country

Despite the decline in the protests in Iraq, they have not stopped, and the protesters are keen to continue their protests from one day to the next, although they face risks. Sometimes activists are arrested, others are assassinated or kidnapped, and many times they are threatened. In addition, they are confronted with organised media smear campaigns by so-called "electronic flies" on social networking sites. Amid all this widespread targeting, the authorities have failed to provide the necessary protection for civil society activists and protesters.

In the sub-district of Al-Qasim in Babil Governorate, on 30 April 2021, mass demonstrations began calling for improvements of the living conditions of citizens and public services, and a reduction in the price of the dollar against the Iraqi dinar (Photo on the left).

On the same day, the youth of Maysan Governorate, despite the policies of harassment and repression by the local government and armed groups, held a night protest in the capital city of Amara, during which they demanded accountability for the killers of demonstrators, disclosure of the fate of those who had been kidnapped and the release of all detained protesters (Photo on the right).

Also, on 30 April 2021, the families of the victims of the fire that took place in Ibn Al-Khatib Hospital in Baghdad, where patients with Covid-19 were being isolated and treated, were joined by a number of citizens, who marched with them holding candles in front of the hospital, in which they remembered the victims and demanded the resignation of the Prime Minister (the two Photos above). The fire, which occurred on 24 April 2021, had killed 90 people and injured more than 110 others. The Minister of Health submitted his resignation after this tragic incident, which shed light on the severe neglect in the Iraqi health system, which suffers from severe corruption.

In the Shu’ala district of Baghdad, on 28 April 2021, mass demonstrations began in which the participants protested against water and electricity cuts and poor public services (Photo on the left). Federal Police forces surrounded the demonstrators. The angry demonstrations were renewed for the third day in a row, on 30 April 2021, where the demonstrators chanted the slogan, "This is a promise, the flame will not be silent anymore."

On 28 April 2021, very large demonstrations took place in the Essaouira district of Wasit Governorate (Photo in the middle), in which people protested against power cuts, poor living conditions, and rampant corruption.

On 26 April 2021, dozens of angry protesters took part in a demonstration that took place on Al-Jaish Canal Road, in east Baghdad. The protesters denounced poor public services, power and water cuts (Photo on the right). They closed the Canal Road from the side leading to Al-Shaab area, and burned tires before the security forces dispersed them. The demonstrators blocked the road again after returning and raised their slogans again.

The popular protests continued in the city of Al-Hilla, the capital of Babil Governorate, which began on 26 April 2021, and continued until the early morning hours of the following day, and were characterised by the widespread participation of young people (the main Photo). The protesters went to the homes of the city’s representatives who are members of the Iraqi Parliment, protesting against the poor living conditions of citizens and the increased price of the dollar against the Iraqi dinar, and declaring their absolute rejection of corruption.

On 02 April 2021, hundreds of Iraqi protesters in the Governorates of Dhi Qar and Al-Muthanna, in the south of the country, demanded that the killers of protesters be revealed, and hundreds gathered in Al-Haboubi Square in the centre of Nasiriyah and raised slogans calling on the federal government to arrest the killers.

The demonstrators held banners that read, "Stop, oh government, underestimating the victims of the protests ... uncover the killers." In the city of Samawah, hundreds of demonstrators gathered and demanded that the killers of the demonstrators be revealed, and that Governor Ahmed Manafi resign.

 Accountability for crimes against peaceful protesters and activists

The authorities have not taken any serious measures, including trying the perpetrators of the killers of hundreds of peaceful protesters, with some exceptions in which limited legal measures were taken against some members of the security forces.

On 05 April 2021, the Nasiriyah Investigation Court in Dhi Qar Governorate issued an arrest warrant for an officer and a number of soldiers on charges of killing protesters during the protests.

This included an officer with the rank of colonel in the Iraqi army, and three soldiers under his personal protection, who were charged with killing a number of protesters in Dhi Qar Governorate in November 2019.

In another positive development, on 07 April 2021, the Joint Operations Command announced, in a statement published by the media, the results of the investigation into the killing of demonstrators in Dhi Qar Governorate, which took place at the end of February 2021, after which the Prime Minister and the Commander of the Armed Forces ordered the formation of an investigation committee to investigate these events.

The statement said, "After a careful and intense investigation, this committee managed to reach results and recommendations, the most prominent of which is the finding of those who fired live ammunition in violation of the orders issued not to use live ammunition to disperse the demonstrators. An officer and ranking members of the Dhi Qar Governorate police have been detained. In the Personnel Security Directorate of the Ministry of the Interior, two Kalashnikov rifles and two pistols were seized, to complete the fundamental procedures in connection with their referral to the judiciary and according to the jurisdiction in place as it has been proved that they have fired shots at the demonstrators based on evidence revealed through the investigation, their confessions, witness statements, the video clips that were obtained, and the diagnostic record of the release of fire."

While GCHR welcomes the referral of some of the perpetrators of murders of peaceful demonstrators to the judiciary, the NGO calls on the Iraqi authorities to put on trial the perpetrators in hundreds of other cases of killing, kidnapping and torture that have occurred since the start of the popular movement on 01 October 2019.

In an effort to seek justice, on 06 April 2021, the families of five Iraqis filed a legal complaint in the French capital, Paris, against former Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, accusing him of committing crimes against humanity, torture and enforced disappearance during the demonstrations.


GCHR urges the Iraqi government to:

Make public the results of the investigation into cases related to the killing of protesters;
Train the security forces, in cooperation with the competent international institution and civil society organsations, to deal peacefully and respectfully with all demonstrators in a manner consistent with the Iraqi Constitution, as their duty is to protect them and not attack them; and
Provide full protection for protesters, including civil society activists, as well as those in sit-in squares in all Iraqi cities.



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