Iraq: End ‘campaign of terror’ targeting protesters
The Iraqi authorities must step up to their responsibilities and take immediate and effective action to put an end to a growing lethal campaign of harassment, intimidation, abductions and deliberate killings of activists and protesters in Baghdad and other cities, said Amnesty International today.
The organization has gathered testimonies of nine activists, protesters and relatives of missing activists from Baghdad, Karbala and Diwaniya who have said that what is happening is a “campaign of terror” and that “nowhere is safe” after a number of protesters and activists were killed, or abducted and forcibly disappeared in the past two weeks mostly on their way home from protests. Other protesters managed to escape after attempts were made to shoot them.
“The authorities’ utter lack of action over the past weeks has paved the way for this horrifying new stage in what is clearly a full-on attempt to crush the protests in Iraq through instilling fear among the population. The inaction of the government indicates, at the very least, acquiescence, and in some cases complicity, in the enforced disappearances, torture and unlawful killings of people who are on the streets to claim their human rights,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director.
“The fact that the government has resigned doesn’t mean it can abdicate its responsibilities. It remains the primary authority responsible for protecting everyone in the country, including protesters who must be allowed to assemble peacefully without fear of repercussion, let alone terror at being abducted or even shot at.”
Targeted and attempted killings
Activists and protesters have reported a string of assassination attempts against protesters, especially those on their way home from protest areas in the past week. According to protesters, the random targeting of activists and protesters has created an atmosphere of terror. One protester explained “We are all trying to understand the pattern. But when a regular protester and a prominent activist are likewise targeted, there is only one pattern: to terrify everyone, to target everyone.”
The authorities’ utter lack of action over the past weeks has paved the way for this horrifying new stage in what is clearly a full-on attempt to crush the protests in Iraq through instilling fear among the population
On 8 December, activist Fahem al-Tai, was reported to have been gunned down in the southern city of Karbala, while the body of another activist, Ali Najm al-Lami, was discovered in Baghdad in the early hours of 11 December with gunshot wounds to the head. According to activists and witnesses Amnesty International spoke to, Ali, who originally comes from Al-Wasit governorate, had been on the way to his relatives’ home from the protests in Tahrir Square.
Another eyewitness told the organization that earlier this week, masked men in a car shot at three protesters on their way home to east Baghdad from Tahrir Square. Two of them were injured.
Another protester from Baghdad said: “They shot at us, sniped us, and now they’re waiting for us in alleyways and near our homes… Before these shootings started, we had a week of what we called ‘nights of the knives’. Men and boys in regular clothes would turn up looking like protesters and would start fights. I saw one trying to sexually harass a female protester and when the boys nearby intervened to stop it, he fought them. Suddenly others were hitting the protesters, and in the chaos, three protesters were stabbed and nobody knows who did it.”
A male protester from Diwaniya described how he and another protester escaped after armed men fired six or seven shots at their car after stopping them and asking them to step out of the vehicle. He stated that he had informed the local authorities, pointing out CCTV cameras at the site of the incidents, but was informed that the cameras did not work. Officials later confirmed to witnesses that the gunmen were members of the local police.
Abductions and disappearances
In a pattern of disappearances and abductions, 28-year-old environmental activist and protester Salman Khairallah Salman and another protester were forcibly disappeared on 11 December in Baghdad’s al-Kadhmiyah neighborhood where they had gone to buy tents for protesters in Tahrir Square. According to Salman’s relatives, the two men did not respond to their phones after midday and by 3pm their phones seemed to be turned off. They have not heard anything about the two men since, despite enquiring with local authorities. They said: “Salman had received some indirect threats about two weeks ago that he was being watched… but he dismissed it.” The relatives informed Amnesty International that the two men are believed to be held in Baghdad’s Al-Muthana Airport detention facility for interrogation.
The fact that the government has resigned doesn’t mean it can abdicate its responsibilities. It remains the primary authority responsible for protecting everyone in the country, including protesters who must be allowed to assemble peacefully without fear of repercussion, let alone terror at being abducted or even shot at
Another female protester in Karbala told Amnesty International that on 8 December masked men on a motorcycle had attempted to force her into a black four-wheel-drive car when she was leaving protests near the city’s Tarbiya Roundabout. She explained that she had earlier in the week been questioned by a female driver about her activities in gathering donations and securing medical help for protesters in the city.
“You cannot imagine the level of fear that we all feel now. But running away is no use. Clearly, they know where activists live. They know where our families are,” one male protester from Baghdad told Amnesty International.
“They [gunmen] are everywhere but we cannot see them. There are streets [in Baghdad] that protesters avoid entirely because people disappear in their alleyways. There are protesters who have not left Tahrir Square for weeks because they do not want to risk the way home,” another protester from Baghdad added.
A number of protesters who had been forcibly disappeared on 6 December in al-Sinek area in Baghdad after arriving in the city from Karbala were released on 11 December. Footage of the released protesters arriving in Karbala depicts them bearing bruises and unable to walk without support. One witness described one of the released protesters: “His face was blue. He had clearly been beaten.”
Protesters lamented the silence of the authorities on the abductions and attempts on the lives of those protesting, with one adding: “It’s unimaginable that all the footage from CCTV cameras have not led to one arrest. The government resigned and seems to have forgotten it still has a duty to protect people.”
The international community must urgently speak up and address the alarming situation in Iraq, as it takes a new dangerous turn and risks escalating further. Iraqi people have suffered too long and too much from succeeding cycles of violence
“The international community must urgently speak up and address the alarming situation in Iraq, as it takes a new dangerous turn and risks escalating further. Iraqi people have suffered too long and too much from succeeding cycles of violence. There has to be a stop to it,” said Lynn Maalouf.
Amnesty International has continuously called on the Iraqi authorities to put an end to the relentless campaign of intimidation against protesters across the country since the outbreak of protests in October. The organization has documented security forces’ use of lethal force, including live ammunition, against peaceful protesters, their use of military-grade tear gas canisters causing horrific lethal injuries, as well as abductions and enforced disappearances since protests broke out October 1.