The Iraqi authorities must immediately end a relentless campaign of intimidation and assault against activists in Baghdad and reveal the whereabouts of others, among them a doctor and a lawyer forcibly disappeared more than 10 days ago, Amnesty International said today.
The organization has spoken to 11 activists, relatives of detained activists, as well as journalists and lawyers from Baghdad, Diwaniya, Basra and Amarah. Their testimony shows that Iraqi security forces are systematically targeting anyone speaking out against the conduct of security forces during the protests.
“Anyone voicing dissent in Iraq today faces interrogation at the point of a gun, death threats and enforced disappearance. The Iraqi authorities promised they would open an investigation into the killings of protesters. It’s been over a week now since the protests quieted, there’s been no such action; instead, what we’re seeing is a continuation of the same approach – one of repression at a shocking cost to the Iraqi people.
“The Iraqi authorities must immediately rein in the security forces and dismantle the climate of fear they have deliberately created to stop Iraqis from peacefully exercising their rights to freedoms of expression and assembly,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director.
“The Iraqi authorities must also disclose the whereabouts of Ali Jaseb al-Hattab and Maytham Mohammed Rahim al-Helo who have been subjected to enforced disappearance since last week. They should be given immediate access to lawyers and their families. Unless they have been charged with a recognizable criminal offence, they should be released.”
Abduction and enforced disappearance
Relatives of Ali Jaseb al-Hattab, a 29-year-old lawyer who has been representing protesters arrested in the current wave of anti-government demonstrations, told Amnesty International that he was bundled away by suspected members of a faction of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) on the evening of 8 October.
According to his relatives, armed men in two black pick-up trucks belonging to the PMU dragged him away from his car in the southern city of Ammarah in Al-Maysan governorate – where he had been due to meet a client – and then drove him away in one of the trucks.
The ambush took place two days after two armed men from the PMU came to Ali Jaseb al-Hattab’s home to warn him to stop being vocal about the killing of protesters on Facebook, otherwise they would kill him.
Local security forces told his relatives that they were not aware of his arrest or whereabouts. “When we went to report this to the local police, we got a phone call on the way to the station from the [faction of PMU] threatening us that they are watching us. But we reported it anyway,” Ali Jaseb al-Hattab’s relatives said. “We cannot just sit and wait because we know the government will not come to our rescue. By the time they [authorities] act, Ali could be dead.”
In a similar case of enforced disappearance, Maytham Mohammed Rahim al-Helo, a 51-year-old doctor and activist was last seen leaving his clinic in Baghdad on the evening of 7 October. His relatives reported his disappearance on 8 October to the local authorities but were told they were unaware of his arrest or whereabouts.
According to information available to Amnesty International, members of security forces stated that this incident was intended to “truly scare him”.
Another activist in Baghdad told Amnesty International that on 9 October he received threatening and insulting messages on his phone from a member of a faction of the PMU, who falsely accused him of affiliation to a political party.
On 14 October, while leaving his home in Baghdad, a black pick-up truck with darkened windows stopped him. “I was shocked to find that the person inside was pointing a weapon at me as the windows rolled down. I was ordered to get in the car after where I sat with a gun pointed at my head,” he said.
Two armed men in civilian clothing interrogated the activist about his name and occupation. When talking back to them he told Amnesty International that he was punched in the face. After checking his identification documents, the armed men told him that that there had been a case of mistaken identity and then threw him out of the car.
Blacklisted and beaten
On 17 October, two activists from Baghdad told Amnesty International that men in civilian clothing, who identified themselves as members of the local intelligence forces, visited their homes and interrogated them about their activities during the protests. At no point were the activists presented with an arrest or search warrant.
Amnesty International continues to receive reports of activists and journalists being threatened by security forces who have warned them that if they continued to speak out against human rights violations committed against protesters they would be added to a blacklist compiled by intelligence services.
One activist told Amnesty International that members of security forces told him to “hide his face” from now on if he wanted to avoid being targeted.
He told the organization: “They are doing this because they want to scare us so that we tell others not to go to any future protests. We all know how easy it is for them to disappear and kill young men from the protests. But they do not realize these actions will only make protesters angrier. The rage from the streets is like a piece of burning coal, and the security forces are the wind that will keep it burning.”
Activists from Basra told Amnesty International that security forces had chased them down and arrested them on 4 October during protests in the city. They were beaten and held for several hours without being given a reason; they were then forced to sign pledges, under threat of imprisonment, that they would not take part in protests again as well as other documents, the contents of which they were not allowed to see.
The authorities must demonstrate zero tolerance for such crimes. They take immediate action to end enforced disappearances and other serious violations, carry out independent, impartial and effective investigations, and prosecute those in the security forces suspected of responsibility in fair trials,” said Lynn Maalouf.