(Beirut, 09 December 2020) – Eight organisations released the following statement today calling on the Iraqi government to investigate the detention of activists and others since the start of the 2019 protests and to free all those held arbitrarily for peaceful protests.
As we mark International Human Rights Day on 10 December, the undersigned organisations call on the Iraqi authorities to fairly, thoroughly and effectively conduct investigations into the cases of detention that have taken place since the start of the popular protests in October 2019 and the forcible disappearance and unlawful killings of dozens of Iraqi activists, journalists, lawyers, and other civil society members, to release those held arbitrarily in relation to their right to free speech or peaceful assembly, and to bring to justice all those responsible for these acts.
The undersigned organisations are especially concerned about the lack of accountability for the extrajudicial executions that have taken place this year, targeting individuals for their peaceful expression.
On 06 July 2020, four unidentified men on motorcycles fatally shot journalist and security expert Dr. Hisham Al-Hashemi in front of his house in the Zayouna area in the capital, Baghdad. Local sources confirmed that Dr. Al-Hashemi had received repeated threats in the weeks prior to his murder from members of armed groups due to his participation in various television programs, talking about the illegal activities of armed militias in Iraq.
On 15 November 2020, the Iraqi government stated that Al-Hashemi’s killers had fled the country after the authorities seized the motorcycles in Baghdad and identified two of the killers. A government spokesman told state television that “one party smuggled them outside the country,” without naming the party.
On 02 October 2020, seven United Nations experts issued a statement calling on Iraq to investigate the cases of two women human rights defenders targeted for assassination. In August 2020, unidentified gunmen murdered Riham Yaqoub, a doctor and activist who also advocated for the right of women to physically exercise in public spaces.
On 17 August 2020, Lodya Remon Albarti, a defender of women’s and environmental rights, was shot during an assassination attempt. “It is outrageous that women in Iraq have to risk or lose their life to defend human rights,” the UN experts said. “The impunity that allows these crimes to continue must end.”
In the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, local authorities have been targeting civil society activists by arresting them for their work and curtailing public freedoms, including media freedom and freedom of peaceful assembly, including since August 2020. Dozens of activists, teachers, and peaceful protesters have participated in protests to demand an end to corruption in the region, the improvement of public services, payment of salaries of employees that were delayed for months, and the implementation of comprehensive reforms. Although some have been released, many remain in detention.
The Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government are failing in their obligations under international and Iraqi law to bring to justice the perpetrators of crimes against journalists, activists, human rights defenders and protesters. Despite repeated pledges by the authorities including Prime Minister MustafaAl–Kadhimi to carry out investigations and hold perpetrators accountable, the authorities have failed to do so to date, in effect perpetuating and further entrenching decades of impunity that have left brave individuals without the most basic protection.
Amnesty International (AI)
FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
Human Rights Watch (HRW)
Iraqi Network for Social Media (INSM)
Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights (IOHR)
Metro Center for Journalists’ Rights and Advocacy
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders