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Iraq: UN concerned about targeting civil society activists participating in demonstrations  

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News briefing

Translated and edited by: Committee for Justice

Geneva: October 13, 2021

United Nations human rights experts have condemned the targeting of human rights defenders, civil society activists and journalists in Iraq, whether by killing, kidnapping, or alleged arbitrary arrest and detention, during popular demonstrations in the country.

Murder, kidnapping and arbitrary arrests:

In a memorandum sent to the Iraqi government on August 12, 2021, which has not yet been responded to, the experts said that on April 15, 2021, unknown persons shot Hassan Ashour, an independent civil society activist who participated in the popular demonstrations in Iraq since 2019, in front of his house in Dhi Qar governorate, and he died immediately after being transferred to hospital, noting that this incident was carried out after death threats to Ashour.

The experts added that on May 8, 2021, Ihab Jawad al-Wazni, a civil society activist and head of the Karbala Coordination for Civil Movement, a group involved in organizing demonstrations in Karbala, was killed in front of his house by unknown assailants. 

The experts added that on April 1, 2021, unidentified gunmen in the city of Samawa kidnapped civil society activist Haider Khashan, who was peacefully participating in demonstrations denouncing corruption in Al-Muthanna Governorate. He was released a few hours after his kidnapping, and the kidnappers threatened to kill him if he continued to participate in the demonstrations.

The experts also added that on April 6, 2021, police arrested Hussein Dakhil, a civil society activist in Karbala, after he raised a banner indicating the courage of peaceful protesters in Dhi Qar Governorate. He was released the next day after demonstrations in Dhi Qar Governorate against his arrest.

Practices to silence civil society activists: 

The experts expressed their grave concern about the killing of human rights defenders, amid fears that the attacks were planned and aimed at silencing civil society activists engaged in peaceful demonstrations in the country while at the same time deterring participation in the demonstrations on a larger scale.  

The experts also expressed their concerns about the cases of kidnapping activists, which demonstrate the failure of the state to provide security and protection for all citizens, as well as the arrest of human rights defenders, all of which are practices aimed at limiting civic participation in the country, as Iraqis may fear reprisals by engaging in such gatherings and exercising their rights in freedom of opinion and expression. 

UN demands from the Iraqi government:   

The experts requested the Iraqi government to provide information on the steps taken and the results of any investigation into the killing of human rights defenders, including the steps taken to identify the direct and indirect responsible perpetrators, the measures taken to prevent future killings, and in the event that such an investigation is not conducted or, if this investigation proves inconclusive, explain why and how this is consistent with Iraq’s international human rights obligations.

The experts also requested Iraq to provide information on the steps taken, the results of any investigation conducted into the alleged kidnappings of activists, including steps taken to identify direct and indirect perpetrators, the measures taken to prevent future kidnappings, and to provide information on the factual and legal basis for the arrest and detention of Dakhil.

The experts also called on Iraq to provide any additional information on how Iraqi laws, specifically criminal law, comply with international human rights law, with regard to ensuring a safe space for civic participation and preventing the criminalization of human rights defenders, and the measures that have been taken to ensure that human rights defenders in Iraq, including civil society activists, journalists and lawyers, can carry out their legitimate work in a safe and enabling environment without fear of threats or acts of intimidation and harassment of any kind.

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