13 dead, hundreds injured and detained in widespread protests
Mass Protests Sweep #Iraq aimed at #Iran, its Militias and affiliated Political parties. Anger boiling over economic stagnation, wasted resources and abandonment. #Baghdad shuts Internet, sends US-trained elite counter-terror units to quell economic unrest https://t.co/Ly5oamnHGq pic.twitter.com/0MaSQX711A— Adam Milstein (@AdamMilstein) July 16, 2018
Protesters had gathered in a number of Iraqi cities to demand improved access to clean drinking water, reduced unemployment rate and increased access to electricity. The protests were reported in the Governorates of Basra, Karbala, Najaf, Muthanna, Maysan, Qadisiyyah, Thi Qar, and Babil.
At least 13 deaths, 269 injuries and 757 detentions resulted from the violent crackdown on protesters by the authorities. According to reports, the authorities used water cannons, tear gas and on several occasions live ammunition to disperse peaceful demonstrations. Some detainees were released only on condition that they sign a pledge not to demonstrate again.
Human rights groups including Human Rights Watch called upon the Iraqi authorities to investigate the apparent excessive use of lethal force in Basra. Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch said:
“The Iraqi authorities need to credibly and impartially investigate the apparent excessive use of lethal force in Basra, even where protests turned violent...so long as the government fails to address protester grievances, the danger of further bloody protests remains real.”
#Iraq: human rights lawyer Jabbar Mohammed Al-Karm, who defended #Protesters was assassinated. Iraqi authorities must investigate this crime, bring perpetrators to justice, and guarantee the right to peaceful #protest @GulfCentre4HR https://t.co/LCYZAQkMIx— Salma El Hosseiny (@salma_ishr) July 24, 2018
Following the series of protests, on 23rd July, unknown gunmen assassinated human rights lawyer Jabbar Mohammed Al-Karm in Basra. Jabbar, who was shot 15 times was killed after he offered to defend those detained during the protests.
Protesters demands in Iraq: We want jobs, clean water, and electricity.— Mosul Eye عين الموصل (@MosulEye) July 18, 2018
The government responded: Killing protesters, arresting them, shut down the internet. And arresting journalists who covered the protests.#BasraProtests
Journalists and bloggers were also attacked and received threats for covering the demonstrations. According to Reporters Without Borders, the victims included Ahmad al Abdi who is Dijlah TV’s bureau chief in Najaf, and two of his cameramen, who were stunned by tasers, threatened, insulted and detained for three hours when they covered the protests at Najaf airport on 13th July. On 14th July 2018, Al Nujaba TV correspondent Issa Al-Atwany was attacked by police who broke his arm.
On 20th July, journalist and human rights defender Ahmed Al-Shaibani received a death threat in a text message. An official document was also circulated on social media, which accused Al-Shaibani's journalistic and human rights activities of amounting to "incitement to a coup."
Internet has been shut down in southern and central Iraq, including Baghdad, as protests continue to spread - K24/AA— BNO News (@BNONews) July 14, 2018
During the protests Iraqi authorities also severely restricted internet access across the country’s central and southern regions, in an attempt to stop the spread of news reports related to the ongoing protests.
Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa said:
“Deliberately disabling the internet is a sinister restriction to the right to freedom of expression and strongly indicates that the authorities have something to hide. We fear this blackout is deliberately designed to give carte blanche to the security forces to repress peaceful activists without being recorded and held accountable.”