Proposed election law sparks protests, CSOs denounce new framework to monitor online content
#Iraq : Renowned environmentslist Jassim al-Asadi has been abducted by armed men, according to his family - he’s long campaigned for the preservation of the Iraqi Marshes where a culture dating back to the dawn of civilisation still survives #العراق pic.twitter.com/QaHOPcrUXD— sebastian usher (@sebusher) February 5, 2023
On 1st February 2023, prominent environmental activist Jassim Al-Asadi was kidnapped by an unknown armed group in civilian clothes driving two cars as he was making his way towards Baghdad by car. On 23rd February 2023, Human Rights Watch reported that Al-Asadi had been released after what appears to have been an intervention by the Iraqi government. In a TV interview following his release, Al-Asadi stated that during his captivity he was subjected to “most severe forms of torture” using “electricity and sticks” and was moved from place to place.
Al-Asadi is a consulting hydraulic engineer who completed his engineering studies at the University of Technology in Baghdad in 1980. He is considered the most prominent defender of the Iraqi marshes, of which he has detailed information. He played a major role in having the marshes included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2016. He is the managing director of the Al-Chibayish office of the Nature Iraq Organisation. Since 2008, he has organised and participated in many activities aimed at preserving the Iraqi marshes and supporting the local people, their way of life and their heritage.
On 27th January 2023, human rights defender Abbas Kamel Al-Jabri survived an assassination attempt near his house, in the city of Souq Al-Shuyoukh in Dhi Qar Governorate when he was shot and injured by unidentified people riding a motorcycle. He was taken to hospital where he received the necessary treatment. Al-Jabri confirmed to GCHR that he has been subjected to repeated threats due to his refusal to withdraw the judicial complaint he filed against those accused of killing his brother, the peaceful protester Hamza Kamel Al-Jabri, who lost his life during the Al-Zaytoun Bridge protests in Nasiriyah on 28th November 2019. Those accused were also involved in the killing of other protesters in the city itself.
Calls for mass protest next Monday rejecting Sainte-Laguë election system that the Coordination Framework is trying to revive.— Tammuz Intel (@Tammuz_Intel) February 25, 2023
The protest will take place near the Iraqi parliament, Green Zone at 12PM local time next Monday. #Iraq pic.twitter.com/CGUiqpYP5h
On 27th February 2023, dozens of citizens gathered in front of the Green Zone in Baghdad to participate in popular demonstrations against the proposed new election law.
The new draft law differs from the other law that was used in the 2021 elections in that it makes each governorate a single constituency instead of multiple constituencies, and includes the application of the Sainte-Laguë system by 1.7 percent which, according to experts, bolsters the influence of the parties currently in power. One of the most important gains achieved by the October 2019 Protest Movement was the overthrow of the Sainte-Laguë election law. Its reinstatement has therefore generated intense resentment among citizens and civil society organisations.
Protest in front of the Iraqi Supreme Court in Baghdad against the femicide of 22-year-old YouTuber Taiba Al-Ali who was killed by her father when she returned to her home country #Iraq from #Turkey. #حق_طيبة_العلي https://t.co/cbJt3kSDc5— Nisan Ahmado (@nisan_ahmado) February 5, 2023
On 5th February 2023, a women's protest was organised in Baghdad in front of the Supreme Judicial Council. The protesters demanded an end to the killing of women and the enactment of a law to protect them against domestic violence. The protest came just days after blogger Taiba Al-Ali was strangled to death in her sleep by her father in what he confessed was an “honour killing” after Al-Ali suffered sexual harassment from her brother.
Al-Ali had previously fled Iraq for Istanbul due to her family’s failure to protect her from her brother. However, at the time of her death, she was visiting Iraq to obtain her family’s blessing ahead of her marriage. Commenting on Al-Ali’s murder, Amnesty International stated,
“Until the Iraqi authorities adopt robust legislation to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, we will inevitably continue to witness horrific murders such as that suffered by Tiba Ali, apparently at the hands of her own father.”
On 25th January 2023, thousands of citizens demonstrated in front of the Central Bank of Iraq building located on Al-Rasheed Street in the centre of the capital, Baghdad, to protest against the high exchange rate of the dollar and the rise in food prices. The value of one dollar during the past weeks exceeded 1,700 dinars, after it had been less than 1,500 dinars, which led to chaos in the Iraqi market.
In a chilling crackdown on freedom of speech, #Iraq’s Ministry of Interior has set up a Committee and a digital platform to monitor and report “indecent content” on social media.— SMEX (@SMEX) March 3, 2023
We fear this may lead to arbitrary prosecutions and self-censorship in Iraq.https://t.co/ho4DHl3LAo pic.twitter.com/Iomcwuta63
In January 2023, the Ministry of Interior set up a committee to monitor what it deems to be “indecent” social media content and refer individuals for prosecution under Penal Code articles criminalising acts of “public indecency. It also set up “Balgh” (report in Arabic), a platform where people could report social media content that “violates public morals, contains negative and indecent messages, and undermines social stability”. The committee has referred at least 16 cases for criminal investigation by judicial authorities and from complaints on the “Balgh” platform. Criminal courts have already sentenced six individuals to prison over their social media posts and are investigating another eight.
In an open letter dated 15th March 2023, Amnesty International called on the new government of Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani to break with the failures of past governments related to justice, truth and reparation and address pervasive human rights violations in Iraq. Amnesty International reported that the Prime Minister has on at least two occasions publicly committed to the protection of public freedoms and human rights. Yet less than several months since his administration took power, the ministry of interior has established new mechanisms to monitor “indecent content” on social media, which has already led to courts sentencing six people to prison for exercising their right to free speech.
In a decision issued on 26th March 2023, the Communications and Media Commission (CMC) decided to stop the broadcast and delete all previous episodes of the Al-Kasir series, which is shown on the UTV Iraqi satellite channel. The decision was based on "complaints received by members of the Parliament and tribal elders." The Iraqi Artists Syndicate said in a statement about the series itself that it "examined the Al-Kasir series, followed the first and second episodes, and found nothing in it that offends the values and traditions of the Iraqi people."
GCHR was one of the signatories to a joint statement in which the signatory organisations expressed their deep concern about the recent campaign by the Iraqi authorities to suppress “indecent content” on the Internet, a campaign that has a negative impact and restricts freedom of expression in the country.
In separate developments, on 26th March 2023, security forces arrested a political analyst, Dr Mohammad Na'na Hassan, in the Karrada area in central Baghdad. Reliable local sources confirmed to GCHR that the arrest followed a complaint filed against him by Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani who accused Dr Hassan of attacking him verbally before he assumed office.
On the morning of 17th March 2023, two people riding a motorcycle shot Dr Aqil Abdullah Al-Nassiri, a teacher at the Open Educational College, who was walking near his house in the Military neighbourhood in the city of Nasiriyah on his way to give a lecture. He later died in hospital. Dr Al-Nassiri used his Facebook page to express his personal views on what was going on in the country. On 1st December 2022, he wrote the following: "Nasiriyah where??? Nasiriyah, which fought all the corrupt ruling parties that wasted innocent blood before wealth... You simply pay the price for that war."