13 dead, hundreds injured and detained in widespread protests

Peaceful assembly

In July 2018, protesters in Iraq were met with lethal force by the authorities during a series of protests, according to the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and other sources.

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.”

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. 

Expression

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."

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.”