Security forces fire on protesters in Baghdad and journalist killed in Mosul

Peaceful Assembly

On 11th February 2017, violence broke out during protests in Tahrir Square, Baghdad, where demonstrators loyal to the influential cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, had gathered to demand an overhaul of the commission overseeing the local elections scheduled for this year. The Iraqi security forces used tear gas and rubber-coated bullets to disperse the crowds. As a result, eight protesters and a police officer were killed, and 281 injured. The government later claimed that infiltrators had instigated the violence. In turn, protesters posted photos and videos on social media as evidence of the state security officers' aggression during the demonstration.

On 4th March 2017, security forces and local police arrested 32 unarmed protesters at a peaceful demonstration in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan. According to local sources, demonstrators were protesting over recent clashes in Sinjar. As reported by Human Rights Watch, 23 of the detainees were released that same day and three more within four days, but six, all foreign nationals, were still being held almost two weeks later. The authorities did not provide any justification for the arrests or information on whether there were official charges made against the remaining detainees.

According to Human Rights Watch Middle East Deputy Director, Lama Fakih,

“KRG authorities appear to be detaining protesters for no good reason. [...] They are also using threats and retaliation to discourage future protests, undermining freedom of expression and assembly in the Kurdish region”.

Law No.11/2010 for the Organization of Demonstrations in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq requires individuals or groups to obtain permission from the authorities to hold a demonstration. Permission was not granted for the 4th March peaceful protest. However, international standards protect a person's right to freedom of assembly, with only minimal restrictions. 

Expression

On 25th February 2017,well-known journalist Shifa Zikri Ibrahim, also known as Shifa Gardi, was killed by a roadside bomb while reporting on the Iraqi Army's offensive against the Islamic State in western Mosul. Gardi was a reporter and anchor for the Kurdish TV station, Rudaw. A cameraman for the same network, Younis Mustafa, was also injured in the bombing. The Committee to Protect Journalist responded to the journalist's tragic death with urgent warnings to other correspondents to take greater precautions and protect themselves against the possible use of chemical and other weapons while reporting on the assault in Mosul.

According to a report by the Iraqi Civil Society Initiative on 4th February 2017, in 2016 there were widespread violations of the right to freedom of expression. The Initiative documented numerous cases of journalists being intimidated, threatened and even killed. The authorities closed down TV stations and various media outlets were attacked.

Between 1st and 6th February 2017, the authorities shut down access to the Internet, presumably to prevent cheating during state exams. This is the third year in a row that the the Internet has been cut off during state exams.