Iraq: Killing and kidnapping of Human Rights Defenders engaged in popular protest (joint communication)

On 12 August 2021, I wrote a letter jointly with other UN experts regarding the killing, kidnapping, alleged arbitrary arrest and detention, and threatening of human rights
defenders, civil society activists, lawyers and journalists in the context of popular demonstrations in Iraq.

ALLEGATIONS

On 15 April 2021, Mr. Hassan Ashour , an independent civil society activist, engaged in the popular demonstrations taking place in Iraq since 2019, was shot in front of his house in Dhi Qar province by unidentified individuals. He died immediately after being transferred to the hospital. Prior to his killing, Mr. Ashour had reportedly been threatened by unidentified armed elements in connection to his denouncement of attacks, including assassinations and assaults, of peaceful protesters in the country.

On 8 May 2021, Mr. Ihab Jawad Al- Wazni , a civil society activist and head of the Karbala Coordination for the Civil Movement, a group involved in the organisation of protests in Karbala, was shot and killed in front of his house in the city by unidentified men riding a motorbike. Eighteen months previously, on 8 December 2019, Mr. Fahim Al- Tai , a colleague of Mr. Al- Wazni’s at the Karbala Coordination for Civil Movement, was also shot and killed in Karbala, when he was attacked by two masked men riding motorcycles and carrying silenced weapons. As with Mr. Al- Wazni, Mr. Al- Tai had announced threats he had received from unidentified armed elements prior to his killing. As of the finalizing of this communication, while investigations had reportedly been carried out in at least one of the cases, leading to an arrest of one individual ho was later released, no prosecutions for these killings had been achieved.

Concerning the abduction and alleged arbitrary arrest, detention and charging of human rights defenders

On 1 April 2021, Mr. Haider Khashan , a civil society activist who had been peacefully participating in demonstrations denouncing corruption in the Al- Muthanna Governorate and calling for the resignation of the Governor, was abducted by unknown gunmen in Samawa City. He was released a few hours after his kidnapping and immediately reported the incident to the police. During his abduction, Mr. Khashan ’ s kidnappers threatened to kill him if he continued to participate in demonstrations.

On 6 April 2021, Mr. Hussain Dakhel , a civil society activist, was arrested by police in Karbala after holding up a poster referring to the courage of peaceful demonstrators in the Dhi Qar Governorate. He was released the following day, after demonstrations in the Dhi Qar Governorate against his arrest.

On 25 April 2021, Mr. Hassan Maharj Al- Toufan, a human rights lawyer active in the use of social media to highlight alleged corruption within the Babylon Governorate, was sentenced by the Babylon Governorate Criminal Court to two years in prison on charges of “ insulting the states and the courts ”, under article 226 of the Iraqi Penal Code. On 31 May 2021, this sentence was overturned by the Federal Court of Cassation, and Mr. Al- Toufan released on 2 June 2021.

On 2 May 2021, Mr. Abbas Al- Rafi’i , a journalist, poet and civil society activist who has covered demonstrations in Iraq as a reporter, was abducted by unidentified armed elements in Karbala, allegedly in connection with his reporting work. He was released on 6 May 2021.

CONCERNS

In the communication we expressed fear that the killings of Messrs. Ashour, Al-Wazni and Al- Tai may have been planned attacks aimed at silencing civil society activists engaged in peaceful demonstrations in the country. We expressed concern that there appears to be immunity for those killings, which may fuel further attacks.

The alleged abductions of Messrs. Khashan and Al- Rafi’i also appear to be linked to their engagement with demonstrations in the country. Our concerns in this regard are deepened by the apparent failure of the State to successfully investigate any such acts which have been carried out against civil society activists in the country and to bring perpetrators to justice since the demonstrations began, as recently reported by UNAMI.

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