Iraq: Protests being crushed by security forces - new report

‘He said if you don’t stop your political opposition activities we will kidnap you, rape you and videotape the rape’ - Fatima Ahmed, an opposition activist threatened in Erbil

The Iraqi authorities must stop attacks on peaceful protesters calling for an end to unemployment, poor services, and corruption and demanding political reforms, Amnesty International said today (12 April) in a new report.

The 24-page report - Days of Rage: Protests and Repression in Iraq - documents how Iraqi and Kurdish forces have shot and killed protesters, including three teenage boys, and threatened, detained and tortured political activists, as well as targeting journalists covering the protests.

Protests first erupted in mid-2010 over the federal government’s failure to provide basic services such as water and electricity. The Iraqi and Kurdistan Regional Governments responded by issuing regulations effectively giving the authorities unlimited jurisdiction over who can demonstrate. The popular protest movements in Tunisia and Egypt earlier this year encouraged Iraqis to defy the new restrictions and protests reached their height on the 25 February  “Day of Rage”, when tens of thousands of demonstrators marched in cities across Iraq, including the Kurdistan region.
Incidents detailed in the report include:

  • On 16 February: a teenage boy was among those killed in the city of Kut, south-east of Baghdad, during initially peaceful protests advocating better basic services, including electricity and water supplies. 
  • On 17 February: organisers obtained authorisation for a protest in Sulaimaniya’s Sara Square in Kurdistan, now referred to by protesters as Azady “Freedom Square.” Live ammunition was fired at protesters, and a 15-year-old boy, Rezhwan Ali, was shot in the head and died instantly.
  • On 25 February: armed forces raided the Baghdad office of the TV station Al-Diyar, preventing further broadcasts of the “Day of Rage” demonstration. At least seven staff members were arrested. The same day in Kerbala, Reuters correspondent Mushtaq Muhammad was hospitalised with serious head injuries after security forces beat him with batons, and in Mosul, Ahmed Hiyali of Radio Sawa was beaten by police and prevented from covering the demonstration
  • In Mosul: five people have reportedly been shot dead. One of them was Mu’ataz Muwafaq Waissi, married with one child, reportedly shot in the head by a sniper.
  • In the Kurdistan region: at least six people have died as a result of excessive force by the Kurdish security forces.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Director Malcolm Smart said:

'Eight years on from the end of Saddam Hussain’s long and grossly oppressive rule, it is high time that Iraqis are allowed to exercise their rights to peaceful protest and expression free from violence at the hands of government security forces.

'The Iraqi authorities must end the use of intimidation and violence against those Iraqis peacefully calling for political and economic reforms. The authorities in both Baghdad and the Kurdistan region must cease their violent crackdowns.

'The governments in Baghdad and the Kurdistan region must take control of their security forces, investigate their use of excessive force, and the killings and injuries that this has caused, as well as the torture and other ill-treatment of protesters, and hold those responsible to account.'

On 30 March Iraqi authorities in Baghdad announced that their security forces were under orders not to use firearms against demonstrators except for self defence. Yet only days later security forces used live fire against Iranian residents of Camp Ashraf, north of Baghdad - at least 30 are said to have been killed and many others injured.

  • Download a copy of the report (pdf)

Background
An Amnesty International fact-finding team visited the Kurdistan region of Iraq from 5-15 March 2011 to obtain first-hand information on recent human rights violations, especially in relation to pro-democracy demonstrations. Based mainly in Erbil and Sulaimaniya, the Amnesty team collected testimonies from victims and witnesses. They also met pro-democracy activists, human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and officials of the Kurdistan Regional Government, as well as activists from elsewhere in Iraq.

View latest press releases