Iraq: tomorrow's protests against MPs' pensions should be allowed to go ahead

Ahead of planned country-wide protests across Iraq tomorrow over Iraqi MPs’ pension payments, Amnesty International has called on the Iraqi authorities to respect and protect protesters’ rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.

Demonstrators are intending to gather in several locations in Iraq tomorrow to protest at regulations that grant Iraqi MPs high pensions - even after only a few years of service. In light of economic difficulties faced by many Iraqis, the generous parliamentary pension scheme has drawn widespread criticism.  

On 18 and 20 August organisers of the demonstration applied for permission with the Office of the Governor of Baghdad and the Ministry of Interior, respectively. Their requests were refused. Since then Iraqi authorities, including the Ministry of Interior and the General Prosecutor, have called for the demonstration in Baghdad to be postponed due to security concerns. However, protesters plan to go ahead with the demonstration.

In several provinces outside Baghdad, including Babel and Diyala, the authorities have reportedly granted permission for demonstrations to be held this weekend. Yesterday the Iraqi Bar Association held demonstrations against the MPs’ pension scheme in several of its branches, including outside its head office in Baghdad.

In general, the Iraqi authorities have appeared determined to stop large demonstrations taking place in central Baghdad since anti-government protests erupted across the Middle East and North Africa in 2011.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:

“People in Iraq have the right to express their views freely and to protest peacefully without the threat of violence.

“Rather than preventing peaceful assemblies, the government should be taking steps to ensure people can exercise their right to protest in safety and security.

“Ongoing violence in the country must not be used as a pretext for continuing a blanket ban on peaceful anti-government demonstrations in central Baghdad or any other public spaces, anywhere in the country.”

Hundreds of people continue to be killed every month in violent attacks by armed groups across Iraq. On 28 August scores of civilians were killed in a wave of bomb attacks targeting Shi’a neighbourhoods of Baghdad.

Suppression of protests in Baghdad:
At the end of last year, tens of thousands of Iraqi opposition activists took to the streets, mainly in provinces with a Sunni majority, to demonstrate at violations of detainees’ rights. However, the authorities prevented any such protests taking place in central Baghdad.

Earlier this month (2 August) more than 100 people attempted to demonstrate against corruption and violence at Tahrir Square in Baghdad. Thirteen were arrested by security forces. Several detained protesters later reported being beaten in custody. Amnesty has seen images purporting to show bruises sustained during these beatings.

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