Iraq: Amnesty International Urges Iraqi Authorites to End Attacks on Protesters and Threats Against Government Critics

Press Release
April 12, 2011

Iraq: Amnesty International Urges Iraqi Authorites to End Attacks on Protesters and Threats Against Government Critics

Amnesty International
Press Release Release
Monday, April 11, 2001

Amnesty International Urges Iraqi Authorites to End Attacks on Protesters and Threats Against Government Critics

New Report Says Journalists, Academics, Students and Others are Being Targeted in Iraq and Kurdistan Region

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, 212-633-4150, strimel@aiusa.org

(New York) – Iraqi authorities are threatening, harrassing and intimidating government critics, journalists, academics, protest organizers and others who are speaking out against chronic lack of services, widespread unemployment, human rights abuses and corruption, Amnesty International said in a report issued today.

Days of Rage: Protests and Repression in Iraq documents the killings of pro-democracy protesters by Iraqi and Kurdish forces, including three teenage boys, and the torture, harassment and threats against political activists, as well as journalists covering the protests.

Sixteen news organizations have been attacked, according to the report, which provides details about disturbing threats and harassment of critics, students, academics, journalists and protest organizers who are being targeted for speaking out against the country’s massive problems.

Tens of thousands of Iraqis have participated in protests across the country since February. The demonstrations have been violently repressed and organizers jailed, tortured and beaten. Protests reached their height on the “Day of Rage,” February 25, when tens of thousands of demonstrators marched in cities across Iraq, including the Kurdistan region.

Oday Alzaidy, an activist who organized a large demonstration on Feb. 13 in Baghdad said he was tortured for five days after being picked up and detained by armed forces. “They came to me every day and they attacked me with beatings and gave me electric shocks,” he said. Undeterred after being hospitalized for several days, he participated in the “Days of Rage” demonstration in Baghdad. Picked up again and held again for several days, he was severely beaten in a police building.

Fatima Ahmed, 42, a political opposition activist, told Amnesty International she has been threatened and harassed because of her activities in the Kurdistan region. She was threatened with kidnapping and rape by armed men who told her: “You will shut up and you will be begging us.” She is staying with a friend and her husband and children have relocated out of fear.

Sixteen independent or opposition news organizations have been attacked, including the Nalya Radio and Television Station, which was set ablaze by 50 armed men in February. Journalists have been receiving threats by phone and text message. In Erbil in the Kurdistan region, Hejar Anwar Joher, a correspondent for KNN, a Goran television satellite channel, after reporting on Amnesty International’s work in Iraq on March 9, was threatened via a text message sent to his brother’s mobile phone. “I know you well; you must advise Hejar to stop all ararchical activities ... otherwise the outcome will be disastrous,” the text read.

“The Iraqi authorities must end the use of intimidation and violence against those Iraqis peacefully calling for political and economic reforms,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“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 authorities in both Baghdad and the Kurdistan region must cease their violent crackdowns.”

Amnesty International has acquired video evidence showing that security forces used excessive force in protests on a number of occasions, firing live ammunition that reportedly killed several protesters.

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.

But the popular protest movements in Tunisia and Egypt in early 2011 encouraged Iraqis to defy the new restrictions.

On February 16, 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 February 17, organizers obtained authorization for a protest in Sulaimaniya’s Sara Square, 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.

Protests reached their height on the “Day of Rage,” February 25, when tens of thousands of demonstrators marched in cities across Iraq, including the Kurdistan region.

On March 30, 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.

“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,” said Malcolm Smart.

“The way to begin defusing tensions across the country and restore public confidence is to deliver truth and justice, and to make reparation to those whose rights have been violated.”

Notes to Editors

An Amnesty International fact-finding team visited the Kurdistan region of Iraq from March 5-15 to investigate recent human rights violations, especially in relation to pro-democracy demonstrations. Based mainly in Erbil and Sulaimaniya, the Amnesty International 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 (KRG), as well as activists from elsewhere in Iraq.