(Beirut) – Iraqi security forces have repeatedly beaten and violently dispersed protesters during anti-corruption demonstrations since August 2015 without any apparent justification. In some instances, unidentified men in civilian clothes abducted and beat demonstrators. Prosecutors have failed to respond to judicial complaints lodged by victims of these attacks.
“Men claiming to be intelligence officers are attacking and abducting peaceful demonstrators and prosecutors don’t investigate,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director. “Prime Minister Abadi’s endorsement of the protesters’ anti-corruption demands seems not to have reached the security forces.”
On September 18, three groups of men in civilian clothes grabbed, beat, and carried off three activists after they left a demonstration in Tahrir Square in Baghdad, all three activists told Human Rights Watch. The incidents, at about 7:30 p.m., took place between Saadoun and Abu Nuwwas Streets and in plain sight of uniformed Iraqi soldiers operating two nearby checkpoints.
The men first abducted Ali Hashim, a 37-year-old local activist. A second group beat and then dragged away Imad Taha, 50, who ran toward Hashim’s cries for help. And the third stopped and seized Dhirgham Muhsin, 28, as he went toward where he heard Taha being beaten. All three were forced into a Ford pick-up, blindfolded, and handcuffed from behind, then driven to a building a few minutes away, all three told Human Rights Watch.
Once there, they were searched and taken to separate rooms. Hashim said that a man who did not identify himself interrogated him while he was blindfolded and bound him, demanding to know whether he and his fellow protesters were members of the extremist group Islamic State, also known as ISIS, and about an alleged plot to infiltrate Baghdad’s International Zone.
The interrogator and two accomplices then repeatedly kicked Hashim and beat him on the back with plastic cables, he said, as they ordered him to tell them who was financing the demonstrations. The interrogator separately questioned Taha and Muhsin on the same topics while kicking and beating them.
After about an hour, the interrogator made all three sign a pledge not to demonstrate again and threatened to abduct, torture, and kill them if they spoke to the media. On September 19, Hashim obtained a medical report from Sheikh Zayed Emergency Hospital, documenting bruises on his back and face.
Hashim told Human Rights Watch that two days later he filed a complaint against three security officials, including Abadi as commander-in-chief, at the Saadoun police station and with the local prosecutor. He and Taha testified before Judge Anwar al-Bayati in Karada Court on October 11, who sent them back to the police station to bring witnesses. The prosecutor, who under Iraqi criminal procedure law should investigate and pursue criminal complaints, had not intervened in the matter, Taha told Human Rights Watch, and that he was not aware of any outcome of the prosecutor’s intervention.
On September 21, in Nasiriyya, the capital of the southern province of Dhi Qar, a journalist named Haqqi Karim Hadi told Human Rights Watch he was reporting in a public square for a television show about the impending Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha when two men in civilian clothes told him to stop filming. He asked them who they were and they answered, “Intelligence,” but refused to show their badges.
Then they grabbed him and his 23-year-old son Ahmad, who was the cameraman, and tried to take them away, but a police officer intervened. The police took both Haqqi and Ahmad Hadi and the two unidentified men to the police station, where the alleged intelligence officers attempted to get Haqqi and Ahmed transferred to their custody. Hadi told Human Rights Watch that after the alleged intelligence officers threatened that he and his son would remain in detention until after the holiday – almost a week – he agreed to drop a complaint against them. The police officers then told him to affix his fingerprints to a note stating that he would not sue the intelligence officers, then released them.
Sajjad Sadiq, an activist and journalist in his 20s, told Human Rights Watch that police violently dispersed a protest on September 11, in Hilla, capital of the Babylon province, demanding an end to government corruption and the resignation of Babylon’s governor, Sadiq Madlul al-Sultani. The police violently dispersed the protesters, saying, “You have no legitimate demands,” Sadiq told Human Rights Watch. The police detained two of his friends, but calls from supporters led to their release the same day. Sadiq said that he went to the hospital to get a medical report for his injuries, but the hospital administration refused to issue a report without police permission.
On September 12, Sadiq and 25 others filed a complaint against the police with the public prosecutor, but nothing has happened, Sadiq said. He said he believed the prosecutor needed more time to decide whether to start proceedings. According to Sadiq, both the governor and the police chief denied during meetings with the protesters that they gave orders to use force to disperse the protest.
In an incident in Hilla at 4 a.m. on August 23, Ahmad al-Khaiqani, a protester, told Human Rights Watch that anti-riot police stormed the square in front of the governor’s office where protesters were demanding better services and an end to corruption. The anti-riot police were accompanied by masked assailants wearing military uniforms, who beat the demonstrators, al-Khaiqani said. Throughout the previous day, the demonstrators had shared food and water with the police, calling them “our brothers,” al-Khaiqani said.
Husain Karim Abd al-Kazhim, a young lawyer who was also there, said that a large number of security forces stormed the square without warning and blocked two roads, encircling the fleeing protesters. The security forces beat the protesters with truncheons and shocked them with electric tasers, said al-Kazhim, who received an electric shock himself.
The following day, 60 injured demonstrators filed a complaint with the public prosecutor against the governor and the heads of the security force branches, which included the anti-riot forces, the local police, and the national security forces, al-Kazhim said. Judge Abbas al-Dulaimi of the Hilla Investigative Court issued an arrest warrant for the provincial governor, Sadiq Madlul al-Sultani, but then released al-Sultani on a bail of several thousand United States dollars, al-Kazhim said. Those who filed the complaint understand that the prosecutor has taken no further action to investigate further or file any charges against those named in the complaint.
Instead, the prosecutor then opened a criminal investigation against the protesters for resisting arrest and destroying public property and vehicles valued at over $1 million, al-Kazhim said. According to al-Kazhim and al-Khaiqani, the protesters did not damage property and only defended themselves once attacked. Al-Kazhim said that a judicial source informed him that the protesters’ lawsuit against the governor and security heads had not resulted in any criminal investigation due to “political pressure.”
“Upholding the law and pursuing those who break it are the essential duties of a prosecutor,” Stork said. “Yet Iraq’s prosecutors have not responded to repeated complaints about security forces, or those acting as such, violently dispersing protests or abducting protesters without any apparent justification.”