GICJ calls for independent investigations on cases of abduction of journalists and human rights defenders in Iraq
On 2 June 2017, Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) addressed a letter to the High Commissioner for Human Rights to call the attention on new evidence of the violent actions of the Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi militias in Iraq and of the closure of democratic space in the country. In its letter to the High Commissioner number 11 of 20 February 2017, GICJ had reported on cases of violence used against peaceful protestors and on the kidnapping of activists, journalists and demonstrators. The information provided clearly displayed the tendency of the Iraqi government and armed groups to shut democratic space and to hinder the citizens’ basic freedoms.
The video GICJ attached to the letter shows Mr. Qais Al Khazali. leader of Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), one of the main component of Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi militias, confirming that the armed groups are responsible for the kidnapping of Mrs. Afrah Shawqi al-Qaisi, Iraqi journalist, occurred on Monday 26 December 2016 as well as for the abduction of seven other human rights defenders in May 2017.
As GICJ explained in its previous letter, Mrs. al-Qaisi, journalist employed by a Pan-Arab newspaper based in London, and prominent critic of Iraq’s endemic corruption and government mismanagement was kidnapped from her house, where she lives with her two children by eight armed men disguised as security officers. The attack took place few days after Mrs. al-Qaisi had expressed “anger that armed groups could act with impunity”. She was released on 3 January 2017.
Between 1 to 2 am on 8 May 2017, seven human rights activists – some of them were students – were kidnapped from their apartments in Al-Batween area in Baghdad after they participated in the demonstration that had taken place the day before. The seven were released few days later.
In the video attached to the letter, Mr. Al Khazali explained that the journalist and the activists were kidnapped for writing articles against the militias, their leaders, and their “holy” activities in the media. From his way of explaining the facts, it is obvious that the abductions were act of intimidation against anyone who might criticize Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi.
GICJ believes that the words of Mr. Al Khazali are a further demonstration of the violent closure of democratic space in Iraq. In fact, despite frequent reports of cases of abuses and repression, the Iraqi government continues to severely infringe on its citizens’ fundamental rights, including freedom of expression and association, and to allow the al-Hashd al-Shaabi militias to threaten and commit violent actions against civilians, while enjoying total impunity.
Therefore, as the Iraqi government has proved unable – or unwilling – to ensure protection and to respect the fundamental rights of its citizens, GICJ reiterated its call for independent investigations and willed the High Commissioner to do all in its mandate to ensure that Iraq respects its international commitments and allows democratic debate. The climate of impunity surrounding the illegal practices – including attacks against civilian properties and abduction of journalists and human rights defenders – perpetrated by governmental forces must end, and victims of the government’s excessive use of violence should be provided with adequate redress and reparation.
Links to GICJ articles on Iraq: