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Civilian Activists Under Threat in Iraq

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The outbreak of large-scale popular protests in Basra and other Iraqi cities from July 2018 has led to a wave of violent repression of civilian activists. In addition to the use of excessive force against protestors on the streets, there has in recent months been a campaign of systematic death threats and premeditated assassinations.

A wide range of civilian activists including protestors, media professionals, lawyers, women in public life and other human rights have been subjected to arbitrary detention, torture and summary killings by militias, including those affiliated to the Popular Mobilization Forces, the Iraqi Security Forces and police. Scores of activists have been killed and hundreds detained.

While the 2005 Iraqi constitution acknowledges the role of civil society and protects freedoms of expression and assembly, relevant legislation in Iraq is outdated and activists remain highly vulnerable. Official investigations announced into the deaths of activists have been seriously deficient, with perpetrators generally described as ‘unknown’. Lawyers representing activists have themselves been targeted for intimidation or attack.

The Popular Mobilization Forces were created in 2014 as an umbrella for militias fighting ISIS. One of the justifications for according official status to the PMF’s 140,000 fighters – including the Badr Organization, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq and other powerful militias – was to improve discipline and accountability. It has rather consolidated their power and enabled the constituent militias to detain and assassinate critics with impunity.

The report provides recommendations for the Government of Iraq, the United Nations, donor governments and international development agencies.

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