On February 15, Iraqi authorities detained at least four men, with alleged ties to a unit within the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF or Hashad, formally under the control of the prime minister) who are alleged to have killed at least four protesters in the southern city of Basra in January 2020. One of the detained men holds a senior police position. These arrests represent an important step in government efforts to fulfill its promise to hold accountable those who have abused or killed protesters, but authorities should take swift action to carry out further arrests of abusive forces where there is evidence that they are linked to recent attacks, Human Rights Watch said today.
“These arrests in Basra may represent a real change in the government’s willingness to hold its own forces accountable for perpetrating serious crimes and will help deter such abuses in the future,” said Belkis Wille, senior crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The government should also ensure that the trials of the men are fair and devoid of any political influence.”
Protests broke out in south and central Iraq in October 2019, with violence and excessive force killing at least 487 protesters and wounding thousands more. At the same time, a range of armed forces targeted protesters with harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrests, and enforced disappearances. In May 2020, then-newly appointed Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi announced the creation of a committee to investigate killings and other attacks on protesters but until now no information has been made public about the work or findings of the committee.
On February 15, al-Kadhimi announced on Twitter that “The death squad that terrorized our people in Basra, and killed innocents, are now in the hands of our heroic forces, on their way to a fair trial.” On the same day, a local media outlet publicized the names of four men detained for their alleged role in this death squad linked to the PMF Hezbollah Brigades with potential ties to another PMF unit as well. According to other media coverage, authorities arrested them for their roles in the killings of Jinan Madi, a paramedic who had been treating wounded protesters at demonstrations when she was killed, Ahmed Abdessamad, 37, a journalist, and his cameraman Safaa Ghali, 26, who had been covering the protests for Dijlah, a privately owned local station, and Mojtaba Ahmed al-Skini, 14, a protester. A source close to the government said that authorities had identified 16 men implicated in the killings, but most had already fled the country.