The Iraqi Government Must Not Arrest Nonviolent Human Rights Defenders in Baghdad
Baghdad, 13 December (first posted)
UPDATE: 21 December 2019
Omar and Salman have been released on bail provided by family members. We would like to express an enormous thank you to those who contributed to their release, especially to the Iraqi judiciary, the Human Rights Committee of the Bar Association, the UNAMI Human Rights Office, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Mr. Michael Forrest, Amnesty International, Front Line Defenders, International Federation For Human Rights (FIDH), International Rivers, The Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative (ICSSI), Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Iraqi Network for Social Media (INSM), Metro Center for Journalists’ Rights and Advocacy, PEN Center in Iraq, World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), Save The Tigris Campaign, Sports Against Violence, and the Information Center. A big thank you also to all the Iraqi activists who contributed to publicizing their peaceful activities by sharing the news through the media and through organizing demonstrations, especially in Baghdad, Nasiriyah and Basra.
We call on the Iraqi government, especially the Baghdad Operations Command, to release all activists currently detained in Al-Muthanna Airport Prison because of their participation in civil and nonviolent activity in the recent protests. Most crucially, we call on them to stop the kidnappings, arrests, and threats to female and male activists.
We call on the Iraqi judiciary to drop all charges against Salman, Omar and all civil activists who have been arrested for their human rights activities or their cooperation with European or international human rights organizations. Iraq is party to binding human rights agreements and should collaborate with international community to promote human rights; it should not for criminalize the work of human rights defenders.
An Urgent Call for the Immediate Release of Omar and Salman
Salman Kairallah Al-Mansoori and Omar Kadhem Al-Amri, two Iraqi activists for human and environmental rights, have disappeared in Baghdad. They have not been heard from since Wednesday, 11 December, and to date their location and condition are unknown.
The time of their disappearance is best approximated at 12pm when they failed to answer the calls from their colleagues, friends and family. The last contact with them was at 11:30am, when they confirmed that they were still on Al-Nawab Street in the Al-Kadhimiya area, where they had gone early in the morning to buy tents for Tahrir Square. They have answered no calls since then, and their phones were turned off at 15:30. According to unofficial sources, they were likely been stopped by the Iraqi police for their peaceful support of the nonviolent demonstrations which continue in Tahrir Square.
We are now almost sure that they have been arrested by the government and not the militias. Lawyers from the Committee on Human Rights of the Iraqi Bar Association in Baghdad (the Official Union of Iraqi Lawyers) have checked into their whereabouts and suggest that they may be in a detention center in the old airport, “Muthanna”, in Baghdad. Lawyers say that the Iraqi government has filed a case against them, accusing them of being “terrorists” and of having relations with “foreign governments”. Omar and Salman are not the only human rights defenders that are now being detained in this center, nor are they the only ones to have been targeted with this kind of threat and accusation.
Salman was among other HRDs recognized by the UN mission in Iraq (UNAMI), just one day before he disappeared.
Many international and local human rights and environmental organisations have issued formal statements calling on the Iraqi government to release both men immediately, including: Amnesty International, Front Line Defenders, International Federation For Human Rights (FIDH), International Rivers, The Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative (ICSSI), Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Iraqi Network for Social Media (INSM), Metro Center for Journalists’ Rights and Advocacy, PEN Center in Iraq, World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), Save The Tigris Campaign, Sports Against Violence, and the Information Center,.
The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Michel Forst, has expressed concern and has asked to have this case investigated.
On Friday, 13 December, the families of Salman and Omer went to the detention center and asked to see their sons, or at least get confirmation that they are there and have been formally arrested, by the government, which takes responsibility for holding them in the center. Unfortunately they could not see them or get any official confirmation about their condition.
We believe there is no legitimate reason for these two men to have been arrested.
Salman and Omar are peaceful people, known for their sincerity and kindness. Salman is a young environmental activist of the Iraqi NGO, Humat Dijlah. He has struggled tirelessly to protect the waters and rivers of Iraq. He has worked on water and the environment since the age of 16, raising public awareness about environmental issues in Iraq, in particular the Iraqi Marshes. Omar Kadhem is a young human rights defender who focuses on economic and social rights. He is also one of the organizers of the Baghdad Marathon for Peace. Youth activists such as these should not be threatened. Both engaged peacefully in the demonstrations.
We consider Salman and Omar to be prisoners of conscience, held for the peaceful expression of their views. We call for their immediate and safe release; we call for their captors to refrain from any ill-treatment.
Please share this call widely. Human rights defenders like Omer and Salman did, and still do, represent a real guarantee for the continuation of the peaceful nature of the Iraqi protests, for nonviolent action to protect the environment, support human rights and ensure lasting democratic reform.