A Letter to His Holiness: Intervention to Advocate for Targeted Activists and Protestors as well as the Forcibly Disappeared in Iraq
We, the undersigned, are addressing Your Holiness to request that you support Iraqi activists, protestors, and the forcibly disappeared during your visit to Iraq. We are calling on your vast wisdom to be a voice for those groups, and advocate for bettering their conditions with government and community leaders during your upcoming visit to Iraq.
In the context of the popular protest movement that began in the fall of 2019, many activists and protestors have been subject to a violent crackdown from both state and non-state forces. Human rights organizations have documented over six hundred protestors killed as well as assassination attempts that have targeted a number of activists. The use of disproportionate force by security forces has affected Iraqi activists and protestors of all stripes, including religious minorities. On August 17, 2020, Christian women’s rights and climate activist Lodya Remon Albarti was subject to an assassination attempt in Basra. While she survived the attack, she sustained injuries and has been forced to relocate after receiving a series of death threats waged by militants. This attack took place only days after a series of assassinations that claimed the lives of activists Tahseen Osama and Reham Yaqoub in Basra. Assassinations have not stopped since.
Civil rights organizations have also been documenting an alarming rise in forced disappearances throughout Iraq, for which both state and non-state groups have been deemed responsible. Activists, journalists, and academics have been kidnapped. While some have been released, many remain missing in Iraq’s state and secret prisons where torture is common practice; a number of which are located in Nineveh governorate which Your Holiness will be visiting.
Among those forcibly disappeared is Abd al-Masih Romeo Sarkees, a young Chaldean man who was taken by armed men in March 2020 and has been missing since. His absence from prison registries restricts all legal action to have him released. Similar cases of enforced disappearances have taken place across the country, including in Meysan, where lawyer Ali Jaseb Hattab was kidnapped by an armed group in October 2019 and whose whereabouts remain unknown.
Fewer than 19 km away from the Great Ziggurat of Ur, which Your Holiness will visit, is the city of Nasiriyah. Since October 2019, this city has experienced consistent, violent attacks against protestors. In September 2020, activist Sajjad al-Iraqi was kidnapped by known militants. Although Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi deployed forces and made promises to retrieve him, no outcome has materialized. Protests continue in Nasiriyah, demanding Al-Iraqi’s release and accountability, but are met with more violence from both state and non-state forces. On February 26, 2021, riot police killed around ten peaceful activists, including a sixteen-year-old, and injured over 250. State forces have since killed more protestors in Najaf who had demonstrated in solidarity with Nasiriyah.
The Kurdish Region of Iraq has witnessed a similar crackdown on protestors, journalists, and activists, including children protesting their fathers’ arrests. In December 2020, Kurdish security forces killed at least six protestors and arrested 400. Not only are many of those arrested forcibly disappeared, but assassinations continue to target activists such as Hawrê Kurdî, who was killed on January 19, 2021. In addition, on February 16, 2021, a Kurdish court unjustly sentenced five activists and journalists to six years in prison for covering the protests in the North and documenting violations against them. In a dangerous move that further threatens free speech and human rights, the Kurdish Regional Government’s Prime Minister Masrour Barzani accused journalists and activists arrested in Duhok and Erbil governorates of being spies without evidence to corroborate his claims. Since then, more arrests have been ordered against activists and journalists.
Accountability is notably absent, and violence continues to be practiced against activists and journalists. We have previously addressed the President and PM on the issue of enforced disappearances, calling for an investigation into the whereabouts of the disappeared, accountability of those responsible for these violations, and reparations for all those victimized.
We address Your Holiness as a guarantor of timeless teachings of love, compassion, and peaceful coexistence and as an influential, non-partisan voice of reason. Your Holiness’ voice can help bring attention to the plight of Iraqis seeking basic freedoms and security.
We thank you for your understanding and support.
List of signatories:
Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy
MENA Rights Group
Hammurabi Human Rights Organization
Iraqi Al-Amal Association
PFO Peace and Freedom Organization
Team Tweet With Good Human
Iraqi Human Rights Defenders and Activists forum
Benaa Foundation for Training and Development
Al-Haq Foundation for Human Rights
Abbr Center for Rights and Freedoms
Advocates to Promote Human Rights Team
Nakdar Volunteer Team
Babylon Center for Women
Baghdad Organization for Mental Health
Women Human Rights Defenders Coalition
Awareness Center for Human Development
Together Organization for Human Rights
Iraqi war crimes documentation center