Iraq unrest: Residents face arrest for promoting protest solidarity on social media


Authorities in Iraq’s Anbar governorate are suppressing the right of residents who show support for demonstrations elsewhere in the country. Two men have already been arrested, another has been questioned by police and a fourth one was sent into hiding, Human Rights Watch reported on November 04.

Since October 25, the authorities throughout Iraq have detained hundreds of protesters at or after demonstrations, but the Anbar arrests stand out in that authorities arrested the men merely for showing their support over social media.

Protests started in Baghdad and southern cities on October 01, demanding improved services and more action to curb corruption. Security forces used lethal force against protesters during the first wave of demonstrations from October 01 to 09, and again starting on October 25.

Eight Anbar residents told Human Rights Watch that Anbaris did not intend to hold protests there, concerned that authorities would not allow them given the recent history of ISIS taking control over much of the governorate.

A Facebook post from the Anbar Police Command on October 24 reinforced their concern. It said that, “Anbar governorate calls upon its citizens to head to work and continue with construction, preserving security, supporting security forces, and benefiting from past lessons, from which the province has only gotten destruction, killings, and displacement.”

One man told Human Rights Watch he had so badly wanted to engage in the social movement that he had relocated to Baghdad. But he and others who spoke with Human Rights Watch said they read this post by the Anbar police as an implicit threat that authorities in Anbar would not tolerate any protests.

“Despite years of terrible conflict, many Iraqis have felt free to speak out on political issues,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “But these cases mark a disturbing change, if you contrast these men’s entirely peaceful political statements with the completely inappropriate response by the Anbar authorities.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed the families of two men whom security forces detained after they posted messages of solidarity with the protest movement.

On October 26, Sameer Rashed Mahmoud, a 27-year-old man, posted on Facebook that students and government employees should strike to support fellow Iraqis participating in protests elsewhere in the country. About an hour and a half later, counter-terrorism officers arrived at his home and detained him. They told his family they were arresting him for his Facebook post, which they said was inciting people to protest.

A second case involves a 25-year-old man who, a relative said, added a frame around his Facebook profile on the evening of October 26 to show solidarity with the protests. Four hours later, five police cars arrived at his house and officers arrested him. “Authorities held the man incommunicado until October 31, and then released him without charge.

A third man said that after he posted on Facebook support for a strike in solidarity with the protests, several security officers questioned his colleagues about him and then questioned him, but let him go.

Another man said that on October 25, he had posted several times on Facebook in support of the protest movement. On October 26, a friend who is a policeman called and said the police had issued an arrest warrant in his name because of his posts. He fled his home and is in hiding. (Source: HRW)