A wave of demonstrations swept across central and southern Iraq, the heartland of the country’s Shiite majority, this week, the human rights group Amnesty International reported on Friday.
The protesters were demanding jobs, electricity, water, and punishment for politicians who fatten their bottom line by stealing lucrative oil profits while families struggle to make ends meet.
The Independent, echoing other news outlets, deemed the protesters in Iraq that started on July 8 the “biggest and most prolonged in a country where anti-government action has usually taken the form of armed insurgency.”’
On Wednesday, Al-Arabiya news reported of the protests:
The Iraqi central government is seeking to contain protests against unemployment and a lack of basic services which broke out in July, 8, in Southern Iraq, with the number of victims, killed reaching eight while 60 others were injured, according to Iraqi health officials who said that the protests were marred by riots.
On the other hand, though the Iraqi government believes that the people’s demands are legitimate, it nevertheless considered the protests as being orchestrated.
In southern Iraq, authorities shut off the internet while security forces used live ammunition and tear gas against people demonstrating about unemployment.
“They cut off the internet so they can beat us,” anonymous protesters told Amnesty International, which notes:
Amnesty International has learned that the Iraqi authorities have disabled internet access shortly before the security forces have attacked – and in some cases killed – people protesting over unemployment and inadequate government services across the south of the country.
In the past week, witnesses in Basra governorate have reported to Amnesty that security forces have been using tear gas and live ammunition against peaceful protesters. At least eight people are reported to have died in the protests so far, according to the Iraqi Health Ministry. Witnesses also reported peaceful protesters being beaten with batons, cables and plastic hoses in violent attempts to disperse them.
Trusted sources have told Amnesty they believe Internet access is being deliberately cut off to prevent protesters and human rights activists from disseminating images of the excessive force at the hands of the Iraqi security forces.
“When there is no Internet, people are being beaten and killed because we can’t upload it. Iraqis now know the value of social media. We need it to raise our voice,” one source told Amnesty in Baghdad.
The Iraqi SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) forces had confronted demonstrators recently and fired at protesters before chasing and beating them.
An anonymous 21-year-old man from al-Zubeir explained:
They wanted to beat everyone and left no-one without injury. One person was shot in the leg and I saw one person bleeding from his eye. As we retreated, one of them [SWAT] grabbed me and one beat me. When I struggled away, he threw the baton at me and broke my arm. They cut off the internet so they can beat us.
A victim of the beatings in Baghdad told Amnesty: “This is now about more than water and electricity – they are breaking us. They are insulting us. Is there anything worse than being taken, beaten and broken, and thrown on the street? We did not call for violence. We are peaceful.”
According to the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, clashes have left an estimated 274 Iraqi security forces injured in the protests, Amnesty revealed.
Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s the Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director, said:
Deliberately disabling the internet is a sinister restriction to the right to freedom of expression and strongly indicates that the authorities have something to hide. We are closely monitoring the escalating situation across southern Iraq and are extremely worried by reports that security forces are beating, arbitrarily detaining and even opening fire on peaceful protesters.
The Iraqi authorities must immediately put an end to the torture and other ill-treatment that has included beatings, harassment, and intimidation of peaceful protesters by security forces and carry out prompt, independent and impartial investigations to bring all those responsible to justice.
Following their arrest, some protesters were forced into a car blindfolded and driven to an unknown location where they were beaten, tasered, and interrogated about those who had sparked the protests and asked about their potential affiliation with a terrorist group.
“They were later forced to sign papers without being told what they contained, and then released,” Amnesty declared.