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Iraqi government 'disabled internet during protests to cover-up abuses'

Protests erupted in oil-rich Basra on 8 July and have quickly spread. [Getty]

Date of publication: 20 July, 2018

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Protesters in Iraq have accused authorities of deliberately cutting internet access before security forces attack and open fire on them to prevent demonstrators sharing footage of abuses online.

Protesters in southern Iraq and Baghdad have accused authorities of deliberately cutting internet access before security forces attack and open fire on them to prevent demonstrators sharing footage of abuses online.

Protests erupted in oil-rich Basra on 8 July and have quickly spread, as people have vented their anger over unemployment, high prices, power cuts and a lack of usable water.

For more than a week protesters have taken to the streets, questioning how a country that is the second largest producer in the OPEC oil cartel can leave its 38 million citizens so bereft of basic services.  

At least nine people have been killed, with hundreds more wounded.

The internet was reportedly cut late on Thursday 12 July and signal remains weak across the country with several social media platforms still blocked.

Local sources told Amnesty International that they believe internet access is being cut off to prevent them sharing footage and pictures of the excessive and unnecessary force used by security forces, including the use of live ammunition, in cities in the southern governorates of the country, especially Basra.

"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," said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International's Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

"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," Maalouf added

"We fear this blackout is deliberately designed to give carte blanche to the security forces to repress peaceful activists without being recorded and held accountable."

Witnesses have reported peaceful protesters being beaten with batons, cables and plastic hoses in attempts to disperse them.

A source in Baghdad told Amnesty International: "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."

In one case on 16 July, two protesters were arrested as they were leaving demonstrations in Baghdad by armed men in civilian close claiming to be "from the authorities". 

They were dragged into a car, blindfolded, and taken to an unknown location where they were beaten, tasered and interrogated about who had organised the protests, Amnesty said.

The individuals were then forced to sign papers without being told what the contents were and released. 

"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," said Lynn Maalouf.

"The authorities have a duty to ensure that everyone in the country can exercise their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful protest without interference."

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