Protests broke out in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah over the weekend against the continuing killings and kidnappings of human rights and civil society activists. The immediate catalyst of the protests was yet another kidnapping, this time of Sajjad Al-Iraqi, a prominent anti-establishment activist, who was abducted by unidentified men late on Saturday. The protests, which began in the late hours of Saturday, September 19, continued over the next day. Protesters blocked the three main bridges in the city.
Hundreds of protesters also gathered around and surrounded several government buildings, including the Diwan building which is the headquarters of the Dhi Qar provincial government. They demanded that the government and police officials punish the perpetrators. Soon after the protests began, Iraqi security forces were deployed in massive numbers at the protest locations.
One of al-Iraqi’s associates, Bassem Falih, who was with him at the time, suffered injuries from the resulting gunfire of the kidnappers. The kidnapped activist had in the past received multiple threats to his life. According to fellow activist, Abdulwahhab al-Hamdani, al-Iraqi was a vocal critic of the government and various Islamist parties in the country.
Following al-Iraqi’s kidnapping, Iraqi social media users and other activists launched an online campaign with the Twitter hashtag ‘Freedom for Sajjad al-Iraqi.’
Iraq has witnessed scores of kidnappings, murders and assassination attempts on human rights activists, civil rights activists and critics of the government since massive protests broke out on October 1 last year. Two activists, including a well known women’s rights activist, were killed by unidentified suspects in the Iraqi town of Basra in August. Many other have suffered assassination attempts.