Early on the morning of 5 April, 2020, WHRD field activist, Anwar Jassim Mhawwas was assassinated in Dhi Qar governorate, Iraq, by unknown gunmen. Two of her sons were also injured. According to a local source who requested anonymity, masked gunmen broke down the front door of her house before shooting her eldest son, Abbas, then followed Mhawwas inside and shot her five times. They then shot her second son while leaving the scene.
The authorities imposed a security cordon around the crime scene, and forensic experts attended and started an investigation that will also review the surveillance cameras in the area.
Anwar Jassim Mhawwas, known as “Umm Abbas”, was well known for providing food to the demonstrators despite being among the poorest. She would also chant slogans in Al-Haboubi Square, which has become the epicentre for the town’s protest movement. A few days before her death she appeared in a video calling for the resumption of protests and for the breaking of the coronavirus curfew.
Her relatives explained that extreme poverty has left people without their daily necessities and that by remaining active in the streets of Iraqi cities, demonstrators hoped to pressure the government to act to support those most in need. Many Iraqis work as day labourers and in informal employment and have seen their livelihoods put at risk by the new measures.
Women human rights defenders in Iraq continue to be targeted in various forms starting from defamation campaigns and fabricated prosecutions to assassinations. Despite the ban imposed by authorities due to the coronavirus outbreak, demonstrations in Iraq are still ongoing due to widespread anger at the increased cost of living. Despite all the pressure, women human rights defenders continue their vital work.
Before Mhawwas’ murder, activist Abdullah Saleh was killed by masked men dressed as riot police. Another activist, Ali Khalid, was assassinated on the way back to his house by unknown gunmen in December and activist Maitham al-Ibrahimi survived an unsuccessful assassination attempt.