On 14 August, 2020, Tahsin Osamah Al-Shahmani was shot dead in the Jeneina area of Basra by gunmen believed to be from pro-Iran militias operating in Basra. Gunmen in civilian dress burst into Tahsin’s internet business, shooting him dead and wounding his brother. Over 20 bullets were fired at him, according to local reports.
Dozens of protesters took to the streets afterwards, attempting to reach Basra’s police headquarters and calling for the identity of the killers to be revealed. Security forces deployed to the vicinity of the headquarters to prevent it being stormed by the protesters.
Anti-government protests broke out in Iraq in October last year, in response to high rates of poverty, corruption and unemployment and government neglect of essential services. Hundreds of protesters were killed by security forces and pro-Iran militias have also targeted anti-government activists for assassination, often with weapons fitted with silencers.
The Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights warned in a statement that targeted killings of activists could continue and linked the issue to the lack of progress in apprehending the murderers of Hisham al-Hashemi, an expert on militant groups who was shot dead in Baghdad on 6 July, 2020.
“The failure to reveal details of past assassinations, including the murder of security expert Hisham al-Hashemi has encouraged the gangs which silence freedom of expression and opinion to resume their crimes,” it added, holding the government responsible for the security of activists and citizens in general.
According to Human Rights Watch, “The situation in Iraq has devolved to the point that gunmen can roam the streets and shoot members of civil society with impunity,” said Belkis Wille, senior crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch. “It’s unclear whether the federal government is even able to rein in the violence at this point and ensure justice for victims.”