Mother of murdered Iraqi activist calls for justice in Karbala

Widespread support for Samira Al Wazni as social media users call for action on targeted killings

A grab from an AFPTV video taken on August 27, 2020, shows Iraqi activist Ehab al-Ouazni during a mourning ritual to commemorate the martyrdom of Prophet Mohammad's grandson Imam Hussein during the Islamic month of Muharram, in the central shrine city of Karbala. The renowned anti-government activist was killed in Iraq early today, security sources and activists said, sending supporters of a protest movement onto the streets to demand an end to bloodshed. / AFP / -
Powered by automated translation

The mother of a prominent Iraqi human rights activist who was murdered near his home last month held a sit-in outside Karbala’s court demanding justice.

Ihab Al Wazni, who was known as the “hero of Karbala”, was gunned down in the southern holy city in early May. His death sparked outrage over the authorities’ failure to protect civilians and provide them with basic public services.

“I’m not a slave, nor am I a coward. They cannot stop me. I’m Iraqi, I’m not Iranian or a foreigner. I want my son’s rights,” said his mother, Samira Al Wazni.

She sat in front of a court’s building in Karbala, calling on the authorities to identify her son’s killers and hold them to account.

Dozens of people from the city came out to support Ms Al Wazni.

“We hear words but no actions. It’s all an act,” she said.

Iraq’s government arrested a commander of the Popular Mobilisation Forces, the network of Iran-backed militias that dominates large parts of the country, at the end of May.

Qassem Musleh, head of PMF operations in Anbar, was arrested on charges of terrorism reportedly related to the murders of several prominent activists.

But he was later released from government detention after the judiciary failed to charge him.

“You are all killers and I’m not afraid of you. I will set the governor’s headquarters on fire if my son’s killers stay free,” Ms Al Wazni said.

A video showed her approaching a UN vehicle. It drove away, its occupants refusing to speak to her.

People chant slogans as they march with the body of renowned Iraqi anti-government activist Ihab al-Wazni (Ehab al-Ouazni) during a funerary procession in the central holy shrine city of Karbala on May 9, 2021 following his assassination. - Wazni, a coordinator of protests in the Shiite shrine city of Karbala, was a vocal opponent of corruption, the stranglehold of Tehran-linked armed groups and Iran's influence in Iraq. He was shot overnight outside his home by men on motorbikes, in an ambush caught on surveillance cameras. He had narrowly escaped death in December 2019, when men on motorbikes used silenced weapons to kill fellow activist Fahem al-Tai as he was dropping him home in Karbala, where pro-Tehran armed groups are legion. (Photo by Mohammed SAWAF / AFP)
People chant slogans as they march with the body of Iraqi anti-government activist Ihab Al Wazni during a funeral procession in the central city of Karbala on May 9, 2021, following his assassination. AFP

The clip went viral on social media as users voiced their anger at the lack of action taken by local and international authorities to hold the perpetrators of targeted killings to account.

“Is the UN mission in Iraq ignoring and humiliating people who should be helped and served?” one Twitter user said.

The hashtag “We are all Ihab’s mother” trended on the site as users showed their solidarity with Ms Al Wazni.

The UN mission in Iraq did not respond to a request for comment from The National.

Ali Al Bayati, a member of the semi-official Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights, said the country’s institutions had failed to deliver accountability.

"It is also a sign that the national system is not capable of protecting human rights and bringing the perpetrators to justice," Mr Al Bayati told The National.

The human rights official said the international justice system must play a part in ensuring that a “moral and legal system” is put in place to protect human rights in Iraq.

Dozens of activists, journalists and members of civil society groups have been assassinated, kidnapped and threatened since the start of widespread demonstrations nearly two years ago.

The protest movement, which grew rapidly in October 2019, called for better employment opportunities, improvements to public services and an end to corruption.