Iraqi court hands death sentence to 6 protesters found guilty of killing teenager

Hundreds were killed by security forces in violent crackdowns on anti-government protests that began in October last year

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A Baghdad court has sentenced six protesters to death after convicting them of lynching a teenager in one of Baghdad’s protest encampments last year.

Leaderless protests erupted in Iraq in October 2019 against endemic corruption, soaring unemployment and poor public services. Demonstrators also demanded an overhaul of the political system, which has been in place since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

Thousands of protesters blocked the main streets, squares and commercial areas during the months-long campaign in Baghdad and other cities in central and southern parts of the country.

For days, 16-year old Haitham Ali Ismael had been trying to convince the protesters not to obstruct the street near his family home in Baghdad’s Wathba Square, but to no avail.

Armed with a pistol, Mr Ismael fired on the protesters from his house roof in a bid to shoo them away, police said.

The protesters claim they thought he was a member of security forces or a militia.

They broke into his house, stabbed him and dragged his bleeding body into the street before hanging him by his ankles from a traffic light pole and cutting his throat.

An official document issued by the court detailing the ruling was widely circulated by local media. The six convictions include one female protester, who was also sentenced to death. A court official confirmed the ruling, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with local regulations.

Meanwhile, the protesters have distanced themselves from the perpetrators.

"They are not protesters like us," activist Ahmed Khaldoun told The National. "Those are infiltrators paid by parties to defame the protests and their peaceful means," Mr Khaldoun added.

Like many activists, Mr Khaldoun has fled Baghdad to the northern Kurdish region due to threats against his life.

“The judiciary system has to investigate the killings of the protesters and bring those responsible before justice,” he added.

At least 560 protesters and members of security forces have been killed, while thousands of others were wounded up to July 30 according to government statistics released on July 30.

Some activists were kidnapped and killed outside the protest encampments that lined the road leading up to Tahrir Square.

Former prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, who was forced to resign a few weeks after the protests began, denied ordering the use of lethal ammunition and blamed a “third party” for the killings.

The current prime minister, Mustafa Al Kadhimi, promised a thorough investigation into the violence against protesters after his government was installed in early May.

Last month, Mr Al Kadhimi announced that the first stage - of listing the names of victims - had been completed, and on Sunday he formed a five-judge committee to investigate the killings.