On January 12, 2019, violent clashes broke out between protesters and Iraqi security services at the University of Wasit, resulting in injuries to fifty-nine people and damage to the university entrance.
Protests against corruption, poor economic conditions, and a lack of public services have raged across Iraq since October 2019. Although demonstrations led to the resignation of Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi in December 2019, protests for further government action continued into 2020. Protesters, predominantly Iraqi youth and many of them students, have been met with violence by police, Iraqi security services, and non-state actors, with hundreds reportedly killed.
In Iraq’s Wasit governorate, protesters have participated in large-scale strikes, sit-ins, and protests at public spaces. These activities reportedly led to the suspension of activities at the University of Wasit for nearly two months. On January 9, 2020, Iraq’s Ministry of Higher Education announced that studies would resume the following week at universities impacted by protests. In Wasit, the governerate’s police chief reportedly warned protesters that he would “end the life” of anybody who “burns tyres or prevents students from education,” angering many protesters.
On January 12, protesters, among them University of Wasit students, attempted to close the university’s gates in an effort to protest the Ministry of Education’s decision to resume studies. Although it is unclear what happened next, some of the protesters reportedly burned and vandalized the university’s main entrance and threw stones at police who had mobilized nearby. In response, police reportedly fired tear gas and used other violent force against protesters. Fifty-nine people are reported to have been injured during the clash.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about violence at a campus protest and the destruction of university property. While students and other members of civil society have the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, they have a responsibility to refrain from physical violence. Likewise, while state authorities have a responsibility to maintain order and security, they must do so in a manner that minimizes harm to the individuals involved and otherwise respects institutional autonomy, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and other human rights. In addition to the harm to the campus community, violence on campus undermines the right to education, academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.