On February 10, 2020, Iraqi security forces opened fire on students and other protesters in front of Al Ain University in Dhi Qar Governorate, leaving one protester dead and several others injured.
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, protests for further government action and reform continued into 2020. Protesters, predominantly Iraqi youth and many of them students, have been met with violence by Iraqi security forces and non-state actors, with hundreds reportedly killed.
While protests and sit-ins organized by students forced universities across the country to temporarily close, an order from the Iraqi Ministry of Education called for studies to resume at higher education institutions on January 12. Many students have continued to protest and boycott university activities despite the order.
On February 10, students in major cities across Iraq organized demonstrations to support the continuation of the protest movement. Students and other protesters in Nasiriyah reportedly gathered in front of Al Ain University to hold a demonstration expressing support for protests across Iraq and to call for action to be taken against authorities who have used violence against, and in some cases killed, demonstrators.
While the exact sequence of events at the Al Ain University protest is unclear, sources indicate that Iraqi security forces fired live ammunition at demonstrators in an attempt to disperse them. One protester was reportedly killed and an unknown number of other demonstrators were injured. It is not clear whether the protester killed was a student.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of lethal violence during a campus protest. While state authorities have a right to maintain security and order, they also have a responsibility to ensure that their actions are proportionate to the situation and are not undertaken to restrict or retaliate against nonviolent expressive activity. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, the use of force and arrests against nonviolent student protesters undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.