On April 14, 2022, Iraqi security forces surrounded and beat staff and professors from the University of Baghdad who were protesting for their right to housing.
According to a statement by the Iraqi Academics Syndicate, university employees and their families are guaranteed housing – specifically, plots of land – under Iraqi law. Employees from the University of Baghdad who accused Iraqi authorities of failing to uphold this right and gathered outside the Ministry of Science and Technology building to protest. They were met by a large security presence, including many riot police, who surrounded them and prevented them from delivering their demands to officials in the Ministry. Police also blocked Ministry representatives from accessing the protesters. At some point during the protest, the security forces began to violently intervene and beat protesters. Videos shared on social media show police in full riot gear with shields and batons shoving protesters with their shields. According to Mawazine News, one female protester was assaulted and had her hijab removed.
Following the incident, both the Iraqi Academics Syndicate and Al-Fateh Alliance, an Iraqi political coalition, condemned the violence and called on the Iranian government to launch an investigation and meet the demands of the protesters.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of violence against scholars and university staff peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly – conduct which is protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iraq is a party. While state authorities have a responsibility to ensure safety and security, they must exercise restraint and refrain from disproportionate responses and actions that endanger members of the academic community or that retaliate against or deter protected expressive activity. In addition to harm to the immediate victims, the use of violent force in response to scholars’ expressive activity undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.