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Iraq: Suspect arrested over murder of prominent activist's son

Man detained in autonomous Kurdish region said to have confessed to murder of Fatima al-Bahadly's son Ali Karim
Activist Fatima al-Bahadly mourns her son Karim as his body is taken for autopsy in Basra, southern Iraq, 24 July 2021 (MEE/Azhar al-Rubaie)

Iraq has arrested the suspected killer of a prominent rights activist's son, whose bullet-riddled body was found in the southern city of Basra at the weekend, authorities said on Tuesday.

"The killer of Ali Karim, son of the activist Fatima al-Bahadly, has been arrested" in Iraq’s
autonomous Kurdish region, the interior ministry said.

The region's security services said the man from Basra had "confessed to the crime," and was handed over to the federal authorities.

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Karim, 26, had disappeared in Basra on Friday before his body was found the next day with gunshot wounds to the head and chest.

His mother founded the al-Firdaws Society, which focuses on the protection and education of women, and campaigns against the recruitment of young people into armed groups.

Karim was the second son al-Bahadly had lost in recent years after her eldest son Ahmed was found dead at his home in 2019.

Activists say she often receives death threats over her work.

The murder of her son "appears to be yet another in a growing list of attacks and killings" targeting Iraqi human rights defenders and their families, the Dublin-based rights group Frontline Defenders tweeted on Monday.

Martin Huth, the European Union's ambassador to Iraq, has called for a prompt investigation into the killing.

Donatella Rovera, senior investigator at Amnesty International, said on Twitter: "Iraq's civil society activists continue to pay with their lives - and the lives of their children."

'They can kill us whenever they want'

Dozens of activists have been killed or abducted, sometimes briefly, since a popular uprising in late 2019 demanding political change and a curb to Iran-backed factions in Iraq.

Fatima al-Bahadly had received threats from local militias two months ago, asking her to leave Basra.

Bahadly recently won a Frontline Defenders Award for her activism in Iraq.

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In 2018, Bahadly and other workers in the NGO were accused by Iran-backed media outlets of links to the United States during protests, claiming that Bahadly was behind those happening in Basra.

Middle East Eye spoke to Bahadly on Saturday while she was mourning for her son in the forensic medicine department in a Basra hospital, where she was waiting for health authorities to finish their autopsy

“Less than two years have passed since my son Ahmed was killed. And now the killing of my elder son. Where should I go? To whom should I complain?” she told MEE.

Basra-based activist Mehdi Salah said: “The government has failed to protect its citizens, activists, journalists. What happened is a strong violation of human rights. What was his mistake? Just because of his mother, Fatima al-Bahadly?

"We might be the next target. They can kill us wherever and whenever they want.”