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Activists demand suspension of Iraq protests to prevent spread of coronavirus

Members of the Ministry of Health of Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government (IKRG) controls set obstacles on the highway between Sulaymaniyah and Halabja to monitor drivers' body temperature within the coronavirus precautions (COVID-19) in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq on 13 March 2020. [Fariq Faraj Mahmood - Anadolu Agency]
Members of the Ministry of Health of Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government (IKRG) controls set obstacles on the highway between Sulaymaniyah and Halabja to monitor drivers' body temperature within the coronavirus precautions (COVID-19) in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq on 13 March 2020. [Fariq Faraj Mahmood - Anadolu Agency]

Iraqi social media activists and bloggers have called to temporarily halt the protest movement taking place in the squares and fields in Baghdad and in central and southern cities, in order to diminish the spread of the coronavirus, following the announcement of the deaths of eight people in the country.

These calls come after the Iraqi authorities decided to close celebration halls, cafés and restaurants, to ban large gatherings and impose strict procedures on travel between some of the country’s governorates, especially the southern ones – such as Basra, Najaf and Karbala. This comes as part of a series of decisions that the authorities have taken days after the suspension of the official working hours in schools, universities and institutes, the suspension of religious tourism and the closures of holy places, to limit the spread of the virus.

“There is no difference between those insisting on staying in protest gatherings and those insisting on staying in religious gatherings. Both of them are risking their health, and the health of those close to them. This does not serve the purpose of protests or the purpose of religious gathering. This rather serves nothing but the coronavirus, the global epidemic!” proclaimed Iraqi journalist Ali Wajih.

Iraqi activist Haidar Al-Marwani indicated that: “The coronavirus is a serious disease and paying no serious attention to it is a crime in itself, because those who do not pay serious attention to it do not only kill themselves. The suspension of all emergency gatherings such as group prayers, Al-Jumuah prayers, football matches, visits and demonstrations, is a sense of human solidarity between us as Iraqi people.”

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Journalist Hamid Al-Sayyid posted on Twitter: “It is not a shame or a bad thing to review the methods of demonstration at this time for all nations, not only for Iraq. Yours and everyone’s interests require the suspension of gatherings and all other aspects that create a favourable environment for the spread of #coronavirus. You may wonder: ‘Do you mean I have to ignore the blood of 700 martyrs, and return to my house?’ My answer: ‘Yes, return to your home safe from corona, and keep your mother and sister happy, instead of making them sad, and we lose you and them, and you become a mere number added to the 700 martyrs.’”

Fadel Al-Nashmi pointed out: “Protests and sit-ins are the same as any religious, political, touristic or even spiritual gathering, and it is very likely that people will become infected with the coronavirus… gathering to defend a just cause is the same as any other gathering that does not protect its owner.”

On the other hand, Najwa Al-Jubouri, a protester from Baghdad, explained: “Coronavirus came as a saviour for the parties in order to rid them of the protests, but they do not know that the protester considers the parties to be a more serious pandemic and a more harmful virus to the Iraqi people.”

كرأي شخصي انا مع ايقاف التظاهرات و الابقاء على الاعتصامكورونا مرض خطير و الاستهتار به جريمة لان المستهتر لا يقتل نفسه…

Publiée par ‎حيدر المرواني‎ sur Jeudi 12 mars 2020

Mohammad Al-Ghazali, a protester in Tahrir Square, stated: “The protesters in the square are divided between those supporting the withdrawal until the danger of the coronavirus is eliminated, and those refusing to leave the protests.” He indicated to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that: “The withdrawal may lead to the loss of the squares to the control of the government forces and it may be difficult to resume the protests later, because the ruling regime will be the powerful side.”

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