Iraqi authorities must stop clampdown on peaceful protest
Amnesty International has called on the Iraqi authorities to end their clampdown on peaceful protests following the arrest of 15 pro-reform activists in Baghdad in recent days.Four protesters were arrested by plain-clothed security forces last Friday morning during a peaceful demonstration in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square. They are still being held and are reported to be facing trial on charges of possessing fake ID cards. Eleven other activists were arrested when security forces raided the Baghdad headquarters of 'Ayna Haqqi' (Where is my right), a local NGO, on Saturday. Four were later released but the others, including the NGO’s secretary-general, Ahmed Mohammad Ahmed, are still being held, apparently because they are suspected of involvement in organizing demonstrations in Tahrir Square."These arrests provide further evidence of the Iraqi authorities’ intolerance of peaceful dissent and are very worrying," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.“If they are being held solely for their peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression or assembly they must be released immediately and unconditionally.” "Rather than clamping down on protests, the Iraqi authorities should be upholding and protecting the right of Iraqis to engage in peaceful protests in support of calls for political and economic reform. Iraqis should be free to express their opinions without fear of arrest or harassment by the security forces."All 11 detainees are currently held at al-Muthanna Prison in Baghdad. They have been denied access to their families and lawyers, raising fears that they could be subject to torture or other ill-treatment."The Iraqi authorities must ensure that these detainees are protected against such abuse, including by being allowed immediate access to their lawyers and families," said Malcolm Smart.Protests first erupted in Iraq in mid-2010 over the federal government’s failure to provide basic services such as water and electricity. They then gathered momentum, inspired by the popular protests in Tunisia and Egypt, and culminated in a “Day of Rage” on 25 February, when tens of thousands of demonstrators marched in cities across Iraq.The Iraqi and Kurdistan Regional governments responded by issuing regulations giving the authorities virtually unlimited discretion to determine who can demonstrate, but many Iraqis have continued to protest in defiance of official restrictions.Published last month, Amnesty International's report Days of Rage: Protests and Repression in Iraq describes how Iraqi and Kurdish forces have shot and killed protesters, including three teenage boys, and threatened, detained and tortured political activists, and targeted journalists covering the protests.