Friday, March 02, 2012

Cracking down on Iraqi protesters

February 25, 2011 was when Iraqi youths began their nationwide Friday protests -- joining with other groups to demand basic services (potable water, electricity, etc), jobs, the release of the 'disappeared,' the end of government corruption and more. A year later, the demonstrators attempted to gather again in Baghdad on Friday the 24th (see that day's snapshot) and Saturday the 25th (click here). Yesterday Human Rights Watch released "Iraq: Intimidation at Anniversary Protests; Beatings, Detentions in Kurdistan; Blocked Access in Baghdad."

In the KRG, demonstrators gathered on February 17th and they numbered in excess of 250. They report to Human Rights Watch that they were beaten, threatened and intimidated. Journalist attempting to cover the December 17th action were also attacked: "They confiscated the camera of Rahman Gharib, coordinator for the local press freedom group Metro Center to Defend Journalists, and beat him on the head and leg after he took some photographs, Gharib and witnesses told Human Rights Watch. The Metro Center has documented numerous abuses against Kurdish journalists, including more than 200 cases of attacks and harassment during the protests in Sulaimaniya between February and May, 2011."

In Baghdad, a number of methods were used to suppress turnout. From the report:

Members of several protest groups told Human Rights Watch that they attempted to demonstrate in Tahrir Square on February 25, the anniversary of Baghdad's 2011 "Day of Anger," when thousands gathered in the square to protest widespread corruption and demand greater civil and political rights. During nationwide demonstrations on that day a year earlier, security forces killed at least 12 protesters across the country and injured more than 100. Human Rights Watch also saw Baghdad security forces beat unarmed journalists and protesters, smashing cameras and confiscating memory cards.
On February 25, 2012, security forces in Baghdad again attempted to stop protesters from reaching Tahrir Square, though with different methods. Several demonstrators told Human Rights Watch that security forces blocked many roads approaching Tahrir Square, at times saying the roads were blocked because a car bomb that had gone off in the vicinity, although protesters said local merchants reported hearing no explosions and Iraqi authorities released no specific information to the media.
Security forces told also told protesters walking toward Tahrir Square that they had intelligence indicating that "many terrorists" were in the square and 11 bombs had been placed in the area, and that security forces "could not guarantee the safety of protesters." Human Rights Watch witnessed security forces using similar explanations to prevent journalists and protesters from going to Tahrir Square many times between March and December 2011.
Some of the protesters who reached Tahrir Square said they did not enter the square because the show of force by security forces frightened them. According to observers, the forces numbered between 600 and 1,000 armed personnel in and around Tahrir Square, with more amassed on side streets.
As protesters approached the multiple checkpoints surrounding Tahrir Square set up that morning, security forces informed them that they had a long list of protesters whom they had orders to arrest and that they would check this list against the identification cards of anyone wishing to pass through. A young activist who did not want his name used for fear of government reprisal told Human Rights Watch that one smiling soldier told him and other protesters, "We may have your name. Why don't you step forward and see if you get arrested?"
Another activist said that an officer told protesters that even people with names "similar" to those on the list would be arrested.
"From the way he said it, I thought he might arrest me no matter what my name was, so we left," he said.
One demonstrator, who said he was intimidated and did not try to pass the police checkpoints, said: "I just stood monitoring, outside Tahrir Square. No one at all was allowed to take photos or use their phones. There were so many members of the army; they were standing every half meter in the square with their sticks."

Please note the above took place on Saturday -- days prior to Tim Arango's frothing at the mouth in the New York Times about how groovy Nouri was and beloved and authoritarian measures are so popular! nonsense.

And Tim Arango and the New York Times? They didn't report on any of the above. Iraqi reporters were trying to cover the Baghdad demonstration and Human Rights Watch notes that:

Journalists told Human Rights Watch that security forces prevented them from covering the demonstration by not allowing them to enter the square with photographic equipment, voice recorders, mobile phones, and even pens. One Iraqi news agency reported that security forces briefly detained journalists for "violating the rules of demonstration, entering banned areas and trying to provoke the public." Human Rights Watch has observed security forces interfering with journalists at work at more than 20 demonstrations at Tahrir Square during the past year.
Iraq's constitution guarantees "freedom of assembly and peaceful demonstration."As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Iraq is obligated to protect the rights to life and security of the person, and the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly. In May, the Council of Ministers approved a draft "Law on the Freedom of Expression of Opinion, Assembly, and Peaceful Demonstration," which authorizes officials to restrict freedom of assembly to protect "the public interest" and in the interest of "general order or public morals," vague criteria that the law does not define further. The draft law is awaiting approval by parliament.

You know what would help Iraqi correspondents? Western correspondents in Iraq attempting to cover the protests -- and I mean more than Tim Arango. The anniversary of the protests were known, there was no reason CBS, ABC and NBC couldn't have sent crews over to cover that -- no reason except a complete lack of interest in Iraq.

They'll whine and wail about every journalist harmed or hurt in Syria -- to use it to pimp war, of course -- but they really don't give a damn about that, they just want war. If they gave a damn, they'd be working to help their peers in Iraq.

Meanwhile protests continue in Iraq. Mahmoud al-Hassani al-Sarkh is a religious leader whose offices were attacked around February 19th when Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani's were being attacked. Nasiriyah News Network reports that approximately 100 Sarkhi supporters protested yesterday in Nasiriyah as they called for his office to be reopened. Hassan Sahlani (Nasiriyah News Network) adds that a delegation from the protesters met with the governor and the province's police chief.

The following community sites -- plus Tavis Smiley, CSPAN, The Bat Segundo Show and Marc Lynch -- updated last night and this morning:

Jill Stein is running for the US Green Party's presidential nomination. Coy notes her campaign's "Eliminate tuition, student debt, says Stein as campus protests spread nationally:"

As tens of thousands of students, faculty, and staff protest today across the country against the corporatization of higher education, Dr. Jill Stein renewed her call for "generational justice" achieved in part by forgiving student debt and ending tuition at public colleges and universities. Stein has promised a Green New Deal for America if elected, including an Economic Bill of Rights that ends "indentured servitude" for college students.

One Milwaukee student leader, Jacob Anikulapo, expressed similar sentiments, stating that, "Student loan debt is out of control, and is expected to exceed $1 trillion this year, while our administrators are still giving eachother pay raises, cutting faculty, and raising tuition. We are building a massive student movement for education rights with the belief that education should be free for all, not a privilege for those who can afford it."

Leland Pan, a student activist who is running for the Dane County, Wisconsin Board of Supervisors, expressed appreciation for Dr. Stein and her campaign, saying that, "in today's politics, we have two parties that have come together to defund higher education institutions, cut the Pell Grant, bust teachers' unions, and privatize K-12 schools. If we believe higher education is a right, if we believe teachers deserve decent workplace conditions and the right to collectively bargain, and if we believe that K-12 schools are a service to be provided to all, then the only just thing to do is to support the Green Party in the Presidential race."

Added Lucas Vazquez, a student at Walt Whitman High School in Long Island, "Education has been turned into a market for the '1 %,' in which they are run by neo-liberal policies that create re-segregation, inequality, massive debt, and undemocratic institutions. Students must resist such injustices through creating independent student unions, and a sustainable movement that presents alternatives to the market-oriented educational system we live in."

The Green New Deal promoted by Dr. Stein provides that, "We will honor the right to a tuition-free, quality public education from pre-school through college at public institutions. And we will forgive student loan debt left over from the current era of unaffordable college education."

The e-mail address for this site is