Update on Iraq: Not quite freedom on the march
The crackdown on political protest in Iraq, from Baghdad to autonomous Kurdistan, shows that the country is far from a flourishing democracy.
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"Within 10 minutes, hundreds more security forces surrounded and filled the square, and dozens of men in civilian clothing approached the protesters and began to punch, kick, and strike them with wooden batons, protesters and journalists told Human Rights Watch. The men forced many of the protesters to one side of the square, next to a former police station that was used as a temporary security headquarters for the protests. There, security forces detained protesters inside the building."Skip to next paragraph
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A gathering of Arab Iraqis in Baghdad's Tahrir Square on Feb. 25 were received with only a slightly less thuggish show of force.
"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?'"
Iraq's Constitution formally guarantees the rights of free speech and assembly, but in practice it's generally ignored.
The Committee to Protect Journalists rated Iraq the worst country in its "impunity index" for last year, which measures how a national legal system does, or does not, protect reporters. Five reporters were killed across the country in 2011 and 150 have been killed there since 2003. Last year, 26 journalists were detained by the authorities for their work. The CPJ says that there has not yet been a conviction in any of those cases.
"As demonstrations for economic and political reform spread with the Arab uprisings (in 2011), journalists were consistently targeted for their coverage. Anti-riot police attacked, detained, and assaulted journalists covering protests," the CPJ reports. "In their attempt to restrict coverage of the unrest, police raided news stations and press freedom groups, destroyed equipment, and arrested journalists. In Iraqi Kurdistan, authorities used aggression and intimidation to restrict journalists' coverage of violent clashes between security forces and protesters."
Just how bad is the state of the press in Iraq? The CPJ's impunity index ranks Iraq as nearly four times worse than number two on the list, Somalia.
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