Niqash.org: Activists who put on an anti-governemt demonstration in Baghdad last Friday say they were treated unfairly and harassed by security forces while a pro-Iran demonstration was protected by state security. Now they want to know why.
Activists who put on an anti-governemt demonstration in Baghdad last Friday say they were treated unfairly and harassed by security forces while a pro-Iran demonstration was protected by state security. Now they want to know why.
Last Friday in Baghdad there were two separate demonstrations. One protest was organised by a variety of young Iraqis mostly affiliated with civil society and human rights groups; they named their campaign Iraq is Rising Up and their complaints were mostly centred on the deterioration in security conditions in the country, corruption among the ruling class as well as other social issues. This demonstration took place in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square.
Not far away in Baghdad’s central Firdous Square, a more religious demonstration was taking place. Members of various Islamic political parties and groups gathered there and in Palestine Street to celebrate Jerusalem Day. As the BBC notes: “Each year, Iran marks al-Quds – or Jerusalem Day, bringing millions of people on to the streets for rallies, celebrations and speeches. Its overarching theme is support for the Palestinians and fierce denunciation of Israel, and is as much an expression of policy as ritual”. It’s an event closely associated with Iran’s spiritual leader Ayatollah Khomeini.
Both protests were attended by members of local security forces. However their treatment of the demonstrators was very different. According to reports on social media and from protestors in Tahrir Square, the young people gathered there to protest the government were bullied, treated violently and in some cases, arrested.
“They want to silence any opposition to the government,” Hussein Baghdadi, a man in his mid-20s, said. “They just want us to follow them silently.”
The protestors say they were just chanting slogans while standing under the Freedom Monument in Baghdad and even distributing roses to soldiers who were carrying riot gear. These security forces then blocked roads leading into Tahrir Square and dispersed the demonstrators, telling them they didn’t have a license to demonstrate there. Some demonstrators were arrested and one man was held for two days.
The Journalistic Freedom Observatory in Iraq also reported that a number of journalists covering the demonstrations were harassed by the security forces. Some cameramen also had their equipment confiscated.
In complete contrast, the demonstrators carrying pictures of Iranian leaders in Firdous Square were not harassed by security forces – instead they were protected.
The Tahrir Square protestors said they had difficulty obtaining a licence to demonstrate because unlike those who were demonstrating in Firdous Square, they were politically controversial. The others were not which made it easier for them to obtain their licence to demonstrate, they say.
To get a license to demonstrate on Baghdad’s streets, protest planners must ask permission from the Ministry of the Interior. They must specify which streets they plan to march down along with details such as when the protest will take place. Prior to the Ministry’s approval, the local council has to give their permission too. Both parties attempt to delay the granting of permission, the Tahrir Square protestors said.
However in its defence, the Ministry of Interior said there had never been a request for a licence to demonstrate from the Tahrir Square group.
Some of those associated with the Tahrir Square group intend to ask Iraq’s highest court as to whether the licensing requirements contravene Article 36 of the Iraqi Constitution, which states that, “The state guarantees in a way that does not violate public order and morality … freedom of assembly and peaceful demonstration. This shall be regulated by law”.
They want to ask whether this article actually allows state authorities to ban a demonstration that doesn’t violate public order or morality? They also want to know whether applying for a license to demonstrate is in order to have security forces protect them or whether it is simply to inform the government of their intentions so they can send the riot police to disperse them.
Nonetheless they have not been discouraged. “At our first demonstration we were able to achieve many goals,” activist, Anmar Khaled, who had been at the Tahrir Square protests, said. “Our next steps will be bigger.”