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Activists: Protesters beaten in Baghdad

By Mohammed Tawfeeq, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Activists: Protesters arrested at peaceful Baghdad rally
  • Some protesters now worried about their families
  • Demonstrations occur every Friday

Baghdad, Iraq (CNN) -- At least seven anti-government protesters were arrested and beaten by Iraqi security forces as hundreds of angry demonstrators gathered Friday in al-Tahrir Square in central Baghdad, human rights activists told CNN.

Five of the activists were released, but two were still being held, activists said Friday evening.

Iraqi government officials could not be reached for comment. CNN could not independently verify the activists' account.

Hundreds of protesters gathered in the square, carrying their banners like every Friday, Some were heard shouting "Friday after Friday until we get rid of al-Maliki" referring to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Others protesters shouted, "We haven't seen oil, but only poverty" and "They're all thieves," referring to the government.

Activists said the protest was peaceful. But after an hour al-Maliki thugs started to "sexually harass some of us," said Yannar Mohammed, an activist and founder of the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq.

The protesters began to leave the square and move toward a minibus, but men in civilian clothing started beating a male activist, Mohammed said.

"They carried him, they brought a car and they threw him in the back trunk of the car just in the same way that militias used to do in the sectarian war," Mohammed told CNN.

"They tried to pull another female activist from the window of the minibus because she tried to take a photograph of the kidnapping," according to the activist.

The male activist was later released.

Ghada Al Amili, general manager for the Al Mada newspaper, said that one of its employees was arrested and beaten.

Al Amili said the home of one protester was raided Friday by Iraqi security forces in order to terrify his mother and his sisters.

"Now the activists are not only worried about themselves but about their families, too," Al Amili said. "A number of protesters have been arrested and severely beaten just because they participated in a peaceful demonstration in Tahrir square, demanding just their rights," he added.

Since early February and every Friday, tens of thousands of protesters have participated in demonstrations across the country, apparently inspired by popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. They speak against corruption, restrictions on freedom of expression, unemployment and poor government services.

Iraq has seen its own share of clashes over anti-government demonstrations this year. Since February, at least 20 Iraqis have been killed and hundreds have been wounded in protests across the country.

Also in the past months, dozens of activists were arrested by Iraqi security forces; many were released.

"It's getting clear that Mr. Prime Minister decided that instead of meeting our demands he's going to be beating us continuously," Mohammed said.

The Iraqi government was formed in December, nine months after an inconclusive national election. This is the second elected government in the nearly eight years since a U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein.

Another group of protesters Friday demanded an end to military occupation in Iraq. They burned American, British and Israeli flags.

By the end of 2011, the United States is to withdraw all of its troops from Iraq as part of a bilateral agreement with the Baghdad government.

 
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