On June 13, four women participating in a democracy demonstration at Tahrir Square in Baghdad were molested and beaten allegedly by government sponsored protestors, according to a report on Ms. Magazine’s Website.
The four women were part of a 25-woman group from the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, a leading feminist group in the country, which participated in the demonstration.
The group’s director while talking to Los Angeles Times explained that because women are still vulnerable in Iraq, they wanted to make their presence felt as a way to give the demonstrations a female face—which is why they gather at the square every Friday.
This particular Friday saw higher tension than most. It marked the end of a 100-day period in which Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki had promised reforms following the “Day of Rage” protests in Baghdad on Feb. 25. During that time, none of the promises of getting people access to water and electricity wielded naught nor had any concerted efforts been made to investigate corruption in officialdom.
The rally on June 10 attracted more demonstrators, and as transpired, more government-sponsored protestors and plainclothes officers who were supposedly armed.
Pro-government “demonstrators” have been accused of using intimidating violent tactics into silencing any form of dissent toward Mr. Maliki.
One of the women assaulted, Jannat Basim, told the LA Times that when a man approached the group of women and asked them to leave and they refused, he forcibly took away placards and beat the women with it.
He was joined in by other men--ostensibly pro-government as they had earlier asked the women to leave as this was a pro-Maliki event—who abused the women protestors, groping their bodies, kicking them and calling them “prostitutes” and “communists.”
One 19-year-old woman had her face shoved to the ground, which resulted in her tooth breaking and her clothes being torn. She was rescued by male OWFI aid workers—and the four women were able to escape.
The four women went directly to a Human Rights Watch representative to lodge their complaint and then held a press conference on Sunday to narrate the events and the intimidation which they faced.
Ms. Basim said: “It took us so many years to get women involved in the political struggle. And they went down to the Square to demand what they really want. And the prime minister decides to send these women home in what he knows is the best way, the most humiliating way. When the humiliation is sexual, in a society like Iraq, they know it will break the women.”
One of the women assaulted said she would not be intimidated by the attacks. She did however express shock about returning home and finding her house being broken into—”suggesting that the thieves’ motivation was political not monetary” reports Ms. Magazine.
Although violence in Iraq has decreased dramatically from 2006 to 2007, a new spate of attacks raises concern about an increase in the coming year, as the US prepares to withdraw its forces by the end of the year.
(Muna Khan, Editor of Al Arabiya English, can be reached at email@example.com)