In January 2012, HRW says it "observed that Iraqi authorities had
successfully curtailed the Tahrir Square anti-government demonstrations by flooding the weekly protests with pro-government supporters and undercover security agents. Dissenting activists and independent journalists for the most part said that they no longer felt safe attending the demonstrations."
The report continues, "Prison brutality, including torture in detention
facilities, was a major problem throughout the year. In February, Human Rights Watch uncovered, within Camp Justice military base in Baghdad, a secret detention facility controlled by elite security forces who report to al-Maliki's military office."
Beginning in late 2010, the report charges, Iraqi authorities transferred more than 280 detainees to the facility, which was controlled by the Army's 56th Brigade and the Counter-Terrorism Service.
HRW added that "the same elite divisions controlled Camp Honor, a
separate facility in Baghdad where detainees were tortured with impunity.
More than a dozen former Camp Honor detainees told Human Rights Watch that detainees were held incommunicado and in inhumane conditions, many for months at a time. Detainees said interrogators beat them; hung them upside down for hours at a time; administered electric shocks to various body parts, including the genitals; and repeatedly put plastic bags over their heads until they passed out from asphyxiation."
HRW also weighed in on the human rights situation in Iraqi Kurdistan. In what it called the "Silenced Spring," HRW's Samer Muscati recounts that the Kurdistan Regional Government "promised a new era of freedom for Iraqi Kurds, but it seems no more respectful of Kurdish rights to free speech than the government that preceded it."
He added, "In a time when the Middle East is erupting in demands to end repression, the Kurdish authorities are trying to stifle and intimidate critical journalism."
In March, Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 20 journalists in
Kurdistan covering the protests and found that security forces and their proxies routinely repress journalists through threats, arbitrary arrests, beatings, and harassment, and by confiscating and destroying their equipment.
And Iraqi authorities appear to be pulling no punches. Zana Ali Ghazi, 32, a reporter for the Kurdistan News Network (KNN), a satellite television channel affiliated with the Kurdish opposition party, Goran, said that while he was trying to report on a protest in the city of Saeed Sadiq on March 15, "eight armed men, some in uniform, cracked three of his ribs and beat him with wooden clubs and Kalashnikovs until he lost consciousness. 'They told me that if I continued to cover this type of news, they would kill me'," Ghazi told HRW.
Kurdistan authorities have repeatedly tried to silence Livin Magazine, one of Iraqi Kurdistan's leading independent publications, and other media. The international community should end its silence and condemn these widening attacks, Human Rights Watch said.
A Livin reporter told Human Rights Watch that when he called the Minister of Peshmerga (Kurdistan security forces), on April 24, the minister threatened Livin's editor, Mira, with death. The reporter says the conversation is on tape but that no one from the Iraqi authorities had made any move to investigate.
In Sulaimaniya on the night of May 11, security forces detained and beat a Kurdistan News Network reporter, Bryar Namiq, breaking his hand.
In Arbil, two journalists, who HRW says are afraid to be named for fear of reprisal, charged that on May 18 eight men in civilian clothes chased after them in late April. The men appeared in two vehicles on the street just before the journalists were supposed to meet with a regional official who had asked for a meeting with some members of the media.
HRW says the journalists believe that the men were plainclothes security forces who were aware of the meeting and were trying to kidnap them.
The HRW Report says that Soran Umar, a protest organizer and freelance journalist, has been in hiding since April 19. "I have not slept at home since then," he told Human Rights Watch on May 17. "My sin is that I am criticizing the undemocratic acts of KRG and the two ruling parties, that is all. The security forces have tried to kidnap me, and they have ordered my arrest. They even tried to kidnap my son."
These examples appear to be a small fraction of abuses carried out by Iraqi government authorities against journalists -- Reporters Without Borders has tallied 44 physical attacks against media workers and outlets and 23 arrests.
Which prompted this thought from HRW's Sarah Leah Whitson: "Eight
years after the United States removed Saddam Hussein in the name of
protecting the rights of Kurds, it is standing by silently as the government it helped to install in Kurdistan abuses and represses the population. US President Obama noted in his speech on May 20 the flourishing democracy in Iraq, but the reality is that government-sponsored fear and repression continue to fester there."