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In Iraq, families of 4 jailed protesters seek answers

The families of the four young pro-democracy activists who had been active in organizing weekly protests say they are being held without access to lawyers or relatives.

June 03, 2011|By Raheem Salman and Ned Parker, Los Angeles Times
  • An Iraqi police officer clashes with a man at a protest in Baghdad in April. A rights group said the Iraqi government was beating and illegally detaining protesters to try to stop demonstrations calling for reforms.
An Iraqi police officer clashes with a man at a protest in Baghdad in April.… (Khalid Mohammed, Associated…)

Reporting from Baghdad — Families of four young pro-democracy protesters jailed in Baghdad said Thursday that their loved ones continued to be denied access to lawyers or relatives despite repeated requests.

The four men, who had played a major role in recent weekly demonstrations for better governance, were detained last Friday as they gathered for their regular protest in central Baghdad's Tahrir Square. Three of the men were shoved at gunpoint into the back of an ambulance, a witness said. Authorities did not acknowledge the detentions for several days.

The day after the arrests, the army raided a meeting of activists who were discussing how to secure the men's release. Nine more people were detained and have since been held incommunicado.

The arrests stand in sharp contrast to Iraq's claims of being the first real democracy in the Arab world. Two weeks ago, President Obama pointed to Iraq as a model for Middle Eastern countries aspiring to democracy, but activists who have been holding demonstrations since February have faced arrests and harassment.

The families of the four men were told Tuesday that they would soon be able to meet their relatives, but were then turned away by the Ministry of Human Rights. They have now been told they will be allowed to visit them on June 12, said Hanna Edwar, a well-known activist who is advocating for the families.

"I know about Ahmed that he loves his country, he loves freedom," said Alaa, the father of a detainee who uses the pseudonym Ahmed Baghdadi. The father, who asked that his last name not be used, expressed frustration at the lack of information about the detentions.

"I don't know where to go, whom to ask," he said. "Are our sons really criminals? .... Even if they have fake identities, why can't we see them? This is not a threat to the state's security."

Another round of protests is scheduled for Friday.

ned.parker@latimes.com

Salman is a Times staff writer.

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