June 10, 2011 – New York, NY – Today, MADRE learned that pro-democracy activists who gathered in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square were brutally attacked by un-uniformed forces. MADRE’s Iraqi partner group, the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), states that activists who gathered in the square to continue their weeks of protests for democracy, jobs and an end to corruption were beaten by armed men who were unleashed to disperse the protests.
OWFI also reports that women were specifically targeted for sexual attacks. Four young women OWFI activists were violently groped and sexually assaulted, and one 19-year-old woman was attacked by a group of men who attempted to forcibly strip off her clothes. One woman lost a tooth in the attack. Another OWFI activist, a young man, tried to intervene and was severely beaten.
Pro-democracy protests began in Iraq on February 25, part of the wave of uprisings that has swept across the region. As an attempt to appease demonstrators, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki promised that reforms would be enacted within 100 days. This week, the government missed that deadline without meeting the demonstrators’ demands. Activists organized today’s protest to denounce the lack of reforms.
Activists also believe that the men who attacked today’s demonstration were organized by Iraq’s official security forces and were un-uniformed to keep them from being held accountable. OWFI reports that the attackers arrived at the demonstration by the thousands on chartered buses.
Yanar Mohammed, OWFI Director, said today, “For months, young women have been demonstrating for democracy in Tahrir Square, joining thousands of others who believe in a vision of an Iraq that is democratic and rooted in human rights. But instead of being heard, they have been viciously attacked in an attempt to silence them.”
Yifat Susskind, MADRE Executive Director, said today, “Women have been leaders of these pro-democracy protests, in Iraq and throughout the region. Today’s attacks were not random but part of a deliberate strategy of sexual violence. It is an attempt to terrorize women who have been the catalysts for demonstrations that call for a new Iraq.”
Available for interviews:
Yanar Mohammed, OWFI Director. OWFI is an Iraqi women’s human rights organization that works to shelter women escaping violence and denounce violations of women’s human rights. She also works as Editor-in-Chief of a newspaper called Equality (Al-Mousawat) and is an important and passionate speaker on behalf of Iraqi women.
Yifat Susskind, MADRE Executive Director, has worked with women’s human rights activists from Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East to create programs in their communities to address violence against women, economic development, climate change, and armed conflict.