But at the May 27 protest, according to demonstrators, several security officials tossed four young men into an “ambulance” that had pulled up beside them. The four, three of whom are college students, have been held since their arrest, and friends and parents say they have been unable to see them.
“They were walking before the demonstration started, and it was a strange ambulance because it was just white without the red lines,” said Mohammad Fenjan, 30, the brother-in-law of one of the men. “It was so clear it was a security unit inside because there was both guys in there with civilian and military uniforms inside.”
On Thursday, 13 protest organizers were released after soldiers in Humvees raided a gathering in Baghdad the day after the May 27 arrests, said Hana Edward, secretary of the al-Almal (Hope) organization. Some of the detainees said security officials took them to a military facility and beat them, a Human Rights Watch official said.
Concerned that the detentions are part of a broader effort by the Iraqi government to quash dissent, human rights officials have joined with student organizers to decry the incident. On Thursday, student leaders and the parents of some the young men held since May 27 called a news conference in Baghdad to blame the detentions on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has kept firm control over Baghdad’s security forces.
“We have questions to the government, and they are: Where are our sons?” asked Alla Mudher, who has not seen her son Ahmad, since last week. “Who detained them? Why?
Spokesmen for al-Maliki and the Interior Ministry, which oversees Iraq’s national police, were not immediately available for comment. But security officials said earlier in the week that the men have been charged with carrying false identification.
Hanna Mohammed said government officials told her on May 27 that her son, Ali al-Jaff, was arrested for “insulting and libeling the prime minister.” The next day, however, Mohammed said authorities told her the charge was organizing an unauthorized demonstration. This week, she said, officials told her that Jaff was being held for carrying false identification.
Edward said she and family members went to the Ministry of Human Rights on Wednesday to plead for the men’s release. She said they were told the four were in “good health” but that family members would not be allowed to visit them until at least June 11.
At the protest on Friday, several hundred people gathered in Tahrir Square holding photographs of the detained men while chanting “peaceful” and “Maliki free the four.”