BAGHDAD — Iraq “cracked down harshly” on freedom of expression and assembly in 2011 by intimidating, beating and detaining activists and journalists, Human Rights Watch said Sunday in announcing its World Report 2012.
“Iraq is quickly slipping back into authoritarianism as its security forces abuse protesters, harass journalists and torture detainees,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Despite U.S. government assurances that it helped create a stable democracy, the reality is that it left behind a budding police state.”
Many of the problems reported by Human Rights Watch occurred before Dec. 18, when the final U.S. troops left the country. The group reported similar problems last year.
But in its new report, the organization also highlights recent incidents.
In the weeks leading up to the U.S. withdrawal, Iraqi security forces rounded up hundreds of Iraqis accused of being former Baath Party members, according to Human Rights Watch. Most of them “remain in detention without charge,” the group said.
This month, according to Human Rights Watch, Iraqi authorities were able to curtail anti-government demonstrations by flooding 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,” Human Rights Watch said.
A spokesman for Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki described the report as one-sided and deeply flawed. “The Human Rights Watch organization has relied on sources that are inaccurate, biased and not factual,” said Ali Hadi al-Moussawi.
He questioned whether the group conducted “any actual field research or made any visits to places and institutions where human rights are presumably violated.”
The spokesman also played down the demonstrations in Baghdad, saying they involved relatively few participants. “Their number is gradually decreasing, and they do not reflect strong opposition to the government,” Moussawi said.
The World Report 2012 documents human rights abuses worldwide, according to Human Rights Watch, which ticked off the following examples: violations of the laws of war in Libya and Afghanistan; the plight of political prisoners in Vietnam and Eritrea; the silencing of dissent in China and Cuba; Internet crackdowns in Iran and Thailand; killings by security forces in India and Mexico; election-related problems in Russia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo; mistreatment of migrants in Western Europe; neglectful maternal health policies in Haiti and South Africa; the suppression of religious freedom in Indonesia and Saudi Arabia; torture in Pakistan and Uzbekistan; discrimination against people with disabilities in Nepal and Peru; and detention without trial in Malaysia and by the United States.