Supporters of the Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr meet in Baghdad yesterday. He has given the government six months to improve.
Supporters of the Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr meet in Baghdad yesterday. He has given the government six months to improve.

Iraq authorities 'using violence and bribes' to curb dissent



BAGHDAD // Authorities in Iraq are using a mixture of strong-arm tactics and financial persuasion to prevent anti-government protests gaining momentum.

The political stakes escalated significantly when thousands of people took to the streets of Baghdad and other major cities last week to demand reforms, improved services and an end to the corruption associated with Iraq's new political elite.

Those demonstrations, the largest yet in Iraq, were met by force, as riot police opened fire on protesters with live ammunition. At least 29 people were killed, including a 14-year-old boy.

Since then, army and police units have beaten, arrested or threatened scores of political activists and journalists, their colleagues say. Meanwhile, government security and intelligence agencies are trying to root out the organisers of the protests, especially those who are using the internet in an attempt to organise another mass protest.

Hussein Abdul Hadi, a blogger who helped to arrange the "Day of Rage" march in Baghdad, said: "The intelligence services are collecting information about activists and after the demonstrations they have been making arrests and detaining people."

According to Mr Hadi and other activists, the number detained in the past three days runs into the dozens. Abul Razzq Nouri, a blogger from Anbar province who helped to organise last week's demonstration, said protest organisers and demonstrators were being "hunted down". The security services deny any systemic effort to silence demonstrators and have promised to carry out a wide-ranging probe into allegations of abuse.

Qassim Attar, spokesman at the Baghdad Operations Command centre, which oversees security of the Iraqi capital, said he believed some soldiers had "overreacted" and behaved "stupidly" during the protest. "We have opened an investigation into the claims of damage against journalists and protesters and if we find evidence that laws have been broken by members of the security services, they will be punished," he said.

With more demonstrations contemplated, Mr Nouri said Iraq was entering a "dangerous time", with the prime minister, Nouri al Maliki, apparently insistent on quashing dissent on the streets.

"Al Maliki doesn't want any future demonstrations and he is doing all he can to stop us, he is coming after us," he said.

Even before the Friday protests, the prime minister had moved to defuse them, imposing a curfew and a vehicle ban.

Another success for the government in tamping down the protests has been its management of the media. In the months running up to the demonstrations, the government has given Iraqi journalists gifts including plots of land, low-interest loans for car purchases and cash handouts, all of them officially sanctioned and distributed under the auspices of the journalists' union.

Sabah Khadim Hamza, office director at the journalist's syndicate, was adamant the land allocations and car loans were not bribes, but instead perks the union had struggled to get for its members. "Many government employees in the ministries enjoy such benefits and we wanted to win them for hard-working journalists," he said. "It does not mean reporters will stop being independent."

But critics were not so sure. "Most of the domestic media didn't cover the protests in detail and really downplayed them. They didn't interview protesters or ask them why they were marching," said one journalist for a leading Iraqi television channel.

"Basically, al Maliki has found out how to control journalists. He's given them money and land, and on Friday they paid him back by not covering the protests. Only the reporters working for outside media did their jobs properly that day," he said.

The government repression, plus payments to journalists to spin public opinion in the government's favour, have so far been effective in limiting the size and frequency of protests in Iraq.

"The government has bribed and beaten journalists to stop them covering the demonstrations," said Nasir al Shalal, a leading human rights activist. "The police and army in Baghdad, Mosul and Anbar were targeting reporters who were trying to film the protests or cover them properly."

Mr al Maliki's office has said it would investigate allegations of improper use of force. But it insists that any abuses were an overreaction by a handful of security personnel, not a matter of policy.

Officials have also long brushed off allegations that Iraqi journalists receive government bribes. They say gifts of land and cheap loans are designed to support poorly paid reporters who would otherwise have to find another profession, not to buy their silence or complicity.

Mr Shalal dismissed such assurances. "It was not an accident. It was all quite deliberate. A decision was taken at the highest level about how to handle this."

In Mosul, a traditional centre of opposition to the central authority, protesters have accused the government of sending out hit squads, armed with silenced pistols, to sow chaos among the demonstrators.

Omar Majid, a blogger from Mosul, said: "The emergency security forces arrested and beat tens of activists, and gangs working for the government, dressed in civilian clothes, shot and injured people here during the Friday protest, to spread fear. Now these gangs are after us and anyone connected with the movement. They are trying to stop us."

Shaker Kitab, an MP from Iraqiyya, said there were indications the government was acting illegally to suppress demonstrations.

"It was a very modern and peaceful protest, in accordance with people's constitutional rights, I don't understand why some of the security forces were violent in their response. This must stop. People are allowed to campaign peacefully for their rights."

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Director: James Cameron

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Anxiety and work stress major factors

Anxiety, work stress and social isolation are all factors in the recogised rise in mental health problems.

A study UAE Ministry of Health researchers published in the summer also cited struggles with weight and illnesses as major contributors.

Its authors analysed a dozen separate UAE studies between 2007 and 2017. Prevalence was often higher in university students, women and in people on low incomes.

One showed 28 per cent of female students at a Dubai university reported symptoms linked to depression. Another in Al Ain found 22.2 per cent of students had depressive symptoms - five times the global average.

It said the country has made strides to address mental health problems but said: “Our review highlights the overall prevalence of depressive symptoms and depression, which may long have been overlooked."

Prof Samir Al Adawi, of the department of behavioural medicine at Sultan Qaboos University in Oman, who was not involved in the study but is a recognised expert in the Gulf, said how mental health is discussed varies significantly between cultures and nationalities.

“The problem we have in the Gulf is the cross-cultural differences and how people articulate emotional distress," said Prof Al Adawi. 

“Someone will say that I have physical complaints rather than emotional complaints. This is the major problem with any discussion around depression."

Daniel Bardsley

Women’s T20 World Cup Qualifier

UAE results
Ireland beat UAE by six wickets
Zimbabwe beat UAE by eight wickets
UAE beat Netherlands by 10 wickets

Fixtures
UAE v Vanuatu, Thursday, 3pm, Zayed Cricket Stadium
Ireland v Netherlands, 7.30pm, Zayed Cricket Stadium

Group B table
1) Ireland 3 3 0 6 +2.407
2. Netherlands 3 2 1 4 +1.117
3) UAE 3 1 2 2 0.000
4) Zimbabwe 4 1 3 2 -0.844
5) Vanuatu 3 1 2 2 -2.180

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All matches at the Harare Sports Club:

1st ODI, Wednesday, April 10

2nd ODI, Friday, April 12

3rd ODI, Sunday, April 14

4th ODI, Tuesday, April 16

UAE squad: Mohammed Naveed (captain), Rohan Mustafa, Ashfaq Ahmed, Shaiman Anwar, Mohammed Usman, CP Rizwan, Chirag Suri, Mohammed Boota, Ghulam Shabber, Sultan Ahmed, Imran Haider, Amir Hayat, Zahoor Khan, Qadeer Ahmed

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iPhone XS
With a 5.8-inch screen, it will be an advance version of the iPhone X. It will be dual sim and comes with better battery life, a faster processor and better camera. A new gold colour will be available.
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iPhone XS Max
It is expected to be a grander version of the iPhone X with a 6.5-inch screen; an inch bigger than the screen of the iPhone 8 Plus.
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iPhone XR
A low-cost version of the iPhone X with a 6.1-inch screen, it is expected to attract mass attention. According to industry experts, it is likely to have aluminium edges instead of stainless steel.
Price: Dh3,179

Apple Watch Series 4
More comprehensive health device with edge-to-edge displays that are more than 30 per cent bigger than displays on current models.

The biog

Fast facts on Neil Armstrong’s personal life:

  • Armstrong was born on August 5, 1930, in Wapakoneta, Ohio
  • He earned his private pilot’s license when he was 16 – he could fly before he could drive
  • There was tragedy in his married life: Neil and Janet Armstrong’s daughter Karen died at the age of two in 1962 after suffering a brain tumour. She was the couple’s only daughter. Their two sons, Rick and Mark, consulted on the film
  • After Armstrong departed Nasa, he bought a farm in the town of Lebanon, Ohio, in 1971 – its airstrip allowed him to tap back into his love of flying
  • In 1994, Janet divorced Neil after 38 years of marriage. Two years earlier, Neil met Carol Knight, who became his second wife in 1994 
UAE currency: the story behind the money in your pockets
Iftar programme at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding

Established in 1998, the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding was created with a vision to teach residents about the traditions and customs of the UAE. Its motto is ‘open doors, open minds’. All year-round, visitors can sign up for a traditional Emirati breakfast, lunch or dinner meal, as well as a range of walking tours, including ones to sites such as the Jumeirah Mosque or Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood.

Every year during Ramadan, an iftar programme is rolled out. This allows guests to break their fast with the centre’s presenters, visit a nearby mosque and observe their guides while they pray. These events last for about two hours and are open to the public, or can be booked for a private event.

Until the end of Ramadan, the iftar events take place from 7pm until 9pm, from Saturday to Thursday. Advanced booking is required.

For more details, email openminds@cultures.ae or visit www.cultures.ae

 

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MATCH INFO

Uefa Champioons League semi-final, first leg:

Liverpool 5
Salah (35', 45+1'), Mane (56'), Firmino (61', 68')

Roma 2
Dzeko (81'), Perotti (85' pen)

Second leg: May 2, Stadio Olimpico, Rome