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Iraqis demonstrate for reforms in Baghdad's Tahrir Square on February 24.
Human Rights Watch has criticized Iraqi authorities for using what the group described as "repressive means" to muzzle peaceful protests.

Last week's demonstrations in Iraq were held to mark the one-year anniversary of nationwide protests against widespread corruption, poor basic services, and high unemployment.

In those 2011 protests, 16 people were killed and more than 130 injured in clashes between police and protesters.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement that in the buildup to last month's peaceful anniversary demonstrations, activists were threatened with violence and arrest.

It said security forces surrounded the sites where protesters were gathering in Baghdad and in Sulaymaniyah, in the automonous Kurdish region.

In Sulaymaniyah, the group said men in civilian clothes assaulted demonstrators.

Several journalists covering the protests were detained.

With AFP reporting
The trial of Syarhey Kavalenka, who is seen here in the dock during his trial in Vitsebsk last week, ended with a new two-year jail sentence over an alleged parole violation.
Jailed Belarusian opposition activist Syarhey Kavalenka has received a visit from his wife, Alena, at the Vitsebsk detention center where he is being held pending transfer to a penal colony.

The report comes as the European Union steps up its economic and diplomatic pressure on Belarus over mounting rights and other abuses in cases like Kavalenka's, which the European Parliament's president recently described as "appalling."

Kavalenka's wife, Alena, described him after her visit as "happy, but...very thin, half-alive."

"He says he's lost more than 30 kilograms," she said. "There is completely no fat layer left, but he will not end his hunger strike. He said he will fight to the last."

Kavalenka has been in detention since December 19 and has been on a hunger strike for most of the time since then, although prison authorities at one point tried to forcibly feed him.
Wife Alena outside the courtroom for her husband's most recent trial, at which Syarhey Kavalenka was ordered to spend more than two years in prison.
Wife Alena outside the courtroom for her husband's most recent trial, at which Syarhey Kavalenka was ordered to spend more than two years in prison.

On February 24, the 37-year-old was sentenced to 25 months in prison for violating the terms of his parole on an earlier conviction on charges of "illegally displaying the banned Belarusian national flag."

He has rejected the charges.

Kavalenka is a member of the Belarusian Conservative Christian Party-Belarusian Popular Front.

The expansion of EU sanctions on February 28 over democracy and rights concerns sparked tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions that further strain relations between Minsk and Brussels, which have deteriorated since a flawed presidential election in December 2010 left Alyaksandr Lukashenka in power and sparked street demonstrations.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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