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Iraqi Network for Social Media ( INSM)

Feb 24, 2011

One Night for Freedom

by Dana Jaf 

I began calling people to stay at Bardarki Sara, after Faruq Rafiq ended the demonstration there. I criticized him for being unclear about what he wanted.

I asked the youth there not to leave Sera to any other place. Unfortunately, the model was to end the demonstration at Sera and head to Saholaka. After few minutes, we heard the sound of bullets.

The sincere youth there responded to my calls and we created a committee to supervise our activities at Sera. We collected some money and brought an amplifier. I began to speak to the young people who were trying to pass the security barrier to go to Saholaka. Some of the youth came back to Sera to see what we had to tell them. A crowd of 200 people came to the stage.

I emphasized more than one time that we are not against anyone especially the security forces and that they are our brothers. The amplifier was not working, and the continuous sound of firing bullets made the people angry. They left Sera to join the demonstrations at Khanaqa, Saholaka and Mawlawi.

We came together again and decided to stay that night. We arranged electricity and the amplifier began to work again. I began to call the demonstrators back. I wanted them to stay peaceful and not to face the security forces. I told them that our problem is not with the security forces, it is with the people who rule this country.

We decided to buy a tent and called it "Freedom Tent". The money for it was collected in moments.
A crowd of 300 people was there.

A young man made a nice call for prayer. We dedicated a part of the garden for prayer. 20 people attended the prayer, most didn't.

I joined the prayer, and the other friends were arranging some music to be played directly after the prayer for the larger crowd standing near the water pool.

We were in the second Rak'at of the prayer, when a tear gas from an unknown source was thrown in front of us. Some hurried to escape. I decided to stay, but it was a mistake. I couldn't breathe. I began to run away and saw the Imam still standing there. I still wander who that brave young Imam was. Some friends told me that he had fainted.

I couldn't see anything. Everyone was shouting and screaming. It was the first time to experience such a thing. Nobody knew that it was not police who had thrown the tear gas, so everyone was running away not to be caught. Some friends and I went into a shop and began to pour water on our faces. My eyes and face were burning. I began to breathe normally but my lungs were aching.

I called some friends. They had run different directions.

We came together again. Peshmarga forces had come to the place. They suffered as we did from the tear gas. They asked to leave because the place was not secure. I told them to secure the place if it is not. They said that they don't have any orders to do so. They were respectful, but what they said was a sign that here was going to be another attack on us.

I spoke with my friends about the situation. Some wanted to delay the night stay at Sera and some wanted to continue. The strange thing is that some who strongly wanted to stay were not arrested, but some who wanted to delay were. Finally, we decided to stay no matter what happened to us.

Suddenly, the glass lights which were turned off were turned on. Some blankets were brought to us for the night. We were going to rearrange the electricity and start our activities again. I wrote the names of the people who promised to stay. We had 30 people.

A friend went and bought sandwiches for the young people there. One of the Peshmarga came and we gave him more than 10 bottles of water. I also asked my friends to give the Peshmarga there sandwiches, but they refused. We were hungry ourselves.

A friend came and told me that more than 50 people from Sulaimani University will join us soon. They never did.

We put Kurdistan's flag at the center of Sera Square alongside the pictures of Rezhwan, Sardasht and Soran.
Someone from Asaysh came and told us to leave the place. We refused again. He said that if we wanted to stay we had to get permission from the governor. We agreed. I spoke to two of the friends and told them to go and get the permission only to make a point. We were not going to leave even if they had not given the permission.

Suddenly, a large number of Peshmarga surrounded us. They were shouting and yelling. They were by hundreds. It was like they had come to fight an army. They brought three buses and wanted us to go there. However, it was very easy to escape. I didn't run away because several of my friends were already in the bus. I couldn't betray them by leaving. I joined them.

They collected our cell-phones. The Peshmarga members were complaining. One of them was swearing, another one accused us of being "against Sulaimani". Another one said that he hadn't been to his home and seen his wife for 9 days. He said that it was because of us.

They took as to Sulaimani palace. An ambulance was waiting there. Several masked people were standing there.
They put a mask on our heads and throw us into the ambulance. Our position was very difficult. We couldn't see anything and we had fallen over each other. The masked men threatened anyone who touched his black cover or mask with electricity.

The ambulance began to move. I thought of all possibilities. First, I thought we were heading to Qala Chwalan, later I felt we were on Erbil's road. I thought were taken to Erbil. Later, I found out we were not.
 They took out from the ambulance. Two people two me by arms. It was a very difficult moment. I didn’t know where I was. The mask was still on our faces. I was waiting for the unknown.

When they removed our masks, we were in a small room. Three people were there sitting silently. We were eleven people.
Someone came into the room. He was not masked and he was the head of the people there. He was the only person from the forces who was not masked. He asked any masked person with gun to leave the room. He greeted us and said not to worry about anything.

I didn't expect that. I was relieved by what he said, but most of the friends were not.
They checked our bodies and took our identities and our belts.

Whoever wanted to go to the restrooms had to wear the mask. The place was very sensitive, as it seemed. They allowed no one to look outside.

The unmasked man told us that we will be taken to another place and he promised us that no one will treat us with disrespect.

They put handcuffs on us and put masks on our face. We were taken to a car. It was not an ambulance, but I didn't know what it was.

After 10 minutes, the car stopped and they asked us to leave the car. Someone caught my right hand and my left hand was handcuffed. We were taken to a room, they asked us to face towards the wall and put our hands on the wall. We couldn't see anything.

After 10 minutes staying that way, they checked our bodies again and took us to a room. There, they removed the masks on our faces.  

 We remained that way for half an hour. Then they let us go to the restrooms. I took ablution to pray Maghrib and Isha prayers. I hadn't finished Maghrib prayer because of the tear gas. I prayed Maghrib and a group of masked men entered the room. They were calling us one by one by our names. They were calling the person and putting a mask on his face. The mask this time was different. I could see in front of me. They took put me on a chair and started to ask me questions. They were general questions. They asked me to sign the paper which was supposed to be my answers. They didn't let me to open my face in order to see what was written.
I was in the room with 13 other young men. Oldest one was 33 years old and the youngest one was 15 years old. Three of them were married. Two of them had children. Only one of them was a student. None of them were government officers.

We begin to speak about everything. I asked them to take it easy and be sure that we will be released very soon. I told them that they had no reason to hold us there.

The room was very cold. We were shivering and we couldn't sit on the floor. There was no carpet in the room.

Some of our friends who were smoking asked for cigarettes and I asked for blankets. They brought us the blankets and transferred to another room giving us several blankets. We put some blankets on the floor and used some other to cover our bodies. It was very cold still, so cold that I could feel my friend near to me shivering.

Most of us didn't sleep that night, few did. It was very cold and I thought of all kinds of things. I felt partially responsible for the existence of that 15 year-old boy in the prison. I had told them that this will certainly happen to us, but I was the one who caused the event in the first place.

We had a friend from Chamchamal. He was funny as hell. We all joked until 3 in the morning. Then we became silent, but not asleep. It was really cold. But we all hoped that it was the last morning.
In the morning, they brought us 20 boiled eggs. Only few of us wanted to eat it. It was not really boiled. The tea was not enough for everyone. Two friends and I drank from the same cup. I loved that moment.

 The interrogation began at 10 am. This time the masked officer came to the room with his back towards us. He asked the same boring questions again and again. My funny friend from Chamchamal, Tahsin, was asleep. When he woke up and saw the masked officer, he asked: Are you here to beat us? The officer answered with a question: do you want to? The crowd in the room said: no. no. before the masked officer came; we decided that I will speak in the name of the room. I said to the officer with his back towards us: if you have caught us for throwing stones, I assure you that none has done so! If it is for something else, please tell or let us go. He said that they were not responsible and they were only reporting about us.

They called us one by one to a room. This time they didn't put the notorious mask on our faces. It seemed more legal. The person interrogating me was a law graduate. He seemed decent and modern. He began to ask me the routine questions and for the third or fourth time I gave him the same answers. Then, another man who introduced himself as the chief police officer in Azmar began to say: why don't you love your country? Why do you throw stones? These questions made me angry. I answered him with saying that I was there to prevent people from throwing stones and I told him that I was the most innocent person in Kurdistan. He said, "You are not and if I released everyone, I wouldn't be releasing you because you have caused all of this?" I asked," caused all of what?" he said, "don't argue, because from the legal perspective, I can put you in jail for three years." Now that was a strange claim, because as soon as he knew that I was a student and a journalist at the same time, he told me that he would love to meet me at his office!

there was another young man near to the gentleman interrogating me. He was furious about what I had done. He was accusing me of being responsible for the murders. I told him that he couldn't speak to me as he was speaking to Ali Hasan Majid. He asked me, "What do you want from us?" I told him, "We don't want anything from you. We only ask for our freedom." He was surprised and asked, "What freedom? What else do you want more than that?" I said that I would love to explain to him the meaning of freedom. The gentleman began to ask questions again. He said that he knew that I was a good Facebook user. He asked me," Do you miss your girlfriends?" I told him, "the only thing I miss right now is my final Fine Arts exam which was due Monday, 4 pm. He nodded his head and said. "I don't envy your position." I answered, "I don't have anything to be ashamed of. I have shouted for freedom and nothing else, and that is not a shameful position to be in." the interrogation has turned into a political discussion. The man next to the gentleman who asked me, "If you want freedom, why don't you go to Kirkuk to ask for our freedom?" I answered, "If that is so, why don't your forces go to Kirkuk instead of Sulaimani." He didn't say anything. Then he got angry and said, "I don't want to hear about your perception of freedom, because you say that you criticize a corrupt government but you study at a corrupt university?" I asked, "What is that corrupt university?" he answered, "Didn't you hear Faruq Rafiq saying that the American University was among the worst universities in the world?" I answered, "The fact that Faruq Rafiq has said it doesn't make it true. And there is no sign of corruption in my university, if there was, I would have published it in my blog." I am sure he didn't know what blog was.   

I shook hands with them and left the room. I stayed for more than 25 minutes. An interrogation which was to sign a document stating the status of my arrest was only to last for 5 minutes. My friends were all concerned. While I was in the interrogation room, many people came and left. They were young people arrested in the demonstrations. One of them told the interrogator, "I am here from Thursday and nobody tells us why? What have I done?" they had no answers.

I went back to the room.

The place was not for prisoners. They didn't have any plates. They put rice in a pan and the soup in another pan. We mixed them and shared the food. I said that the food was delicious, but most of my friends didn’t agree.

My friends got some cigarettes and began to smoke. While I am not ok with any kind of smoke, I was not to be hard on them. They were my FRIENDS after all. They had sacrificed their time, families and work for the cause I called for. I didn't tell them not to smoke and tried to calm down the ones who didn't want them to smoke. I was looking into their eyes and saying to myself: I don't exchange you, young people, for the entire world and what is in it.
Suddenly, the door was opened and they called my name. My middle name is not very common name in Kurdish, so they pronounced it wrong every time. But I knew that it was me. Two friends had been called before me and they had met their families. I thought that my friends or family had come. But it was no so. A van was waiting outside and they took me to a room written on it "Director". He was not masked when he came out so he hurried back and put his mask on. I saw him. He was an old man with a black moustache and grey hair. A man entered the room and came back and told me, "Come with me." I didn't know where they were taking me but all signs told me that it was a release. I asked the man. "What about the gentlemen?" he asked, "which gentlemen?" I answered, "The ones inside the room with me." he said, "come with me." An old driver with formal soldier clothes on drove a van towards Suli. After 5 minutes, the man was called and he ordered the driver to go back to the prison. They put me in jail again. I didn't know what was going on. The director told me that my issue was now dealt with by PUK political because! "Why?" I asked myself. My friends in the room were worried. They said that there was a plan to harm me. I assured them that they couldn't do anything to me. 

I asked my friends to give me their families' phone numbers. But there was no paper or pen.
I was called again by the little fat man supervising us since last night. Rekawt, a strong tall young man who was married in a very early age, stood up and said we don't have Dana Nawzar. He said to me, "they are going to do something to you." I assured him that they couldn't. One of my friends whispered to me his family's telephone number.

I was taken by the same men but with a different car, a Nisan.

On the way to Sulaimani, the man who was not willing to speak to me before began to speak in a friendly way showing his respect for me and for my family. He began to say all nice things about me. He repeated the same arguments made by PUK friends. He said that I will be given back all my things including my mobile and everything else, but they didn't.

I was taken to PUK's Political Bureau office. Deputy to the interior ministry was waiting there. His name was Mamosta Jalal. His son was my student in an English course.

He came and asked about me. He thought that I was one of the people throwing stones. I told him that I was tired telling people that I was there to prevent people from throwing stones. He called my friend Aryan. Aryan is from a well-known PUK family and a good friend of mine. Mr. Jalal told me that if I ever wanted to succeed in politics I had to give this kind of politics. He told me that no one can destroy KRG even the opposition leaders. He also said that it was a shame for me to do something like that while I had all those good friends. He told me that he had gotten tens of phone calls from my friends.

He told me that if they caught me one more time, I will never be released. I knew that they had released me not for the sake of me, but because of my friends', families and coworkers' pressure on them.
Mr. Jalal told me that if I could guarantee that no violence will occur he will give me a tent and secure Sera for me, but I said that I have no guarantee.

He also said that Iran is playing a big role in all of these. There were, according to him, many people from Ital'at, Iran'n intelligence service, who had been in the demonstrations.

On our way out, I told Mr. Jalal that I wanted my friends to be released as well. He promised me that they will be released that day or the other day. I also told him that the room we stayed in was very cold, he ordered the officer from prison to provide them with what they need.

I left with Aryan to the dorms.

Many of my students celebrated my release some congratulating me for being in prison for the sake of freedom and some congratulating me for my release.

Only when my friends began to talk that I understood how great they have acted during my absence. I released that I am blessed with having a group of friends that deserve all praise.
Pages on Facebook with more than 400 fans were created. Phones calls were made to the security offices in Sulaimani. Some of my friends had gone to every security station in Sulaimani searching for me. some friends had arranged a campaign threatening to arrange a demonstration in case I was not released. The university had contacted some people in the government as well. University professors, journalist friends and even people of opposite ideas had tried to bring me out of prison as soon as possible. Friends back in U.S. had sent letters to KRG asking for my immediate release. And some students had distributed sweet upon my release. All of this made me feel that I am only a small member of this great community of freedom-fighters and that I will never give up working for the same sacred ideals I was in prison for.

I took my last two final exams on Wednesday. My Fine Arts professor, helpful and great as always, decided that I could take the missed exam again. And upon my return to campus on Wednesday, many students, professors and administration members showed their support for what I had done.

I am thinking right now how to continue this fight that we have began for the sake of a decent life, freedom, and happiness.

Unfortunately, I don't have in hand the videos and photos taken of the protest. One of the photographers was arrested and another one disappeared. Most of the others have not found a way to upload it on Facebook. However, I got caught of two videos, and some pictures. 

Somebody has 

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4 Comments: on "One Night for Freedom"

Mahdi Abdullah Murad said...

Well done Dana! You are a brave man. We need to have more examples as you. we are very happy to see you again.

Anonymous said...

well done Dana.. you are great.. proud of you the freedom fighter..

Anonymous said...

I am proud to have know as a friend.

Anonymous said...

Well done Dana. I'm proud of you. The most part I'm proud of about you is that you are an advocate for peaceful protest and not a trouble maker. You don't act spontaneously, not out of rage, but with wisdom and determination, knowing exactly what you want and where you are going. There is a great leader inside you. You will play a significant role in the future. I take it back, you already are.

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