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The woman who lambasted Iraq's prime minister

From Arwa Damon, CNN
October 6, 2011 -- Updated 1033 GMT (1833 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Human rights activist stormed into government conference to confront Nuri Al-Maliki
  • Hanaa Edwar said she was provoked by attempts to smear demonstrators as terrorists
  • Young activists give Edwar hope for the future

Baghdad, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraqi human rights activist Hanaa Edwar has proved she is not afraid to speak her mind.

In June this year she stormed into a televised government conference and harangued Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki about the arrest of four protesters by the army.

In a video clip widely circulated on YouTube she holds up photos of the young protesters and shouts: "We, HR (human rights) NGOs accused of being terrorists, is this possible?"

Edwar, the 65-year-old secretary of an Iraqi human rights association, Al-Amal, laughs as she looks back at the clip.

She said her outburst was sparked by comments by Al-Maliki.

It is my duty to say something in this situation, I can't be shut up
Hanaa Edwar, human rights activist

"He said I ask my friends and U.N. to see that some of the HR organizations in Iraq, they are killers and criminals," said Edwar. "It is my duty to say something in this situation, I can't be shut up."

Al-Amal was founded in 1992 after the Gulf War to help relieve the suffering of Iraqi people and build a just and democratic society, according to the organization.

There have been demonstrations in Iraq since February demanding basic services and reforms.

Both Al-Amal and Human Rights Watch are concerned the government is trying to portray the protesters as terrorists, and allowing thugs to beat and sexually assault them.

Despite her long career in human rights, Edwar is pessimistic about the current state of her country.

"We are losing everything now in Iraq, even you know, our dream for democracy, our dream for elections," she said.

She said she is inspired to continue her work by young people like 21-year-old Noof Assi, one of her employees.

Who are Middle East's most influential women?

Assi brushes off the harassment she receives driving to work each day through checkpoints manned by security forces.

"I don't trust them," she said. "Sometimes they just become aggressive with the people, sometimes because I am a girl and driving they make fun of me."

Assi has long kept a blog and wrote about the terror she lived through at the age of 17 during the Iraq War.

She said: "One day I remember my sister hit me and she told me 'Come on, cry,' because I couldn't drop any tear because I see dead people, I see people killed in front of me, so the life at that time doesn't matter for me."

My first goal was to make the Iraqis know about their women
Noor Assi, blogger

One entry from her blog at the time read: "I dream to sleep without painkillers, I dream to wake up in a home that gives me love and hope, not to end it up in a grave."

Assi has also set up a website, Iqpalmtree, celebrating heroic and accomplished Iraqi women throughout history.

She said: "My first goal was to make the Iraqis know about their women, because in our culture they don't take them seriously, that's what I want to change."

Among those featured are Marie Teresar Asmer, an adventurer born in 1804 whose original diary is on display in the UK, and Hanaa Sadiz, an award-winning fashion designer currently working in Europe.

And of course, her idol, Hanaa Edwar.

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