by Rosie Alfatlawi
Debate is raging in Iraq after seven young anti-corruption activists were taken from their homes by armed men early on Monday morning.
According to reports circulated online, the students and activists were taken by armed men from the house they shared in the Al-Sa'adoon neighborhood of central Baghdad. The kidnapping took place at 1.30am on Monday, and eyewitnesses reported that the young men were loaded into 4x4s with blacked-out windows.
The victims have been named as Abdullah Latif Faraj, Hamza Younis, Ahmed Na'im Ruwayi, Haidar Nashi Hassan, Samer Amer Musa, Zaid Yahya and Ali Hussein Shnaoua.
The kidnapped men were described in a statement by the Iraqi Communist party, shared by leader Jassim Alhelfi, as “members of the civil protest movement since its launch on July 31 2015.”
Protests have been held periodically in Iraq since summer 2015 calling for an end to widespread corruption in the country. The demonstrations were originally secular in character, with campaigners backing civil governance.
However, the demonstrators later joined forces with supporters of populist Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, regarded by some as exploiting public anger for his own political ambition. This pushed many of the original protesters to distance themselves from the movement, apparently including the abducted activists.
It is thought that the young men had expressed criticism of Iraq’s powerful Shia militias, who have been accused of being behind the kidnappings.
The following image of militia leader Qais al-Khazali, with the caption “the worst and most evil personality Iraq has given birth to… the double agent al-Khazali,” was apparently shared last month by Haider Nashi Hassan, one of those kidnapped on Monday.
An online campaign has been launched in response to the kidnappings, with a hashtag calling for #freedom_for_7_abducted_youths. However, the topic is not without controversy, as the militias hold great popularity in Iraq, particularly relating to their involvement in the ongoing fight against Daesh in the north of the country.
Activist organization “Civilians” has called for an end to the existence of armed groups in Iraq, and to alleged tacit government acceptance of their activities in a statement on their Facebook page.
Meanwhile, many others have reiterated their support for the country’s militias. The following comments were left on the photo shared by the kidnapped Haider Nashi since yesterday.
Of course I am not from Asaeb [Ahl al-Haq] or al Kataeb (Iraqi militias), or from either side.
But I respect Sheikh Qais al-Khazali because he is a man, a hero who has fought terrorism, but then you come along criticizing him, you miserable individual. Listen, if not for him, Daesh would be in the lap of your mother, your sisters, your wife, you idiot...
And who are you, you insect?
The Iraqi authorities are yet to issue an official response to the kidnappings.
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