Iraqi activists call for more action after rescue of German woman

Dozens of Iraqis abducted during anti-government protests remain missing

Hella Mewis, a German citizen who runs arts programmes in Baghdad, was freed from her abductors in a raid by Iraqi security forces on July 24, 2020. Iraqi art collective Tarkib / AFP
Hella Mewis, a German citizen who runs arts programmes in Baghdad, was freed from her abductors in a raid by Iraqi security forces on July 24, 2020. Iraqi art collective Tarkib / AFP

The rescue of a kidnapped German researcher by Iraqi security forces on Friday has raised calls for action on dozens of people who have gone missing since mass anti-government protests began in October last year.

Hella Mewis was rescued early on Friday after being seized on Monday night from central Baghdad, an armed forces spokesman said.

Hassan Wahab, an activist from the Amal Association human rights group, said the operation restored some confidence in the authorities but the public were still demanding the release of dozens of other people.

“The government must take serious and urgent measures to liberate them and this matter should not be linked to any political agendas,” Mr Wahab told The National.

Security forces and state-recognised militias launched a crackdown on the mass protests that forced former prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to step aside last year. Hundreds of protesters were killed and thousands more injured. Dozens of others, including prominent activists, were kidnapped and the fate of at least half of them remains unknown.

The new prime minister, the former intelligence chief Mustafa Al Kadhimi, who took office in May, promised compensation for the protesters killed and injured and to look into the cases of those who had gone missing.

Although there was no claim of responsibility and officials did not say who was behind Ms Mewis’s kidnapping, Mr Wahab said the area where she was rescued was known to be the “largest district in Baghdad that contains all kinds of armed factions and militias”.

Activist Inas Jabbar said that the government's silence was not surprising.

"As usual the government has not released names of the group that conducted the kidnapping or any details of the operation which means that the kidnappings will carry on," Ms Jabbar told The National.

"It is still unclear who is responsible for this operation," she said.

Ali Al Bayati, a member of the independent Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights, said the government had a responsibility to identify the kidnappers and hold them to account.

“The only way to ensure that this event does not occur again is to release the details of the kidnapping to the public,” Mr Al Bayati told The National.

Iraq has one of the highest number of missing people in the world as a direct result of decades of conflict and violence.

“There are more than half a million missing people since the early 1980s,” Mr Al Bayati said.

At least 55 people had been kidnapped since October last year, with about two dozen released with the help of security forces, he said

Mr Al Bayati explained that Iraq has no “central federal institution” that deals with finding those kidnapped or missing.

“Although Iraq is committed to the international convention of protection of persons of forced disappearance, the country needs a commission or ministry or a higher committee with full mandate to deal with this issue,” he said.

This will involve collecting evidence to prove that a crime was committed, and legislation from the parliament to hold those to account.

Published: July 24, 2020 06:31 PM

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