At 10 pm Monday, journalist Afrah Shawqi was abducted by a group of masked men who had broken into her house in the south west of Baghdad. The assailants, wearing civilian clothes, held the journalist’s sons as captives, assaulted her brother, then robbed her house and took her to an unknown location.
This morning prime minister Haider Al Abadi issued an order to find the kidnappers, and Yalla understands that a military task force is searching for the journalist under the direction of the Baghdad Operational Command.
Shawqi, who has worked with several newspapers both in Iraq and the wider Arab region, is a strong advocate for journalists’ rights.
Witnesses claim that a group of armed men arrived at the scene in pickup vehicles, broke into the house and kidnapped her after beating her father-in-law and stealing jewellery and other property.
However, there are conflicting reports about the number of the assailants and their vehicles. Some family members reported seeing 8 vehicles without registration plates, but Iraqi organisations investigating the incident put the number of assailants at 15 armed men and 3 vehicles.
The journalist’s 15-year-old son, Yousef said that two masked men entered the house, claiming to be Iraqi intelligence agents demanding to search the house.
Speaking to Yalla, Yousef said: “They tied me up before I could make any move, but my younger brother managed to contact our aunt and ask for help after seeing my mother being tied up and taken outside.”
In a statement to television, the victim’s sister said: “They stole my sister’s jewels and her car too.” According to Shawqi’s son, her cellphone and laptop were also stolen by the kidnappers.
The victim’s sister said: “Afrah was kidnapped because of her last written piece about a school teacher who was assaulted in the governorate of Dhi Qar.”
In a statement released on Tuesday morning, the governor of Baghdad, Ali al-Tamimi, deemed the kidnapping of Afarh Shawqi “as an act of terror against the freedom of the press.”
The primary suspects in an incident like this are an unknown armed group who use vehicles and the same weapons issued to security forces to carry out killings and kidnappings. Their most recent target was a Christian man murdered for selling alcohol in Baghdad.
Activists and organisations are calling on the Iraqi government to take concrete measures towards taking guns off the street and arrest the armed gangs.
Officials in the cabinet of the Iraqi prime minster, who was quick to order the search for the kidnapped victim, released a statement saying that the prime minister “ordered law enforcement agencies to do their best in finding the kidnapped journalist, as well as the people responsible for this crime and any other acts that target the well-being of people and aim to terrorise journalists.”
Sources working at the Baghdad Operational Command have told Yalla that a search and rescue operation is underway. A Yalla reporter confirmed that security forces have already surrounded the neighbourhood where the victim’s house is located.
The incident was met with anger on social media. Ahmed al-Bashir, one of Iraq’s most famous talk show hosts, wrote: “Afrah Shawqi is a journalist who was kidnapped by gunmen after she wrote about guns being allowed to enter schools.”
Another fellow journalist, Emad al-Khafajy said: “Afrah Shawqi is one of us, and what happened to her could happen to any of us.”