An Iraqi journalist was kidnapped by unidentified gunmen wearing security services’ uniforms from her home in Baghdad yesterday, police and relatives said, prompting Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi to order an investigation.
Afrah Al-Qaisi is an outspoken critic of government institutions in satirical columns she writes for several local newspapers and media outlets. Al-Qaisi used to work for the pan-Arab, Saudi-owned newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat.
Iraq’s Interior Ministry said in a statement that it had formed a team to look into her abduction.
The gunmen took Al-Qaisi from the predominantly Sunni southern Saydiya district of the capital where she lived with her family, according to Ziyad Al-Ajili, head of the Iraqi Journalistic Freedoms Observatory.
“They separated the children from their mother after forcefully entering the house and took money, jewellery, laptops and her car as they left,” Al-Ajili said, explaining how the journalist was not only kidnapped but her home was pillaged by the militiamen.
Her husband was away at the time and the assailants broke into the house after Al-Qaisi refused to open the door.
Silencing journalism with violence
Iraq is ranked second after Somalia in the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) 2016 Index of Impunity, which calculates the number of unsolved murders of journalists over a 10-year period as a percentage of each country’s population.
Over the past decade, 71 journalists have been killed with impunity in Iraq, according to the CPJ.
Even earlier than this, foreign journalists critical of the political process and Shia militias have been targeted. In 2005, Steven Vincent was killed by suspected Mahdi Army Shia jihadists after publishing a report for The New York Times on the militants.
More recently, in April 2015, Reuters’ Baghdad bureau chief, Ned Parker, was forced to flee the country after writing a report that detailed the Iraqi Security Forces’ (ISF) culpability in looting sprees around the city of Tikrit, and of lynching people in extrajudicial murders and executions.
The situation for Iraqi journalists is even more fraught with danger, as they are usually granted less international attention than their Western counterparts if they are abducted. Al-Qaisi is therefore at incredibly high risk of torture or of being murdered.
Iraqi journalists critical of the Baghdad government are frequently targeted, particularly as criticism of the ISF is seen as criticism of the Shia militias as many of their men have integrated into the formal Iraqi military and police structures.
Armed Shia militias, many backed by the government and integrated into the Iranian-sponsored Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) paramilitary organisation, have grown increasingly powerful through their participation in Baghdad’s fight against Daesh.