The police fired shots in the air and beat four demonstrators with the butts of their Kalashnikov rifles, said Qais Qasim, one of the journalists participating in the protest, which coincided with a visit to Baghdad by French President François Hollande. One of the demonstrators was hospitalized in a critical condition.
Around 200 people gathered yesterday near the main entrance to the governmental “Green Zone” to demand progress in the investigation into Afrah Shawqi’s abduction. Although Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi promised to “do the utmost to protect her, find her and capture the group or groups responsible,” her family and colleagues have yet to be given any information.
Journalists have been gathering in central Baghdad’s Tahrir Square at around 10 a.m. every day since her abduction. Yesterday, they decided to move closer to the government’s headquarters to step up the pressure, and they were near the 14 July suspension bridge (on the route usually taken by official motorcades) at the very moment when Hollande was due to go to the presidential palace.
The police asked the protesters to return to Tahrir Square, where demonstrations are usually tolerated, but some refused to leave, Qasim said. It was at this point that the police fired in the air to disperse them.
The Baghdad-based Journalistic Freedoms Observatory confirmed that several journalists were beaten and were threatened with arrest.
"Iraq is already one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists, so the police should be protecting journalists instead of posing an additional threat to them," RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.
"We also remind the authorities that shedding all possible light on Afrah Shawqi’s abduction is a matter of the utmost urgency, and we call on the prime minister to keep his promise to do whatever is necessary to locate Shawqi and those responsible for her abduction."
Shawqi was kidnapped from her Baghdad home on the evening of 26 December by eight armed men in civilian dress claiming to be members of the security forces. They took mobile phones, computers, jewels and cash during a search of her home and finally also took her car as they left with her. There has been no news of her whereabouts since then.
Saad al-Massoudi, Al Arabiya’s Paris correspondent, said Shawqi’s professionalism as a journalist was widely recognized. "Her articles often draw attention to the problems in Iraqi society and the corruption, and she is not scared to tackle the sensitive subjects that concern Iraqis," he said.
Shawqi writes for many newspapers and websites including Aklaam (which means “Pens” in Arabic). Hours before being kidnapped, she posted an article on Aklaam that criticized how armed groups are able to operate with complete impunity in Iraq.