21 October 2019
PEN International and PEN Iraq are deeply concerned about the wellbeing and safety of Dr. Maytham Al Hilo, a prominent Iraqi writer, philosopher and journalist who was reportedly kidnapped by an unidentified armed group on 7 October 2019.
Al Hilo’s disappearance is reportedly linked to the Iraqi security forces’ crackdown on the protests that erupted in Baghdad and other southern cities on 1 October 2019.
Several Iraqi writers, journalists, and human rights activists have issued statements calling on the Iraqi authorities, or whoever is responsible for the kidnapping, to immediately release Al Hilo.
15 days since the kidnapping, no official information has been disclosed about Al-Hilo’s whereabouts by the Iraqi authorities, despite repeated pleas from his family and colleagues.
“We are deeply concerned about the reported kidnapping of Dr. Maytham Al Hilo, which is likely to be related to opinions he has expressed in his writings, and which is therefore a gross violation of his right to freedom of expression and opinion as protected under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iraq is a party. We call on the Iraqi authorities to immediately disclose Dr. Al Hilo’s whereabouts, and to ensure his safe release,” said PEN Iraq.
Al Hilo was last seen at his dermatology clinic in western Baghdad on Monday 7 October 2019, from where he was reportedly kidnapped by an unidentified armed group. The kidnapping coincides with the Iraqi authorities’ violent suppression of anti-government protests, in which unidentified armed groups - allegedly armed militias linked to the Iraqi government - have attacked the offices and studios of TV stations in Baghdad. Several writers, activists and journalists report that they have been receiving threats since the beginning of the protests.
In addition to Al Hilo’s case, human rights groups and activists in Iraq have also reported the disappearance of at least three other political and legal activists; there are also reports of arbitrary detentions of human rights defenders, and one incident in which two activists were killed in their own home in Basra during the violent and illegal acts of suppression which have resulted in thousands of deaths, injuries and arrests. Moreover, Iraqi authorities restricted access to all social media networks since the second day of the protest and eventually blocked the internet.
PEN International and PEN Iraq believe Al Hilo’s disappearance is related to his opinions and publications calling for reform and criticising corruption. PEN calls upon the Iraqi authorities to immediately disclose Al Hilo’s whereabouts and to bring to justice those who are responsible for his disappearance and other violations he might have suffered.