The family of a missing Iraqi doctor and activist say they have received no word from officials or security forces nearly a week after she was abducted in Baghdad.
The Iraqi Human Rights Commission said Saba Al Mahdawi, 37, was abducted on Saturday night while returning home from treating wounded anti-government protesters in Tahrir Square.
“We don’t know why she was kidnapped. The people who did it are unknown,” Dr Al Mahdawi’s brother, Yousef Hamid, told The National. “She was a normal person. She saw people and wanted to help.”
Iraq’s Interior Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
Her friends placed the responsibility for her disappearance on the government.
“Who would kidnap her? The enemy of the people,” said Mohamed Fadhel, a poet and activist who worked with Ms Al Mahdawi in Tahrir Square, Baghdad’s main protest site.
“Who is the enemy of the people? It’s the government. The government is responsible for her kidnapping and it’s responsible for her release.
“The corrupt people’s goal was to reduce the number of young Iraqis protesting but there are people who came here because Saba was kidnapped.
“They wanted to scare us, but our voice will be stronger than before.”
Since October, tens of thousands of people in the Iraqi capital and across the south have taken part in protests that began with demands to end corruption, improve living standards and provide employment.
The protests have since turned their anger against foreign influence in Iraq, particularly by Iran.
Security forces have killed more than 260 protesters in two waves of demonstrations since October 1.
The government says it needs time to enact the reforms and changes but the public says it is too little, too late.
Sohaila Al Assam, a women’s rights activist, said dozens of people have been coming out in central Baghdad in solidarity with the abducted doctor.
“There are no words to describe what has happened to Saba,” Ms Assam said.
“We are still waiting to hear back from the government about her situation.”
Women fall victim to threats and intimidation during difficult times, Ms Al Assam said.
Saba ‘laughed in the face of the pain we live in’
Activist Dina Al Tai, 34, said she met Dr Al Mahdawi in Tahrir Square on October 25, a day after the protests resumed.
“Saba was walking alone and we were part of a larger group of girls and we had some boys with us,” Ms Al Tai said. “So we said, ‘Why don’t you come with us?'”
Iraq’s younger generation “want to help each other out so the uprising will continue”, she said.
Ms Al Tai said she was one of the last people to see Dr Al Mahdawi before her disappearance on November 2.
They were both working all day in the square preparing food for the demonstrators.
Dr Al Mahdawi also collected donations for medicine and helped protesters with severe injuries to be taken away for treatment.
“Saba was severely tear gassed and had to brought back to the tent,” Ms Al Tai said.
She said that despite the difficult circumstances, Dr Al Mahdawi stayed strong.
“She laughed in the face of all of the pain that we are living in here. It’s not easy to work here as a volunteer,” Ms Al Tai said.
About 10pm, Dr Al Mahdawi’s’s friends suggested she go home to rest.
Mr Fadhel said he accompanied her to Nasser Square, near the entrance to the street leading to Tahrir Square.
The streets were full of traffic so she took a bus to get to her car, which was parked a few streets away, he said.
They were in contact with Dr Al Mahdawi until she got to her car. But about an hour later, Mr Fadhel received a phone call from her family asking about her whereabouts.
“We said she left,” he said. “They said we haven’t heard from her for more than an hour and she still hasn’t come. So we began to feel anxious.”
They went to Sheikh Zayed Hospital to check if she had gone to get treatment for tear gas inhalation but she was not there.
“I saw that her personality was beautiful, she had power and was brave,” Mr Fadhel said.
“So this of course threatened the corrupt people. Her support was the reason for her kidnapping.”
Family of Iraqi woman activist ‘abducted by masked men’ appeals for help (New Arab) 4 Nov 2019
The mother of Saba Mahdawi, a doctor and activist who had been providing medical aid to protesters, said she has been kidnapped by “armed, masked men on pick-up trucks” as she headed home from demonstrations in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square late on Saturday evening.
Mahdawi’s mother said the 35-year-old was taken at 11.20 at night from the Bayaa area in the Karkh District in Baghdad.
“We don’t know where she was taken,” she said, adding that an hour before, she had told her she was on her way home.
“She did nothing wrong, I swear to God!” said Mahdawi’s mother.
“She’s just a civil activist. She is not affiliated with any party, anywhere. It’s just that she and her friends made a group – even us at home helped them. And she got taken,” she added.
Eyewitnesses have confirmed that armed men seized Mahdawi in central Baghdad, driving her away while she screamed and called for her mother.
Authorities have been criticised for inaction, as witnesses claim to have reported the license plate of the car that drove Mahdawi away.
Fellow activists have launched a social media campaign to bring awareness to Mahdawi’s abduction, using the hashtag #وين_صبا (#Where_is_Saba).
The Iraqi Human Rights Commission confirmed on Sunday that Mahdawi had been abducted the previous evening, but did not say who had seized her.
The Commission urged security forces to investigate the matter and other “organised kidnapping operations” in recent weeks.
It called Mahdawi’s abduction “a mark of shame for the whole of Iraqi society”.
The crackdown on Iraq’s anti-government protesters has been brutal, with at least 265 protesters killed and over 11,000 injured since October 1.
This protests are fuelled by grievances around unemployment and corruption, mainly directed at the political elite, but they have also challenged Iran and its perceived out-sized influence on national politics.
Iran backs various armed groups in Iraq, including the powerful paramilitary Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), also known as the Hashed al-Shaabi.
Many activists fear violent reprisals from these heavily armed pro-Iran groups if the rallies continue to counter the Islamic republic’s influence.
Activists have been targeted since the beginning of the protests, with observers saying that the tactics are meant to intimidate and put pressure on activists, bloggers and media figures to stop supporting the demonstrations.