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Iraqi blogger returns day after kidnapping: family

War Conflict

AFP  |  Baghdad 

A prominent Iraqi blogger resurfaced Friday a day after his family said he had been kidnapped by masked gunmen, his father said, amid an intimidation campaign following deadly protests.

Shujaa al-Khafaji's family said armed men had snatched him from his home on Thursday without identifying themselves or showing an arrest warrant.

Khafaji uses his Facebook page Al-Khowa al-Nadifa (Those Who Have Clean Hands, in Arabic) to publish posts on political and social issues. The page has some 2.5 million followers.

"Around 15 men wearing masks and black uniforms" took Khafaji from his home, the blogger's father, Fares al-Khafaji, told AFP.

He said they seized his son's phones and computers, but they were not violent.

Twenty-four hours later, Khafaji was "abandoned in a street with USD 20 to pay for a taxi home", his father added.

The report of Khafaji's seizure sparked an outcry from activists and influential political leaders.

Firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr wrote on Twitter that "any act of aggression (against journalists or activists)... by the state constitutes an attack on freedom of speech".

Former prime minister Haider al-Abadi's parliamentary bloc called on the government "to stop abuses of free media".

Iraq was gripped by anti-government protests between October 1 and 6, during which 110 people, mainly demonstrators, were killed in clashes with security forces.

Unidentified armed men in uniforms raided several local television stations in Baghdad during the protests, destroying their equipment and intimidating their staff.

Journalists and activists also reported receiving threats, mostly by phone, from unidentified callers accusing them of having sided with the protesters.

Khafaji faced cyber harassment last month after a string of attacks on military bases of the Hashed al-Shaabi, a paramilitary force dominated by pro-Iran groups.

The group on Thursday denied any involvement in the disappearance of activists, threatening legal action against anyone making such accusations.

Citing Khafaji's disappearance, prominent blogger Ali Wajih said in a Twitter post that Iraq was "on a highway to a new republic of fear".

He also claimed to have lost touch with another online activist, Maytham al-Helu.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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First Published: Fri, October 18 2019. 19:10 IST