A German woman who is prominent on Iraq’s art scene has been kidnapped in Baghdad, security officials and activists said on Tuesday.
Hella Mewis has lived in the Iraqi capital for seven years and runs an arts programme for young people in the city as well as being a rights activist.
Mewis was taken from outside the Beit Tarkib arts centre on Baghdad’s Abu Nawas street around 8 pm on Monday evening by armed men in two vehicles, one security official and human rights monitors said.
Her friends and acquaintances have demanded her release on social media using the hashtag #freedom_for_hella.
The Iraqi Ministry of the Interior confirmed to German news agency DPA that security forces were looking for Mewis.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, on a visit to Athens on Tuesday, said his ministry had established a crisis task force to deal with her disappearance, according to the news outlet, but added he did not want to talk about the case in detail given the sensitive nature of the situation.
Her kidnap came in the wake of unrest and protests that moved across Baghdad and Iraq’s south, which is majority Shia, in October.
Demonstrators called out the country’s government saying it was incompetent, corrupt and bound to Iran.
The violence that was sparked from the months-long protests saw over 500 killed, including several well-known activists who were shot in Baghdad and other cities for speaking out against armed groups.
AP news agency said Mewis was an ardent supporter of the mass anti-government protests.
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who travelled to Tehran on Tuesday on an official trip, has promised to rein in armed groups.
But pressure is mounting on the government to act following a series of rocket attacks targeting US installations, as well as assassinations and disappearances in Iraq.
“We call on the Iraqi security authorities to strive seriously and expeditiously to search for her,” said activist Hana Edwar, during a press conference following her disappearance.
Two weeks ago, armed men killed internationally-renowned historian and terrorism expert Hisham al-Hashimi, an Iraqi, in Baghdad.
National media directed suspicion at Iranian-backed militia and the terrorist militia Islamic State (IS), but no group has claimed responsibility for the killing.
Political commentators have suggested Hashemi’s death was embroiled in the struggle between Kadhimi, who is US-friendly, and powerful Iran-backed militias.
Mewis was “outraged” at al-Hashimi’s killing, DP cited her friend activist Sirka Sarsam of the NGO Burj Babel as saying.
Sarsam called her abduction “a human disaster”.
The Iraqi writer Najem Wali, who lives in Germany, in 2017 described Mewis to the weekly German news magazine Der Spiegel as a woman who, contrary to Iraqi conventions, goes into cafés, wears her hair loose and rarely reaches for a headscarf.
In 2016, she organised a women’s bicycle demonstration on the banks of the Tigris river.