By Mustafa Saadoun for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.
The Iraqi government, headed by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, is seeking to penalize people for the hate speech prevalent in Iraqi society by arresting anyone who expresses such ideas or promotes slogans that insult former or current religious and social figures.
Each year around this time, millions of Shiite Muslims make the pilgrimage to the shrine of Imam Hussein in Karbala for the festival of Arbaeen. People observing Arbaeen sometimes raise banners and shout slogans insulting Sunni figures. In the past, these people were met with public indignation — but not legal measures.
Wahab al-Tai, the interior minister’s media adviser, told Al-Monitor in an interview, “Up until Nov. 8, the ministry had arrested 76 people who were caught promoting sectarianism. Out of the 76 arrested, 25 were in Karbala and 51 in Babil [province]. Most were Iraqis, but some foreigners were arrested as well.”
The Interior Ministry was reacting to a video that has been circulating. The video, taken in Karbala during the festival, shows a group of followers of Shiite Grand Ayatollah Sadiq Hussaini Shirazi — a group known for promoting hateful speech toward important Sunni religious figures. The video shows a young man with a loudspeaker cursing Umar ibn al-Khattab, a senior companion of the Prophet Muhammad considered sacred by Sunnis. Despite all the arrests, that man is still on the loose.
Only two days after appearing in the first video, the same man appeared in another video saying that he was only “expressing his opinion.”
The ministry’s measures against promoters of sectarianism received both political and public support. Sayyid Ahmad al-Safi, the representative of Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani in Najaf, applauded the move in his Friday sermon in Karbala on Nov. 10.