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¬†‚ÄĒ¬†but not legal measures.
Wahab al-Tai, the interior minister’s media adviser, told Al-Monitor in an interview, ‚ÄúUp 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.‚ÄĚ
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¬†‚ÄĒ¬†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 ‚Äúexpressing his opinion.‚ÄĚ
The ministry‚Äôs 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.