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.Â
The Iraqi government, headed by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, is seeking to penalizeÂ people forÂ 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 aroundÂ this time,Â millions of Shiite MuslimsÂ make the pilgrimage to the shrine of Imam HusseinÂ in Karbala for theÂ festival of Arbaeen.Â People observingÂ ArbaeenÂ sometimesÂ raise bannersÂ and shout slogans insulting Sunni figures. In the past, these people were met withÂ public indignationÂ â€”Â but not legal measures.
Wahab al-Tai, the interior minister’s media adviser, told Al-Monitor in an interview, â€śUp until Nov. 8,Â the ministryÂ had arrested 76 people who were caught promoting sectarianism.Â Out of the 76 arrested, 25 were in Karbala and 51 in Babil [province]. Most were Iraqis, but some foreigners were arrested as well.â€ť
The Interior Ministry was reacting to a video that has been circulating. The video, taken in Karbala during the festival, showsÂ a group of followers of Shiite Grand AyatollahÂ Sadiq Hussaini ShiraziÂ â€”Â a groupÂ known for promoting hateful speech toward important Sunni religious figures. The video shows a young manÂ with a loudspeaker cursingÂ Umar ibn al-Khattab, a senior companion of the Prophet MuhammadÂ 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 manÂ appeared in another video saying that he was only â€śexpressing his opinion.â€ť
The ministryâ€™s measures against promotersÂ of sectarianism received both political and public support. Sayyid Ahmad al-Safi, the representative of ShiiteÂ Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-SistaniÂ in Najaf, applauded the moveÂ in his Friday sermonÂ in Karbala on Nov. 10.