24 July: German curator and arts manager Hella Mewis has been freed after she was abducted by unidentified armed men outside her office in central Baghdad, reported DW.
According to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Mewis was riding her bike when she was approached by two vehicles and forcibly taken. It was further stated that police officers in Baghdad witnessed Mewis’s kidnapping but did not intervene. While the German Ministry had formed a crisis committee to investigate the kidnapping, a spokesperson for Iraq’s Interior Ministry confirmed the abduction and that a search for her had been initiated.
Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool Mewis announced on Twitter that Mewis has been freed on 24 July. No further details about her rescue and the identity of her abductors have been released since.
الناطق باسم القائد العام للقوات المسلحة اللواء يحيى رسول : القوات الامنية تحرر الناشطة الالمانية هيلا ميفيس. pic.twitter.com/FZj0CpqIPj
— يحيى رسول | Yehia Rasool (@IraqiSpoxMOD) July 24, 2020
Mewis, who had previously been working for the Goethe-Institut, was involved in the founding of Tarkib, an independent artists’ group. The organisation Tarkib strives “to support young Iraqi artists and young people who are developing their artistic talents,” as well as to “provide Baghdadi youth and women with a safe haven to express their ideas through exhibitions, public performances, training, and workshops.”
Dhikra Sarsam, an activist friend of Mewis, stated in a post on Facebook: “Hella expected to be kidnapped because we all expect this fate.” Sarsam further told the news outlet AFP that the curator had been nervous leading up to her sudden disappearance: “I spoke to [Mewis] last week, and she was really involved in the protests too, so she was nervous after [al-Hashemi’s] assassination.” Hisham al-Hashemi was an Iraqi scholar and government advisor who had voiced support for the anti-government protests, reported DW.
Sarsam refers in her statement to the protests that have taken place in Baghdad and Iraq’s Shiite-majority south in October 2019, which Mewis documented on Tarkib’s Instagram account. After the end of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship in 2003, political Islam revived in Iraq – and with it also conservative Islamic values that many types of non-religious art consider banned (“haram”). According to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the number of foreigners being kidnapped in Iraq has increased significantly this year.
Find out more about Tarkib Baghdad Contemporary Arts Institute here.