The abduction last week of Hella Mewis, a German activist and art curator, on a busy street in the heart of Baghdad shocked friends in the arts community and heightened the recently renewed fears of a new campaign of violence against intellectuals in Iraq.
According to news reports, unknown gunmen abducted Mewis at about 8 p.m. on Monday, July 20, as she rode her bicycle back to an arts center on Abu Nawas Street, where she worked. Witnesses said the gunmen forced Mewis into one of their two vehicles and drove away. She was freed on Friday morning by the Iraqi military, but many questions remain about her abduction.
Mewis has been involved in cultural projects in Baghdad for a decade and has lived there since 2012.
Her abduction followed attacks on other prominent cultural actors in the past year and a half that have left many Iraqis and foreign nationals afraid for the future. Alaa Mashzoub, a popular Iraqi novelist, was shot to death in front of his home in Karbala, a Shiite holy city about 60 miles south of Baghdad, in February 2019. Husham al-Hashimi, a prominent expert on Jihadi groups, was killed in Baghdad earlier this month. (See a related article, “Iraqi Researcher’s Assassination Stirs Fears of Renewed Violence Against Academics.”)
Mewis frequently visited Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, a popular center of the protests attended and organized by unemployed youth and students in Baghdad and across southern Iraq, and she helped document art activities there. (See a related article, “Protest Art Turns a Concrete Tunnel into a Vibrant Gallery.”)
Friends and Colleagues Are Shocked
Besides being the head of the culture department of Goethe Institut Irak, in Baghdad, Mewis also works for TARKIB Baghdad Contemporary Arts Institute, which organizes festivals every year to support young artists in Baghdad.
Hussain Muttar, an architectural experimental artist at TARKIB who described Mewis as his teacher, helper and friend, said he had met her in front of the arts center on Monday afternoon hours before her abduction.