Vigilantes target Iraq porn surfers

Young Iraqis face abduction and murder for viewing erotic websites.

    Ibraheem Abdel-Qahar was tortured and made to drink his own urine for looking at pornography
    The Iraqi Aid Association (IAA), a Baghdad-based non-governmental organisation working with displacement, children and youth issues, says dozens of Iraqis have been killed after using the internet to access erotic sites.


    Fatah Ahmed, spokesperson for the IAA, said: "We have received information from many sources that militants are operating spies inside internet cafes just to find out who is browsing sites they have deemed offensive to Islam."


    Ahmed said most of the killings or abductions happen directly after the victims leave the internet cafes.


    "It is very serious because in an Islamic country in which violence is spreading on daily basis, people search for some entertainment and it is found today only on the internet," he said.

    "There are no places to go so young people are making friends via chatrooms which are now also being condemned by Islamic extremists.


    Torture, beatings


    Ibraheem Abdel-Qahar is a university student who gave up meeting friends and going to restaurants because of the violence and lack of security in Baghdad.


    Spending most of his free time alone, he turned to browsing the internet and soon began surfing online pornography. But that is a decision he now bitterly regrets.


    "They told me to take off all my clothes and handcuffed me. They started to beat me and use cigarettes to burn my legs"
    Late in May, Abdel-Qahar was kidnapped after leaving an internet cafe. He was blindfolded and taken to a house he believes to be on the outskirts of the capital.


    "Someone was sitting near me at the internet cafe and probably was an extremist spy. He saw when I was watching some erotic movies and when I left the place I was immediately taken in a car with three men," the 23-year-old engineering student said.


    He recalled that he was beaten with an iron bar and belt and forced to drink chicken blood and his own urine.


    "They told me to take off all my clothes and handcuffed me. They started to beat me and use cigarettes to burn my legs.


    "I was desperate and was shouting asking why they were doing that with me and after three hours of continuous torture they told me that it was because I was watching non-Muslim sites on the internet," he said.


    After enduring six days of torture, Abdel-Qahar says he was dropped near his house and warned that if he was found browsing internet pornography again he would be killed.


    He was also advised to seek salvation in the local mosque.


    The IAA has reported many cases like Abdel-Qahar's and have called on the government to protect victims by forcing internet cafes to guarantee privacy for their customers.


    The government has not yet responded and an official from the ministry of interior declined to comment.


    Freedom to browse


    During Saddam Hussein's era, internet browsing was controlled by the Iraqi Centre of Information which routinely blocked access to any pornographic sites as well as barred the use of popular chat clients.


    After Saddam's expulsion, however, thousands of Iraqis began to use Yahoo, MSN and Skype, to chat with friends and relatives.


    The people who search for the internet entertainment just want to have some distraction in the middle of this hell and hypocritical society"
    This was their only social outlet in an environment removed from the daily bombings and killings.


    The recent deregulation of browsing has enabled Iraq's younger generation to visit sites previously banned by the government.


    Muhammad Obeidi, owner of a private internet service, which offers cable systems to central districts of the capital, said: "People pay to use the internet and whatever is present inside has to be offered to them.


    "It is the responsibility of each family to look after their relatives and in what they are browsing into. Our job is just to offer a connection."


    But armed fighters have not spared internet cafe owners.


    In February, Fadhel Ibraheem and Youssef Ala'a, owners of an internet cafe in Baghdad's Palestine Street, were tortured and beheaded for reportedly allowing access to pornography sites.


    Yehia Ala'a, Youssef's brother said: "It wasn't my brother's fault. He was just offering the computers and internet access for people to use. The people who search for the internet entertainment just want to have some distraction in the middle of this hell and hypocritical society."


    Schools restrict access


    Current Iraqi laws and regulations do not restrict internet access and there are no sites that are barred.


    A spokesperson at the Iraqi Communications and Media Commission told Al Jazeera that they are looking at ways to regulate internet use in cafes and centres - but the lack of security has hindered their efforts.


    The spokesperson, who asked to remain anonymous, said schools and universities have started to block thousands of sites and the list of prohibited sites is growing.


    "We offer students internet access in the colleges but on the condition that the browsing is controlled and pornographic sites are blocked," Professor Hussam Abdallah, a teacher at Baghdad University, said.


    "We have also prohibited online chatting … we do not want to give extremists an excuse to attack us."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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