The New Witchhunt in Iraq: Social Media vigilantism
As Iraqis take their country back from Da’esh militants, a new battle has begun against democracy and justice in Iraqi villages, and even on social media.
As the Iraqi military and militias sweep across the desert, retaking their homes from the Islamic State, many militants are captured. Instead of being handed to the government, thrown in jail to await trial, or sent to Baghdad for interrogation, one Instagram account has begun allowing followers to “vote” on whether an Islamic State militant should live or die.
The Instagram account, originally @iraqiswat, has been shut down repeatedly for hate crime and NSFW pictures and countless other offenses. The biggest offense however is not one against Instagram’s Terms and Conditions, but crimes against humanity and the destruction of justice in Iraq.
A simple “kill” or “set free” is all that’s required as a comment. There is no courtroom, only the world as its jury. There is no defense mounted by the militants, often pictured bonded up and incapacitated, possibly unaware than the world is deciding their fates from their phones while on lunch break on the other side of the world.
A mob mentality has risen on Instagram as followers of @iraqiswat comment, “Dirty job but somebody has to do it”, “You guys know what to do”, “Can you post the video to facebook?” and even a comment suggesting methods with which to kill the militant. One comment warns the poster not to show his face, so that in the event that he’s captured by the Islamic State, they won’t know that he was the one to kill their militants.
(Pictures of these Instagram posts will not be shown due to NSFW material, commenters’ usernames being visible, and since the account has been removed from Instagram. The new Instagram account’s handle will not be released here.)
An even greater attack upon human rights can be seen in Vice’s video following Iraq’s Golden Division, posted in early June on Youtube. Around 6 minutes into the 30 minute documentary, a man is put on trial in a town recently liberated by Iraqi forces. The trial consists of villagers voting whether or not the man is a member of the Islamic State. While people shouting “With Islamic State” or “Not” make claims, the decision is not unanimous and some say the man is with the Islamic State and some say he is not. When asked what has been witnessed to claim the man is with the Islamic State, “I have seen it with my own eyes” is proof enough for a guilty charge.
Vice’s documentary received over one million views on Youtube and can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R6axTxU30yo
This article is not defending the Islamic State, nor is it saying that Islamic State fighters do not deserve punishment for their crimes against humanity, this article and its author is defending access to a fair trial as a basic human right. Without a trial, a mob has taken over justice and that could even prove to be detrimental to the war against the Islamic State.
Parallels could be drawn to the Salem Witch Trials in America in the 1690s, where women were accused of being witches and executed often without a shred of evidence.