In the span of 30 seconds, Ali Jasb, a young rights lawyer, vanished into the night in southern Iraq.
On an evening a year ago, a woman emerged from a dimly lit street in the city of Amara, her face hidden in a black abaya, and greeted Jasb.
Almost immediately a black SUV pulled up, two men forced him in and sped away. The woman climbed into a waiting pickup truck and left.
That last sighting of the 21-year-old Jasb was captured by a surveillance camera at 6:22 pm on October 8, 2019. Nothing has been heard from him or his captors.
Ever since, Jasb’s father has been on a search for justice that has run repeatedly against one major obstacle: the increasing helplessness of Iraq’s government in the face of powerful, Iranian-backed Shiite militias.
Jasb was abducted a week into historic protests which erupted across Iraq and saw tens of thousands of youth rallying against corruption and the ruling class.
Like many others, hopes for change inspired by the movement emboldened Jasb to speak out against militias in his hometown.
Now Jasb is among 53 protesters who remain missing since the movement began on October 1, according to the semi-official Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights.
The protests have largely been silenced by a combination of the coronavirus and a violent crackdown by security forces and militias that, according to the commission, killed more than 500 people.
Within that crackdown, militias are widely believed to have waged a campaign of terror, abducting dozens of prominent activists and assassinating more than 60.
In Jasb’s case, judicial investigations seen by The Associated Press show a connection between his abduction and the most powerful militia in his home city, Amara.
His father, Jasb Aboud, is determined to bring its commander to trial.
“I am afraid,” he told the AP. “But I lost what was most valuable to me, so I’ve got nothing else to lose.” “I can’t be silent.”
Jasb exemplified the generation of hopeful activists who fueled the protest movement.
He threw himself into using the law to help people in Amara, a small city flanked by marshes on the Tigris River that is the capital of Missan province.
He married young and soon had a daughter, now 2. He often represented women trying to divorce abusive husbands.
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