‘Revenge Porn,’ Leaked Selfies: Sextortion Spreads In Iraq

Iraqi Flag

 

The threat came by anonymous Instagram message one late Iraqi evening, making Hala’s blood run cold: “I’ve got all your pictures and recordings. Shall I send them to your dad?”

The young Iraqi woman received a wave of similar messages after hackers infiltrated her Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram accounts and stole explicit images she had sent in private.

“Some of them wanted money, some wanted a sexual relationship, even if it was just on the phone, others just wanted to bully me for no reason,” said Hala, 25, whose name has been changed to protect her identity.

Women in Iraq say they are facing a staggering increase in online “sextortion” by both malicious hackers and former romantic partners to whom the women had knowingly sent photographs, a practice known as revenge porn.

Victims, activists and lawyers blame the phenomenon on a blend of factors: a conservative society, social media being used as virtual dating platforms, poor digital security among victims and weak laws.

The potential consequences can be devastating in a milieu as conservative as Iraq: at best, an indelible mark of shame on a family but at worst, a death sentence by “honour killing” for the victims.

Last year, Iraqi model and Instagram starlet Tara Fares was shot dead in Baghdad, with many suspecting gunmen who were contemptuous of her comparatively liberal lifestyle.

With Fares’ fate in mind but unwilling to bend to her blackmailers’ demands, Hala ultimately fled Iraq this year.

“But I still get threats. These people don’t forget.”

‘Every kind of violence’

Widespread gender separation has pushed Iraqi youth to use sites like Facebook or Instagram as de facto dating platforms, said gender-based violence expert Rusul Kamel.

And in a country with no sex education at school, girls join secret all-female forums to discuss their bodies or seek advice.

The couples and groups often exchange intimate photographs — which for a woman in Iraq can be something as mild as a picture without a traditional Muslim headscarf, “considered a shame in this society,” said Kamel.

These images were being increasingly exploited, Kamel and other activists said, relaying testimonies of a half-dozen victims who declined interviews out of fear their identities would be revealed.

One woman paid $200 every month for four years to an ex-boyfriend so he wouldn’t publish intimidate pictures of her, her colleague told AFP.

Another had her photographs stolen by a hacker and sold her telephone and jewelry to pay him off.

A third developed an online affair with a man, who then threatened to forward her pictures to her husband unless she slept with him.

“Cyber-extortion combines almost every kind of gender-based violence — sexual, psychological, economic — and the victims rarely find social or legal recourse,” said Kamel.

‘No deterrent’

Indeed, sextortion is rising partly because “there’s no deterrent,” said lawyer Marwa Abdulridha, who has been referred dozens of cases in the past three years.

She said entering a police station is considered taboo for Iraqi women, and victims also fear blackmailers could be protected by one of the country’s powerful tribes.

“That’s why most victims don’t even file a complaint. Going to court is like a bogeyman for them,” Abdulridha added.

Victims who do pursue a case often face judges who know little about the internet or classify the crime differently.

“I’ve had judges ask, ‘what is this Facebook?'” she said.

“And if a judge sees the case as a man ‘terrorising’ a girl, he could apply the counter-terrorism clause and recommend the death sentence. Or he could see it as libel and order a fine,” Abdulridha added.

Iraq’s interior ministry said it opened three “sextortion” cases in Baghdad over the past month, charging some accused perpetrators with “criminal threats” and others with fraud.

But one department known as Iraq’s community police is using a different approach.

Their stations have female officers to encourage victims to come forward, and units are trained in dealing with gender-based violence under the principle of “do no harm”.

“Our officers prioritise the victim’s anonymity, and we pursue the case however she feels comfortable — inside or outside the courts,” said the force’s national chief, Ghalib Atiya.

Community police units said they can be more effective than the courts — in northern Mosul, units resolved three sextortion cases in a single week using reconciliation.

But Atiya said the problem is “spreading to a dangerous level,” with women making up 60 to 70 percent of online extortion victims in Iraq, most in Baghdad and the tribal south.

“We need the law to really bring the numbers down,” he said.

But Abdulridha, the lawyer, said real change required a more holistic approach.

Media should stop reporting such cases as scandals and non-government groups should provide digital security training to prevent hacking, she said.

“Otherwise, a girl can be killed in a split second,” she said.

China Accuses Trump Of ‘Blackmail’ After New Tariffs Threat

China’s President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump. Photo: Nicolas ASFOURI / POOL / AFP

 

Beijing on Tuesday accused Donald Trump of “blackmail” and warned it would retaliate in kind after the US president threatened to impose fresh tariffs on Chinese goods, pushing the world’s two biggest economies closer to a trade war.

Trump said on Monday he had asked the US Trade Representative to target $200 billion worth of imports for a 10 percent levy, citing China’s “unacceptable” move to raise its own tariffs.

He added he would identify an extra $200 billion of goods — for a possible total of $450 billion, or most Chinese imports — “if China increases its tariffs yet again”.

“Further action must be taken to encourage China to change its unfair practices, open its market to United States goods and accept a more balanced trade relationship with the United States,” Trump said in a statement.

Last week, he announced 25 percent tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese imports, prompting Beijing to retaliate with matching duties on US goods.

The US leader warned Friday of “additional tariffs” should Beijing hit back with tit-for-tat measures.

“The trade relationship between the United States and China must be much more equitable,” he said in explaining his latest decision.

“I have an excellent relationship with President Xi (Jinping), and we will continue working together on many issues. But the United States will no longer be taken advantage of on trade by China and other countries in the world.”

China’s commerce ministry immediately responded by saying the US “practice of extreme pressure and blackmail departed from the consensus reached by both sides during multiple negotiations and has also greatly disappointed international society”.

“If the US acts irrationally and issues a list, China will have no choice but to take comprehensive measures of a corresponding number and quality and take strong, powerful countermeasures.”

The news hit stock markets in Asia, where Shanghai shed three percent in the morning, Hong Kong lost more than two percent and Tokyo was one percent lower.

Trump is moving forward with the measures after months of sometimes fraught shuttle diplomacy in which Chinese offers to purchase more American goods failed to assuage his grievances over a widening trade imbalance and China’s aggressive industrial development policies.

China had offered to ramp up purchases of American goods by $70 billion to help cut its yawning trade surplus with the United States, whereas Trump had demanded a $200 billion deficit cut.

‘Unacceptable’ 

The China trade offensive is only one side of Trump’s multi-front battle with the United States’ economic partners as he presses ahead with his protectionist “America First” agenda.

Since June 1, steel and aluminium imports from the European Union, Canada and Mexico have been hit with tariffs of 25 percent and 10 percent, respectively.

“This latest action by China clearly indicates its determination to keep the United States at a permanent and unfair disadvantage, which is reflected in our massive $376 billion trade imbalance in goods,” Trump said of China’s retaliatory tariffs.

“This is unacceptable.”

Two decades ago, China’s economy was largely fuelled by exports, but it has made progress in rebalancing towards domestic investment and consumption since the global financial crisis erupted last decade — limiting the damage trade tariffs could inflict on Beijing.

Still, strong exports this year have lifted the economy, which is now showing signs of losing steam under the weight of Beijing’s war on debt, launched to clean up financial risks and rein in borrowing-fuelled growth.

Initially, 545 US products valued at $34 billion will be targeted by China, mimicking the Trump administration’s tariff rollout.

Beijing wants to “demonstrate that things will be done their way or not at all,” said Christopher Balding, an economics professor at Shenzhen’s HSBC Business School, who believes Chinese policymakers prefer demonstrations of “power and control” over “technical policy rightness.”

“It is a game of chicken,” Balding said.

So far Beijing has targeted major American exports to China such as soybeans, which brought in $14 billion in sales last year, and are grown in states that supported Trump during the 2016 presidential election, as well as other politically important products.

Officials also drew up a second list of $16 billion in chemical and energy products to hit with new tariffs, though China did not announce a date for imposing them.

More American targets are likely to follow as soon as the Trump administration follows through with publishing an expanded tariff list.

AFP

Oil theft: NIMASA is being blackmailed – NIMASA official

The Executive Director, Maritime Labour and Cabotage Services for the National Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Mr. Callistos Obi has declared that maritime agency is being blackmailed as it is fulfilling its obligation.

Speaking on the arrest of former Minister of Interior and CEO of Integrated Oil and Gas Limited, Emmanuel Iheanacho, for oil theft, Mr.Obi, stated that the alleged stolen oil were already stored on the company’s tank farm before the clearance was sought.

Noting that though, the issuance of clearance by NIMASA was wrong, “the clearance was issued in order to let the maritime agency get the investigation flow” he said.

It would be recalled that Captain Iheanacho, has alleged that he is being targeted by people he has no knowledge of.

According to Integrated Oil and Gas boss, a lot has been going wrong with his company and now compounded by his arrest and shutting down of the company by officials of the NIMASA.

But on the contrary, Mr. Obi, who is also a lawyer said NIMASA is out to nab the ‘big boys’ behind the foot soldiers in the illegal business of oil theft as they are out to blackmail NIMASA.