Iraqi women election candidates targeted for abuse gain UN support

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Election posters featuring men and women are seen in Baghdad, Iraq, on 19 AprilImage source, EPA
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Almost 7,000 candidates - many of them women - are running in the election

The UN has condemned "defamation and violence" against women candidates in Iraq's elections, after one candidate resigned over an alleged sex tape.

Dr Intidhar Ahmed Jassim withdrew from the race after the video - which she says is a fake - was released online.

Other women candidates have also reportedly faced online harassment.

The UN statement said the targeting of women not only "brings anguish" to the candidates, but "is a threat to the integrity of the electoral process".

In Iraq, one quarter of the seats in parliament must be occupied by women.

But women running for office in the May polls are being subjected to "vulgar acts" on their election posters, as well as "attacks against [their] reputation and honour", the special representative of the UN secretary general for Iraq, Jan Kubis, said.

Mr Kubis said he had met with some of the women candidates over the "alarming situation".

"Those behind defamation, cyber bullying and harassment are trying to scare you off, afraid of educated, dynamic, qualified, courageous and open-minded women candidates that rightfully claim their space and meaningful role in political life of Iraq," he said.

Image source, Facebook
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Dr Jassim said the alleged "sex tape" was a fabrication

Dr Jassim, a university professor running on the electoral list of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, dropped out of the race after a short video clip purported to be a sex tape was distributed on social media last week.

After many social media users saw similarities between the appearance of the woman in the video and that of Dr Jassim, she issued a statement saying the video had been fabricated and that it was not her. She dropped out of the race shortly afterwards.

Another candidate for the Kurdistan Democratic Party, Dr Heshu Rebwar Ali, had her mobile phone stolen, and a video of her wearing a short dress at a private party was published online, according to the Rudaw news website.

She remains in the race, and told reporters: "It is just me with my husband in private events, something I am proud of.... everyone is entitled to her freedom and private life".

The election to choose all 328 members of Iraq's Council of Representatives is scheduled for 12 May, and is the first vote since the defeat of the Islamic State group was declared in December.

However the jihadist group remains active in small pockets of the country, and has threatened to attack polling stations.