Truth Check: Is Iraq Killing Hundreds of Emo Teens?

A chilling story out of Iraq claims close to 100 Iraqi teens have been murdered for being perceived to be either "emo" or gay. It looks to be at least partly true.

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A shocking new report  claims between 90 and 100 Iraqi teenagers who dress in "emo" fashions -- characterized by tight jeans and graphic T-shirts, accessories, and longish haircuts -- have been stoned to death over the past few weeks by Shiite fundamentalists, a response to a warning about the "devil worshipping" lifestyle posted to the Interior Ministry's website.

The statement read in part:

'The Emo phenomenon or devil worshipping is being followed by the Moral Police who have the approval to eliminate [the phenomenon] as soon as possible since it's detrimentally affecting the society and becoming a danger,' 

'They wear strange, tight clothes that have pictures on them such as skulls and use stationary that are shaped as skulls. They also wear rings on their noses and tongues, and do other strange activities.'

According to Al Arabiya News, who cite Al-Bayaty, religious extremists, acting with the "complicity of the Ministry of Interior," disguised themselves in civilian clothing and led a group of dozens of teenagers to a remote area, where they proceeded to stone them to death using concrete blocks, later disposing of the bodies in dumpsters. Elsewhere, emo teens have been reportedly been pushed off rooftops to their deaths. As proof, several gruesome photos of dead teens in Western gear were released and quickly made the rounds on Facebook. (The graphic photos can be seen here and here.) The claims are awful, but are they true? There indeed seems to be at least some veracity to reports that dozens of Iraqi teens perceived as being both emo and gay are being targeted and killed in a new surge of anti-Western violence.

Compelling evidence comes from an interview posted to on Friday with a London-based LGBT activist, who confirms a report from the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission that 40 gay or gay-seeming individuals have "been kidnapped, brutally tortured and murdered" since February. According to a copy of a decree issued by the Ministry of Interior and obtained by Vice, the kills were sanctioned by the government. The document reads in part:

"It has been decided to form a yellow cell to ensure the elimination of the so-called homosexuals and will start its tasks in our known areas to stir chaos starting from Al-Karrada district. To accomplish the missions with absolute secrecy please use the transmission code 115/1/4"

The number of dead since the killings began on February 6 is put at "between 90 and 100" by Brussels Tribunal, an Iraq-focused NGO. Al-Sharqiya TV, a privately owned satellite network, confirms the reports, and Iraqna News spoke with Colonel Mushtag Taleb Muhammadawi, director of the community police of the Iraqi Interior Ministry, who said police have been given "an official approval to eliminate emo people because of their ‘notorious effects’ on the community."

From the interview:

 ‘Research and reports on the emo phenomenon has been conducted and shared with the Ministry of Interior which officially approves the measures to eliminate them.

‘The Ministries of Education and Interior are taking this issue seriously and we have an action plan to “eradicate them”. I will be leading the project myself and we have the necessary permits to access all schools in the capital,’ added the colonel, thus possibly indicating at the very least Iraqi state complicity with the massacres.

The story, fueled by those grisly images, exploded across the country yesterday and has caused a "big uproar," according to Al Arabiya News. The Iraq-based Al Sumaria News TV today interviewed conservative cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who said, "[Emos] are fools ... experts much finish them."
Also mentioned in the same report:
Sumaria News reported police sources as saying that last week, around five “Emos” were killed in Baghdad. Three of those killed on Monday were in the northern capital, and two took place in the more upscale area of Karada.

In other Iraqi provinces police talked of “mysterious” suicides taking place, all of which involved “emo” teenagers. An official from Babil’s province police department told Sumaria News that “seven suicide attempts took place in the province, from November 2011 and January 2012, two for girls and five for boys.” Investigation shows that the seven were “emos” who listened to rock music.

Another high-ranking cleric, however, downplayed the story as media-hyped hysteria. Ayatollah Mohammed al-Yakoubi released a statement on Friday, saying that while it should be everyone’s religious duty "to advise" Emo youth, the reports of the mass killings are false and politically motivated -- "aimed at tarnishing the image of those who are religious and have problems with the current government." He said no media outlets reporting the story have confirmed "the authenticity or the correctness of neither the news nor the numbers mentioned.”

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.