Steve Maman, the Montreal businessman who claims to be rescuing Christian and Yazidi women and girls held captive in Iraq by ISIS, has taken legal action against Yazidi leaders and other advocates who have demanded that he provide evidence supporting those claims.
They question the legitimacy of the Liberation of Yazidi and Christian Children of Iraq (known as CYCI), the foundation Maman had federally incorporated in June as a not-for-profit corporation (a copy of the Industry Canada document is reproduced on CYCI’s website) and heads to collect money for rescue operations
Saying he has “nothing to hide” and that he will not “deal with pressure groups,” Maman sent a “cease and desist” lawyer’s letter to the authors of a public letter released by Yazidi leaders on Aug. 26 demanding an immediate inquiry into CYCI’s activity.
Among the 20 names attached the letter is that of Babasheikh Kherto Ismael, identified as “the supreme spiritual leader” of the Yazidis, a Kurdish religious community, and head of the Yazidi Supreme Spiritual Council, and Vian Dakhil, a Yazidi member of the Iraqi parliament. The one apparent non-Yazidi is Matthew Barber, identified as a PhD student at the University of Chicago and an advocate for the Yazidi community who works with Yazida, an international organization.
Maman is also seeking retractions from media who have reported on doubts raised about CYCI, in particular, Vice News, a New York-based international news outlet, which first reported the Yazidis’ letter.
CYCI claims to help negotiate and pay for the release of the hostages, who it says are being used as sex slaves, through brokers on the ground in Iraq.
Neither Maman nor anyone at CYCI immediately responded to email and telephone messages from The CJN, except for an automated email on Aug. 31. That reply stated that “due to the high volume of emails and phone calls,” it is referring inquiries to CYCI’s website and Facebook pages for the latest updates.
According to CYCI, it has raised more than $387,000 in about two months and negotiated the release of over 120 captives. Its crowd-funding appeal at GoFundMe.com was shut down following the release of the Yazidis’ letter, but CYCI continues to solicit donations through its website.
In an Aug. 31 posting on its Facebook page, CYCI said that two reporters from “major media outlets in Israel and America” are currently “on the ground in Iraq vetting our catalog of rescues and documenting CYCI’s work” and that it will be published “soon.”
On Aug. 30, Maman issued a statement responding to the Yazidis’ letter.
“During recent days, CYCI has been the target of accusations and scrutiny founded on poor journalism and lack of proper research. We have also seen deep activities of corruption within groups that claim to protect this oppressed group that are the Yazidis.”
He referred to the authors of the Aug. 26 letter as “so-called representatives” and notes that there are no handwritten signatures and the document bears no official letterhead.
“Basically, we received a letter lacking proper form with defamatory statements not based on facts, but assumptions.”
Their request for accountability is “reckless,” he added, saying it “would compromise our channels because identifying the victims is going to, by extension, identify the brokers that give us this unparalleled access to these victims and result in compromising our mission and our future ability to continue its execution.”
The authors’ “allegations… seems [sic] to hint of resentment at the success and not representative of a true expression of skepticism,” he continued.
Maman said he is prepared to provide evidence of CYCI’s mission to a non-Yazidi organization, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross.
He said he will also provide documentation to the Canadian, U.S., or Iraqi governments, if they request it, and he will discuss what CYCI is doing with Masoud Barzani, the president of Iraqi Kurdistan, if he asks.
“We have been clear about the fact that all CYCI liberations are documented, including fingerprints and detailed statements from the victims,” Maman wrote. “Everything is photographed and we have footage of every liberation we conduct. If any governing body wishes to have access to this confidential information, I invite them to contact us and we will disclose everything.”
The Yazidis’ letter states that it is “imperative that any organization claiming to conduct such a high-level project, especially one that deals so visibly with such sensitive problems, recognize the need for accountability and open itself to the scrutiny of the leadership of the Yazidi community.”
They suggest Maman’s high profile may be reckless.
The authors say that ISIS has uniquely targeted Yazidi females for enslavement, and not Christians.
Maman publicized an endorsement of CYCI’s work by Canon Andrew White, who, until last November, was vicar of St. George’s Church in Baghdad and is president of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East. His adoptive son, a Christian Iraqi soldier, is working on the ground with CYCI’s brokers, Maman said.
The Yazidi letter writers are concerned that CYCI funds may be going to jihadists, citing Maman’s claims that CYCI has had direct negotiations with ISIS. This issue is dealt with, in an oblique way, in the “frequently asked questions” section of CYCI’s website.
The Yazidi authors said they approached Maman a number of times over several weeks before releasing their letter, but he refused to provide any information.
Their request is that he make that the evidence they seek known to “a select number of Yazidi leaders,” not public.
In the meantime, they ask that donations to CYCI stop until its work is verified.
“If his project is legitimate, safe, and ethical, we will… support him,” they say in the letter.