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Iraq to execute hundreds of innocent detainees, says human rights group

A cell is seen within the former Abu Ghraib prison on 4 August 2003 in Baghdad, Iraq [Scott Nelson/Getty Images]
A cell is seen within the former Abu Ghraib prison on 4 August 2003 in Baghdad, Iraq [Scott Nelson/Getty Images]

Executions are imminent in Iraq following the president's approval of the death sentences for hundreds of Sunni prisoners in response to the suicide bombings in the capital Baghdad last week, the Arab Organisation for Human Rights in the UK (AOHR UK) has warned.

The execution of 340 civilians arrested and detained under Article 4 of the country's Terrorism Law was approved two days after the bomb blasts, in which 32 were killed and for which Daesh claimed responsibility.

Three detainees were executed last Monday in the Nasiriyah Central Prison. According to AOHR UK, the condemned men came from the provinces of Nineveh, Anbar. Notably, all three were Sunni Muslims, raising concerns that their execution was based on sectarian grounds.

Many Shia citizens, officials, and militias in Iraq regard terrorist groups such as Daesh as synonymous with the Sunni population. This has led to the sectarian persecution of Sunni civilians on suspicion of affiliation with such groups.

In a press release yesterday, AOHR UK said that although the "criminal bombings" were to be condemned, "They cannot be used as a pretext for random, extrajudicial executions of innocent detainees, especially after being tried in unfair trials."

The law under which the 340 detainees – all reportedly Sunnis – were arrested, said AOHR, "is used by the Iraqi regime to pursue and kill its opponents as well as to create sectarian conflict."

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According to one of the defendant's lawyers, "The arrests and charges were based on secret and malicious reports by informants and despite the fact that most detainees are from different areas and governorates and have no connections to each other. They have been linked to these cases… without any evidence."

The lawyer also criticised the treatment of the detainees. "They were tortured severely at the hands of the security services in secret prisons, where many of them remain while being deprived of communication with their families." In some cases, he added, photos of the detainees are leaked to blackmail families into paying money to security officers to have them released.

AOHR UK accused the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi of "moving in the wrong direction" despite his promises of reform after his appointment last year.

The real perpetrators of the suicide blast are neither in prison nor on death row, insisted the organisation. "They are free and have a greater opportunity to carry out other terrorist attacks as the government turns a blind eye to their violations and it sentences innocent people after fake trials that lack any evidence."

AOHR UK called on human rights organisations and the international community to intervene immediately and take the necessary measures to pressure the Iraqi regime to stop the executions. "Terrorism can only be fought by protecting human rights and respecting the rule of law, not by the violation of human rights and politicisation of the judiciary."

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