Tuesday, September 01, 2009

He shouldn't try to read






While Hoshyar Zebari may think it's fine and dandy for countries to turn people over to Iraq (without meeting extradition requirements), others would disagree and Iraq's 'justice' system remains a joke. Amnesty International continues its campaign to eliminate the death penalty worldwide. Today they note that over 1,000 people are on death row in Iraq with 150 of those having "exhausted all means of appeal or clemency and are at immediate risk of death. The majority of the condemned (some 750, including 12 women) are held by the Ministry of Justice, while serveral hundred are detained by the Interior Ministry. At least seven facing execution are held by the US military at Camp Cropper in Baghdad. Ten female death row prisoners have recently been transferred to the al-Kadhimiya Prison in Baghdad, which suggests that their executions may be imminent. One of these, 27-year-old Samar Sa'ad Abdullah, facing execution for mudred, has alleged that she was tortured into making a false confession, including with electric shocks and beatings with a cable. She reported received a trial lasting less than two days, where one of her lawyers was ordered out of the court by the trial judge. Amnesty has repeatedly expressed its concerns about trials conducted by criminal courts in Iraq, whose procedures fall short of international standards for fair trials."

CNN (link has text and video) spoke with Noor al-Deen Bahaa al-Deen, Iraq's Minister of Justice, about the report: "For us, there is no difference between men and women who commit crimes. A person who commits a crime should be punished. In general, this can't happen now or in a year or two, but I hope in the future, the death penalty would be abolished, because I am personally in favor of life sentences rather than the death penalty. [. . .] Even if I put in a request, this is a worthless request, because there is a law. As for abolishing the death sentence and replacing it with life imprisonment, that is an amendment of the law, and that has to happen through parliament. And parliament as the representative of the people decides if the punishment changes or doesn't." From CNN's video report:

Naamua Delaney: Six years after the fall of Saddam Hussein, Iraq has one of the highest rates of execution in the world. That is according to Amnesty International which just released a report that 1,000 Iraqis are currently on death row, about a dozen of them women. Arwa Damon met one woman who could be executed soon despite her claims of innocence.Arwa Damon joins us now from Baghdad. Hello, Arwa.

Arwa Damon: Hi, Naamua. And what is especially disturbing about that Amnesty International report is it says that many of the death sentences that were handed down followed court proceedings that did not meet international standards. Additionally many of the alleged confessions were extracted under duress. This is something that we have heard countless times from a number of different organizations over the last few years. Samar Sa'ad Abdullah's case is one which tragically embodies all the shortcomings of the Iraqi judicial system. We first met Samar Sa'ad Abdullah in the spring of 2007 at the al-Kadhimiya women's prison in Baghdad. She'd already been on death row for two years and she was terrified.

Samar Sa'ad Abdullah: Give me life in prison. Even 20 years. I don't care. Anything but this.

Arwa Damon: Samar was sentenced to death by hanging for being an accessory to the murder of three members of her uncle's family. She maintains her innocence and there are disturbing questions about her conviction. But now Samar is in a place that brings death a step closer. On the other side of this door is the corridor that leads to the cells here at Baghdad's maximum security facility. There are more than 500 prisoners who have been brought here waiting to be executed. We are not allowed to film anything outside of this room. And this is where we meet Samar again. This time we're not allowed to film her face. She looks frail, pale, her eyes bloodshot.

Samar Sa'ad Abdullah: (Crying) My life is meaningless. I can't think about anything else.

Arwa Damon: Once her life had meaning and joy. She had a financee, Saif.

Samar Sa'ad Abdullah: I was so happy before when he asked for my hand in marriage.

Arwa Damon: But she says one day Saif took her to her wealthy uncle's house. He shot three members of her family, including her cousin. They'd grown up like sisters. And then she says Saif turned the gun on her.

Samar Sa'ad Abdullah: There was nothing that made me suspect that this was a guy who would kill. I still remember him pulling the gun on me and saying take me to your uncle's room. I am in prison and he is outside wandering in the street -- happy. And I am in prison.

Arwa Damon: Her parents swear she's innocent. They say the Iraqi police picked her up the next day after Saif dumped her in front of their house and disappeared. "We keep trying to tell her everything is going to be okay and not be afraid," Samar's mother sobs. At her trial, Samar said that she'd been tortured by police into confessing that she went to her uncle's house to steal.

Samar Sa'ad Abdullah: They kept beating me. Finally they made me sign a blank paper, they filled it out afterwards.

Arwa Damon: Under Iraqi law, the courts should have investigated her claim that she confessed under torture but the judges disregarded that. Human rights groups say Samar's case is one of many where justice has failed. In a report about Iraq's Central Criminal Court which tried Samar, Human Rights Watch said, "It is an institution that is seriously failing to meet international standards of due process and fair trials. Abuse in detention typically with the aim of extracting confessions appears common." Local organizations welcome the support

OWFI's Yanar Mohammed: As a human rights organization in Iraq, we find out that we need some backup from abroad to put pressure on our government to -- as a first step to stop the executions of these women who -- some of whom are innocent and we also need to see a new Iraq where execution is not a right for the state anymore..

At Amnesty International's blog, Neil Durkin observes:

OK, so 1,000 is a lot of people and yet that's how many are on death row in Iraq right now. It's a staggeringly large number and it's sort of taken the world by surprise. It's just not what people think of when they picture Iraq. Sectarian violence and horrible bombings, yes; courts sentencing people to death on a weekly basis, no. It's people like Samar Sa'ad 'Abdullah who we're talking about. She's a 27-year-old woman who's been found guilty of murder but only, she says, after she was viciously tortured (electric shocks, beatings with a cable) into making a false confession. If past examples are anything to go by, being beaten into making a phoney confession is common in Iraq, and meanwhile Samar's trial lasted a grand total of one and a bit days and one of her lawyers was even ordered out of the court by the trial judge.So Samar is now living (if that's the right word) in the shadow of the hangman, one of at least a dozen women on death row in Iraq and one of about 150 who've exhausted their appeals and are perilously close to execution. (Take action here, calling on the Iraqi authorities to halt Samar's execution and all others, and for a death penalty moratorium to be implemented in Iraq). Staying with numbers, a few years back we did some number crunching at Amnesty and worked out that there were about 20,000 people on death row in the world, with the largest number in Pakistan (about 7,000). The USA has about 3,500. The country that executes the most -- China, which kills thousands every year -- has an unknown number (massive secrecy) but may not have so many actually facing execution for the simple -- and very grim -- reason that killings are carried out quickly. So, from a figure of zero back in 2004 (rather ironically the American-led interim Iraqi government suspended Iraq's death penalty after Saddam's fall), Iraq five years later has one of world's biggest death rows and one of the planet's highest execution rates.

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1 comment:

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