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Iraq urged to commute death sentences as 11 are hanged

The Iraqi authorities must commute all death sentences and ensure verdicts are not based on forced confessions involving torture, Amnesty International said today, after 11 people convicted of terrorism-related offences were hanged in Baghdad.

The execution of the 11, including one woman, took place yesterday in spite of attempts by the Tunisian authorities to obtain a pardon for a Tunisian national, Yosri Trigui, who was sentenced to death for his alleged involvement in an attack against the al-‘Askari Shi’a Muslim Shrine in Samarra in 2006. The attack sparked an eruption of sectarian violence.

Trigui, who had been living in Iraq since 2003, was arrested in 2006 by US forces for his alleged involvement in terrorist acts. He was also convicted of the killing of a female Iraqi journalist from the Al Arabiya TV channel, Atwar Bahjat. Amnesty has previously voiced concern that Trigui’s trial did not appear to meet international standards.

Meanwhile, a further 10 people are reportedly due to be executed in Iraq today.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Acting Director Philip Luther said:

“While the Iraqi government has the right to bring to justice those responsible for serious crimes, the death penalty violates the right to life and should not be used in any case.

“Given the appalling state of Iraq’s justice system, it is questionable whether these 11 people received a fair trial.

“Iraq must immediately commute the death sentences of the hundreds of people remaining on death row in the country. The authorities must also ensure that trials meet international standards for fair trial, and are not based on confessions extracted under torture and other ill-treatment.”

Trials in Iraq consistently fall short of international standards for fair trials. The Central Criminal Court of Iraq (CCCI), established by the Coalition Provisional Authority in 2003 after the US-led military invasion of the country, is the main criminal court, which handles crimes relating to terrorism, sectarian violence, organised crime and government corruption. The court has handed down the vast majority of death sentences.

Defendants in Iraq frequently complain that “confessions” are extracted under torture and other ill-treatment during pre-trial interrogation, often when they were held incommunicado in police stations or in detention. Defendants are often not brought before an investigative judge within a reasonable time and not told of the reason for their arrest. “Confessions” extracted from them are often used as evidence against them at their trials and accepted by the courts without taking any or adequate steps to investigate defendants’ allegations of torture. Such “confessions” have also frequently been broadcast on the Iraqi government-controlled satellite TV station Al Iraqiya. This practice undermines the presumption of innocence, which is a fundamental human right.

Trial proceedings before the CCCI are very brief, often lasting only a few minutes before verdicts are handed down.

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