Iraq: Torture in Iraqi prisons… Pain behind bars

21.03.22

This report issued by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) documents over a dozen cases of torture in Iraqi prisons, which are described as some of the most horrific prisons in the world, where continuous torture practices take place in the absence of any effective government measures to prevent or at least limit them.

Iraq suffers from the absence of the necessary legislation to combat torture and hold accountable the perpetrators of crimes against prisoners and other citizens, including civil society activists, despite the fact that Article 333 of the Iraqi Penal Code (Act No. 111 of 1969) prohibits it. The law stipulates that, "Any public official or public servant who tortures or orders the torture of an accused person, a witness or an expert in order to compel him or her to confess to an offence, make a statement or provide information, or to withhold information or give a particular opinion in respect thereof, shall be liable to imprisonment. The use of force or threats shall be deemed as tantamount to torture."

Undoubtedly, this article of the Penal Code cannot be considered sufficient to stop or combat torture, as Iraq is still one of the countries that have not yet ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT). The first article states, "The objective of this Protocol is to establish a system of regular visits by independent international and national bodies to places where persons are deprived of their liberty, with a view to preventing torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

In a report issued in 2015, the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR) confirmed that national legislation does not include a definition of torture that is fully in line with Article 1 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Commission also mentioned in its report that Iraqi legislators contented themselves with providing an implicit description of torture in the Iraqi Penal Code (Act No. 111 of 1969), and that the Commission considers that the definition provided by the Criminal Court Law does not agree with the definition contained in the Convention against Torture, as it considered it narrowing the scope of criminal liability.

In 2019, the IHCHR indicated the weakness of the measures taken by the Iraqi government and parliament to implement the recommendations related to the concluding observations issued by the Committee against Torture (CAT), as well as the recommendations contained in the reports of the IHCHR related to prisons and pre-trial detention facilities, especially with regard to achieving the requirements of a fair trial, providing justice to the victims of the crime of torture, providing reparation and prosecuting those responsible for it.

The absence of legislation and executive procedures that limit the torture practices carried out by some security forces has led to their persistence in torturing prisoners, whether they have been convicted or not. In addition, there is a clear reluctance on the part of successive Iraqi governments that prevented accession to international conventions and protocols against torture, which means that the country will face great challenges in reforming prisons, and the risk of torture turning from individual cases to a systematic practice.

Torture has been outlawed in the Iraqi Penal Code (Act No. 111 of 1969). In addition, the Coalition Provisional Authority Order No. (7) in Article (3) Penalties, within Paragraph No. (2), stipulates the following: "Torture is prohibited and cruel treatment or degrading or inhumane punishment are prohibited." All of this is marred by major gaps and the need for a new legal formulation that contributes to the protection of all citizens, and in particular detainees and prisoners, from all kinds of torture.

GCHR documented the case of Ali Al-Jubouri, whose wife disappeared on 12 April 2021. He was arrested two months after her disappearance and falsely accused of her murder, after he appeared in a television programme in which he confessed to this crime. On 18 September 2021, his wife returned, and he was released three days after her return.

He told his relatives that he was tortured by interrogators during his detention, thus forcing him to confess to killing her. After news of his case spread, the Iraqi authorities took urgent measures, and he was received on 24 September 2021, accompanied by members of the security forces who tortured him, by Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, who ordered that they be detained and brought to court. The Prime Minister also directed that a new committee be formed in the Ministry of Interior to follow up on the implementation of human rights standards and observe the work of the investigators.

On 27 July 2021, GCHR documented the death of an innocent citizen, Hisham Mohammed Al-Khazali, who died after being tortured in prison during the 24 hours following his arrest in a case of mistaken identity. He was arrested after passing a security checkpoint at the northern entrance to Basra Governorate, due to the similarity of his name to the name of a person wanted for justice.

He was tortured in the Directorate of Combating Crime in Basra Governorate, and reliable information confirmed that he was subjected to various types of torture by beating, hanging and suffocation, and the signs of torture were clear on his body.

In a statement issued by its president, the Iraqi Bar Association condemned the killing of Al-Khazali and demanded the security services adopt a method that stops the use of torture during investigations. In his statement, the president of the Iraqi Bar Association, Dia Al-Saadi, said, "The Iraqi constitution of 2005 criminalised all kinds of psychological and physical torture and inhuman treatment, and this constitutional requirement should be adhered to by all security agencies that conduct investigation procedures, regardless of the charges directed to those arrested and those who are being held in detention centres."

GCHR also documented the arrest on 13 May 2021 by the security forces in Babylon Governorate of civil society activist Durgham Khreibet, during a campaign they carried out against protesters in the governorate. He is one of the prominent activists in the peaceful demonstrations and sit-in square in Babylon. Hours later, when he was released, he wrote on his Twitter account: "I did not lower my head and my eyes did not cry, despite the torture and the offensive words that I was subjected to, however I lowered my head out of respect and my eyes shed tears of joy when I came out of the Intelligence door and saw hundreds of my brothers who overwhelmed me with their hugs, kisses and tears. I feel so powerless, it was inexpressible, my only fear was to go out and find myself alone."

GCHR also documented that on 12 February 2021, at half past seven in the evening, four masked gunmen traveling in a pick-up truck with no registration number kidnapped civil society activist Ali Naseer Allawy, 25 years old, from the Amir neighborhood in the city of Najaf. They threw him on the floor of the vehicle and covered his eyes. Although the car was passing in the opposite direction on Nationality Street where the security forces are present, no one dared to stop the vehicle. The gunmen took him to an office, where they began subjecting him to various forms of torture, kicking him, beating him with their hands and rifle butts, and shocking him after tying his chest and feet with electric wires, while asking him a torrent of questions about protesters participating in the popular movement in Najaf Governorate.

The assailants also used an acid chemical to remove the "25 October" tattoo from Allawy’s shoulder, and they did not leave him until after he fainted. When he regained consciousness, he managed to escape from his captors at around 5am in the morning and went to his house. From there, he went with some members of his family to a private hospital to receive the necessary treatment.

On 10 January 2021, GCHR document the arrest by Iraqi security forces of civil society activist Ahmed Maher from Tayaran Square in Baghdad on his way back to his home. Maher is considered one of the most prominent faces of the protests in the Iraqi capital. After four days, he was released but with signs of torture on his body. Activists close to him told GCHR that "Maher was tortured for many hours to extract confessions from him on cases he did not know about. Accusations were leveled against him in regard to the protests and their support from countries hostile to Iraq."

GCHR also documented the case of civil society activist Zaid Abbas, who was arrested on 06 November 2020, tortured and forced along with his fellow detainees to sign a pledge not to participate in demonstrations in the future. He and his colleagues were not released until hours after their illegal detention.

On 16 June 2020, Sayed Rahim Saeed Al-Yasiri, the father of one of the detainees, Shahab Al-Yasiri, 17 years old, wrote on his Facebook page: "From the Basra Police Headquarters, I will not leave my place until the release of my son, Shahab, who is detained and was tortured alongside all of the detainees, and has had three strokes." He continued his sit-in. Local sources confirmed that the arrested demonstrators were ill-treated and tortured while in detention at Police Headquarters, and were charged under article 230 of the Iraqi Penal Code as reported by GCHR. On 18 June 2020, 20 detained protesters, including Al-Yasiri, were released.

On 23 February 2020, GCHR also documented that an armed force had intercepted the car carrying civil society activist Sameh Bassem, and arrested and transferred him to the Military Intelligence Directorate in Karbala. He wrote details of his arrest on his Facebook account, in which he claimed the investigating officer tortured him and forced him to sign the investigation papers blindfolded. A warrant was issued against him pursuant to Article 222 of the Iraqi Penal Code, on charges of cutting and vandalising the streets and hitting security forces, which he denied. He was brought before the court, where the judge asked him about the validity of the charges against him, so he informed the judge that he was tortured and forced to sign the papers. The judge decided to release him on bail of 30 million Iraqi dinars (approx. USD$25,200). Bassem uses his Facebook account to express openly and forcefully his views and unlimited support for the current popular movement.

In addition to the huge number of torture cases in Iraq that GCHR has documented since 2011 until now, at the beginning of 2022, GCHR interviewed a number of detainees in Iraqi prisons after their release.

GCHR interviewed two former detainees (H.S.) and (R.A.) who were held in Tel Kaif District Prison in Nineveh Governorate, and they spoke about the torture, ill-treatment and insults they were subjected to by security forces there. They were accused of belonging to Da’esh, despite their innocence. They were subjected to the most severe types of treatment, and they attempted suicide more than once as a result.

They said during a telephone interview with GCHR that, "the treatment we received from the jailers was very bad." According to their testimony, they were shackled by the hands and feet, and put on the ground, and then the jailers would start beating them.

They talked more about their torture, saying, "One time they made us stand on one foot, and whoever stood on two legs was punched, beaten and tortured with sticks. We both could not stand on one foot, so we were tortured for about half an hour."

According to interviews conducted by GCHR, torture is not limited to the period of imprisonment and detention, but also start from the investigation stage, when investigation officers and security personnel assigned to do so use the worst types of torture.

A civil society activist (A.H.) from Basra governorate who refused to give his name for fear of his life, told GCHR that he was subjected to violent torture during his interrogation when the interrogators wanted to force him to confess things he did not do, beat him with sticks and locked him in a room. They also threatened to shave his hair and falsify information about him.

He added, "I tried as much as possible to procrastinate with them and defend myself, but they were violent and beating me hard. I was only able to get rid of them after my lawyer came after two full days of torture."

It seems clear, through the above-mentioned cases, that some Iraqi security forces do not use physical torture only, but also use psychological torture to force the accused to make false confessions, and this is what caused the overcrowding of Iraqi prisons with innocent citizens.

The Iraqi Supreme Judicial Council acknowledged the torture practices committed by security agents and jailers. On 03 May 2021, it issued a press statement in which it said, "With regard to information that was circulated regarding the trial of an officer and his expulsion from service for killing a member of Dae’sh, we show the following that the Nineveh Criminal Court issued its verdict on 04 August 2021, which includes the conviction of the aforementioned accused and other defendants in accordance with the provisions of Article 410 of the Penal Code for the crime of battery leading to death, sentencing them to imprisonment for five years and one month."

The media center of the Supreme Judicial Council added, "The rationale for the ruling is that the convicted man arrested an imam and preacher in a mosque in Nineveh without an arrest warrant or a search warrant, and took him to the headquarters of the Special Brigade, interrogated him, and tortured him, which caused his death."

It pointed out that "the investigative council conducted by the command of the 20th division of the Iraqi army, which proved the officer's negligence, in addition to the forensic medicine report, which confirmed that [the deceased] was subjected to torture, noted that the verdict did not acquire a final degree due to the appeal against it."

This statement of the Iraqi Supreme Judicial Council proves the torture practices and violent behaviour of some members of the security forces, which calls for urgent intervention by the judiciary and the government to stop these acts that create a brutal and bloody environment in which innocent citizens are victims.

Recommendations

GCHR urges the Iraqi government to:

  1. Ensure in all circumstances that all human rights defenders, including women human rights defenders, in Iraq are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals, including torture and without any restrictions;
  2. Conduct independent, impartial and comprehensive investigations into all cases of torture against all citizens, including human rights defenders, in Iraq, with the aim of publishing the results and bringing those responsible to justice in accordance with international standards;
  3. Amend all Iraqi laws to ensure the end of torture in all Iraqi detention centres and prisons, as well as signing the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment;
  4. Fully cooperate with the mandate of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture as well as the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) and implement its recommendations;
  5. Conduct extensive training programmes to train members of the security forces, especially investigation officers and prison wardens, on humane dealings with detainees and prisoners, in accordance with human rights principles, instead of using torture methods.