Covid 19 in Iraqi jails – outbreak of pandemic used as opportunity to increase torture
According to several sources on the ground Torture has been increasing in Iraqi jails under the cover of the Covid 19 pandemic.
The fact that the prisons are in lockdown gives the prison authorities complete immunity to torture and ill-treat prisoners.
Infections, pneumonias, ill nourishment, poor hygiene, scars and wounds from the tortures, are the breeding ground for death.
Tuberculosis (TB) is one of the main illnesses inside the Iraqi prisons since it spreads through the air when a person with TB of the lungs or throat coughs, sneezes, or talks. Although TB is curable and preventable the prisoners denounce that there is no medical assistance and when a prisoner reaches a critical stage of the disease he is injected and dies shortly after. The prisoners are afraid to say that they are sick, since they know that they will be “executed”.
Several hunger strikes have been made by the prisoners without conducting to any improvement, also all appeals made to the Iraqi Government went unanswered.
The prisoners depend on the money sent by the families to be able to have enough food , but due to the current lockdown the prison director of Nasiriyah Central Prison is keeping the money and so the prisoners are not able to have the necessary food intake.
According to the lawyers of several detainees there are Covid 19 cases in all jails but this is kept silenced. Almost all prisoners have chronic diseases which makes Covid 19 a huge risk factor.
The International Red Cross (Iraq section) went recently to disinfect Nasiriyah Central Prison. However, the Human rights entities never have full access to the prisoners who are forced to hide their current health status. The prisoners are afraid of reprisals that often result in torture and death.
Torture and other ill-treatment continue to be routinely committed by Iraqi security forces as well as members of PMU (Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units ) militias in a climate of impunity and also inside the prison by the prison administrations.
Lawyers are desperate, as are family members of the prisoners who see no protection for these prisoners by the International Organizations responsible for Human Rights defense.
The Iraqi prisons are administrated like slaughter houses. The guards and prison director are corrupt and only those prisoners who can pay have a minimum of space to live.
We cannot continue to be left alone in this battle, we need help. We appeal to all the Human Rights organizations to pressure the Iraqi government to respect the minimum standard of detention of the UN (Mandela rules)”.
Most frequently reported methods of torture include suspension in stress positions, the use of electric shocks, beatings with various objects including metal bars and pipes, threats of rape, amongst others.
Photos from Falha Hassan Mutar El Joubouri being washed down with chemicals after an extreme beating were put on twitter last 12th of April, showing the horrific reality of torture in the Iraqi jails.
I was beaten badly there with cables and metal bars. They suspended me by the arms from the ceiling. The skin on my back was scraped off and they sprayed a cleaning product on my injuries.».
Prisoners still continue to be murdered, as it was the case of Falha Hassan Mutar El Joubouri, in the Nasiriyah Central Prison last week.
Few days after, Hamed Waheeb Najm Al-Halbousi also died after being tortured.
In Iraq, arrested and detained persons are rarely provided with the basic fundamental safeguards.
Almost all the detainees of Nasiriyah Central Prison have been convicted and are now detainees based solely on confessions obtained under torture.
It is estimated that over 70% of the convictions in Iraq are based on confessions obtained under torture.
In the report of “alkarama“, a swiss human rights organzation, the practice of these confessions is denounced:
“In the same token, an extremely alarming practice is that of airing such “confessions” on television with the collaboration of the Ministry of Interior, in blatant violation of the principle presumption of innocence and of the right to be treated fairly in judicial proceedings enshrined in article 19 of the Constitution. In the series “Terror in the hands of justice”, State-controlled channel Al Iraquiya brings in “terrorists” pre-trial detainees to “confess their crimes”, most likely after they have been subjected to torture and threats. As a result, the persons brought o TV are stigmatized as “terrorists” and the judiciary is pressured to issue their guilty verdicts on the sole basis of these public confessions.
According to NGO reports, officials of the Ministry of Interior also regularly organize press conferences during which detainees accused of crimes are presented to the media to confess.
The UNAMI (United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq) itself stated «Investigative hearings and trials rely almost exclusively on confessions obtained under torture and information provided by “secret informants”, while physical or corroborating evidence is rarely presented».
The Iraqi criminal justice system has been used as a tool for revenge not only for crimes committed by armed groups but also to stop the human rights activists and recently also protesters.
Iraqi authorities have shown no political will to investigate allegations of torture and other ill-treatment in detention and uphold fair trial rights.
In a Message a prisoner from Nasiriyah Central Prison to all human rights defenders, he asked:
Listen to the cries of the weak – This prison has become like a grave in which these tortures are buried and engulfed by the silence!
The prisoner detailed the horrors of the prison conditions and the tortures and stressed that all this happens without any action from the media and human rights organizations.