Iraq Execution Spree Under the Spotlight

Spate of executions, mass detentions and alleged torture raise concerns over country’s human rights situation.

Iraq’s vice president Tariq al-Hashemi was sentenced to death in absentia on Sunday (AP)
As Iraq’s political tension ratchets up following the death sentence imposed on its fugitive vice president, human rights groups have expressed fears the Shia-led government may be using state-sanctioned executions to eliminate opponents held in prison.

Stories of torture are also coming from released prisoners and human rights investigators, which directly contradict the claims of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government.

A spate of executions were carried out last month. Three women were among 21 prisoners executed on August 27 alone. Two days later, five more detainees were put to death. For its part, the government continues the ongoing trend of providing few details about the identity of executed prisoners, or the charges against them.

Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi – now in exile in Turkey – sent a letter to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani requesting his intervention “to stop the arbitrary and ever-increasing rate of executions in Iraq”.

Days after al-Hashemi sent the letter, the al-Maliki government sentenced him to death in absentia for allegedly killing a Shia security official and a lawyer.

The al-Hashemi death sentence underscores the precarious political divide between Shia and Sunni leaders in Iraq, and raises questions about exactly who is being executed – and why.

“I am appalled about the level of executions in Iraq.”

– Christof Heyns, UN Special Rapporteur

Iraq’s Justice Ministry said there were 96 executions so far for 2012, with another 196 people on death row. Many Iraqis, including former detainees, believe the number is much higher than what the government is reporting.

Christof Heyns, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said he was alarmed by reports of individuals who remain at risk of execution. “I am appalled about the level of executions in Iraq. I deeply deplore the executions carried out this week,” Heyns said in August.

Read the full story at Al Jazeera English.