Iraq hangs three convicted of 'terrorism'

AFP , Tuesday 26 Jan 2021

Three Iraqis convicted of 'terrorism' were hanged on Monday, a security source said, days after a deadly double suicide attack in a crowded Baghdad marketplace killed over 30 people.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for an attack in a crowded Baghdad market on Thursday, killing at least 32 people in Iraq's first big suicide bombing for three years, authorities said. Reuters

Three Iraqis convicted of 'terrorism' were hanged on Monday, a security source said, days after a deadly double suicide attack in a crowded Baghdad marketplace killed over 30 people.

The reported hangings came after rights groups warned Iraq may authorise a spree of such executions in a show of strength following the bombings on Thursday, which were claimed by the Islamic State group.

'Three people convicted under Article 4 of the anti-terror law were executed on Monday at the Nasiriyah central prison,' the security source told AFP, on condition of anonymity.

On Sunday, an official from Iraq's presidency told AFP more than 340 execution orders "for terrorism or criminal acts" were ready to be carried out.

"We are continuing to sign off on more," that official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Another official from Iraq's presidency said Monday that all the orders were signed after 2014, most of them under ex-president Fuad Massum and at a time when IS occupied a third of the country.

Thursday's attack, which killed at least 32 people, was a jolting reminder of the persistent threat posed by IS, despite the government declaring victory over the jihadists in late 2017.

A 2005 law carries the death penalty for anyone convicted of "terrorism," which can include membership of an extremist group even if they are not convicted of any specific acts.

Rights groups have warned that executions were being used for political reasons.

'Leaders resort to announcements of mass executions simply to signal to the public that they're taking (these issues) seriously,' said Belkis Wille, senior crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch.

'The death penalty is used as a political tool more than anything else," she told AFP on Sunday.

 'Deeply troubling' 

Since Baghdad officially declared victory over IS, Iraqi courts have sentenced hundreds to death for crimes perpetrated during the jihadists' 2014 seizure of swathes of the country and their brutal three-year hold over cities including Mosul.

Only a small proportion of the sentences have been carried out, as they must be approved by the president.

Barham Saleh, who has held the post since 2018, is known to be personally against capital punishment, and has resisted signing execution orders in the past.

Some Iraqis took to social media to demand tougher action from Saleh after Thursday's attack, accusing him of "not carrying out the sentences" and risking a prison break.

A protest is planned to take place on Tuesday in Nasiriyah, demanding that jihadists be executed in revenge for last week's double suicide attack in the capital.

Despite Saleh's moderating influence, Iraq in 2019 carried out the fourth highest number of executions among nations worldwide, after China, Iran and Saudi Arabia, according to Amnesty International.

Judicial sources told AFP at least 30 executions took place in 2020.

They include 21 men convicted of "terrorism" and executed at Nasiriyah prison in November.

The move sparked condemnations from the United Nations, which described the news as 'deeply troubling" and called on Iraq to halt any further planned executions.

Rights groups accuse Iraq's justice system of corruption, carrying out rushed trials on circumstantial evidence and failing to allow the accused a proper defence.

UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet said late last year that given such gaps in Iraq's legal system, implementing capital punishment 'may amount to an arbitrary deprivation of life by the State.'

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