Human rights groups are expressing fears that Iraq’s government may be using state-sanctioned executions to eliminate opponents held in prison following spate of executions carried out last month. Three women were among 21 prisoners executed in a single day on Aug. 27. Two days later, five more detainees were put to death. The government provides few details about the identity of executed prisoners, or the charges against them. Former Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, now in exile in Turkey, last month sent a letter to 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 government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sentenced him to death in absentia for allegedly killing a security official and a lawyer. His son-in-law Ahmed Qahtan was likewise sentenced to death by hanging.
Iraq’s Justice Ministry said there were 96 executions so far for 2012, with another 196 on death row. Many Iraqis, including former detainees, assert the number is much higher than what the government is reporting. Iraqi authorities say all of those executed had been convicted on charges “related to terrorism,” but offer little information about the specific crimes. Christof Heyns, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, has noted the situation. “I am appalled about the level of executions in Iraq. I deeply deplore the executions carried out this week,” Heyns said last month.
The surge in executions has also drawn repeated criticism this year from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay. “Given the lack of transparency in court proceedings, and the very wide range of offences for which the death penalty can be imposed in Iraq, this is truly a shocking figure,” Pillay said in response to the August execution spree. (Al Jazeera, Sept. 11; CSM, Sept. 9)