Iraq on Tuesday hanged five people convicted on “terrorism” charges in a notorious southern prison, security sources said, despite an international outcry in recent months over the country’s execution record.
The five men, all Iraqi, were executed in the Nasiriyah prison in Dhi Qar province, the only one in Iraq that carries out capital punishment, the security sources told AFP.
Iraqis fearfully refer to Nasiriyah jail as Al-Hut, the Arabic word for “whale,” describing it as a vast prison complex that “swallows” people up.
A 2005 law carries the death penalty for anyone convicted of “terrorism,” which can include membership of an extremist group, even if the convict is not found guilty of any specific acts.
Since declaring the Islamic State defeated in late 2017, Iraq has condemned hundreds of its own citizens to death for membership of the jihadist group.
But only a small proportion of the sentences have been carried out, as they must be approved by the country’s president — currently Barham Saleh, who is known to be against capital punishment on a personal level.
Last month, Iraqi authorities revealed that they had more than 340 execution orders “for terrorism or criminal acts” that were ready to be carried out.
A presidential source told AFP that a majority of those approvals dated back to before Saleh became president.
Tuesday’s group execution was the second one to take place this year, following the hanging of three “terrorism” convicts in Nasiriyah in late January.
Those earlier hangings came just days after a twin suicide attack on Baghdad that killed at least 32 people and was claimed by IS.
– ‘Political tool’ –
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.
Although there are no public records for 2020, judicial sources told AFP at least 30 executions took place last year.
Iraqi courts have also condemned foreign nationals convicted of IS membership to death, including at least 11 French citizens and one Belgian.
None of those executions have been carried out.
Last year’s executions include 21 men convicted of “terrorism” and hanged at Nasiriyah prison in November.
Those hangings sparked condemnation from the United Nations, which described the news as “deeply troubling” and called on Iraq to halt any further planned executions.
Other 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.
Advocates have also expressed fear that Iraq times its executions for political gains among a population still traumatised by IS.
Following the IS attack in January, there were public calls on social media for executions, with many criticising Saleh for being too lenient.
Human Rights Watch researcher Belkis Wille told AFP last month that Iraqi leaders often resort to announcements of group executions as a “signal” that they are taking attacks on civilians seriously.
“The death penalty is used as a political tool more than anything else,” she said.