As Iraq Amnesty Looms, Sadrist Prisoners Wait

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With Iraq’s parliament set to pass a law offering amnesty to thousands of Iraqi prisoners, the Iraqi daily Azzaman speaks with a prominent member of the Sadrist Movement, which counts hundreds of detainees among its members.

Sadrist Member of Parliament Jawad al-Hasnaoui said yesterday [Sept. 12] that Iraq’s parliament will pass a conditional amnesty law on Thursday [Sept. 13], after parliamentary blocs agreed on its clauses. This will take place on the provision that there are no other disagreements over its articles.

Yesterday, Hasnaoui told Azzaman that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had released hundreds of detainees belonging to the [Shiite] Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, including the militia’s leader Qais al-Khazaali. However, he noted that hundreds of prisoners from the Sadrist Movement remain in prisons, after making confessions extracted through torture.

The US army accused Khazaali of killing four US soldiers, before handing him over to the Iraqi authorities, who later released him.

Hasnaoui confirmed that the amnesty law was conditional and included many exceptions, such as for the perpetrators of bombing operations, assassinations using explosions and silenced weapons, currency counterfeiting, drug smuggling and the falsification of certificates by those holding a position of assistant general manager and above.

Hasnaoui also spoke out about the reason behind Maliki’s opposition to the law, despite the fact that a draft law was submitted to parliament more than a year ago. He said Maliki believes that the Sadrist Movement [named after Shiite Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr] had hoped that the draft law would to lead to the release of its members currently in prison. They had used the law as a condition to their participation with six ministers in the cabinet. 

The Sadrist Movement was subjected to criticism and pressure from its supporters to take part in the government, even though its members incarcerated in state-owned prisons were not granted amnesty.

Hasnaoui explained that the Sadrist Movement does not only seek the release of its detainees, but strives for the release of all Iraqi detainees according to the principles of tolerance and forgiveness. He added that, like any civilized government, the Iraqi government must abide by these principles and recognize that the law is a part of national reconciliation.

According to Amnesty International and the United Nations, there are tens of thousands of prisoners in Iraq. Most of these prisoners are former officers from the army and the presidential guard, as well as members of the banned Baath Party.

Hasnaoui said that the Sadrist Movement objected to Maliki's proposals regarding the law on more than one occasion, before they agreed on the final draft that is waiting approval.

Hasnaoui added that the number of prisoners from the Sadrist Movement does not exceed 450, but stressed that the movement defends all Iraqi detainees. The Iraqi government says that prisoners and detainees number 20,000. However, international reports confirm that the correct number is three times higher than the official figure.

The International Corrections and Prisons Association said that the Iraqi government has violated international treaties and regulations regarding general conditions in prisons. Iraq’s prisons are overcrowded, the space available for each prisoner is not enough to enable him to sleep and the food and medical care are insufficient.

Human rights sources have accused the authorities of sectarian discrimination among prisoners, saying that certain sects do not receive equal treatment regarding spending their sentences.

When he was asked whether or not Sadrist prisoners are enjoying some privileges — such as the access to mobile phones, TVs and special meals — Hasnaoui responded that these are merely claims used as propaganda against the movement. Moreover, the parliamentary Human Rights Committee has categorically denied these allegations.

Hasnaoui said that Iraqi authorities have recently split up prisoners from the Sadr movement, distributing them among the prisons of Sousse, Chamchamal and al-Taji, adding that these measures were arbitrary.

Hasnaoui said that not all detainees from the Sadrist Movement will be freed under the amnesty law, and added that those who are excluded from the law will give their testimonies before special committees. Their testimonies will be about their confessions that were extracted under torture and that were used against them as evidence by the judiciary, he added.

Found in: amnesty, prisoners, muqtada al-sadr, iraq, human rights, baghdad
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