Iraqi authorities on Monday hanged 21 men convicted of terrorism at the country’s Nasiriyah prison, Iraq’s Interior Ministry confirmed in a statement.
The men were convicted of unspecified crimes under a 2005 counter-terrorism law in Iraq that carries the death penalty. Iraqi government officials did not provide details about the men’s specific crimes, but some of the individuals executed were
“involved in two suicide attacks that killed dozens of people in the northern town of Tal Afar,” the ministry’s statement said, according to Reuters.
The executions took place in Iraq’s southern city of Nasiriyah, home to the notorious prison of the same name. Nasiriyah prison is the only detention facility in Iraq that carries out capital punishment, according to Kurdish news agency Rudaw.
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The prison “is known for holding condemned ex-officials of the Saddam Hussein regime, which was toppled by the 2003 US-led invasion,” the news agency noted. “Iraqis fearfully refer to Nasiriyah jail as Al-Hut, or the whale [in Arabic], a vast prison complex that ‘swallows people up.'”
The Islamic State captured roughly one-third of Iraq in 2014 before a U.S.-backed military campaign largely defeated the terror group in both Iraq and Syria over the next three years. Since it declared victory over Islamic State in 2017, Baghdad has placed hundreds of suspected jihadist terrorists on trial and carried out several mass executions of those found guilty of terror-related crimes. According to Iraqi law, the country’s president must first approve the terror-related sentences, meaning only a small proportion of them have been carried out so far.
“Iraq’s courts have also tried dozens of foreign nationals for alleged IS [Islamic State] membership, condemning 11 French citizens and one Belgian national to death,” Agence France Presse (AFP) noted on Monday. “Those sentences have not been carried out.”
According to some estimates, about 20,000 people are currently detained in Iraq for alleged links to Islamic State.
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Human rights group Amnesty International claims that corruption within Iraq’s justice system allows judges to carry out rushed trials based on circumstantial evidence. The group also alleges that the Iraqi government fails to provide people accused of crimes with sufficient access to defense lawyers. Baghdad denies these claims.
Amnesty International on Tuesday suggested that some of the men executed at Nasiriyah prison on Monday may have been affiliated with Islamic State. The group’s regional director in the Middle East, Lynn Maalouf, implied that these men’s deaths could be seen as a “retaliatory” act by Baghdad against the terror group, according to AFP.
“Retaliatory executions not only fail to deliver justice to the victims and to their families, they serve to reinforce perceptions of partial justice,” Maalouf said in a statement.
This was particularly true, she added, “at a time when the authorities are mum in regards to other serious violations such as torture and enforced disappearances that are still taking place across the country.”