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Get Out Of Jail Free:
Iraq’s New Amnesty Law So Full Of Loopholes, Terrorists Could Be Freed

Mustafa Habib
Recently Iraq passed a law meant to see wrongly indicted political prisoners released. However, it looks like embezzlers, kidnappers, terrorists and those who killed foreign soldiers will also get out of jail.
5.10.2016  |  Baghdad
Iraqis in Abu Ghraib prison, awaiting release. (photo: واثق الخزاعي )
Iraqis in Abu Ghraib prison, awaiting release. (photo: واثق الخزاعي )

It took six years for Iraqi politicians to agree upon the content of the country’s new law on amnesty; the so-called General Amnesty Law was finally passed on August 25.  But now, a month later, it looks as though it may take another few years for the law to be enacted in reality; that’s despite the fact that it was supposed to be effective immediately after the vote. Legal experts agree there are some serious problems with the law – issues that could see hardened criminals and corrupt officials pardoned easily – and now Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is demanding further revisions.

Al-Abadi first submitted a draft of the law to Parliament in June 2016. It was a long-promised piece of legislation that had been demanded by Sunni Muslim politicians. It was seen as a way of releasing those Sunnis the politicians believed had been arrested for political reasons, under a terrorism law developed by the former government, headed by controversial former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The original law, submitted to Parliament by al-Abadi, had had eight Articles. In the wrangling that followed, another eight Articles were added. Two days after the law was eventually passed al-Abadi stated that he believed parliamentarians had introduced criminal elements to the new legislation.  

The new law means that some of the Iraqis who killed US soldiers will be pardoned. 

For example, in the original draft of the legislation, Article 6 did not allow the release of kidnappers. In the amended draft, kidnappers can now apply for pardons if their crimes didn’t result in death or permanent disability for the victim.  

“The first law excluded anyone convicted of kidnapping from seeking a pardon but the Parliament has changed this,” al-Abadi complained. “A few days ago security forces found kidnapped children during a raid. Under the amended amnesty law, those kidnappers could be released.”

Which is why a few days ago, al-Abadi’s office added further amendments to the new law and sent them to Parliament for discussion. It now seems likely there will be further debate and that this law won’t become a reality anytime soon.

In making the decision to pass the law, Parliament not only ignored the Prime Minister’s office but also objections from the country’s highest courts.

Five days before the law was passed, the Speaker of the House, Sunni Muslim politician Salim al-Jibouri, apparently paid judges at the country’s highest courts a visit and they told him that they had plenty of objections to the amnesty law. A statement to that effect was leaked five days before the law was to be voted upon. However, MPs in Parliament chose to ignore the leaked statement and approved the law anyway.  

Some of the problematic aspects on the law follow in more detail.

For example, Article 3 of the amnesty law states that certain prisoners can be pardoned, but that their release requires the consent of the families of their victims, or of the victims themselves. Interestingly enough there have already been concerns expressed by the families or the victims themselves. They fear that if they do not consent to the release they would come under pressure, perhaps even have their lives threatened, because the prisoners could have contacts or, in the case of possible terrorists, whole networks outside the jail who could harass them.

There are some contentious exemptions in Article 4. For example, Paragraph 2 basically says that any potential terrorist whose crimes did not result in the death or permanent disability of victims can be pardoned. Basically what that is saying, is that if an extremist with a car bomb did not manage to reach his goal, or perhaps the bomb didn’t explode but he was captured in the act, he could be released from prison – just because his act did not cause death or disability.

Pararaph 10 of Article 5 says those accused of stealing state funds or engaging in administrative or financial corruption may be released if they pay back what they stole. That’s a tough ask at a time when some Iraqi politicians are crusading against political corruption. It’s even more difficult when one considers that some of those accused of corruption are senior officials, who will try and enlist allies to reduce the amounts they allegedly stole. Another aspect of this article says that anybody who falsified documents to get a job or gain financial privilege from the state can also be pardoned – but once again, the original draft of the law said no such thing.

 

Judges of Iraq's Federal Supreme Court.

 

One of the most controversial parts of the law: Article 6 says that any prisoner convicted of terrorist or criminal offences, who has served one third of his sentence, may request to “buy” his way out of the rest of the sentence. The prisoner would need to pay IQD10,000 per day (around US$7.50), for every day of the rest of the sentence. Clearly this would not be too difficult for wealthy convicts.

“We are afraid that it is going to look like thieves and terrorists are rewarding us with state funds,” MP Awatif Naima, who voted against the law, told NIQASH.

The decision on whether to accept those buy outs of a prisoner’s sentence will be made by representatives from the judiciary as well as the Ministries of Justice and the Interior. There are fears that those representatives would be under pressure or could be bribed. Article 7 also says that special judicial committees can retrial certain convicts.

“The most dangerous Article in the law is the one that says criminals can be re-trialled by a judicial committee that is free to make decisions all by itself,” argues MP Ammar Tomeh. “The judges’ lives will be threatened or they may come under political pressure.”

Possibly most controversial to some of Iraq’s allies is Article 10 of the new draft of the law: This says that those who were convicted of crimes against foreign forces in Iraq up until 2011 may be pardoned. That means members of unofficial militias who fought, and possibly killed, US soldiers, or soldiers from any other nation outside Iraq, will not be punished – as long as they didn’t fight other Iraqis.

And finally there is the new law’s Article 14, which says that any other legal text that contradicts the new amnesty law is not to be applied. That is, it contravenes Iraq’s own Constitution, which says it must be considered the penultimate legal template in the land.

“Some of the new law’s Articles are very dangerous,” agrees local legal expert, Tareq Harb, who helped draft the Iraqi Constitution and has acted as an adviser to the Prime Minister. “This law should have covered specific issues. But instead Parliament has decided to hold retrials for all those convicted of criminal offences, terrorist acts, rape, robbery and theft.”

 

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