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Arbitrary arrests and false confessions

Adel Kamal
When he was grabbed by his collar and pulled out of his car, Bareq, a taxi driver, assumed it was some routine procedure, the sort of thing that would end with apologies and a friendly slap on the back from the…
5.05.2010  |  Mosul

Bareq, along with many others, was the victim of a campaign of arbitrary arrests in Ninewa. Residents reacted violently, organising demonstrations and sit-ins to protest. The protests have increased tensions between security forces and locals, which were already high.

Under torture, Bareq’s jailers forced him to admit crimes he did not commit. In excruciating pain, Bareq finally decided to confess to the crimes to end the torture. When the case was examined by a judge in Mosul court, it became clear that Bareq did not commit any of the crimes he admitted and that he was only a taxi driver with no interest in politics. Just as in many other cases, Mosul’s court dropped all charges against the defendant.

“The number of people arbitrarily detained in Ninewa increases or decreases depending on the security situation in the province,” said Ahmad, a lawyer who handled Bareq’s case and other similar lawsuits.

When Nouri al-Maliki ordered the start of the Umm al-Rabiayn Operation in 2008, arrest campaigns became widely used, especially in Mosul city, which had witnessed a deterioration in security and a series of attacks by al-Qaeda. The Iraqi army, which took responsibility for interrogating suspects, asked Baghdad to send a judicial commission to assist with investigations.

“Two years after the military campaign, security forces began sending detainees to Baghdad courts, instead of trying them in Mosul,” said Ahmad. “The government does not trust Mosul’s judiciary and accuses its judges of involvement in terrorism and of releasing people who are described by security forces as terrorists.”

Nonetheless, Iraq’s 2nd Army Division, which is stationed in Mosul city, is accused of practicing arbitrary arrests without warrants. It is also accused of practising torture against detainees, obliging them to confess crimes they did not commit.

Abdul-Rahim al-Shammari, head of the Security and Defence Committee in Ninewa province, said “many detainees’ families petitioned the 2nd Army Division to save the lives of their sons detained at the notorious Buka prison in Basra.”

Al-Shammari said that arrest campaigns launched in the city caused many families to flee Mosul “because people were afraid that their sons could be targeted for no reason. Security operations were supposed to encourage people to return to their cities and towns but instead they caused panic and drove people out.”

Earlier, the head of Ninewa provincial council sent official letters to summon security leaders, including the commander of the 2nd Army Division. Most of the letters were ignored, however, showing the deep conflict between the security forces and the local government and the breakdown of cooperation and coordination between them.

The 2nd Army Division’s commander, Maj. Gen. Ahmed Nasser Al-Ghannam, denied accusations of arbitrary detention and told Niqash “All the arrests are backed by warrants issued by security departments including the Ministry of Defence, Intelligence departments, the Interior Ministry, the National Intelligence Service and the Federal Police.”

“Warrants are delivered to our division by Ninewa Operation Command and we, as a security department, implement orders and arrest those we are asked to arrest in order to transfer them to the appropriate department,” he added.

Ghannam admitted that there are other arrest campaigns that are launched without warrants when “a terrorist is arrested and there is evidence that implicates him. It is normal to detain someone driving a car filled with explosive materials.

“Based on information given by those people, we obtain warrants arrest the groups behind these crimes,” he continued.

However, Hassan Mahmoud, Ninewa’s governor’s Second Deputy and judge specialising in criminal trials, disputed Ghannam’s claims.

“Ninewa’s security forces raid peoples’ homes, any time. They arrest people without the necessary warrants and they don’t tell detainees’ families where their sons being held. These are all illegal acts,” he said.

He also reacted angrily to suggestions that Mosul’s judges support terrorists.

“Decisions issued by judges are subject to appeals according to the law and all verdicts issued by Mosul judges are reviewed by the appellate court in Baghdad, the highest judicial authority in Iraq.”

He criticised the transfer of detainees to Baghdad for trials, saying that it complicated proceedings and dragged the process out.

“Witnesses need to be brought to Baghdad and usually they are afraid to go there. They don’t even move inside Mosul, their own city, because of the deteriorating security situation. This means there are many detainees who are kept in prisons for months because of the complicated procedures.”

Many blame the arbitrary arrests on the security services’ reliance on secret agents.

“This leaves the door open to malicious complaints and acts of revenge. Innocent people are the victims. As proof, the majority of persons detained are later released because of lack of evidence to incriminate them,” said a source close to the Ninewa Provincial Council.

Mosul’s lawyers, government officials, tribes and detainees’ families organised protests in the last two months, denouncing arbitrary detention in the city. The Provincial Council backed the demonstrators, submitting a petition to the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, the Ministries of Human Rights and the Ministry of Defence, requesting an immediate end to arbitrary detention in Ninewa.

Jaber al-Abed Rabuh, President of Ninewa’s Provincial Council, stressed that a delegation of the council will arrange for a meeting with the Prime Minister.

“If the demands are not met, there will be unending demonstrations and mass protests which will not stop until an end is put to arbitrary detentions in the city.”

Professor Hazem Jassim, a political analyst, downplayed the significance of these threats, however.

“The council has failed in addressing the issue because condemnation alone will not ease people’s fears.

“A few days ago, one of the secret prison in Muthanna airport in Baghdad, was discovered. Some 431 detainees, many of whom had been tortured, were discovered.”

Jassim believes that the provincial council must get tougher and that asking for an end to arbitrary detention is not enough. The council, he believes, must demand the immediate return of detainees from Baghdad to Ninewa and the immediate trial of those involved in torture against them.