Iraq detained or imprisoned at least 19,000 people accused of connections to ISIS or terror-related crimes, and has sentenced more than 3,000 of them to death, according to an analysis by the Associated Press.
The agency fears that mass incarceration and speed of guilty verdicts raise concerns about potential miscarriages of justice, adding that jailed terrorists may be recruiting other inmates to build new extremist networks.
The AP explained that its information is based partially on an analysis of a spreadsheet listing all 27,849 people imprisoned in Iraq as of late January. The spreadsheet was provided by an official who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
It is believed that other Iraqi bodies, such as the Federal Police, military intelligence and Kurdish forces detained thousands more.
About 8,861 of the prisoners listed were convicted of terrorism-related charges since 2013, and AP reported an intelligence official in Baghdad indicating that the majority of detainees are likely to be linked to ISIS.
A second intelligence official stated that another 11,000 people are currently detained by the intelligence branch of the Interior Ministry, and are being interrogated or awaiting trial.
Member of Iraqi’s parliament-appointed human rights commission Fadhel al-Gharwari told AP there’s been great overcrowding in prisons and Iraq needs a large number of investigators and judges to resolve this issue.
Gharwari said many legal proceedings have been delayed because the country lacks the resources to respond to the spike in incarcerations.
In 2007, at the height of the fighting, the US military held 25,000 detainees. Based on the list obtained by AP, about 6,000 people arrested on terror charges before 2013 are still serving those sentences.
But the current detentions has hit the Iraqi justice system much harder because past arrests were spread out over a much longer period and the largest numbers of detainees were held by the US military, according the agency.
In November, Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned that the broad use of terrorism laws meant those with minimal connections to ISIS are caught up in prosecutions alongside those with worst abuses. It estimated the number of detainees and prisoners to amount to about 20,000.
HRW’s senior Iraq researcher Belkis Wille indicated that “based on all my meetings with senior government officials, I get the sense that no one – perhaps not even the prime minster himself – knows the full number of detainees."
Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi has repeatedly called for accelerated death sentences for those charged with terrorism.
AP's analysis of the list showed that since 2013, 3,130 prisoners have been sentenced to death on terrorism charges. However, since 2014, Iraq executed about 250 ISIS terrorists, according to the Baghdad-based intelligence official.
The United Nations warned of fast-tracking executions, indicating that they put innocent people at greater risk of being convicted and executed, “resulting in gross, irreversible miscarriages of justice.”
Trials witnessed by AP and human rights groups often took no longer than 30 minutes.
Iraqi government spokesman Saad al-Hadithi asserted the government's intent is “that every criminal and terrorist receive just punishment.”
Maximum-security Nasiriyah Central Prison holds the largest concentration of ISIS-linked convicts with more than 6,000 people.
AP reported a prison official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, as saying that cells designed to hold two prisoners now hold six, adding that overcrowding makes it difficult to segregate prisoners charged with terrorism, meaning ISIS members can openly promote their ideology inside the prison.
Last year, the prison banned detainees from giving sermons and recruiting fellow inmates, the official said, however, he indicated that he still witnesses prisoners circulating extremist religious teachings.
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