The Iraqi authorities must halt the imminent execution of 15 men, Amnesty International said today, following reports that their death sentences had been ratified by the Iraqi presidency on Tuesday.
According to media reports, the Iraqi presidency said that the 15 would be executed after the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which takes place on Sunday.
All 15 are said to be members of armed groups and were convicted of murdering dozens of people and raping women and girls at a wedding party in a village near al-Taji, north of Baghdad, in June 2006.
They were sentenced to death on 16 June 2011 by the Central Criminal Court of Iraq after "confessions" by several of them were shown on the Iraqi TV channel Al Iraqiya.
It is thought that the men may not have received a fair trial according to international standards and that the televised "confessions" may have been obtained through duress.
"While the Iraqi government has an obligation to bring to justice those responsible for serious crimes, the death penalty violates the right to life and is the ultimate form of cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, and should not be applied even for crimes of the greatest magnitude," said Philip Luther, Acting Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme.
"There is also the very real concern that these men may not have received a fair trial according to international standards. They must not be executed. The Iraqi authorities should commute these and all other death sentences and declare an immediate moratorium on executions."
The 15 were reportedly detained for several weeks incommunicado, without access to their legal representatives or relatives.
Many defendants have been sentenced to death in Iraq on the basis of “confessions” obtained under torture in pre-trial detention, when they were held incommunicado and had no access to lawyers of their choosing. Some have been executed on the basis of such “confessions”.
Some – possibly all – of the men's families were not informed about the start of the trial, which also raises serious concerns. This prevented them from consulting with the defendants on the appointment of legal representatives of their own choosing, a right guaranteed under international standards for fair trial.
Several Iraqi government officials publicly called for the public execution of the 15 men even before the trial had been completed, which jeopardized their right to a fair trial.
On 14 June, two days before the 15 very sentenced, the Chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council was reported to have said during a press conference that the 15 men “will be executed as soon as their death sentences are ratified by the Presidency.”
The death penalty was suspended for a time after the US-led invasion of Iraq but restored in August 2004.
Since then, hundreds of people have been sentenced to death and many have been executed.