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(Baghdad) – Iraqi authorities should investigate allegations of torture and unfair trials of Palestinians in Iraqi prisons. A recently concluded conference in Baghdad attended by the Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, addressed concerns about Palestinians held in Israeli jails, but did not examine allegations of serious abuses against Palestinians in Iraqi custody.

The Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, opened the Baghdad conference on December 11, 2012, declaring support for “the rights of the Palestinian prisoners who languish in Israeli occupation jails,” and stated that Iraq “is determined to be at the forefront of the efforts advocating peoples’ rights and freedoms.” Neither he nor other Iraqi officials commented on prisoners’ and family members’ allegations that Iraqi courts convicted two Palestinians based on coerced confessions that the men recanted in court, Human Rights Watch said. One of the men received a death sentence and has been transferred to a prison where the Ministry of Justice usually carries out executions.

“Prime Minister al-Maliki’s claim to support Palestinian prisoners is brutally ironic given Iraq’s record of torture and ill-treatment of detainees in its own prisons, including Palestinians held there,” saidJoe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The prime minister should order an immediate investigation into the Palestinians’ credible claims of torture and unfair trials and cancel any plans to execute them.”

Ahmad Amer Abd al-Qadir Mohammed, 30, a Palestinian born in Iraq, was sentenced to death in May 2011. The Rusafa Criminal Court verdict said that Iraqi security forces arrested Mohammad on July 21, 2006, in the al-Zayouna district of Baghdad. The first time his family received news of his whereabouts, they said, was over a year later, when a police officer contacted the family, informed them that Mohammad was in prison, and demanded US$200 to allow them to speak to him.

Mohammad’s family visited him at a detention center in the Baladiyat district of Baghdad in August 2007. They told Human Rights Watch that they were horrified to see him in what one family member said was “very bad shape.” His body bore “marks of torture,” including visible scars from burns. Mohammad told his family that his interrogators had drilled through his left hand, broken his right foot, poured scalding hot tea on his body, and put salt on his burns. To end the torture, Mohammad confessed that he was a member of an armed group that intended to plant explosives.

Baghdad’s Rusafa Criminal Court sentenced Mohammad to death following a trial that led to allegations of serious violations of his right to a fair trial. The defense lawyers said that witnesses gave conflicting testimony. Mohammad withdrew his confession in court, stating that it had been coerced with torture, and the court took note of a forensic medical report by the Ministry of Health documenting scars on his body consistent with torture.

The court convicted Mohammad based on his withdrawn confession, however, according to court documents Human Rights Watch obtained. In October, he was transferred to a prison in Camp Justice, notorious for its death row. He remains there awaiting a decision on his lawyers’ petition for a retrial alleging flagrant irregularities in his case.

Iraqi authorities should suspend the death sentence and conduct a full and independent investigation into Mohammad’s allegations of torture, Human Rights Watch said.

Mahmoud Mohammad Kamal Ahmad, a 30-year-old Iraq-born Palestinian, also was convicted based on a recanted confession. Sources close to Ahmad told Human Rights Watch that he was initially detained on March 17, 2007, when he presented a fake ID at a police checkpoint in the height of Iraq’s sectarian conflict. Ahmad has told these sources that interrogators tortured him “in many ways” for six months to force him to “admit to killing Iraq troops and raping Iraqi women.” His interrogators broke his leg, dislocated his shoulder, broke some of his teeth, and threatened to kill his mother and sister, he said.

Human Rights Watch obtained a copy of a medical examination by the Ministry of Health’s Forensic Medical Institute conducted on August 10, 2008, more than a year after his arrest and initial interrogation. The report documents scars on various parts of his body, including “scars on his right eyebrow, nose and chin area, right elbow, left thumb, right palm and penis” that were older than six months.

Ahmad confessed to membership in the armed group Tanthim al-Tawhid wa al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidain, to having planted explosives in 2006, and to killing Americans. At his trial, he recanted his confession, claiming that it was obtained under torture. The prosecution did not provide any other evidence against him.

The court convicted Ahmad on December 15, 2009, apparently solely on the basis of his recanted confession. On February 22, 2010, the public prosecutor submitted an objection to the verdict, stating that the evidence against Ahmad was insufficient and demanding his release. Ahmad’s own “confession” stated that he had participated in terrorist acts in February, March, and October 2006 – which the prosecutor said was impossible since he had been detained from January 25, 2005 until June 25, 2006, at Camp Bucca Prison. Nevertheless, the Court of Cassation upheld the verdict.

Relatives of Palestinian prisoners in Iraqi jails have repeatedly called on Palestinian Authority representatives to intervene on behalf of their relatives in Iraq. Human Rights Watch has been unable to verify whether Palestinian authorities have requested to visit Mohammad or Ahmad in their respective detention centers in Iraq, or to arrange adequate legal representation for them.

Under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, ratified by Iraq in 1963, consular officers or their authorized representatives “shall have the right to visit a national of the sending State who is in prison, custody, or detention, to converse and correspond with him and to arrange for his legal representation.”

“The ‘Conference on International Solidarity with Palestinian Prisoners in Israeli Occupation Jails’ is a perfect opportunity for Palestinian Authority representatives to fulfill their obligation to their citizens to help protect them in jails in Iraq, and anything less would be pure hypocrisy,” Stork said. “Iraqi and Palestinian authorities alike need to live up to their promises.”

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