BAGHDAD, 19 September 2007 (IRIN) - Lawyers representing families of Iraqi detainees have accused the government of concealing information about detainees, including their whereabouts.
“Hundreds of Iraqis have been detained by the Iraqi police or army in the past three years and their locations and conditions are unknown,” Ayad Daraji, a lawyer representing 15 Iraqi families in Baghdad, said.
“There is no evidence as to whether they are alive or not. Families aren’t allowed to visit them and this raises big questions about the detainees’ situation,” he said.
The Iraqi Lawyers’ Association (ILA) this week sent a letter to parliament calling for the identification of locations where detainees are being held and accelerating their appearance in court.
“In many cases, we aren’t even aware of the reason for the arrests. Families are desperate for evidence that would prove that their loved ones are alive,” Safa’a Farouk, a lawyer and spokesman for the ILA, said.
“The latest figure from Iraqi lawyers in our organisation is that there are over 1,500 Iraqi detainees held without access to lawyers and unable to communicate with their families,” Farouk said.
The US military said in a recent statement that it had begun releasing 50-80 Iraqi prisoners a day from its prisons in the country as a gesture during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The releases will continue until the end of Ramadan, and could see some 2,000 released. However, the initiative has not been followed by the Iraqi army or police.
Lawyers acting for the detainees have asked the Ministry of Defence to review the reason for the arrest and establish where they are being held.
“The defence and interior ministries are refusing to give us access to information. And if they don’t assist us, it will be impossible for us to defend the detainees,” Farouk said.
According to him, the few detainees whom lawyers have been able to reach, have shown signs of serious torture.
“They are being tortured and they suffer from thirst and hunger. So you can imagine the situation of those we cannot reach, assuming they are still alive,” Farouk said.
Khalid Rabia’a, a spokesman for the Baghdad-based Prisoners’ Association for Justice, said that former detainees had frequently alleged that they had been abused. “The government should implement its democratic ideology and allow detainees to have access to a lawyer for their defence,” said Rabia’a.
“Families often stand at the prison gates hoping for the release of their relatives or at least some information about them. This is against all human rights laws,” said Rabia’a. “Many lawyers searching for evidence of the detainees are threatened, and we believe two were recently killed to silence them.”
The Iraqi government refutes all the ILA allegations and has explained the delay in releasing information about detainees.
“The government isn’t concealing information about detainees. Many are under interrogation and lawyers are being informed about them. We are against torture and will punish seriously any officer found behaving inhumanely,” said Lt-Col Hassan Ala’a Obeidi, a senior official in the Ministry of Defence. “The Ministry will investigate all allegations and find out why information isn’t being released.”