The 40 death sentences handed down today in Iraq after a fundamentally flawed mass trial shows a reckless disregard for justice and human life, and brings the total sentenced in 2016 close to 100.

Iraq’s courts have imposed at least 52 death sentences since 1 January 2016. Today a further 40 individuals were sentenced to death as the verdict of a high-profile anti-terror trial is delivered in Baghdad.

92 death sentences in 6 weeks

“For Iraqi courts to hand down 92 death sentences in just six weeks is a grim indicator of the current state of justice in the country,” said James Lynch, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director. “The vast majority of the trials have been grossly unfair, with many of the defendants claiming to have been tortured into ‘confessing’ the crimes. These allegations must be urgently investigated and a re-trial that meets international fair trial standard should be ordered.”

Today’s trial involved 47 individuals accused of involvement in the Speicher massacre, in which at least 1,700 military cadets from Speicher Military camp, near Tikrit, were brutally killed by militants from the armed group calling itself Islamic State (IS) in June 2014.

Human rights compromised by mass, expedited trials

Iraq’s Federal Judicial Authority confirmed that 40 people were sentenced to death under the 2005 anti-terrorism law and seven were released due to lack of evidence.

More than 600 arrest warrants were issued by the Iraqi authorities in connection with the Speicher massacre. The Central Criminal Court of Iraq (CCCI) went on to announce that it would consolidate all cases relating to the Speicher crimes into one case – opening the door to mass trials.

In July 2014, 24 men were sentenced to death by hanging under the 2005 Anti-Terrorism Law in connection with the massacre. “These mass, expedited trials raise serious questions about whether the Iraqi authorities really want to uncover the truth behind these abhorrent attacks, or whether they simply want to create the illusion that justice has been done. Once again we are seeing basic human rights trampled upon as the authorities circumvent fair trials in the name of national security,” said James Lynch.

Amnesty International is calling on the Iraqi authorities to halt the ratification of death sentences and immediately establish an official moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.

Background

Before a death sentence can be carried out, the President of Iraq must ratify it. Former President Jalal Talabani refused to ratify any death sentences leading to a backlog of more than 600 cases. Last year, the new President Fuad Ma’sum came under significant pressure from MPs and the public to ratify death sentences, particularly following the Speicher massacre. A Special Committee was set up in the Presidency Office to manage the backlog. In July 2015 Amnesty International called on the Iraqi President to halt the ratification of death sentences that would pave the way for executions. Many of those sentenced to death have been subject to grossly unfair trials.