A British man is to stand trial in Iraq on terrorism charges tomorrow (9 February 2011), amid claims that he suffered prolonged torture while being held in secret detention.
Ramze Shihab Ahmed, a 68-year-old dual Iraqi-UK national who has lived in the UK since 2002, is due to appear at the Al-Rusafa Criminal Court in Baghdad tomorrow morning (9 February) to face charges of inciting and fundraising for terrorism, charges that may attract a death penalty.
Despite alleging that he was tortured - including with electric shocks to his genitals and suffocation by plastic bags - into making a false confession, Mr Ahmed’s trial is set to go ahead without these allegations being independently investigated. There are fears that the prosecution will rely on his 'confession', or the 'confessions' of others subjected to torture.
In Iraq Amnesty has documented numerous instances of defendants alleging that 'confessions' were extracted under torture, yet these have regularly been relied on in trials, even in capital cases, despite this being entirely contrary to international law.
Amnesty International's UK Director Kate Allen said: “Iraq’s security forces have a terrifying record of torturing detainees and what Ramze says was done to him is almost identical to hundreds of other cases we’ve examined.
“The frightening thing is that torture in Iraq can also lead to a grossly unfair trial outcome and that’s what we’re worried about now.
“The torture allegations in Ramze’s case need to be fully and independently investigated and there must be no question of so-called ‘confessions’ made under duress being used against him or anyone else.”
Ahmed’s case is one of several featured in a new report published today by Amnesty showing the continuing prevalence of torture, sexual violence and chronic overcrowding in Iraqi places of detention, a pattern also documented elsewhere, including in documents released by WikiLeaks.
After originally being arrested by security officials in a relative’s house in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on 7 December 2009, Ahmed was held for over three months in a secret prison at the old Muthanna airport in Baghdad. His whereabouts were completely unknown to his family until late March 2010 when he was able to make a short telephone call to his wife in London imploring her to seek help from the UK authorities.
Since then Ahmed’s case has become diplomatically significant, with UK’s consular officials visiting him in jail in Baghdad and the Foreign Secretary William Hague raising it with the Iraqi Foreign Minister. Over 6,000 Amnesty supporters have lobbied Mr Hague over the case, and campaigners are now contacting the Iraqi Minister of Justice Hassan al-Shammari insisting that Ahmed is given a fair trial and that his allegations of torture are properly investigated.
Ahmed had originally travelled from London to Iraq in November 2009 to try to secure the release of his detained son ‘Omar. His wife Rabiha al-Qassab, a 63-year-old former teaching assistant who lives in north-west London, said: “There have been promises that they won’t use the ‘confession’ against him in the trial but I know that they do this all the time in Iraq and I’m really, really worried for him.
“He’s not a young man, his health is not good and he’s been tortured. Now he’s being put on trial for terrorism after all that time in prison and the torture. It’s terrible.
“I just hope the UK government can use their influence to insist that everything about the trial is properly fair and then I think it’s certain the court will acquit him.
“One of the best things the UK could do for my husband is send an observer to his trial. This will help exert some pressure on the authorities to see that things are now done properly.”
In November Iraq ratified the United Nations’ convention banning “disappearances” (the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance), a move welcomed by Amnesty. Ramze Shihab Ahmed’s original treatment appears to amount to enforced disappearance and the organisation believes that the Iraqi authorities should treat it as such and thoroughly investigate it.
In September, Amnesty published a report showing that an estimated 30,000 detainees were held without trial in Iraq, many of whom had recently been transferred from US custody. There are fears that many, like Ahmed, have suffered torture and other forms of ill-treatment.
Thousands of these detainees in Iraq continue to be detained despite judicial orders issued for their release and a 2008 Iraqi Amnesty Law that provides for the release of uncharged detainees after between six and 12 months.