Iraqi prison inmates complain about mistreatment and human rights abuses

The government has sacked senior officials in charge of Al Taji jail and ordered an investigation

Iraqi policemen walk outside the river police headquarters by the Tigris in the centre of the capital Baghdad on May 10, 2019. Almost 200 people took their own lives in Iraq in the first four months of 2019, according to the government's Human Rights Commission. A senior police source told AFP that authorities had rescued 36 people, mostly men, attempting suicide between January and April. This follows a rise in suicides from 383 in 2016 to 519 last year recorded by the parliament's human rights committee. / AFP / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE
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The Iraqi government ordered an investigation on Tuesday into claims of mistreatment and human rights violations at a major detention centre north of Baghdad.

In a video leaked from Al Taji jail, prisoners complained about abuses and demanded an investigation by the government and human rights organisations.

About a dozen inmates appeared in front of a shaky camera, with some sitting on the ground and others standing behind them. None of the prisoners, who covered their faces with blankets or sheets, identified themselves. Some cried while making their appeal.

“We only need the human rights be respected here,” one prisoner said from behind a blanket. “We don’t need anything else just leave us in peace.”

Another said: “To secure a phone we have to pay one million [dinars — about US$625] and we endure verbal abuses as well. We need a committee to investigate the situation.”

Others said that officials in charge of the prison have forced them to buy crystal meth, the most popular narcotic in the country, a white crystalline drug which can be inhaled or injected.

They provided no further details in the nearly two-minute-long video aired by several local TV channels.

Late on Tuesday, Iraqi Justice Minister Khaled Shawani sacked the head of the jail and at least four other officials, including his deputies, according to a statement. All are under investigation.

Iraqi prisons are notorious for human rights violations and mistreatment, but the Iraqi government has typically denied accusations of abuse, or made little progress improving conditions, despite international pressure.

Since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, local and international human rights organisations have been calling for the situation inside prisons to be improved.

Recently, Iraqi authorities launched an investigation after prison meals were found to be of poor quality, with the amount of food provided also criticised.

Al Taji detention facility is one of the main high-security prisons in Iraq that houses thousands of inmates, including convicted Al Qaeda and ISIS militants.

Several attempts have been made in recent years by Al Qaeda and ISIS to free inmates at Al Taji. Some of these attempts have succeeded, including a large-scale attack in July 2013, while others were thwarted. Many of Iraq's most dangerous prisoners have since been moved to the far south of the country, to a desert prison near Nasiriyah.

Updated: January 18, 2023, 1:34 PM