By Omar Sattar, for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.
Although the political blocs in the Iraqi Parliament agreed to pass the general amnesty draft law, voting on it has been delayed since the beginning of the current parliament’s term in 2014.
This delay reflects the concerns of competing political parties in the Iraqi Parliament, as some believe the draft law would lead to the release of terrorists or criminals, while others want their jailed leaders and comrades to be freed.
Salim Shawk, a member of the parliamentarian legal committee, told Al-Monitor that the draft law was sent to Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabouri on March 10, and awaits being put to a vote. “The main point of dispute is the inclusion of prisoners convicted under Article 4 of the Anti-Terrorism Law,” Shawki said.
Article 4 of the 2005 Anti-Terrorism Law No. 13 states:
- Anyone who committed, as a main perpetrator or a participant, any of the terrorist acts stated in Article 2 and 3 of this law shall be sentenced to death. A person who incites, plans, finances or assists terrorists to commit the crimes stated in this law shall face the same penalty as the main perpetrator.
- Anyone who intentionally covers up any terrorist act or harbors a terrorist with the purpose of concealment shall be sentenced to life imprisonment.
Shawki said that the Sunni Union of Nationalist Forces insisted on “including all detainees under the amnesty draft law, even those convicted under Article 4 of the Anti-Terrorism Law who were reported by an ordinary citizen or by a secret agent from the security services.”
He added, “It was agreed to include all those detained as per Article 4 of the Anti-Terrorism Law in the retrial decision under the supervision of three judges. As for the prisoners who claim they confessed under torture, they can be retried if it was proven they were tortured, as per the recent amnesty draft law. The law is trying to release the people who are not a threat to Iraqi society and to be fair to those who were treated unjustly.”
The Al-Ahrar bloc has been asking to include prisoners from the Sadrist Movement’s followers in the amnesty draft law, as they are “militants against the US occupation.”
Shawk said, “Whoever thinks he was jailed due to this accusation will be retried by a jury to prove that.”
The amnesty draft law that was published on July 6, 2015, demanded the exclusion of crimes stated in the Iraqi Criminal Court’s law and in the Anti-Terrorism Law, as well as crimes that threaten the state’s security at home and abroad. The perpetrators of crimes involving the use or sale of weapon silencers as well as abduction, human trafficking, drugs, rape, homosexuality, smuggling of antiquities, money laundering and currency fraud will not be acquitted.
Opinions vary widely on who should be included in the draft law. Sadrist Al-Ahrar bloc member Abdul Aziz al-Zalimi told Ayn al-Iraq news agency Feb. 14 that his bloc demanded the inclusion of the “militants against the occupation” under the amnesty draft law.
Member of parliament Nahida al-Dayni, with the Sunni Union of Nationalist Forces, told Al-Mada on Feb. 26 that her bloc called for including all prisoners jailed under the Anti-Terrorism Law in the retrial decision. She said, “There are 8,000 detainees who have not been prosecuted due to the absence of plaintiffs. Those cases should be reviewed by the new committee and the prisoners released immediately.”
Al-Ahrar bloc parliamentarian Zeinab al-Sahlani explained to Al-Monitor why her bloc insists on passing the amnesty draft law quickly. She said, “Thousands of Sadrist followers were arrested because of their resistance to the US occupation. Members of other Iraqi factions were also arrested on the same grounds, and we ask that they all be released under the amnesty law.”
Sahlani added, “It is a shame to arrest citizens for wanting to liberate their country. The other reason why our bloc wants the amnesty draft law to pass is to give a chance for national reconciliation by releasing those who were arrested due to secret agents’ informing on them during the sectarian strife. We want to give a chance at a new life to those who committed crimes out of poverty and need — those accused of stealing small amounts of money or taking bribes that do not significantly affect public money.”
Sahlani described the last draft of the amnesty law as “satisfactory” because it “forbids — through its special judicial committee — the release of people who were responsible for killing Iraqis.”
However, she did express some concerns, saying, “The 2008 amnesty law scenario would be repeated, as it also stipulated the formation of a judicial committee to examine the amnesty conditions, but the committee did not complete its work.”
It is noteworthy that some political parties, such as Al-Ahrar bloc, believes the 2008 amnesty law contributed to the release of “terrorists.”
Local and international organizations and figures criticized the Iraqi judiciary and accused it of bias and favoritism in dealing with the prisoners and of abusing its power to serve the political agendas of some parties.
Implementing laws, including the amnesty law, under the Iraqi judiciary’s supervision has become a problematic issue, as some conflicting political parties in Iraq do not trust the judiciary. Sahlani told Al-Monitor that Iraqi prisons accommodate more than 250,000 prisoners. The judiciary cannot address this huge number of cases within a short period of time without intervention or objection from one political party or another. The political controversy will probably persist even if the amnesty draft law is approved.
(Terrorism image via Shutterstock)