Iraq prison photos reveal 'degrading' conditions for young detainees

A juveniles’ cell at Tal Kayf prison. Source: Human Rights Watch

Photos taken inside an Iraqi jail leaked to a human rights group show prisoners curled up next to each other, some unable to lie down because of the severely overcrowded conditions.

The cramped confines of an Iraqi prison have been revealed in photos - leaked to a rights group showing extreme overcrowding in cells.

In one photograph, allegedly taken from inside Tal Kayf prison, young men are seen curled up next to each other - so tightly packed their limbs are intertwined.

Human Rights Watch is warning the “degrading” conditions are prevalent at detention facilities in the Nineveh district of Iraq’s north.

It says these facilities are holding thousands of prisoners.

The rights group said most are being held are on terrorism charges, some for extended periods, in confines that amounted to "ill-treatment".

“The Iraqi government urgently needs to rebuild and rehabilitate its detention facilities,” Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch said. 

“The authorities should ensure that the conditions in Iraq’s prisons do not foster more grievances in the future,” she said. 

Women’s cell at Tal Kayf prison, taken in April 2019.
Women’s cell at Tal Kayf prison, taken in April 2019.
Human Rights Watch

Another photo taken inside the prison shows women and children sitting on the ground with their clothes and belongings hung from the walls.

The photos were taken in April this year, according to the rights group.

A senior Iraqi penitentiary expert who spoke to Human Rights Watch said the Tal Kayf prison is one of three detention facilities in the northern Iraqi district. 

The source said these compounds have a maximum capacity of 2,500 people, but as of June this year they were holding 4,500 prisoners.

“Detainees have no space to lie down in their cells or even sit comfortably,” the source said.

“These prisons are meant to be a place for rehabilitation."

“In these conditions, I can only imagine what will happen to them after they are released.”

A juveniles’ cell at Tal Kayf prison.
A juveniles’ cell at Tal Kayf prison.
Human Rights Watch

Mahmoud al-Jubouri, the head of the security committee in Nineveh province told CNN the number of detainees estimated was fairly accurate.

“Ministry of Justice has been approached to increase investigators and judges in the province to speed up (the) judicial process more quickly,” he said. 

Iraq declared victory over the IS terror group in late 2017 but has continued to carry out arrests of suspected its members.

A rise in Iraq’s prison populations has been linked to the conflict, including in Nineveh province and the capital Mosul, once IS's main Iraqi stronghold.

But Human Rights Watch researcher Belkis Wille said these examples of “overcrowding” are not isolated cases.

“Two years ago, we documented deaths in custody simply because of overcrowding,” she told AFP.

“To see these kinds of conditions persist means the prison population is still under threat. It’s incredibly frustrating.”


Human Rights Watch said of those being detained 1,300 had not been transferred to Baghdad prisons, despite being tried and convicted. 

Some had reportedly been held for up to six months without being transferred by authorities. 

The government does not provide figures on detention centres or prisoners, but some studies estimate 20,000 are being held for alleged IS links.

The prison system has long been criticised for its conditions, with security forces being accused of torturing prisoners to extract confessions.

Such abuse could lead to the radicalisation of vulnerable prisoners, analysts have warned.

The rights group urged Iraq to improve conditions to meet international standards and guarantee due process for detainees.

"Iraq has a duty to ensure that detainees are housed decently, in line with international standards,“ Ms Fakih said.

Source AFP - SBS


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