The complaint was filed on February 3 against Dr. Ali al-Bayati, a member of Iraq’s High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR). Three days later, al-Bayati was interrogated by Rusafa Investigative Court personnel in Baghdad over his discussion about an investigation the IHCHR had begun into the work of Iraq’s anti-corruption committee, which Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi established two years ago.
The legal action stems from comments al-Bayati made in an interview on Alahad Television in December 2020, that the IHCHR had received allegations some detainees arrested under orders from the anti-corruption committee had been tortured.
The IHCHR sought to investigate these allegations and requested from the anti-corruption committee to interview detainees being held on charges related to the committee’s work. Al-Bayati said the anti-corruption committee refused the request, one that falls within the legal mandate of the IHCHR and directed the IHCHR to seek permission from the General Secretariat for the Council of Ministers. Rather than grant the IHCHR’s request, the secretariat instigated the legal complaint against al-Bayati.
The complaint refers to article 434 of Iraq’s penal code outlining the “insult” or imputation of another, a crime punishable by up to one year in prison. “It is very humiliating and painful to be a doctor and human rights defender in a democratic country, and then enter a court accused not because of a crime you committed, but instead because you defended the rights of fellow citizens and fulfilled the duties you swore to perform,” al-Bayati told Human Rights Watch. On March 2, Iraq’s Federal Supreme Court ruled the establishment of the anti-corruption committee itself unconstitutional, stating the committee violated separation of powers articles in Iraq’s constitution. While the legal and political wrangling over Iraq’s anti-corruption efforts continues, the Iraqi judiciary and the General Secretariat for the Council of Ministers should take immediate steps to drop this abusive complaint against Ali al-Bayati. Criticizing state authorities, or conducting human rights investigations, should not be criminal acts.
They also should commit to granting the IHCHR access to all detainees alleging abuse and torture. That individuals tasked with investigating basic human rights abuses are themselves subjected to legal sanction simply for doing their work is both deeply ironic and bodes poorly for Iraqis in far more vulnerable circumstances.
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