prison bars

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NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)– Iraqi women are being illegally detained and many are being tortured, Human Rights Watch said in a Feb. 6 report.

One woman described in the report was interviewed in Iraq’s death row facility in Baghdad’s Kadhimiyya neighborhood. She was on crutches and said she had endured nine days of torture in March 2012 that had left her permanently disabled. The torture included beatings, electric shocks with an instrument known as "the donkey" and falaqa (when the victim is hung upside down and beaten on her feet).

Authors say she was executed in September 2013, despite lower court rulings that dismissed charges against her because a medical report documented she was tortured into confessing to a crime.

The report, "No One is Safe," says that as of June 2013, more than 1,100 women were in Iraqi prisons and detention centers, according to the Iraqi parliament’s Human Rights Committee and the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq.

While the male prison population is much larger–over 40,000–authors say "women suffer a double burden due to their second class status in Iraqi society." Women, for instance, are frequently targeted for detention in order to harass male family or tribal members. After they are released, women suffer stigma from their families or tribes who perceive them to have been dishonored.

The conditions under which the women are detained are sometimes tied to corruption. One woman who was detained said she was beaten, shocked with electric cables and drenched in cold water. She is a manager at a state-affiliated company that approves construction projects. She said she refused to approve a project in which the contractor had used sub-standard materials. Her tormenters, she said, were trying to get her to confess to taking a bribe.

The stories in the report echo reports in the Iraqi media that Human Rights Watch said have caused shock in the public. "Normally, in Iraqi society, a man beating a woman in public is impossible . . .What’s happening to women shows that no one is safe," a human rights activist is quoted as saying.

In January 2013, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki promised to reform the criminal justice system, beginning with releasing detained women who had judicial orders of release, Human Rights Watch said in a press statement attached to the report. "A year later, the brutal tactics of security forces remain essentially the same and hundreds of women remain in detention illegally."

To produce the report, Human Rights Watch said that between December 2012 and April 2013, authors interviewed 27 women and seven girls, Sunni and Shia; their families and lawyers; medical service providers in women’s prisons; civil society representatives; foreign embassy and United Nations staff in Baghdad; Justice, Interior, Defense, and Human Rights ministry officials and two deputy prime ministers. They also reviewed court documents, lawyers’ case files and government decisions and reports.

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