Unfortunately, we have no way of independently investigating the incident at Abu Ghraib because Iraqi authorities have imposed a complete blackout on everything relating to detention centres, and have banned independent organisations from visiting. This affects everybody. Last December, a group of members of parliament wanted to visit a prison in Baghdad, but the justice ministry put them through so much bureaucratic red tape that they were forced to call off their visit.
The prison population in Iraq is estimated at between 18,000 and 50,000 prisoners. The authorities refuse to say how many Sunnis are incarcerated but currently, almost every person arrested under the anti-terrorism law is Sunni.
Dozens of Sunni Iraqi citizens are wrongly arrested every month on terrorism charges and are sometimes sentenced to death and hastily executed. Today, the country is ruled by a large Shiite coalition that doesn’t hesitate to use every means possible against Sunnis trying to challenge their power. To do this, the authorities often resort to Article 4 of Iraq’s anti-terrorism law, which can be interpreted very broadly. [Editor’s Note: It states that the death penalty shall be applied to “anyone who committed, as a main perpetrator or a participant,” a terrorist act, as well as “a person who incites, plans, finances, or assists terrorists in committing crimes.” Since its implementation in 2005, the anti-terrorism law has led to the execution of several hundred people, with at least 129 in 2012 alone.]
“Almost every person arrested under the anti-terrorism law is Sunni”
If you have any sort of problem with the authorities and, by chance, the person you’re dealing with is Shiite, they can use Article 4 to have you arrested. Another controversial issue is that this law encourages anonymous tip-offs. It allows the complainant to remain anonymous, even when the accused faces the death penalty. And finally, many prisoners spend years locked up behind bars for more than five years while prosecutors struggle to procure enough proof to secure a conviction.
There are also a number of secret detention centres in the country. Hundreds of people are being held there without the same rights as those declared as prisoners [according to some sources
, more than 400 such centres existed in 2009]. And when any of these centres is uncovered by the media, the authorities say it is being used for preventative detention.