France says it opposes death penalty as four French sentenced in Iraq

PARIS/BAGHDAD (Reuters) - France opposes the death penalty in principle but accepts Iraqi sovereignty, its foreign ministry said on Monday, as a fourth French citizen was sentenced to death in Iraq for being part of the Islamic State militant group.

Iraqi court officials said the man had been sentenced on Monday to death by hanging, a day after three other Frenchmen were given death sentences for Islamic State membership. They can appeal against their convictions.

The French foreign ministry said in a statement that it respected the sovereignty of the Iraqi authorities and that Islamic State members “had to answer for their crimes” but stated France’s opposition to the death penalty.

“The French embassy in Iraq, in its role as provider of consular protection, is taking the necessary steps to convey its position to the Iraq authorities,” the statement added.

The four convicted men were handed to Iraqi authorities in February by the U.S-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), part of a group of 280 Iraqi and foreign detainees that military sources said at the time included 14 French citizens.

Five more Frenchmen are expected to go on trial in early June to face charges of being members of Islamic State, two court officials said.

Iraq is conducting trials of thousands of suspected Islamic State fighters, including hundreds of foreigners, with many arrested as the group’s strongholds crumbled throughout Iraq.

In 2014 the group declared an ultra-radical Sunni Islamist “caliphate” spanning parts of Iraq and Syria and established a rule known for mass killings, sexual enslavement and punishments like crucifixion.

The French government has so far categorically refused to take back Islamic State fighters and their wives, although a handful of children have been repatriated. Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has referred to them as “enemies” of the nation, saying they should face justice either in Syria or Iraq.

Human rights groups have accused Iraqi authorities of inconsistencies in the judicial process and flawed trials, leading to unfair convictions.

Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta in Paris and Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad; Editing by Luke Baker and Catherine Evans