BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Hundreds of Iraqi prisoners have launched a protest at dire prison conditions and systematic torture including rape, lawmakers said on Monday.
The prisoners have gone on a partial hunger strike to try to draw the government’s attention to their plight, said Ahmed al-Masoudi, a parliamentary spokesman for supporters of anti-American Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
“I don’t have accurate figures but they number in the hundreds. They are protesting because they have been systematically tortured and forced to confess to things they didn’t do,” said Masoudi.
“The violations against some prisoners went as far as rape. Some of them have spent more than a year in these prisons and so far haven’t been brought to trial.”
Interior Ministry officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Most of Iraq’s prisons are heavily overcrowded and rundown. The release into Iraqi hands of thousands of people detained by the U.S. forces since the 2003 U.S. invasion is putting further strains on the prison system.
Global human rights groups have urged the Iraqi government to clean up its prisons and ensure that people accused of crimes are brought swiftly to trial.
They have also denounced widespread torture, which they say is encouraged by a judicial system that relies more on confessions for convictions than on evidence.
This week, Sadrist lawmaker Falah Shanshal read out a statement in parliament saying he had met families whose relatives were in prison and they had told him the detainees had been abused, their rights violated and some had been raped.
He said he went to see some of the prisoners. “I met four of them. They confirmed to me they were tortured and raped. I saw the signs of torture on their bodies,” he said.
A leading defender of prisoners rights, Sunni Muslim lawmaker Harith al-Ubaidi, was shot dead at a mosque in Baghdad on Friday in an assassination that threatens to unsettle efforts to reconcile Sunnis and Shi’ites after years of sectarian war.
Reporting by Waleed Ibrahim and Muhanad Mohammed; Editing by Michael Christie and Richard Balmforth