Untold numbers of Iraqis have been detained by the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which is also accused by human rights organisations of ongoing torture [GALLO/GETTY]
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Baghdad -- Heba al-Shamary (name changed for security reasons) was released last week from an Iraqi prison where she spent the last four years.
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Heba was charged with terrorism, a fate faced by many Iraqis who are detained by security forces.
"I now want to explain to people what is occurring in the prisons that [Prime Minister Nouri al-] Maliki and his gangs are running," Heba added. "I was raped over and over again, I was kicked and beaten and insulted and spit upon."
Heba's story, horrific as it is, unfortunately is but one example of what a recent report from Amnesty International refers to as "a grim cycle of human rights abuses" in Iraq today.
The report, "Iraq: Still paying a high price after a decade of abuses," exposes a long chronology of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees committed by Iraqi security forces, as well as by foreign troops, in the wake of the US-led 2003 invasion.
One Iraqi woman, speaking on condition of anonymity, said her nephew was first detained when he was just 18. Held under the infamous Article Four which gives the government the ability to arrest anyone "suspected" of terrorism, he was charged with terrorism. She told, in detail, of how her nephew was treated:
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"They beat him with metal pipes, used harsh curse words and swore against his sect and his Allah (because he is Sunni) and why God was not helping him, and that they would bring up the prisoners' mothers and sisters to rape them," she explained to Al Jazeera. "Then they used electricity to burn different places of his body. They took all his cloths off in winter and left them naked out in the yard to freeze."Her nephew, who was released after four years imprisonment after the Iraqi appeals court deemed him innocent, was then arrested 10 days after his release, again under Article 4. This law gives the government of Prime Minister Maliki broad license to detain Iraqis. Article four and other laws provide the government the ability to impose the death penalty for nearly 50 crimes, including terrorism, kidnapping, and murder, but also for offenses such as damage to public property.
While her nephew was free, he informed his aunt of how he and other detainees were tortured...
"They made some other inmates stand barefoot during Iraq's summer on burning concrete pavement to have sunburn, and without drinking water until they fainted. They took some of them, broke so many of their bones, mutilated their faces with a knife and threw them back in the cell to let the others know that this is what will happen to them."
She said her nephew was tortured daily, as he wouldn't confess to a crime he says he didn't commit. He wouldn't give names of his co-conspirators, as there were none, she said.
"Finally, after the death of many of his inmates under torture, he agreed to sign up a false confession written by the interrogators, even though he had witnesses who have seen him in another place the day that crime has happened," she added.
"They forced me to drink huge amounts of water and then would tie up the head of my penis so I could not urinate. This was really harmful to me," said Hassan.
This was an attempt to elicit confessions for crimes he said he never committed.
Hassan said he was also hung upside down from his feet with his head placed in a bucket of water while he was whipped with plastic rods.
"Torture is rife and committed with impunity by government security forces, particularly against detainees arrested under anti-terrorism while they are held incommunicado for interrogation.Executions and international condemnation
Saadiya Naif, 60, has had three of her sons executed -- two by American forces during the occupation, and one in 2008 by Iraqis.
"Baker was arrested by Iraqi police and held for one and a half years," she told Al Jazeera, while weeping. "He was only 19 when they executed him. I tried to use lawyers to get him out of prison, but all three of them received death threats. Then, after one and a half years in prison, he phoned me to say goodbye, because he was to be executed the next day."
According to international human rights groups, at least 3,000 Iraqis received death sentences since 2005, which was the year capital punishment was reinstated after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
At least 447 prisoners have been executed since 2005, and hundreds of prisoners wait on death row. In addition, 129 prisoners were hanged in 2012.
The government of Prime Minister Maliki has been strongly criticised by both the UN and several other human rights groups for the number of executions being carried out.
Christof Heyns, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said last year he was alarmed by reports of individuals who remain at risk of execution. "I am appalled about the level of executions in Iraq. I deeply deplore the executions carried out."
The surge in state-sanctioned killings has also drawn sharp criticism from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, who called it "a sharp increase from previous years".
"Given the lack of transparency in court proceedings, and the very wide range of offences for which the death penalty can be imposed in Iraq, this is truly a shocking figure," Pillay said.
Human Rights Watch's deputy Middle East director, Joe Stork, said Iraq "has a huge problem with torture and unfair trials."
Lisa Hajjar is a professor of sociology at University of California Santa Barbara and a visiting professor at American University Beirut. Her work focuses on torture and detention issues in the context of war.
She said the situation in Iraq is common in ongoing civil wars, with the regime in power attempting to eliminate opponents from the past. Hajjar described the executions and torture as "intentional state terror."
"I call it terroristic torture," Hajjar told Al Jazeera. "When people are tortured or there are extrajudicial executions, the purpose is to dissuade others. The goal is to create a visible spectacle, and the purpose is to terrorise communities into quiescence."
In response to this kind of international criticism, Iraq's Justice Ministry said torture might happen in isolated incidents, and the media exaggerates it.
"The international community has not been fair with the Iraqi people," Justice Ministry spokesman Haider al-Sadee recently told Al Jazeera. "When there is an explosion in America the whole world is rocked and countries are invaded as a result. But when Iraq defends its rights and executes a person after convicting him of a crime, international organisations condemn it."
"Speaking as an Iraqi citizen," he added. "I believe the least that should be done to show justice to the families of victims is to execute them publicly."
This cavalier attitude, along with increasing rates of detentions, reports of ongoing torture, and increasing executions, have factored largely into why predominantly Sunni areas of Iraq, like Baghdad's Al-Adhamiyah neighbourhood and much of Al-Anbar province, are holding regular demonstrations against Maliki's government.
Every Friday in Fallujah, for three months now, hundreds of thousands have demonstrated and prayed on the main highway linking Baghdad and Amman, which runs just past the outskirts of that city.
People in Fallujah, and the rest of Iraq's vast Anbar province, are enraged at the government of Prime Minister Maliki. They say his security forces, heavily populated by members of various Shia militias, have been killing and detaining Sunnis in Anbar Province, as well as across much of Baghdad.
Sheikh Khaled Hamoud Al-Jumaili, a leader of recent demonstrations, made it clear to Al Jazeera why the protests have been ongoing.
"We demand an end to checkpoints surrounding Fallujah, we demand they allow in the press, we demand they end their unlawful home raids and detentions, we demand an end to federalism and gangsters and secret prisons," he told Al Jazeera inside a tent just prior to recent Friday demonstrations.
Evers went on to point out that the fact that the Iraqi justice system is so opaque points to the route of the problem.