Geneva – The Iraqi government should take all possible measures to end all violations against persons having similar names to suspects, which affected innocent people with detention and sometimes execution, Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor said Monday in a statement.
Thousands of Iraqis’ freedom of movement has been restricted at checkpoints or airports, or they have been unlawfully detained for having similar names to persons outlawed for multiple crimes. The security authorities sometimes torture these individuals, and some of them die as a result.
This phenomenon has been prevalent for years in various Iraqi provinces but escalated remarkably after the end of the military operations against ISIS due to the security measures tightening that followed.
The victims of the phenomenon face accusations of joining terrorist groups, harassment at air and land ports, and interrogations that include threats and physical and psychological torture.
Euro-Med Monitor has not been able to confirm the number of people arrested for having similar names to suspects, but local sources estimate their numbers at tens of thousands.
In a previous statement to Euro-Med Monitor, Mohammed Al-Yasiri, a civil activist and an eyewitness to the death of Hisham Mohammed Hisham, who was arrested by mistake, said: “Hisham used to work in a demining company. The company sent him to Baghdad to work with one of his colleagues. During their return to Basra at dawn on Wednesday, 28 July, a group of security forces arrested them and took them in a military vehicle to the Basra Anti-Crime Headquarters despite the absence of any legal warrant for their detention.”
Al-Yasiri added, “after two hours, Hisham's colleague was released while he remained in detention. He was severely tortured, causing his health condition to deteriorate. Yet, he was referred at 9 a.m. to the Qaziza Court in Basra, where the judge ordered releasing him and returning him to the Basra Anti-Crime Headquarters because he was not the wanted person.”
“At 10 a.m., his family came to the headquarters to take him to the hospital because of the torture he suffered, but Hisham died on the way to the hospital, about 3 km from the headquarters,” he added.
People familiar with Hisham’s case told Euro-Med Monitor that he was not the intended person and that an error in the process of tracking the phone number of a wanted person—whose first name is Mohammed—led them to Hisham.
In another similar incident, a relative of Mohammed Al-Dabi told Euro-Med Monitor that “Mohammed was summoned by the Basra Anti-Crime Headquarters to testify in a criminal case. When he arrived at the headquarters, he was detained for 10 days.”
“Meanwhile, the security services managed to find the real killer, so his family went to the headquarters to demand the release of Mohammed. The security personnel told them that they were waiting for a judicial decision to release him,” he said.
He added, “On 7 August, we received a call from a hospital informing us of Mohammed's death. When we went to collect his body, we found clear signs of torture on him.”
Legal researcher at Euro-Med Monitor, Omar Al-Ajlouni, said: “The continuation of this phenomenon is a clear indication that the Iraqi authorities are often indifferent to the simplest rights of citizens. A person having a similar name to a suspect or an outlaw should not cause so many tragedies in light of the development of people identification technologies.”
“The Iraqi authorities allocate large sums to the military and security bodies (including the Ministry of Interior and all its security institutions), including about $18.7 billion from last year’s annual budget alone. This means that the problem is with the decision-makers’ priorities rather than financial or logistical difficulties.”
The continuation of such serious violations in the absence of any serious attempts to end them—despite the fact that they do not require exceptional efforts—indicates a shameful official disregard for the basic rights of Iraqis, foremost of which are the rights to life, freedom, and personal safety.
The authorities should open an urgent investigation into the matter, in accordance with the Iraqi laws and provisions of the Iraqi constitution, in preparation for achieving judicial accountability, holding those responsible for these crimes accountable, and providing remedies for the victims.
The authorities should activate modern methods of identifying wanted persons and suspects to prevent any confusion that might harm the rights of innocents and ensure the application of local and international standards related to the conditions of search, arrest, and detention.