Iraq: Apparent judicial harassment of former Commissioner of Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights (joint communication)

Photo courtesy of Mr. al-Bayati via FIDH

The following is based on a communication written by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and other UN experts to the Government of Iraq on 31 March 2022. The communication remained confidential for 60 days before being made public. The Government did not respond within this period. Replies, if received, will be published on the UN Special Procedures’ database

This is a shorter version of the original communication.

BACKGROUND

Topic: the investigation against human rights defender Mr. Ali Akram al-Bayati.

Mr. Ali Akram al-Bayati is a human rights defender, physician, and had been previously appointed in August 2017 as a Commissioner of the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR) which is the national human rights institution of Iraq. He is also the founder of TRF, a civil society organization which supports the promotion and protection of minority rights in Iraq.

ALLEGATIONS

On 3 February 2022, Mr. al-Bayati received a summons from the Al Resafa Investigative Court of Baghdad informing him that he was being placed under investigation due to a legal complaint filed by the General Secretariat for the Council of Ministers under article 434 of the Iraqi Penal Code in relation to alleged defamation, a charge punishable with imprisonment up to one year.

On 6 February 2022, Mr. Al-Bayati appeared in court. During the hearing, he informed the court that he benefited from legal immunity as a commissioner for the IHCHR. He was informed that he was being investigated for statements that he had made on Al Ahad television channel on 6 December 2020, during his official mandate as a Commissioner of the IHCHR, following a complaint made by the Anti-Corruption Committee, which had been formed in 2020 to investigate claims of corruption. During the television interview, Mr. al-Bayati had spoken about the work of the IHCHR in documenting claims of torture by the families of those detained by the Anti-Corruption Committee. He had explained that the Committee had denied the IHCHR’s request to visit detention centres and to interview detainees. The Committee had directed the IHCHR to seek access to the detention centres through a request to the General Secretariat for the Council of Ministers which rather than providing the requested access, instead instigated a legal complaint against Mr. al-Bayati. No other evidence of alleged defamation was presented during the court hearing.

On 7 February 2022, Mr. al-Bayati was released on bail. The date of the next hearing is unknown at present.

CONCERNS

In the communication we expressed our deep concerns about the nature of the legal complaint and apparent judicial harassment against Mr. al-Bayati, which appears to be in relation to his exercising of his right to freedom of expression whilst carrying out legitimate human rights activities as a Commissioner of the national human rights institution of Iraq. Such harassment is incompatible with international human rights law and standards. We are further concerned that such apparent judicial harassment will send a message to former and future commissioners of the ICHCR that they may also face harassment following the proper exercise of their functions.

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