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Iraq: Kurdish authorities must end disgraceful detention of Yezidi woman who survived IS captivity

    September 12, 2016

    The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) must immediately end the shocking and arbitrary detention of a Yezidi woman who has been held without trial for nearly two years after surviving captivity at the hands of the armed group calling itself Islamic State (IS), Amnesty International said.

    Bassema Darwish, a 34-year-old mother of three from the Babira village in Ninewa Governorate, has been detained by the KRG since October 2014. She has been accused of complicity with IS forces who killed three members of the Peshmerga (KRG’s armed forces) when they arrived at the house where she was being held captive in Zummar, north-western Iraq.

    “Yezidi women abducted by IS have suffered truly harrowing abuses including rape and sexual slavery. In the case of Bassema Darwish, liberation from IS captivity did not put an end to her mistreatment. Instead of detaining her for nearly two years in violation of her rights, the authorities should ensure she receives medical and psychosocial assistance, as well as counselling, to help her overcome her ordeal in captivity,” said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.

    “Holding her indefinitely without trial or even a proper chance to challenge the lawfulness of her detention is cruel and unlawful. The authorities must either charge her with a recognizable criminal offence or release her immediately.”

    Relatives, activists and officials told Amnesty International that Bassema Darwish was abducted by IS fighters, along with her husband and 33 other relatives, on 3 August 2014 as they tried to flee the city of Sinjar. She was pregnant at the time. The abductees were initially moved to Tal ‘Afar, where women and children, including Bassema Darwish, were separated from men. The fate of 31 of her relatives remains unknown.

    She is currently detained at Erbil’s Women and Juvenile Prison and gave birth to her daughter Nour Hussein while in custody.

    IS fighters have committed systematic crimes under international law including war crimes and crimes against humanity. Yezidi women and girls have been held as sexual slaves, raped, murdered or tortured. Some were forced to witness the killings of their male relatives, forcibly separated from their children or forced to convert to Islam.

    “It is shocking that the Kurdistan Regional Government, which has consistently condemned IS atrocities against the Yezidi community, is holding a survivor of these abuses on terrorism charges and denying her basic legal rights,” said Philip Luther.

    The head of investigations at the Anti-Terrorism Directorate, who met with Amnesty International in August 2016, said that when Peshmerga forces arrived at the site where Bassema Darwish was being held captive in Zummar, she deceived them by saying the house was empty. He claimed that IS fighters hidden inside then killed three members of the Peshmerga as they entered the house.

    He argued that Bassema Darwish had been “radicalized”, had deliberately tricked the Peshmerga forces, and was responsible for their deaths. He said that she is being held under the anti-terrorism law and that her case has been referred to court, but a hearing has yet to be scheduled.

    Relatives of Bassema Darwish told Amnesty International she appeared in court in August at least once without a lawyer and was forced to sign four papers written in Kurdish without understanding their content.

    The Anti-Terrorism Directorate denied Amnesty International’s request to see Bassema Darwish in prison during a trip to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq in August. Lawyers who sought to visit her in prison were also denied access. Amy Beam, the founder of the Amy, Azadi and Jiyan humanitarian NGO, told Amnesty International she has been threatened by the Asayish (KRG security agency) over her efforts to secure Bassema Darwish’s release.

    Amnesty International has raised Bassema Darwish’s case with the authorities on multiple occasions to no avail, most recently in a letter to KRG President Masoud Barzani on 26 August.

    “Bassema Darwish should be granted unhindered access to her relatives, lawyers and independent international monitors. Her right to a fair trial, including the right to challenge the lawfulness of her detention, to be informed of the charges against her in a language she understands, and to adequate legal defence, should be fully upheld,” said Philip Luther.

    Amnesty International is also calling on the KRG to release Bassema Darwish from custody until an ordinary, civilian court rules on the merits of any accusation against her, given her background, vulnerability and child-care responsibilities. 

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    For media inquiries, please contact Jacob Kuehn // 613-744-7667, ext 236 // email: jkuehn@amnesty.ca