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‘This is a very serious matter. They will slaughter him’

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sailn1 under a Creative Commons Licence

On Saturday 10 January the Brussels Tribunal circulated a press release: ‘Iraq: Mr Uday Al-Zaidi – Appeal of Extreme Urgency.’

It outlined an appeal for the immediate and urgent mobilization of NGOs in securing the release of prominent human rights defender Al-Zaidi.

The appeal was necessarily brief, but the wider context is vital to understanding as another life hangs in the balance in the living hell of the ‘New Iraq’, constructed by Tony Blair and George W Bush.

Al-Zaidi was arrested by Iraqi security forces at 6pm on 9 January, near Al-Nasriyah, in southern Iraq. A respected journalist, Al-Zaidi is internationally renowned for his courageous advocacy work against the sectarian cleansing in Iraq.

This began with the onset of the ‘divide and rule’ policy of the US-British invasion. It was continued under the occupation and by then Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and now under his replacement, Haider Al-Abadi.

Al-Abadi came in with the US-British tanks in 2003, having lived in London since 1977, where he was on the Executive of the (Shi’a) Islamic Dawa Party – which is headed by Nouri al-Maliki. The Prime Ministerial change in August 2014 has all the hallmarks of ‘same car, new paint’.

The urgency and gravity of Al-Zaidi’s situation cannot be over-stressed. Originally, his whereabouts were not even revealed, in contravention of all international legal norms.

On 19 January news broke that Al-Zaidi had appeared before an ‘investigative judge’, with a lawyer who said that charges against him (details of which remain unclear) were trumped up, false and irrelevant. He looked ‘tired and drained’.

Fears at this time were that he would simply vanish, ‘kidnapped’ by freelance militia, or that he would be spirited to a neighbouring country ‘as has happened to many before’, according to an impeccable source. It has since been established that he is being held by the government.

Al-Zaidi is being held in prison in Al-Nasiriya. He is being tortured, and is being interrogated daily. He has been on hunger strike in protest at his incarceration and treatment.

In an interview with Al Jazeera on 15 December 2014, he had described graphically, and at length, the reality of the humanitarian catastrophe resulting from the Iraqi government’s brutal systematic sectarian edicts.

Afterwards, he said that he was ‘expecting’ anything as a result. Warned to take extreme care in his movements, he determined to attend the funeral of a friend and was subsequently arrested.

His witness to Iraq’s ongoing tragedy has been tireless and internationally recognized, receiving the Brussels Resistance award in 2013.

‘Since 2003, there have been a million deaths and four million orphans... Iraq is a wealthy country. But its people have to dig in the garbage to try and survive.’

Even in Iraq, he addressed the dishonour of the Iraqi people manifested by a government which ‘represented their groups, militias and parties, and their masters abroad.’ He talked of the ‘defilements’ of Iraq, which finds itself ‘in an ever-deepening crisis’ and under ‘tyranny’.

Sabah Al-Mukhtar, President of the Arab Lawyers Association and Vice-President of the Geneva International Centre for Justice, states starkly of Al-Zaidi’s detention: ‘This is a very serious matter. They will slaughter him.’

Serious indeed. A March 2013 Amnesty International Report on Iraq’s Human Rights record is chilling, and includes this fragment:

‘Ten years after the US-led invasion that [overthrew] Saddam Hussein, Iraq remains mired in human rights abuses. Thousands of Iraqis are detained without trial or serving prison sentences imposed after unfair trials. Torture remains rife and continues to be committed with impunity, and the new Iraq is one of the world’s leading executioners. The government hanged 129 prisoners in 2012, while hundreds more languished on death row.’

Moreover: ‘Lawyers … have told Amnesty International that they no longer take the trouble to seek access to their clients during the initial interrogation phase, because they know the detaining authorities will not permit it. Moreover, seeking to do so, it would appear, can sometimes result in action being taken against the lawyers themselves. For example, in February 2012, the Ninewa branch of the Iraqi Bar Association informed UNAMI [United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq] that five lawyers had been detained by the security forces because they had “attempted to represent individuals detained by the military”.’

Al-Zaidi is the brother of journalist Muntadher Al-Zaidi, who threw ‘the shoe that went around the world’ at George W Bush on 14 December 2008, for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq.

Should human rights and international law in Iraq now count for even less than the woeful post-invasion standing, the current prime minister, along with his predecessor, will surely eventually be held accountable in international law for the horrifying abuses.

Al-Zaidi symbolizes all those condemned to the nightmare of  ‘freedom and democracy’, justice and Iraq’s jails, secret and overt, in the ‘New Iraq’.

It is imperative to draw Prime Minister Al-Abadi’s attention to his personal responsibility for the safety of Al-Zaidi and all under government detention.

It is also incumbent upon the UN’s relevant organizations, UNAMI and all other appropriate international organizations that pressure be brought on the Iraqi Authorities for Al-Zaidi’s immediate release.

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