PORT OF SPAIN – Security officials are in the process of investigating reports that a Trinidadian woman has been sentenced to death by an Iraqi court. The report first surfaced on the news agency Arab News under the headline “Foreign women sentenced to life in prison for joining IS (Islamic State)”. The name of the woman has not been released. The Trinidad Guardian reports that “an uneasy feeling has gripped Imam Nazim Mohammed,
Mohammed, who heads the Masjid Umar Ibn Khattab Jamaat in Rio Claro, said if the news is true, it could be either his daughter or one of three granddaughters he believes are being detained by the Iraqi government for their connection with the terror group.
In a surprise move in 2015, Mohammed’s daughter, son-in-law and three teenage granddaughters left their Princes Town home to go to war-torn Syria where ISIS group operated.
For three years, Mohammed, 75, said his daughter kept her location a secret.
“The last I heard from them they were staying in an unknown location in Baghdad. Little or no information was given to me about their whereabouts and the reason for going there,” Mohammed told the T&T Guardian yesterday.
However, in February, Mohammed received a letter from his daughter, who revealed she was being detained with her three daughters by the Iraqi government for supporting ISIS. But Mohammed could not say if all four women were condemned to death or faced life imprisonment for their affiliation with the terrorist group.
Mohammed said that his son-in-law has also since gone missing and he could not say if he was alive, dead, imprisoned or on the run from authorities.
“We have no information about him,” he said.
On Tuesday, Mohammed grew more concerned and worried when reports carried by several Arab and International media outlets stated a Trinidadian woman was one of six women sentenced to death due to their ISIS links. One report in the Daily Sabah Mideast said the five other women condemned to death were from Azerbaijan. One report stated that under Iraqi anti-terrorism law, a total of 97 foreign women have now been condemned to death since January and 185 others to life imprisonment by the courts of Baghdad.
The New York Times reports that a 42-year-old housewife had two minutes to defend herself against charges of supporting the Islamic State.
Amina Hassan, a Turkish woman in a flowing black abaya, told the Iraqi judge that she and her family had entered Syria and Iraq illegally and lived in the Islamic State’s so-called caliphate for more than two years. But, she added: “I never took money from Islamic State. I brought my own money from Turkey.”
The whole trial lasted 10 minutes before the judge sentenced her to death by hanging.
Another accused Turkish woman entered the courtroom. Then another, and another.
Within two hours, 14 women had been tried, convicted and sentenced to die.
Iraq’s judicial assembly line has relentlessly churned out terrorism convictions since the battlefield victories over the Islamic State last year led to the capture of thousands of fighters, functionaries, and family members. Authorities accuse them of helping to prop up the group’s vicious three-year rule over nearly a third of the country.
Critics say the perfunctory trials in special counterterrorism courts are sweeping up bystanders and relatives as well as fighters, and executing most of them in a process more concerned with retribution than justice.
The office for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights warned that flaws in the judicial process would most likely lead to “irreversible miscarriages” of justice.
Human Rights Watch has criticized Iraq for relying on an overly broad law to quickly achieve the maximum punishment of the most people.
The nation’s counterterrorism law allows the death penalty for anyone “who commits, incites, plans, finances or assists in acts of terrorism.” So Iraqi courts are meting out one-size-fits-all punishment for the perpetrator of crimes against humanity as well for as the wife of an Islamic State fighter who may have had little say in her husband’s career.
“Individual circumstances don’t matter,” said Belkis Wille, the senior researcher for Iraq for Human Rights Watch. “Cooks, medical workers, everyone is given the death penalty.”
The low bar for conviction under the law, she said, also means that the courts are not bothering to investigate some of the worst crimes believed to have been committed by Islamic State members, such as slavery, rape or extrajudicial killings.
Iraq’s Justice Ministry rejects such criticism and praises the integrity of its judges and its standards of due process. “If there is evidence then suspects are prosecuted, and if there is no evidence then they are released,” said Abdul-Sattar al-Birqdar, a judge and Justice Ministry spokesman.