© 2024 Wyoming Public Media
800-729-5897 | 307-766-4240
Wyoming Public Media is a service of the University of Wyoming
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Transmission & Streaming Disruptions

Iraqi Women Claim Abuse in Prison


Today, in the second part of a two-part series, we look at women imprisoned in Iraq. There are several hundred women held in three major prisons across the country. Most were convicted of crimes like prostitution and murder. Some were jailed for terrorist crimes.

From Baghdad, NPR's Jamie Tarabay gives us a rare look inside one of those prisons. We warn you that this story contains scenes that graphically describe violence.

(Soundbite of women speaking)

JAMIE TARABAY reporting:

The women's prison in Kadhmiya, a Shiite area in Baghdad, used to be a palace for Queen Aurea(ph), the mother of the late King Faisal. In front of its high walls, a woman begs the guards to pass some things on to her daughter, an inmate. Male guards tend the outside perimeter. Inside, the guards are female.

(Soundbite of prison doors opening)

TARABAY: Within the compound walls, women in blue prison uniforms move about with relative freedom. The smell of disinfectant fills the air. Fluorescent lights flicker down the hallways. On the walls are paintings and drawings by the inmates. In one, a little boy is crying, calling out for his mother. Some of the inmates are allowed to keep their children here.

(Soundbite of child crying)

TARABAY: Zehna Fadu(ph) is 24. Her daughter, Gudman, is three. They've been in the prison for eight months. She says she also has a son who lives with her in-laws.

Ms. ZEHNA FADU: (Iraqi Prison Inmate): (Through Translator) I was charged with murder, but I didn't kill anyone. I didn't even know the victim, and had nothing to do with it. I was summoned to the police station and I went there willingly. Would I go there if I were guilty?

TARABAY: Zehna Fadu says she's still waiting to be sentenced. The Iraqi penal code mandates that indicted prisoners be transferred from police stations to jails as soon as possible to await trial. Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, however, many of the women here say they've spent several nights at local police stations before being transferred. Many say they were raped by policemen.

Fatima Hashur(ph) is in her late 30s. She's dressed in black with a gold wedding ring on her left hand. She has a worn, tired face. She's been sentenced to death for murder, and claims she was set up by the dead man's wife.

Ms. FATIMA HASHUR (Iraqi Prison Inmate): (Through Translator) The police brought the man's wife into the interrogation room, and she accused me of killing her husband. I said, what are you talking about? The police said it was useless to argue, and they started to beat me.

TARABAY: Her complaint that police beat a confession out of her is a common one. She said during her questioning, police tied her hands behind her back and beat her with a cable. Then a man she calls Lieutenant Hazza(ph) removed her long, black abaya.

Ms. HASHUR: (Through Translator) I was wearing a t-shirt and pajama bottoms underneath. He took my top off. I started crying, begging, kissing his hand and feet, asking him to stop.

TARABAY: He did. But Hashur was locked up in the police station for four days. The police chief said he would teach her a lesson for not confessing to the crime, and sent her to the private office of the investigative judge in the station. The judge accused her of leading a gang and carrying out the murder. And when she continued to deny it, Hashur says the judge beat her with a long, wooden stick - striking her back again and again.

Ms. HASHUR: (Through translator) Then he grabbed me, tied my hands to the bunk in his room, tore my underwear off and raped me. I even bit his hand because he was covering my mouth, trying to shut me up.

TARABAY: She said she never saw a lawyer. Hashur says she was transferred to an interior ministry building and locked in a cell there, where for days different policemen would come in and rape her.

Ms. HASHUR: (Through translator) There was absolutely no legal procedure. They hid me for 40 days on the seventh floor. And when a committee from the ministry came to visit, they put me in a room and said if anyone asks, you work here.

TARABAY: The visiting ministry members found her and ordered she be transferred to the prison in Kadhimiya.

(Soundbite of woman speaking foreign language)

Hashur has filed charges of rape against the police officers who held her. She says they fixed the murder charge against her in revenge, and say she'll only be free if she withdraws the charges. So far she's refused. Hashur's not the only one who's made this complaint. Zowaita Kamal(ph) is a 31-year-old documentary maker. She's recently wrapped up a film about women prisoners. She says rape and torture at Iraqi police stations is common.

(Soundbite of foreign language)

Ms. ZOWAITA KAMAL (Documentary maker): (Through translator) Seventy percent of those in jail now weren't convicted on the basis of criminal evidence, but through confession. And many of the confessions have been forced. This shows that our police are still as repressive as they were during Saddam's time.

TARABAY: When Kamal began filming the documentary in 2003, after the fall of the former regime, Kadhimiya prison held about 60 women. The conditions were bad - no beds, no blankets. Now there are over 200 prisoners. But unlike police detention facilities, living conditions have improved at Kadhimiya prison. However, Iraq's human rights minister, Wijdan Michael, says there are still problems.

Ms. WIJDAN MICHAEL (Human rights minister, Iraq): There was girls under 18 years. Then there's welfares that here - they are in the prison, and that's not allowed.

TARABAY: Sitting in the lobby of Rashed Hotel, Michael also complained about the living environment that children of female inmates are exposed to.

Ms. MICHAEL: They seen a green or a garden, and they never play and that's - I think that is very dangerous, because they won't grow in this society.

TARABAY: Overhauling the prison system is just one of Michael's many challenges. The lack in the judicial process is another.

(Soundbite of women speaking foreign language)

TARABAY: The women here in Kadhimiya prison all complain about the lack of due process. They claim Iraqi law favors men.

(Soundbite of women speaking foreign language)

TARABAY: The inmates meet with Rijhad(ph), a women's activist who would only give her first name. She's been helping them press charges against police officers they accuse of rape. Zena(ph), one of the inmates, was supposed to be in court to follow up the charges she'd filed against some policeman, but tells Rijhad she dropped the case because she was afraid. She says another women who ignored threats by police was given a death sentence. Zena tells Rijhad, the activist, she can't take it anymore.

(Soundbite of women speaking foreign language)

TARABAY: Rijhad and other members of the women's rights group say they too have been warned off by police and interior ministry officials. At a press conference in Baghdad, the group's leader Unar Hommond(ph), said the activists have received explicit threats.

Ms. UNAR HOMMOND (Iraqi Women's Right Activist):(Through translator) They say watch out for yourselves. From now on, anything could happen. The officers under investigation will not leave you alone, no way. They said it just like that. It was one million percent a total threat.

TARABAY: The interior ministry says it has no knowledge of the threat allegations. Jamie Tarabay, NPR News, Baghdad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jamie Tarabay
After reporting from Iraq for two years as NPR's Baghdad Bureau Chief, Jamie Tarabay is now embarking on a two year project reporting on America's Muslims. The coverage will take in the country's approx 6 million Muslims, of different ethnic, socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, and the issues facing their daily lives as Americans.