London, Asharq Al-Awsat – As Colonel Mumin Abu Bakr, the warden of Sousa Prison in Iraq, and his assistant Hussein Mohamed affirmed that the situation in the prison was “normal” and that the Iraqi Ministry of Justice, to which it is affiliated, is able to provide the prisoners with all the necessary requirements for their comfort, a group of non-Iraqi Arab prisoners complained that their own governments are neglecting them, and demanded to be transferred to their own countries of origin.
Colonel Abu Bakr told Asharq Al-Awsat via telephone from his office, “We have arranged workshops for electronics, mechanics, carpentry, tailoring, and hairdressing. We have also provided a drawing and sculpture workshop, a library, and a music room. There are almost 30 different football, basketball, and volleyball teams as well as a theatre club which has performed almost 20 musical and theatrical productions. This is in addition to a sports club and a medical centre.”
Colonel Abu Bakr added, “The prison administration allows prisoners to contact their families by phone, whether they live in Iraq or elsewhere. There are also family visits that take place weekly on Sundays and Mondays, as well as visits by the International Red Cross twice fortnightly.”
He explained that there are around 260 non-Iraqi Arab prisoners of various nationalities in a total prison population of 1500. The remainder are Iraqis.
Hussein Mohamed, the warden’s assistant, revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that “the prison administration has granted the release papers of 37 prisoners who have completed their sentences, and the Iraqi Ministry of Justice has decided to transfer them to their countries of origin. We are waiting for the actual transfer to be conducted by the International Red Cross, in the same way that two Syrian prisoners were previously returned to Syria.”
He added, “The prison administration provides excellent living conditions for the prisoners. In addition to what Colonel Abu Bakr said, we also allow the prisoners out of their cells for almost six hours a day to play sports or just to walk around.”
Hussein Mohamed continued: “The majority of the inmates are convicted on charges of crossing borders illegally and there are some charged with terrorism and murder. Their sentences range from one year to life imprisonment.”
Asharq Al-Awsat spoke to a number of non-Iraqi Arab inmates chosen at random to describe their condition in jail. The prisoners stated that the US troops who had arrested them had taken their passports and did not hand them over to the courts along with their other documents so as to conceal evidence of the prisoner’s legitimate entry and presence on Iraqi soil.
A Tunisian prisoner, Abdullah Habib Abdullah, 44, who previously lived in France said that he had been “sentenced to imprisonment for 15 years on charges of illegally crossing the border,” and has served three years and seven months adding that he legitimately entered Iraq through Syria. “I was injured in Tal Afar in the same week that I arrived there.” He confirmed that “the living conditions within the prison are very good, and we live in peace, practicing our hobbies, and we receive consistent medical attention.”
A Saudi Arabian national, Faisal Ghanim Khalid Al Anasi, 27, who was sentenced to 6 years imprisonment for crossing the border illegally, made an appeal “to be transferred to Saudi Arabia to serve the rest of our sentence so that our families can visit us.” He added, “Many of the prisoners completed their sentences two years ago and still have not been released nor have preparations been made for them to return to their countries of origin.” However, al Anasi did thank “the prison administration for treating us well.”
Another Saudi Arabian national, Abdullah Hamood Abdul Aziz al Towaijiri explained that he was shocked by being “sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for illegally crossing the border even though I entered Iraq legitimately having obtained a visa to visit my cousin in Baquba.” He added that “US troops did not pass my passport onto the courts so I could not prove my innocence.” He continues, “I called my family in Riyadh recently on the phone, a service provided to us by the prison administration.” He echoed his fellow countryman’s desire “to be transferred to Saudi Arabia to be retried, or to serve the rest of our sentence there.”
Ahmed Ali Ghanam, 23, a Saudi national from Riyadh, thanked the prison administration for “their excellent care, and for providing us with a telephone so that we can speak to our families.” He added, “I hope the Red Cross transfers us to Saudi Arabia so that I can see my family as my mother is suffering from a serious illness.” He stressed that he had entered Iraq legitimately “and did not commit any illegal acts…we are in need of lawyers to represent us.”
Khalid Abdul Rahman, an Algerian imprisoned in Sousa Prison said, “How can I be tried on charges of illegally crossing the border when I am actually an Iraqi resident, and was studying law at the University of Baghdad?” He added, “The US forces kept hold of my passport, and all I need now is for the Algerian embassy to retrieve it, so that I can prove my innocence.”
Abdul Rahman, who has served four years of a 15-year sentence, said, “Even the judge who sentenced me told me ‘I’m sure you’re innocent but you do not have a passport just as it says here in your documents.’”
Abdul Rahman went on to say that he was transferred to Sousa prison from Abu Ghraib Prison and Badoush Prison. He described the conditions in the prison as being “bad because they have put me in with Iraqis who I have ideological disputes with.”
Abdul Rahman sent a message via Asharq Al-Awsat to the Algerian government, “which has forgotten all about us, and has not sent any official or lawyer to visit us.”
A Sudanese national, Abdul Rahman Hassan Hussein asked “How could I be accused of illegally crossing the border when I have officially lived in Iraq for 28 years. I have an auto paint shop in Balad Ruz, Diyala.” He added that he had spoken to the Sudanese embassy but “the last call was three months ago and so far nothing has happened.”