BAGHDAD, (AP) – Iraqi lawyers called for the end of judicial corruption and prisoner abuse in a protest Thursday that was one of the biggest anti-government demonstrations in Iraq since the start of popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.
Dressed in the black cloaks they wear in court, Iraqi attorneys led a peaceful crowd of about 3,000 through a Sunni Muslim neighborhood in western Baghdad, where there is simmering resentment against the Shiite-led government.
Lawyers in the cities of Basra and Mosul also held similar but smaller demonstrations, demanding better jobs and electricity services in Iraqi homes.
“This is in solidarity with the Iraqi people,” said Kadhim al-Zubaidi, spokesman for Iraq’s lawyers’ union in Baghdad. “We want the government to sack the corrupt judges.”
Noting recent reports by human rights groups revealing secret prisons in Iraq, al-Zubaidi added: “We also demand that the interior and defense ministries allow us to enter the secret prisons … We want to get information about these prisons.”
This month, Human Rights Watch reported evidence of prisoners being held at a secret jail in northwestern Baghdad within a military base called Camp Justice. The watchdog group said the prisoners were moved there in November, days before an international inspection team was to examine conditions at the detainees’ previous location. Senior Justice Ministry official Busho Ibrahim denied the report.
Overcrowded, dirty and otherwise deplorable prison conditions are commonplace in Iraq. On Monday, dozens of prisoners being held in Hillah, about 60 miles (95 kilometers) south of Baghdad, went on a hunger strike to protest overcrowding. About 1,600 inmates are being held at the Hillah prison, which was built to house 750, according to a police official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.
In Basra, lawyers waved banners declaring, “We demand the respect of the constitution and the Iraqi laws,” and “Lawyers demand the sacking of corrupt blackmailers of the people.” About 200 joined the protest in the southern port city, 340 miles (550 kilometers) southeast of Baghdad.
Lawyers in Mosul, 225 miles (360 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, staged a sit-in the Ninevah provincial court.