ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Over 250 convicted felons are currently in Kurdish prisons waiting for their death sentences to be carried out, according to the Minister of Social Affairs, Muhammad Hawdiani. He confirmed that in the majority of cases, the death penalties had been suspended indefinitely with the violators serving life-sentences in prison instead.
Hawdiani told Rudaw the felons had received their capital punishment sentences for “a range of different and serious crimes,” often involving murder-related charges.
The suspension of the sentences is due to a de facto moratorium that Kurdish authorities have imposed on the death penalty since 2008, which essentially blocks its use except for terror-related charges or “exceptionally heinous crimes.”
Kurdish law requires the president to sign the death sentences before they can be carried out. Since 2008, the death penalty has been carried out in four cases. Most recently, a Kurdish man and his two wives, convicted of abducting and murdering two schoolgirls, were hanged in November 2016.
Human rights groups have urged the Kurdistan Region to abolish death penalty permanently and commute them to life in prison.
Several studies prepared for the Kurdish parliament have shown that inmates on death row are in terrible mental condition because of the constant uncertainty that the suspended death sentences generate.
Families of the victims, however, often demand the death penalties be carried out and have in many cases appealed the suspended sentences.
“We ask the authorities to hang these criminals and urge President Barzani to sign the verdicts when they are convicted of the crime,” said Abdulla Osman whose brother Mahmoud was gunned down in Erbil by armed robbers last month.
“The death penalty is the least punishment for the perpetrators of this awful murder,” said Hogir Gharib, a friend of the slain Mahmoud Osman.
The death penalty is widely used in Iraq where over 1,700 people were on death row towards the end of 2014. According to a recent United Nations report, 177 people were executed in Iraq in 2013.