05/10/2019, 19.33
IRAQ
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For Baghdad’s auxiliary bishop, prison rehab programmes needed to fight radicalism and jihad

Prisons risk becoming holy war academies. Cells meant for 20 people hold up to 50. Petty criminals are jailed with extremist recruiters. For Mgr Warhuni, long-term projects are need to uproot jihadi ideology.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – Radicalisation in Iraq’s prisons is a problem. To avoid it, rehabilitation, re-integration and long-term de-radicalisation should be undertaken, this according to Mgr Shlemon Audish Warduni, auxiliary bishop of Baghdad and right-hand man of the Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako.

This is nothing new, he told AsiaNews. "It is up to the authorities to conscientiously guarantee and protect prisoners’ rights, even if they have committed terrible crimes. The worst thing to do is to abandon them to themselves."

Thousands of Iraqis and foreigners are on trial in Iraq, accused of belonging to the Islamic State (IS) group. Given the conditions in Iraqi prisons, several analysts and experts warn that those facilities could become Jihadi academies and provide recruits for extremist groups.

Many leading figures, like IS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, spent time in prison. The self-style caliph, who recently released a video message, was an inmate at Camp Bucca (pictured), a sprawling detention facility set up by the US in a desert area in southern Iraq, where he "came of age" as a jihadi leader.

"For many members of such groups, prison was one of multiple 'stages' of jihad," said Hisham al-Hashemi, an expert in Iraqi jihadi movements.

Inside, they ran their own religious studies courses and even planned attacks on civilians or ordered assassinations of security forces from within the prison walls.

"The cells become the equivalent of academies -- even if there's just one prisoner with extremist thoughts, he can recruit the rest," Hashemi told the media.

At present, Iraqi authorities have begun to try another 900 Iraqis recently repatriated from neighbouring Syria and has offered to try foreigners stuck in legal limbo there, as well.

At this critical juncture, advocacy groups accuse security forces of using circumstantial evidence to detain people on terrorism charges, extracting confessions under torture and keeping suspects in overcrowded cells with no access to lawyers.

Cells built to hold around 20 detainees are often packed with 50. What is more, those arrested for petty crimes are often held with hardened jihadists, which facilitates recruitment and brainwashing.

For Mgr Warduni, "rehabilitation is fundamental for nation-rebuilding. This should apply to everyone, based on principles and criteria of respect for the sentence and protection of the individual.”

For this reason, the authorities should act conscientiously towards people who “committed terrible acts, but still have the right to live like human beings.”

“Christian values and principles” can provide valid lessons. "It is necessary to educate,” he warns, “not only adults, but above all children, the new generations" who represent the future of the country.

Of course, it is still unclear “whether the government has the power to do all this; however, despite the difficulties, everyone has to work on rebuilding” the country’s social, political, legal and institutional fabric.

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