Iraqi authorities have issued arrest warrants for at least 15 private lawyers since July 24, 2017, on charges of Islamic State (also known as ISIS) affiliation for their past work in ISIS courts, Human Rights Watch said today. While lawyers are not immune from prosecution if they engage in criminal activity, they should not be prosecuted for doing their job as lawyers, nor should the authorities associate them with their clients’ cause simply because they represented them.
All were representing ISIS suspects facing trial in Iraqi courts at the time of their arrest, raising concerns among local lawyers that the warrants were issued to intimidate lawyers defending ISIS suspects. One senior judge told Human Rights Watch that since the warrants were issued, private lawyers had stopped taking cases of any defendants that they believed to be ISIS-affiliated, only taking cases of people they thought were innocent. As a result, only state-appointed lawyers are taking on the cases of those believed to be ISIS-affiliated. Based on interviews with four lawyers, there are serious concerns that the state-appointed lawyers are not providing a robust defense of these clients.
“The authorities should immediately explain why they are detaining and charging these lawyers,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “They need to make it clear that Iraqi lawyers should not be afraid to defend ISIS suspects.”