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BREAKING NEWS

Condemned French prisoner said he was forced to confess in Iraq - HRW

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PARIS (Reuters) – A French man sentenced to death in Iraq this week on charges of joining Islamic State told the court he had been forced to confess, campaign group Human Rights Watch said on Friday.

A second French defendant told the judge he had been tortured in custody, and had his trial postponed for medical checks, the rights watchdog added.

There was no immediate comment from Iraqi authorities on Friday, a public holiday, though Baghdad has denied accusations of torture and mistreatment of prisoners in the past.

The reports will stir an already heated debate on the legal rights of Western nationals accused of travelling abroad to join militants. France opposes the death penalty but has refused to take back French jihadis and their spouses.

The men were among 11 French detainees transferred to Iraq early this year by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces rebel group, Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

Seven French nationals have now been sentenced to death in trials there that started on Sunday and ran through the week, an Iraqi prosecutor told Reuters. More trials are expected next week.

One French prisoner told the Iraqi court he was forced to sign a confession in Arabic that he did not understand, the New York-based pressure group said, citing the accounts of two trial observers.

The judge asked the defendant to lift his shirt and then “seemingly because there were no obvious signs of torture”, sentenced him to death, the organisation said.

The second French defendant said he had been tortured in custody in Iraq and had his trial postponed for medical checks after the judge saw marks on his back and shoulder, Human Rights Watch added.

Reuters could not independently confirm the details of either report.

The rights watchdog group did not identify any of the prisoners or observers.

“Countries with fair justice systems should take all possible measures to ensure that their nationals in custody in northeast Syria can return to their home country,” its statement added, citing a U.N. convention banning the transfer of detainees to countries that practise torture.

(Reporting by Laurence Frost; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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