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Two more Frenchmen sentenced to death in Iraq over ISIS involvement

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The Rusafa Central Criminal Court in Baghdad, Iraq.
The Rusafa Central Criminal Court in Baghdad, Iraq. -
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REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
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Two more French nationals were sentenced to death by an Iraqi court in Baghdad on Monday for belonging to the so-called Islamic State (ISIS).

The two men — Bilel Kabaoui, 32, and Mourad Delhomme, 41 — are the latest defendants in a string of court cases that have already seen other nine French citizens and a Tunisian national be sentenced to death in the past weeks.

Captured in Syria and transferred to Iraq by Kurdish forces fighting ISIS in Syria, they were accused of violating Iraqi terrorism law by joining ISIS.

Being part of a terrorist group, even if one does not take up arms, is punishable by hanging by Iraqi law. Since the start of 2018, Iraq has sentenced over 500 suspected international ISIS members to death, although none of the yet been executed.

Iraqi terrorism law considers joining terrorist organisation a crime in itself, and no further specific factors — such as the role played by the defendant in the organisation or whether they committed specific crimes — are considered relevant in determining culpability under the law.

All 11 Frenchmen now have 30 days to appeal the sentences — some already have. The next grade of judgement is the appeals court, which may confirm or overturn the sentence. The final say rests with the Iraqi president.

'A disgrace for France'

Allowing these eleven French nationals to be executed would be a disgrace for France, several prominent French lawyers wrote in an open letter published on French media Franceinfo on Monday.

"We have taken a historic risk, which, if it is realised, will leave an indelible stain on the mandate of Emmanuel Macron," reads the letter, signed by some of the country's most-revered legal professionals.

Noting that France outlawed capital punishment in 1981, the lawyers reach the conclusion that allowing the Iraqi government to follow suit with the death sentence would represent a "legal assassination which is now proscribed by the majority of countries on the planet with the exception of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, China and the United States".

International NGO Human Rights Watch agrees, according to AFP reports. Condemning what it called France's "outsourcing" of trials of Islamic State militant suspects to "abusive justice systems", HRW also pointed the finger at the repeated torture allegations the Middle Eastern country has "routinely failed" to credibly investigate.

The French government's answer

Since discussions over the repatriation of ISIS foreign fighters to their home countries in Europe began, France has maintained that its citizens captured in Iraq or Syria must face trial before local courts — but it has drawn the line at capital punishment.

French government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye told Europe 1 Television that "France's position has been constant ... As soon as our citizens around the world face the possibility of a death sentence after a conviction, we intervene at the highest level of state."

Yet, in an interview with French newspaper Le Parisien junior interior minister Laurent Nuñez said that, since "these are people who left French territory to combat France among others, and they are guilty of terrible violence, notably in Iraq" France has "no reason to oppose having these individuals judged there".

“This is a sovereign state that dispenses justice,” Ndiaye concluded, pledging that the government would nonetheless try to have the court decisions reversed from capital punishment to life sentences.