At a security prison in Irbil, capital of the largely autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq, many detainees say they have not been charged, have not seen a laywer or had a judge review their case. VOA's Brian Padden visited the prison and filed this report.
The Irbil security prison looks more like a school gymnasium than a jail. In the center of the facility, which was built in 2005, is an open air arena. Officials say inmates often play football (soccer) here during their daily exercise periods. But for most of the day, the 200 inmates are confined to their cells, with more than 20 prisoners in each cell.
In a holding facility, recently charged detainees await trial. Many say they have not seen a lawyer or had a judge review their case.
One such detainee is Ali Jasim, a Sunni Arab from a village near Tikrit, an area outside the Kurdish autonomous region. He says he was mistakenly captured along with 20 others during an American-led operation. He says he is innocent.
He says he has been here more than 70 days and still has not been charged or seen a judge, although he does not allege he has been tortured.
Prison officials say he was involved in terrorist activities. While Jasim may not have seen a judge, officials say a judge has reviewed his case and that he will be formally charged shortly.
In a recent report, Human Rights Watch detailed human rights abuses in Kurdish prisons, alleging that prisoners were being held in poor and overcrowded conditions, were denied basic rights, and were being mistreated and even tortured.
The group visited prisons in Irbil, Sulaymaniyah and other areas of the Kurdish region and interviewed 150 detainees. Human Rights Watch researcher Ayub Nuri says a number of prisoners said they were tortured.
"They hold detainees for long periods of time in solitary confinement," said Nuri. "Plus they hang some of the detainees. Most of them said they were hanged from ceiling fans, their hands tied very tightly behind their backs and they were beaten. They were kicked. They were abused."
According to the report, abuse included beatings with cables, wooden sticks and metal rods. Human Rights Watch said some detainees had been held for as long as five years without facing trial.
The Kurdish regional government says it takes the allegations seriously. Yousif Aziz, the Kurdish human rights minister, says the report by Human Rights Watch overstates the severity of conditions in Kurdish prisons. He agrees that torture is not an acceptable practice.
"We have to change this manner," said Aziz. "We have to ... to use the experience of other countries [to learn how] to deal [with], how to investigate ... the suspects of terrorism."
He says the Kurdish government recently released over 650 detainees and is working to bring more judges and lawyers into the system.
He says though that preventing terrorist attacks in the relatively peaceful Kurdish region will remain the government's top priority.
The autonomous region, in northern Iraq, has stayed mostly violence-free although suicide bombers have occasionally managed to detonate thier explosives in Kurdish towns.