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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Iraq TV show broadcasts 'confessions' of death-row extremists

Human rights groups have criticised the programme for showing inmates on television before their execution

Iraqi television presenter Ahmad Hassan is pictured on the set of "In the grip of the law" in Baghdad on January 22, 2018. Sabah Arar / AFP
Iraqi television presenter Ahmad Hassan is pictured on the set of "In the grip of the law" in Baghdad on January 22, 2018. Sabah Arar / AFP

Every Friday in Iraq at peak viewing time, state television beams the alleged confessions of death-row extremists into homes around the country.

A weekly programme broadcasts gruesome images of their purported crimes followed by interviews with the extremists, who appear clad in orange or yellow jumpsuits.

Baghdad declared victory against ISIL in December, after years of fighting to regain vast stretches of territory that the extremists seized in 2014.

Iraq has detained thousands of suspected members of ISIL, which became infamous for executing its own detainees in orange jumpsuits.

Now, a show titled "In the grip of the law" takes convicted extremists back to the scene of their crime under heavy security.

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By spotlighting ISIL atrocities, the show aims to stamp out any remaining support for the group's ideology, its presenter says.

"I get tipped off by the interior ministry, the defence ministry or national security, who captured them," Ahmad Hassan, 36, explains.

"They choose the case to highlight and I ask the justice ministry for permission to interview the convict."

The programme is up to its 150th episode, Mr Hassan adds — and not about to end any time soon.

"Even if IS has lost militarily, its ideology still exists," he says.

"Its supporters view others as non-believers and will continue to murder as long as its ideology lives on."

Dressed in a beige suit and brown tie and standing on a set meant to evoke a detective agency, Mr Hassan starts his show each week with shocking images.

One episode opens with a photo of dozens of Sunni tribesmen lying in a pool of their own blood, after their 2014 execution by ISIL in the town of Heet, north-west of Baghdad.

It then introduces Mithaq Hamid Hekmet, 41, one of those condemned over the massacre, who recounts the killings in chilling detail — even citing the names of others who took part.

On the show's set, a mahogany desk, stacks of papers, maps of Baghdad and mugshots of that episode's convict seek to create an intriguing atmosphere to draw in viewers.

In another episode, former ISIL finance official Mohammad Hamid Omar, whose nom de guerre is Abu Hajjaj, describes his speciality: extorting funds from pharmacies, schools, real estate agencies, petrol stations and doctors.

Mr Hassan says all of his interviewees have been found guilty and sentenced — most to death, but some to lengthy prison terms.

They are mostly Iraqis, but also sometimes nationals from other Arab countries.

Some have since been executed, Mr Hassan says, but "that's the justice ministry's business, not mine".

Iraq executed more than 100 people last year, mostly after "terrorism" convictions, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has said.

The country's antiterrorism law orders the death penalty for any person who commits, plans, funds or assists in acts of "terrorism".

Mr Hassan says all his convict interviewees take part "voluntarily", and know participating will in no way help to alleviate their sentence.

"They do it because they have regrets," he says.

"They want to show the horrendous acts they have committed and reveal the thinking of the group they belonged to, to persuade others not to make the same mistake."

The show's most poignant moments are meetings set up between the convicts and the mothers of their purported victims.

In one such scene, the mother of two policemen killed by ISIL vents her anger.

"Why did you kill my sons Ahmad and Hamid?" she asks three sentenced extremists, who hang their heads in response.

"They were your friends. Did they ever wrong you? Why did you destroy my family?" asks the woman, dressed from head-to-toe in black.

Another woman, whose son was shot in the head by ISIL, asks four prisoners: "How can you eat with those hands that killed my son?"

Human rights groups have criticised the programme for showing death-row inmates on television before their execution.

Mr Hassan says the interviews comply with human rights laws.

"We don't pressure anyone," he says.

"But we're in a situation of war and it's best to focus on the rights of victims, rather than those of the terrorists".

Interior ministry spokesman Saad Maan says is a fan of the programme.

"Thanks to this show, people can see security forces provide true information. It creates bonds with the population."

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