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FREEDOM for Bassema Darwish: YAZIDI woman escaped ISIS, Imprisoned by KRG at no charges!

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Bassema Darwish Khuder Murad is a 34 years old Yazidi woman who escaped from ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) captivity and is now being held in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan prison without any charges since October 2014.  

Bassema is due to face trial on February 21, 2017, in front of the Second Erbil Criminal Court on charges under the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG’s) Anti-Terrorism Law. The authorities have appointed a lawyer for Bassema Darwish, but placed hurdles on her ability to secure representation of her choice.

Bassema was captured by ISIS along with her husband and 33 other relatives in Babire village just outside of Sinjar in Nineveh Governorate in Northern Iraq on August 3, 2014.  They were transferred to Tal Afar where they were separated. She has not seen or heard from her husband since then.  They had just gotten married few months prior to ISIS attack and Bassema was pregnant with her third child (Bassema has two other children; ages seven and eight from her first marriage).  After spending some time in Tal Afar, ISIS transferred Bassema to a village called Mafree in the district of Zummar.  Zummar is located between Sinjar and Kurdistan in Northern Iraq. The Kurdistan government accused Bassema of collaborating with ISIS which resulted in the death of three Peshmerga by ISIS when they entered the house where Bassema was being held captive (A secret eye witness states that no Peshmerga were killed in Mafree during Bassema's rescue. Earlier that day, three Peshmerga were allegedly killed in a different location which had nothing to do with the battle to retake Mafree or the rescue of Bassema). 

On October 25, 2014, Peshmerga forces surrounded Mafree village which was under ISIS control.  During the operation to free Mafree, the Peshmerga surrounded the last house from which gun fire was coming from in the center of the village.  The Peshmerga threw a hand grenade into the room from where the shooting was coming. The grenade killed the last ISIS inside the house.  After the shooting stopped, a woman's voice cried out "hawara" which means "help" or "save me" in the Yazidi language.  It is not used by Kurds.  So immediately, the Peshmerga knew it was a Yazidi woman.

Peshmerga told Bassema to come out. She came out naked, trembling and crying. Her body had bruises indicating torture. She fell down on the ground. Bassema was then put in a car and held there for 24 hours with her hands tied to the car.  She was then transferred to Duhok with four other Yazidi women. In Duhok, the four other women were released. However, Bassema was held for seven days and interrogated.  During this time she was hanged under a staircase by rope tied around her wrists. Bassema states she was hit and blindfolded when she signed some papers. Allegedly the papers she signed was her confession to collaborating with ISIS.

Information extracted under torture or duress must be excluded from evidence according to the KRG obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Bassema was then transferred to the prison for women and children in Erbil, the capital city of Kurdistan, where she gave birth to her daughter Nour Hussein Haydar Khalifkou in February 2015.  

In June 2016, Bassema and her family were told that Bassema has been investigated and found innocent and no charges would be brought against her. However, she remains imprisoned and is denied access to outsiders aside from couple close family members who can meet with her only with the presence of two guards at her side.

Human rights organizations have called for Bassema and her child to be immediately released since no charges have been brought against her.  The Anti-Terrorism Directorate denied Amnesty International’s request to see Bassema Darwish in prison during a trip to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq in August 2016. Amnesty International’s subsequent requests to visit her, including in a letter to the KRG’s High Committee to Evaluate and Respond to International reports on October 20, 2016, have gone unanswered. Amnesty International has raised Bassema Darwish’s case with the authorities on multiple occasions to no avail, including in a letter to Masoud Barzani, President of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq, on August 26, 2016.  Lawyers who sought to visit her in prison were also denied access. Amy Beam, the founder of the Amy, Azadi and Jiyan humanitarian NGO, told Amnesty International she has been threatened by the Asayish (KRG security agency) over her efforts to secure Bassema Darwish’s release.

The Yazidi American Women (YAW) Organization calls on the Kurdistan Regional Government to release Bassema Darwish from prison and be granted custody of all her three children.  Also ensure that Bassema is provided with all necessary medical and psychosocial assistance, as well as counseling to help her overcome her ordeal in captivity.

ISIS fighters have committed systematic crimes under international law including war crimes and crimes against humanity. Yazidi women and girls have been held as sex slaves, raped, tortured and murdered since ISIS attacked their homeland on August 3, 2014. Some were forced to witness the killings of their male relatives, forcibly separated from their children or forced to convert to Islam.  Many of the women who refused to collaborate with ISIS had their children killed others had their children killed and fed to them for refusing to submit to ISIS’s wishes.

The authorities need to guarantee Bassema her right to a fair trial including her right to have access to lawyers of her own choosing, her right not to incriminate herself and her right to a public hearing.  Independent monitors should be allowed unimpeded access to her trial hearings and to conduct independent, impartial and full investigations into claims that she was tortured and otherwise ill-treated at the General Security Directorate in Duhok. Also to ensure that any information extracted under torture or duress is inadmissible as evidence in proceedings. 

Join us by signing this petition and calling on your government and Kurdistan Regional Government to FREE Bassema Darwish and her little girl who have been unlawfully detained over last two years after surviving horrendous crimes by ISIS.

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