Amnesty International has called on the Iraqi authorities to reveal the whereabouts of two women arrested earlier this month, apparently for their connection to the country's vice-president.
Rasha Nameer Jaafer al-Hussain and Bassima Saleem Kiryakos were arrested by security forces at their homes on 1 January. Both women work in the media team of Iraqi Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi, who is wanted by the Iraqi authorities on terrorism-related charges.
Al-Hashimi has denied the charges, saying the accusations are politically motivated.
“The arrest of the two women appears to be part of a wider move targeting individuals connected to Tareq al-Hashemi,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Middle East and North Africa.
"The Iraqi authorities must immediately disclose the whereabouts of Rasha al-Hussain and Bassima Kiryakos. At the very minimum they should have immediate access to their family and a lawyer.
“The circumstances of their arrest and their incommunicado detention when we know that torture is rife in Iraq can only raise the greatest fears for their safety,” she said.
Security forces detained the two women without arrest warrants, informing the women’s families that they were being taken away for questioning, without explanation.
Bassima Kiryakos called her husband on 20 January and informed him she was to be released the following day but neither woman has been heard from since.
Bassima Kiryakos was previously arrested and beaten in December but released without charge after three days in detention.
The two women worked for Vice-President Tareq al-Hashimi,who is accused of ordering his bodyguards to commit acts of terrorism.
“It is up to the authorities to provide convincing evidence that the two women have committed a crime. Otherwise they should be immediately released,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
A warrant for Tareq al-Hashimi's arrest was issued on 19 December shortly after his Sunni-backed al-Iraqiya party announced it would boycott Parliament, accusing Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government of being sectarian.
Al-Hashimi is currently in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, a semi-autonomous area controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
In December, state run TV channel Al-Iraqiya broadcast "confessions" by men said to be al-Hashemi’s bodyguards saying that they had killed police officers and officials from ministries in exchange for payoffs from al-Hashemi.
This was followed by a wave of arrests of Sunni politicians.
On 19 January, the Iraqi authorities reported they had arrested Ghadban al-Khazraji, the deputy governor in charge of investment in Diyala province and a member of the Islamic Iraqi party. Several of al-Khazraji's bodyguards were also arrested.
In the last few years, hundreds of detainees have been shown on the Al-Iraqiyqa channel making “confessions” admitting responsibility for various terrorism related offences.
These confessions have invariably been extracted under torture and other ill-treatment. Many people were convicted by the Central Criminal Court of Iraq on the basis of these confessions.