Protestors demand release

Iraqi MP Hadi Al-Salami sentenced on ‘forged documents’ charges

BAGHDAD — Iraqi MP Hadi Hassan Al-Salami has been sentenced to six months in prison and fined 1 million Iraqi dinars ($666) by the Karkh Misdemeanor Court in Baghdad.

The court found him guilty of using forged documents and ‘defaming’ the Ministry of Trade. Al-Salami’s conviction has sparked an uproar, leading to expressions of support from fellow MPs.

Allegations against the Ministry of Trade date back to late 2022 when Al-Salami, an independent MP, accused it of corruption and mismanagement. He claimed the ministry purchased low-quality food items at high prices for distribution among low-income Iraqis as part of the government’s food basket scheme. He also alleged the presence of imported Israeli products in the ministry’s warehouses.

The Iraqi food basket monthly ration scheme is a government initiative aimed at supporting low-income families by distributing essential food items at subsidized rates. This program, part of Iraq’s social welfare system, is designed to ensure food security among the population, particularly those who are financially vulnerable. It typically includes staple goods such as rice, flour, cooking oil, and sugar. All Iraqis are entitled to the monthly rations, which are procured by the ministry and distributed via local dealers.

The court today found Al-Salami guilty under Article 331 of the Iraqi Penal Code for creating and using a counterfeit document purportedly from the Federal Board of Supreme Audit.

Paragraph 331 states that any public official “who willfully commits an act in breach of the duties of his office or refrains from executing the affairs of that office with intent to harm the welfare of an individual or to benefit one person at the expense of another or at the expense of the state is punishable by detention plus a fine or by one of those penalties.”

Speaking from prison alongside Al-Salami, MP Mustafa Jabar Sanad said the judiciary had not removed Al-Salami’s parliamentary immunity before sentencing. Al-Salami pledged to ‘continue his oversight responsibilities’ despite the challenges.

The Ministry of Trade, in a statement to 964media, refuted claims that the sentence was solely for defamation against the food basket initiative. It asserted that defamation proceedings are separate and ongoing, reserving the right to seek damages for the misuse of forged documents.

Political leaders and activists have called for questioning the Minister of Trade and reviewing Al-Salami’s verdict. Mohsen Al-Mandalawi, acting speaker of parliament, instructed the legal department to appeal Al-Salami’s sentence, noting that the Integrity Court of Karkh did not request the parliament to lift his constitutional immunity.

In a statement to 964media, Al-Mandalawi’s media office said the court’s decision is preliminary and appealable. It mentioned that the Integrity Court moved forward without seeking to lift Al-Salami’s immunity, relying on a Supreme Federal Court ruling that judicial actions against MPs in cases of misdemeanors or infractions do not require the lifting of their immunity.

Hussein Munis, leader of the Hiquq [Rights] Movement in parliament, urged the chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Council to enforce parliamentary immunity, release Al-Salami, and investigate the Minister of Trade for ‘failing to regulate’ food prices. Prices of some food items, particularly meat, have increased in Iraq in recent weeks.

The Supreme Judicial Council said on Tuesday that parliamentary immunity applies only in felony cases, and that misdemeanors do not necessitate lifting immunity.

Support for Al-Salami and calls to action have been widespread on social media and beyond. Dozens of Al-Salami’s supporters demonstrated today in Najaf province, demanding his immediate release and denouncing his six-month defamation sentence.

Protesters blocked the 20th Revolution bridges with burning tires, urging a reversal of the verdict.

Yaqoub Al-Fatlawi, a demonstrator, told 964media, “Al-Salami highlighted the issue of Israeli goods entering our city and brought it to media attention. His imprisonment raises questions about the oversight of goods crossing our borders. Al-Salami is a figure of integrity and an example to follow. We will intensify our protests at the 20th Revolution Square until he is released.”

Civil activist Saif Salam added, “This serves as a warning to the government of the Coordination Framework coalition and Iran. If Al-Salami is not freed tonight, our protests will grow, potentially extending to Sadr City. Today’s demonstration sends a message to revolutionaries across the provinces to unite with us in our cause.”

Muthana Sarhan, another activist, highlighted the broader message calling on authorities not to provoke the protesters and release Al-Salami immediately.