BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Persian Pashto Turkish French

BBC News UK Edition
 You are in: World: Middle East  
News Front Page
Middle East
South Asia
From Our Own Correspondent
Letter From America
N Ireland
Talking Point
Country Profiles
In Depth
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
Tuesday, 22 October, 2002, 13:55 GMT 14:55 UK
Iraqi prisoners taste freedom
Abu Ghuraib prison
Abu Ghuraib prison is now deserted

Kamel Fathallah still can't believe he is back home with his wife and children.

A Kurdish trader, he had carried a letter from a fellow Kurd in the northern town of Irbil to his relatives in Baghdad, without knowing the man was an army deserter.

"I was arrested and charged with hiding things about an enemy of the state," he said, sitting with his family in his simple living room.

Abu Ghuraib prison
The beds are now empty at Abu Ghuraib prison
"I was sentenced to 15 years in jail on security grounds. Thank God and thank the president who let us all go.

"Without the pardon, I would have been old when I was released".

Fathallah had served a year-and-a-half when Saddam Hussein's surprise amnesty was announced on Sunday.

Freedom found

No official figures have been given on the exact number of political prisoners and criminals who were freed when Iraq's jail gates were opened, but tens of thousands are now estimated to be beginning a new life of freedom.

On Monday, cleaners were at work sweeping up at the notorious Abu Ghuraib prison, where human rights groups say hundreds of prisoners were killed in a "prison cleansing" in 1998.

I never imagined the day would come

Former prisoner Faiq Fattah
The jail cells had been emptied in chaotic and emotional scenes.

Death row was deserted, as were the quarters housing political prisoners.

Among those released was a member of the Iraqi opposition who had returned from Jordan following calls for national unity only to find himself promptly arrested and sentenced to five years.

A Shiite from Basra who had served seven of a 20-year term for spying for Kuwait was also freed.

"I couldn't believe it when I heard about the amnesty", said Faiq Fattah, a Kurd from Sulaymaniyeh, in what is now Kurdish controlled territory in northern Iraq.

"I never imagined the day would come."

Prisoners 'missing'

Fattah spent 13 years as a political prisoner in Abu Ghuraib after being charged with spying for Iran.

He still had seven more years to serve when the amnesty was announced.

"I was among the last to leave," he said.

"There was no one left inside."

The release was coupled with appeals from Saddam Hussein for 'national reconciliation' and a call for fugitives to return.

demonstration outside the Iraqi ministry of information
Relatives demand to know where their loved-ones are
One released prisoner said he believed it was an attempt by Saddam Hussein to "open a new page with his people" after last week's referendum, which confirmed him in power for another seven years with "100%" of the vote.

But few here expect it to lead to a loosening of the Iraqi leaders total control of Iraq.

Most of the freed detainees publicly voiced their support for Saddam Hussein, although one former political prisoner said he had "lost his life for nothing".

And not all the prisoners came home.

On Tuesday, a group of distraught relatives of prisoners staged an unprecedented demonstration outside the ministry of information, demanding to know where their family members were.

Some said they hadn't heard from their relatives for years.

The demonstration was quickly dispersed, the group left shouting slogans in support of Saddam Hussein.

Key stories





See also:

21 Oct 02 | Middle East
20 Oct 02 | Middle East
19 Apr 02 | Middle East
16 Oct 02 | Middle East
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Middle East stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Middle East stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | World | UK | England | N Ireland | Scotland | Wales |
Politics | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology |
Health | Education | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |