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Page last updated at 17:18 GMT, Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Iraq jails 'terribly overcrowded'

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Overcrowding and degrading living conditions in Iraq's jails

The BBC has seen evidence of serious overcrowding and poor living conditions in one of Iraq's prisons.

In Baghdad's Rusafa facility, about 150 prisoners were being held in a room about the size of a school classroom.

Many are still being held although they have never been charged, because the judicial system is too overloaded to cope, the BBC's Andrew North says.

The interior ministry admits there is a problem, but blames the security situation for the thousands of arrests.

'Terrible conditions'

Our correspondent was taken to Rusafa prison, located in the east of the Iraqi capital, by interior ministry officials after he had asked to check allegations of torture and abuse.

There are people sleeping next to the toilets - some stand so that others can sleep
Rusafa inmate

It was the first time the foreign media have had such access to an Iraqi jail since the US-led invasion in 2003.

He says it took some time to realise just how many prisoners were inside the cells of Rusafa prison.

Four to five people perched on each metal bunks.

One of the inmates said the conditions were "terrible", and that they were hardly ever let out because there was no proper exercise area.

"There are people sleeping next to the toilets. Some stand so that others can sleep," he added.

Prisoners say some have to stand to make room for others to sleep

Some prisoners complained of being beaten when they were arrested, but what stood out more was the serious overcrowding, he says.

The interior ministry officials admitted they had a problem, but blamed the security situation which has led to the arrest of thousands of people over the past few years, including suspected insurgents accused of serious crimes.

But for months, even years, many of these people are still waiting to be charged because Iraq's judicial system is too overloaded to cope, our correspondent says.

And conditions in jails like Rusafa could get even worse when more prisoners are transferred from US to Iraqi control, he adds.

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