The execution in Iraq of nine French citizens accused of joining the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) would leave an “indelible stain” on President Emmanuel Macron’s government, a group of prominent French lawyers has said.
In an open letter published on Monday on French state radio Franceinfo’s website, the group of 44 lawyers urged Macron to keep the men alive, irrespective of their alleged crimes, and said allowing them to be put to death would be a “great disgrace for our country”.
“We have taken a historic risk, which, if it is realised, will leave an indelible stain on the mandate of Emmanuel Macron,” the letter said.
Allowing for the nine individuals to be executed by Iraqi authorities would mean permitting a “legal assassination which is now proscribed by the majority of countries on the planet with the exception of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, China and the United States,” it added.
France abolished the death penalty in 1981, four years after the country last applied capital punishment when convicted murderer 27-year-old Hamida Djandoubi was executed by guillotine.
Flawed trials, unfair convictions
The lawyers’ letter came before an Iraqi court on Monday sentenced to death two French citizens suspected of ISIL affiliation, following two others on Sunday and seven others earlier last week, meaning 11 individuals with French nationality are now at risk of execution in the country.
They were among a dozen French citizens captured in Syria by US-backed forces battling ISIL as it attempted to keep hold of its now crumbled so-called caliphate, which once spanned large swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq. The 12 were all handed over to Iraqi authorities in January.
Iraq is conducting trials of thousands of suspected ISIL fighters, many of whom were arrested as its strongholds fell, and has pledged to take a hard line against anyone convicted of involvement with the group.
Among those detained are hundreds of foreign nationals from Europe.
However, European powers, including France and Britain, have repeatedly ruled out repatriating such individuals, arguing instead that they should face trial for any alleged crimes before local courts.
But human rights groups have accused Iraqi authorities of inconsistencies in the judicial process and flawed trials, leading to unfair convictions – concerns that have been heightened by Iraq’s application of the death penalty.
Amid the raised alarms, Sibeth Ndiaye, a spokeswoman for the French government, said on Sunday that officials were intervening “at the highest level” in the cases, the AFP news agency reported.
According to French government figures, an estimated 1,700 French nationals are believed to have travelled to Syria and Iraq between 2014 and 2018 to join ISIL.