Monday, April 16, 2012

Mysterious death of Sulaimaniyah mayor accused of corruption casts doubts on officials in the region

On April 14 in the afternoon,
 Hama Salih was reported dead by the Asayish.
ERBIL - Zana Hama Salih, mayor of Sulaimaniya city, the Kurdistan Region’s second largest city, who was arrested by the Asayish (Kurdish security police) last week on corruption charges, died in prison in mysterious circumstances. Authorities said he committed suicide, as he waited for the day of his trial, by hanging himself.

The alleged suicide of the mayor has now raised doubts that he was in fact murdered by other officials who may have been involved in the corruption and feared that Hama Salih might talk.

Hama Salih was accused of accepting bribes, as well as the illegal selling of plots of land worth about 400 IQD ($325,000) in Sulaimaniyah. He was arrested on such charges on April 8. An attempt by the court to try him was blocked after relatives of the official gathered in front of the court and protested. He was then moved to Sulaimaniyah Asayish Directorate for investigation.

The relatives claimed that Hama Salih was not arrested on legal grounds, but was rather arrested on political grounds. The same day, they gathered in front of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) headquarters in the city to protest Hama Salih’s arrest and efforts to try him. The PUK is the major ruling party in the Sulaimaniyah province. The security agencies are controlled by the PUK.

Following the incident, the opposition forces in Kurdistan quickly voiced their suspicion that the incident may not have been suicide and called for an investigation into the death.

The vice president of Kurdistan Region, prime minister and the parliament each ordered a separate committee to look into the incident.

Hawlati Newspaper reported that minutes before Hama Salih died his wife had visited him. “I visited Zana yesterday [Saturday, the same day he was announced dead] and stayed with him until 2pm. He was very well and optimistic that he would be released [on bail]” the newspaper quoted Hama Salih’s wife.

The body of Hama Salih was moved to the forensic department for an autopsy to establish whether his death was suicide. A period of 48 hours was set for the autopsy to be conducted and the results revealed. The relatives however wanted an autopsy in Baghdad rather than in Sulaimaniyah.

Mohammed Nouri, Sulaimaniyah Forensic Department’s chairman, said the inspections and checks were still ongoing though there were no signs oftorture.

Hama Salih’s family and relatives took to the streets following his death and called for an investigation into the case. They were highly suspicious of Hama Salih’s death. One brother of Hama Salih, Rahman Hama Salih, went so far as to say the relatives knew who was behind the death of his brother.

The relatives also wanted to see the room in which Hama Salih was held. There were allegations that the room is four meters high and Hama Salih’s belt and shoe laces were taken from him as part of the regulations in the prison to prevent detainees from such suicide attempts.

Sherzad Hafez, a member of a parliamentary committee formed to look into the incident, suggested that Hama Salih might have been strangled. According to reports, Hama Salih hung himself from the bathroom window using a wire.

“Zana is said to have hung himself in the bathroom where there is only one faucet that cannot stand the weight of anyone stepping on it [to reach for the window] especially that the mayor had a heavy body and the window is rather low from the ground, this cannot form the necessary weight for self-hanging," said Hafez.

"It's not clear where did Zana got the wire by which he hung himself and how [the wire] got into the room because there was only the refrigerator wire in the room which is still there."

Hama Salih's relatives were finally convinced by a representative of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to bury the corpse on condition that an independent committee be formed to look into the incident and they family members beallowed to see the room in which Hama Salih was kept.

Ali Karim, head of the Kurdistan Institute for Human Rights, wrote on hisFacebook page that “Hama Salih’s case is yet another test for the rule of law and governance in the Kurdistan Region".

“In order for the executioner and the victim not to be confused and in order to respect the will of the people of the Kurdistan Region who want to know the truth as it is, we call for a fair and transparent probe into both the death of Hama Salih, Sulaimaniyah mayor, and the charges on which he was arrested," wrote Karim.

Spokesperson for the PUK politburo Azad Jundyani said: “The conclusions of the investigation are not out yet. We can't view the case only from the perspective that there might be other people behind the incident. Why not view it from the psychological perspective that a official who was at the prime of his work but faced a case that involved investigation [and corruption charges] thus had to take this decision [suicide].”

Sulaimaniyah’s prosecutor general Judge Farhad said: “We'll try to settle the mayor’s case with criminal and forensic evidence.” He also called on anybody, in particular the family of the late mayor, to provide any information orevidence to the court in a bid to establish the facts.

The burial of MR Zana Hama Salih (Courtesy of Hawlati Newspaper)
The burial of MR Zana Hama Salih (Courtesy of Hawlati Newspaper)
The burial of MR Zana Hama Salih (Courtesy of Hawlati Newspaper)