[JURIST] Lawyers for former Iraqi foreign minister and deputy prime minister under Saddam Hussein [JURIST news archive], Tariq Aziz [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], on Tuesday filed a petition [text, PDF] asking Iraqi President Jalal Talabani [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] to pardon the former leader. Aziz was sentenced to death by hanging [JURIST report] last month by the Iraqi High Criminal Court [ICRC backgrounder, PDF] following a conviction on charges related to the former regime’s effort to eliminate Shiite Muslim resistance efforts after the First Gulf War. The petition attacks the conviction, citing a failure to prove the crime:
Under normal circumstances and in any other judicial systems operative in a democratic country under the criminal law the basis for a conviction is based upon ‘beyond reasonable doubt.’ In civil law it is ‘on the balance of probabilities.’ In Iraq a judge has to be simply ‘satisfied’ of the evidence and that is by far from any international standards which the Constitution of Iraq requires.
The petition notes that Aziz was convicted under Article 406 of the Iraqi Penal Code which requires that a person “willfully kills” and points to the prosecution’s assertion that “Mr Aziz was a member of the ruling party and that he did not object or supported the decision to persecute members of the Da’wa Party and the killing of Mr Al Sadre.” The petition concludes that the prosecution did not meet their required burden of proof and asks Talabani to issue a pardon citing Article 73 of the Iraqi Constitution [text, PDF], which gives the president the power to “issue a special pardon on the recommendation of the Prime Minister.” The petition argues the power to pardon can be used “unilaterally and without prior motion,” however, that proposition is disputed [Arab Monitor report]. Current Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki represents the Shia Da’wa party that Aziz was convicted of persecuting [UKPA report].
The petition follows pressure from the Vatican and various European countries opposed to the death penalty. On Wednesday, Talabani said in an interview that he will not sign the execution order for Aziz, citing his opposition to capital punishment. Talabani also indicated that he felt compassion for Aziz who is a Christian and an old man. Aziz’s family has called for his release on health grounds, claiming he has had two heart attacks and suffered a stroke [JURIST report] in January. In August 2009, Aziz was convicted of forcing Kurdish displacement [JURIST report] from northeast Iraq during the late 1980s, and was sentenced to seven years in prison. Prior to his March conviction, Aziz was acquitted of charges [JURIST report] in connection with the 1999 killing of protesters who rioted in Baghdad and Amarah following the alleged assassination of Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr.
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