BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq has suspended the execution of a Yemeni prisoner whose family claims was 16 years old when he was taken into custody, an Iraqi official and human rights advocates said Wednesday. Iraqi officials dispute that he was a minor at the time of his arrest.
Human Rights Watch earlier this week urged authorities in Baghdad to stay the execution of Saleh Moussa Ahmed al-Baidany. The group said his execution would have been Iraq's first in 25 years of someone who was a minor when detained.
Al-Baidany was picked up by the U.S. military in August 2009 along the Iraq-Syria border, his father told the advocacy group. He was later handed over to Iraqi authorities, found guilty of terrorist activities and sentenced to death.
The advocacy group's Iraq researcher, Erin Evers, said the sentence has now been postponed, although al-Baidany remains detained on death row and his fate is uncertain.
"We're still extremely concerned about his position," she said. "Nobody's made any promises."
Iraqi Deputy Justice Minister Busho Ibrahim confirmed that al-Baidany's execution has been halted until further notice following an intervention by Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari. Ibrahim disputed claims by the Yemeni's family that he was a minor at the time of his arrest.
Al-Baidany was carrying no documents showing his age when he was detained, so authorities turned to a forensic medical committee to figure out how old he was, Ibrahim said. It determined he was born in 1987, making him about 22 years old at the time of his capture.
Supreme Judicial Council spokesman Abdul-Sattar Bayrkdar had no details on the case. Under Iraqi law, someone arrested at age 16 would not be subject to the death penalty, he said.
The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad had no immediate comment.
The Yemeni man's father, Moussa al-Baidany, told the rights group his son was 16 when he was detained and said he has a birth certificate to prove it.
In a phone interview from Yemen, he said the family remains worried about the detained man's fate. The younger al-Baidany had been living with his grandmother before making his way to Iraq.
"My son was still young and had no experience in this life, and his travelling to Iraq was the wrong thing to do," he said. "I hope the Iraqi government shows mercy."
Iraqi authorities this week also halted the execution of a Libyan man whose case was highlighted by Human Rights Watch, Ibrahim said. The group had said it was concerned that Iraq would put Adel Shalani to death without disclosing details about the case.
Iraq has executed 129 people so far this year, an increase over previous years. Most of those sentenced to death were convicted in terrorism-related cases.
International observers have raised concerns about the fairness of the legal process and the possibility that some of the verdicts were politically motivated, including death sentences issued against the country's fugitive Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi.
Iraq continues to struggle with law and order nearly 10 years after the U.S.-led invasion. A suspected al-Qaida detainee tried to blow himself up inside a jail cell in Baghdad on Wednesday, wounding himself and six others, according to police officials.
Prison authorities are investigating how the inmate, who was transferred to the facility a few days ago, managed to get the explosives belt inside the prison complex. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.
In mid-2012, the same prison was the scene of a deadly shooting. An inmate using a smuggled gun shot two guards dead before killing himself.
Associated Press writers Sameer N. Yacoub and Qassim Abdul-Zahra contributed reporting.
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