BAGHDAD Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday Iraqi authorities were still running a jail they said had been shut over a year ago after reports of prisoners being beaten and electrocuted, but the government denied this, saying the site was empty.
The New York-based watchdog and other critics of the administration of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki accuse it of pushing Iraq back towards authoritarianism by cracking down on protests, harassing opponents and torturing detainees.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the prison, known as Camp Honor, is inside Baghdad's heavily-fortified Green Zone, an area that houses most government offices and foreign embassies.
Camp Honor is a former U.S. military base of more than 15 buildings that was handed over to Iraqi forces in 2006. The last U.S. forces left the country in December.
A spokesman for Iraq's human rights ministry told Reuters that the information received by Human Rights Watch was inaccurate and politically motivated.
"Camp Honor was closed at the start of 2011 and all inmates were transported to other official jails," Kamil Ameen said.
"Last week a monitoring team from the human rights ministry went to Camp Honor detention center and found it totally empty."
Human Rights Watch said its latest report was based on interviews with 35 former prisoners, witnesses, family members, and government officials.
The report alleged that, in addition to Camp Honor, there were two other secret prisons inside the Green Zone.
Ameen said the ministry would not "sit on its hands" if it had reports of secret detention facilities.
HIDING PEOPLE AWAY
Human Rights Watch said that, since October 2011, the government has carried out several waves of detentions, surrounding neighbourhoods and going door-to-door with lists of people marked for imprisonment.
"Iraqi security forces are grabbing people outside of the law, without trial or known charges, and hiding them away in incommunicado sites," Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
It called on the Iraqi government to reveal the names and locations of all prisoners, free those not yet charged with any crime and set up an independent judicial authority to try those who had been charged.
Human Rights Watch said in a February 1 report that security forces were torturing inmates at Camp Honor, citing interviews with former detainees.
As well as electrocution, asphyxiation and beatings, the group said prisoners were packed into windowless cells that "reeked of human excrement".
Torture was widespread in Iraq under Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein, who was ousted in the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 and executed in 2006. Disclosures in 2004 that U.S. jailers had abused and sexually humiliated Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison outraged many Iraqis.
(Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad; Editing by Mark Heinrich)