In Iraq, death-row extremists ‘confess’ on prime-time TV

Iraqi TV presenter Ahmad Hassan is pictured on the set of the a show titled “In the grip of the law” in Baghdad on January 22, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 06 February 2018
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In Iraq, death-row extremists ‘confess’ on prime-time TV

BAGHDAD: Every Friday in Iraq, a gripping show on state television beams the alleged confessions of death-row extremists into homes around the country.
At peak viewing time, it broadcasts gruesome images of their purported crimes before interviewing the convicts, who appear clad in orange or yellow jumpsuits.
Baghdad declared victory against Daesh in December, after years of fighting to regain vast stretches of territory the extremists seized in 2014.
Iraq has detained thousands of suspected members of Daesh, a group infamous for deadly attacks, mass killings and the execution of detainees in orange jumpsuits.
Once a week, a show titled “In the grip of the law” escorts convicted extremists back to the scene of their crime under heavy security.
By spotlighting Daesh atrocities, the show aims to stamp out any remaining support for the extremist group’s ideology, its presenter says.
“I get tipped off by the interior ministry, the defense ministry or national security, who captured them,” Ahmad Hassan, 36, says.
“They choose the case to highlight and I ask the justice ministry for permission to interview the convict,” says Hassan, whose show is aired by state channel Al-Iraqiya.
The program is up to its 150th episode, he says, and not about to end any time soon.
“Even if IS has lost militarily, its ideology still exists,” he says, using another term for Daesh.
“Its supporters view others as non-believers and will continue to murder as long as its ideology lives on.”
Dressed in a beige suit and brown tie, on a set meant to evoke a detective agency, Hassan starts his show each week with shocking images.
One episode opens with a photo of dozens of tribesmen lying in a pool of their own blood, after their 2014 execution by Daesh in the town of Heet, northwest of Baghdad.
It then introduces Mithaq Hamid Hekmet, 41, one of those condemned over the massacre, who recounts the killings in chilling detail — even citing the names of others who took part.
On the show’s set, a mahogony desk, stacks of papers, maps of Baghdad and mugshots of the day’s convict seek to create an intriguing atmosphere to draw in viewers.
In another episode, former Daesh finance official Mohammad Hamid Omar, nom de guerre Abu Hajjaj, describes his speciality: extorting funds from pharmacies, schools, real estate agencies, petrol stations and doctors.
Hassan says all of his interviewees have been found guilty and sentenced — most to death, but some to lengthy prison terms.
They are mostly Iraqis, but also sometimes nationals from other Arab countries.
Some have since been executed, Hassan says, but “that’s the justice ministry’s business, not mine.”
Iraq executed more than 100 people last year, mostly after “terrorism” convictions, the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has said.
The country’s anti-terrorism law orders the death penalty for any person who commits, plans, funds or assists in acts of “terrorism.”
Hassan says all his convict interviewees take part “voluntarily,” and know participating will in no way help to alleviate their sentence.
“They do it because they have regrets,” he says.
“They want to show the horrendous acts they have committed and reveal the thinking of the group they belonged to, to persuade others not to make the same mistake.”
The show’s most poignant moments are meetings set up between the convicts and the mothers of their purported victims.
In one such scene, the mother of two policemen killed by Daesh vents her anger.
“Why did you kill my sons Ahmad and Hamid?” she asks three sentenced extremists, who hang their heads in response.
“They were your friends. Did they ever wrong you? Why did you destroy my family?” asks the woman, dressed from head-to-toe in black.
Another woman, whose son Daesh shot in the head, asks four prisoners: “How can you eat with those hands that killed my son?“
Human rights groups have criticized the program for showing death-row inmates on television before their execution.
Hassan says the interviews comply with human rights laws.
“We don’t pressure anyone,” he says.
“But we’re in a situation of war and it’s best to focus on the rights of victims, rather than those of the terrorists.”
Interior ministry spokesman Saad Maan is a fan of the program.
“Thanks to this show, people can see security forces provide true information. It creates bonds with the population.”


Google employees demand more oversight of China search engine plan

A Google sign is seen during the China Digital Entertainment Expo and Conference (ChinaJoy) in Shanghai, China August 3, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 19 August 2018
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Google employees demand more oversight of China search engine plan

  • Hundreds of employees have called on the company to provide more “transparency, oversight and accountability
  • Employees have asked Google to create an ethics review group with rank-and-file workers, appoint ombudspeople to provide independent review and internally publish assessments of projects

SAN FRANCISCO: Google is not close to launching a search engine app in China, its chief executive said at a companywide meeting on Thursday, according to a transcript seen by Reuters, as employees of the Alphabet Inc. unit called for more transparency and oversight of the project.
Chief Executive Sundar Pichai told staff that though development is in an early stage, providing more services in the world’s most populous country fits with Google’s global mission.
Hoping to gain approval from the Chinese government to provide a mobile search service, the company plans to block some websites and search terms, Reuters reported this month, citing unnamed sources.
Whether the company could or would launch search in China “is all very unclear,” Pichai said, according to the transcript. “The team has been in an exploration stage for quite a while now, and I think they are exploring many options.”
Disclosure of the secretive effort has disturbed some Google employees and human rights advocacy organizations. They are concerned that by agreeing to censorship demands, Google would validate China’s prohibitions on free expression and violate the “don’t be evil” clause in the company’s code of conduct.
Hundreds of employees have called on the company to provide more “transparency, oversight and accountability,” according to an internal petition seen by Reuters on Thursday.
After a separate petition this year, Google announced it would not renew a project to help the US military develop artificial intelligence technology for drones.
The China petition says employees are concerned the project, code named Dragonfly, “makes clear” that ethics principles Google issued during the drone debate “are not enough.”
“We urgently need more transparency, a seat at the table and a commitment to clear and open processes: Google employees need to know what we’re building,” states the document seen by Reuters.
The New York Times first reported the petition on Thursday. Google declined to comment.
Company executives have not commented publicly on Dragonfly, and their remarks at the company-wide meeting marked their first about the project since details about it were leaked.
Employees have asked Google to create an ethics review group with rank-and-file workers, appoint ombudspeople to provide independent review and internally publish assessments of projects that raise substantial ethical questions.
Pichai told employees: “We’ll definitely be transparent as we get closer to actually having a plan of record here” on Dragonfly, according to the transcript. He noted the company guards information on some projects where sharing too early can “cause issues.”
Three former employees involved with Google’s past efforts in China told Reuters current leadership may see offering limited search results in China as better than providing no information at all.
The same rationale led Google to enter China in 2006. It left in 2010 over an escalating dispute with regulators that was capped by what security researchers identified as state-sponsored cyberattacks against Google and other large US firms.
The former employees said they doubt the Chinese government will welcome back Google. A Chinese official, who declined to be named, told Reuters this month that it is “very unlikely” Dragonfly would be available this year.