Former Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi [JURIST news archive] was sentenced to death after being convicted on three counts of murder on Sunday. The verdict was given in absentia [Iraqi News report] because al-Hashemi has been in hiding since the arrest warrant was issued [Reuters report]. Al-Hashemi, who is currently in Turkey to avoid trial in Iraq, denied accusations of him being involved in death squads that targeted Shia officials and pilgrims. He argued that the current trial is politically motivated. Al-Hashemi is the highest ranking Sunni official with significant support from people in the region, as can be seen from the thousands of people who protested the charges against him [Al Arabiya report], which causes some concern [BBC report] for retaliation against this verdict.
This ruling comes after attacks carried out across Iraq killed at least 64 people. In December al-Hashemi stated that he is not going to return to Baghdad [JURIST report] to stand trial on charges of inciting violence in the country. The statement came a week after an arrest warrant was issued against him by Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki [official website, in Arabic].