An Iraqi court on Monday sentenced to death a former Islamic State militant who repeatedly raped a Yazidi captive. The case marks a landmark transition for the prosecution of Islamic State in its prominent advocacy for an individual victim and its specific acknowledgment of the Yazidi minority treatment under Islamic State.
Ashwaq Haji Hamid Talo, a 20-year-old Yazidi woman, testified before the court about her experience as a captive of Islamic State and specifically as a victim of the defendant. Hamid was abducted by Islamic State militants in 2014 from the Sinjar mountain region of northern Iraq when she was only 14 years old. She and her sisters were then given as gifts or sold to Islamic State militants. The Yazidi minority’s religious beliefs and practices contain a unique amalgamation of more prominent religions and include aspects of Zoroastrianism, Islam and Judeo-Christian traditions. As a result of these differing beliefs they faced especially harsh treatment under the Islamic State regime.
The defendant, Mohammed Rashid Sahab, is a 36-year old Iraqi national. He was found guilty of participating in a terrorist organization as well as in the rape and abduction of Yazidi women. Including the repeated rape of Ms. Hamid, whom he then forcibly married under Islamic law, which does not recognize marital rape. As a result of his conviction, he has been sentenced to death.
The case is exceptional in both how it focused on an individual victim and how it charged the defendant. Iraq’s prosecution of Islamic State militants has often been viewed as broad and rushed. Most militants are charged with general terrorism charges rather than specific crimes. Advocates of these practices cite concerns of judicial efficiency and opportunity for discovery. Its detractors have noted that those cases limit the opportunity for due process, for victims to find closure, and for the gravity of specific crimes to be publicly identified.
This case markedly departs from this tradition as it not only charged the defendant with the specific crime of rape but it also prominently noted the role that the victim’s status as a Yazidi played in the crime. Many victims of the Islamic State are still afraid to testify publicly about rape charges as Iraqi culture places a sharp stigma on rape that may even put some victims in danger. By having Hamid face her attacker and testify, more victims may be inspired to come forward and seek justice through the judicial system.