A Baghdad court on Monday sentenced six Turkish women to death and a seventh to life in prison for membership of Islamic State, a judicial source said.
The source told AFP that the women, all accompanied by small children in the court, had surrendered to Kurdish Peshmerga fighters after having fled Tal Afar, one of the last ISIS bastions to fall to Iraqi security forces last year.
The women told the court they had entered the country to join their husbands fighting in the “caliphate” declared by ISIS in territory straddling Iraq and Syria in 2014.
Experts estimate that a total of 20,000 people are being held in jail in Iraq for alleged ISIS membership. There is no official figure.
Iraq has detained at least 560 women, as well as 600 children, identified as jihadists or relatives of suspected ISIS fighters.
Separately, authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan said in early February they had detained some 4,000 suspected ISIS members, including foreigners.
Iraq’s anti-terrorism law empowers courts to convict people who are believed to have helped ISIS even if they are not accused of carrying out attacks.
It also allows for the death penalty to be issued against anyone – including non-combatants – found guilty of belonging to ISIS.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch has urged Iraqi authorities to “develop a national strategy to prioritise the prosecution of those who committed the most serious crimes.”
Women suspected only of ISIS membership rather than any combat role are “getting the harshest possible sentences for what appears to be marriage to an ISIS member or a coerced border crossing,” it said.
Many foreign widows of ISIS fighters have said they had been fooled or threatened by their husbands to travel to Iraq.
With reporting from AFP