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Jailing of Christian minister alarms Iraq minorities Open in fullscreen

Baraa al-Shamari

Jailing of Christian minister alarms Iraq minorities

Assyrians say they are Iraq's native inhabitants and part of a 'declining Christian minority' [Getty]

Date of publication: 11 November, 2015

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A prison sentence handed by an Iraqi court to a Christian Iraqi former minister, on corruption charges, is causing anxiety among some Iraqi minorities, who say they are being targeted.

Sargon Salioh, former Iraqi environment minister, was sentenced by the Court of Integrity in Baghdad to two years in prison on November 5. The verdict also compels him to pay around $280,000 to the state treasury.

Sargon Salioh is an Iraqi politician and leader in the Assyrian Democratic Movement.

He previously served in the Kirkuk Provincial Council before taking up the post of deputy governor of Kirkuk in 2005, and was later appointed minister of the environment, serving between 2010 and 2014.

Salioh said the grounds for the verdict were the fact that he lived in an office of the Environment Ministry in the Green Zone for several months without paying rent and without the knowledge of the authorities.

In a press statement, he claimed he was living there to save the government money instead of having it pay for a residence on par with his colleagues.

The Rafidayn bloc of Christian MPs in the Iraqi parliament criticised the verdict, describing it as unjust.

Imad Youkhana, head of the bloc, called on Chief Justice Medhat al-Mahmoud and the Federal Court of Cassation to overturn the verdict against the former environment minister to "save the reputation" of the Iraqi justice system, accusing it of targeting Iraqi Christian political symbols.

Youkhana defended the minister's record, saying he was a competent minister who enjoyed integrity and who was dedicated to his work.

Youkhana said the courts should focus its attention on "real corruption" among senior officials instead.

Qasim Shawkat, member of the Iraqi Assyrian Movement, also denounced the verdict and other measures issued against Iraqi Christians in recent weeks.

He told al-Araby al-Jadeed the timing of the verdict was odd, coinciding with the voting on the national identity card law, which Shawkat said undermines the rights of Christians and other minorities.

Shawkat placed the verdict in the context of what he called the Iraqi authorities' repression, exclusion and marginalisation of Christians, expressing concern for Christian presence in Iraq.

The New ArabComments

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