Stories of Impact

Defender of Freedom Award Winner

Judge Ali is receiving Hardwired’s first Defender of Freedom Award for his courage in defense of the rights and freedoms of others, even at risk of his own life. (For the Judge’s safety, we kindly ask that you do not take photos of him or post anything that would reveal his identity on social media.)

Judge Ali oversees one of the criminal courts in Baghdad, Iraq responsible for sentencing individuals charged with acts of terrorism. He previously served as a lawyer in various courts from 1989 to 1998. In 2000, he was appointed a judge and worked in the courts of Mosul, Kirkuk, and Baghdad on cases pertaining to personal status, corruption, juvenile justice, and felonies. In 2014, he was appointed to the commission responsible for reparations for victims of terrorism. Judge Ali is also a lecturer in the field of legal history and procedure. He has received several awards and distinctions from government bodies, legal associations, and human rights organizations. Judge Ali received his law degree from the University of Mosul and holds a Ph.D. in Arab Scientific History.

When ISIS overtook Mosul, Judge Ali fled with his wife and eleven children; however, the rest of his family were unable to escape. In 2015, Judge Ali participated in Hardwired’s civil society training and became actively involved in seeking justice for the religious communities affected by the genocide occurring in Iraq. He remains a close partner in the organization’s work in Iraq and personifies the impact Hardwired’s Defender’s of Freedom are having around the world.

Mr. Ahmed, a Sunni Muslim, a father of 9 children, and a judge in Iraq’s Criminal Court; risked his life, and that of his family for his deep belief in freedom for his country.

His knowledge of Iraqi history, and of the laws of Hammurabi, Ashunna and Ishtar establishing the principles of human rights and rules for peaceful coexistence, inspired him to fight for freedom. His unique experiences as a judge, working with diverse religious and ethnic groups, including Jews, Christians, Yezidis, Mandeans, Muslims, and others gave him a unique worldview about the value of pluralism.

Yet, he felt alone, unsafe, and many times- hopeless. While once a country of diversity, pluralism, and intellectual freedom, Iraq was now devastated by chaos! Conflict, dictatorships, foreign interventions, and extremism had led to the absence of democracy in his beloved nation. He wondered if that peace could ever be restored? Could his efforts actually make a difference?

When Da’esh invaded Mosul, the judge was forced to flee with his family. He fled to Sheikan, where a Yezidi family helped him, then in Baghdad with his uncle- a Shia Muslim. Later, he and his son lived with a Christian family. He struggled, because he witnessed first-hand, so many people helping him and his family, all from different faith communities. He only wished the rest of Iraq could understand it.

It burdened his heart to know that in Iraq today, those same people could be persecuted because of their religion, or pluralistic worldview. This was his community, all of them- and they lived every day without safety or hope for the future. Judge Ahmed knew that if he did not work hard to push against this culture of intolerance, that “Iraq will remain like an old man with a terrible sickness and remain between life and death.”

He had to keep fighting for justice, freedom, and safety in his country. Even if this meant he was fighting alone or that he and his family would live in constant danger- which they did. For his work, Judge Ahmed’s brother, at the age of 17, was executed in the city square because he refused to accept the radical and intolerant ideology.

Nevertheless, as a judge in the criminal court, he was responsible for ensuring justice for victims of Da’esh. He began issuing harsh judgments for members of Da’esh, to send a message to all Iraqis that attacking people because of their religious beliefs is not tolerated in Iraq.

Unfortunately, this was not enough. The Iraqi people’s fear of Da’esh, and their blind acceptance of radical ideologies, seemed to be more powerful that one judge’s attempts to ensure justice, and promote religious freedom. He needed help.

Through his efforts, he met Tina and Lena, who were also working to promote those values in Iraq! Hardwired was working with teachers on education strategies that would promote pluralism in schools. Judge Ahmed attended a training where he witnessed how Hardwired was able to create an atmosphere of trust among participants- despite the current political climate, or their own diversity of religion, political position, or nationality. The Judge knew Iraq needed this.

Hardwired offered the Judge their support, and for the first time, Judge Ahmed didn’t feel alone! He felt inspired! He saw that Hardwired’s knowledge of international law, and their work through education was a powerful and effective way to approach the challenges faced in Iraq. He wanted to learn from them!

The Judge began to work with Hardwired in Iraq to promote pluralism, ensure justice, and to remind Iraq that peace was possible, and that religious communities could once again, live in safety! But not just in Iraq, Hardwired brought Judge Ahmed to the United States to speak with U.S. legislators about religious intolerance, his experiences as a Judge in the criminal court, and the challenges to freedom Iraq faced!

Today, Hardwired continues to work with Judge Ahmed! We’ve trained over one-hundred teachers, school officials and university professors on human rights education and best strategies in defending the rights of all people.

There is nowhere else currently in Iraq, that so many people, from such diverse religious communities and backgrounds; can safely come together in defense of one another’s rights to thought, conscience, religion or belief.

Without your support- none of this would be possible.