Story Highlights• Taha Yassin Ramadan faces death for role in 1982 killing of 148 men, boys
• Prosecutors appealed to change his sentence to from life to death
• Ramadan's attorneys are citing "several flaws" in the proceedings
• U.N. urged authorities not to sentence Ramadan to death
From Jomana Karadsheh and Joe Sterling
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- An Iraqi court Monday changed the sentence of a convicted former Iraqi vice president under Saddam Hussein from life in prison to execution by hanging.
In its appeal decision, Iraq's High Tribunal sentenced former Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan to death by hanging for his role in the 1982 killing of 148 men and boys in Dujail, Iraq, after a failed assassination attempt on Hussein.
The court's decision is drawing opposition from coalition officials and nongovernmental organizations in Iraq.
The case has provoked alarm among many people in Iraq's legal advisory community and some of them suspect judges are coming under pressure from politicians.
"The nature of the proceedings raised suspicions that legal arguments were neither welcomed nor terribly relevant to the decision," said a source close to the proceeding who did not wish to be identified because he is not authorized to speak to the media.
Ramadan was sentenced to life in prison in November on charges that included willful killing in the 1982 crackdown.
Hussein and two other officials from his regime -- Awad Bandar and Barzan Hassan -- were hanged for their roles in the case. (Read how Hassan's head reportedly snapped off during his execution)
Ramadan received a sentence of life in prison. (Read how Hussein was hanged with "fear in his face")
Immediately after the initial sentencing of Bandar, Hassan and Ramadan, much attention focused on the method of executions resulting from the trial. Simultaneously, momentum quietly began gaining for authorities to reconsider Ramadan's lesser sentence of life.
Prosecutors pursued an appeal to change his sentence to death.
In December, the tribunal's nine-member appeals chamber said the original sentence was too lenient and ordered the court to resentence him.
Rare U.N. move
The prospect that Ramadan faces a death sentence has galvanized many in Iraq's legal adviser community where, the source said, a consensus has emerged that the evidence on Ramadan's role in the Dujail case doesn't warrant a death sentence.
In fact, Louise Arbour, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, last week filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging authorities not to sentence Ramadan to death -- a rare international legal move.
The five-member Iraqi High Tribunal rendered Ramadan's sentence at a session on Monday, part of a process that the source called "highly unsatisfactory."
At the hearing Monday, Ramadan read from a prepared speech to defend himself against the charges but was interrupted by the judge and prosecution because the hearing dealt only with sentencing, the source said.
Defense attorneys, who want to present their arguments, were also prevented from speaking.
The chief judge said he denied the attorneys permission to cite their arguments in court because they were submitted too late, even though there's no time deadline in the law for submissions.
Nevertheless, the chief judge said the panel studied the arguments, which amounted to about 30 pages.
"It's a lengthy and complex document based on Iraqi and international law," the source said.
Prosecuting attorneys spoke briefly but were told what they had to say was irrelevant because they were responding to Ramadan's comments.
After the court sentenced Ramadan to death by hanging, Ramadan said, "May God's vengeance fall upon you."
Under Iraqi law, the case will automatically be reheard by the same appellate chamber that said the life imprisonment penalty was too lenient. It will be referred to the appellate chamber within 10 days. For 20 days after that, pleas can be filed.
There is no specified time for the appellate court to render a decision. If the tribunal upholds the sentence, it must be carried out within 30 days.
Hussein was hanged nearly two months after he was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. The former Iraqi dictator, who was toppled from power by the U.S.-led invasion, was executed just days after the appellate court upheld his death sentence.
Ramadan's defense attorneys learned on Monday that their January 25 emergency appeal to the appellate court was rejected.
Ramadan's attorneys are citing "several flaws" in the proceedings and saying those problems have been identified by nongovernmental organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Center for Transitional Justice.
Among the alleged flaws they listed:
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Ex-Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan's sentence was changed from life in prison to death by hanging.