Jordan’s Inaugural Award for Human Rights Reporting – Investigating the Death Penalty

Journalists for Human Rights and the Jordan Media Institute recently launched Jordan’s inaugural Human Rights Reporting Award.

The award is the result of a two-year partnership between the Jordan Media Institute and JHR, working together to expand public dialogue on human rights issues.

The project is supported by the U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative and the United Nations Democracy Fund.

Ezzedine Al Natour from local online news source Amman Net won the first award for online media in Jordan. He wrote about the use of the death penalty.

 

The following article is the winner of the Human Rights Reporting award for online media. The link to the original version, written in Arabic, can be found here.

 


 

Execution after Imprisonment: Two Punishments for One Crime

 

AmmanNet – Ezzedine Al-Natour 31/12/2014

 

 

***      Constant rate of crimes of premeditated murder since 2006

***      Constant rate of death penalty sentences before and after the temporary freeze of the penalty

***      Decrease in the number of premeditated murders in the past three years

 

At a time when the Jordanian society was witnessing an extensive debate over the reintroduction of the implementation of the death penalty, Mohammad, a young man in his twenties, who was on death row, was in a bad psychological state, continuously wondering: “Do you think they will execute me?”  His wondering was short-lived, however, as the Jordanian state responded “in practice,” carrying out the death sentence against 11 convicts, early at dawn on December 21.

 

The Jordanian state neither confirmed nor denied whether these executions, which re-classified Jordan as a capital punishment country, will be the last.  Yet, the state of mind of the convicts and their families is unenviable, according to what was documented by the national monitoring team of the National Center for Human Rights in its periodic visit last November.

 

While Muhammad, who was on death row at the Rmaimin Reform and Rehabilitation Center, struggled in order for his university to postpone his studies, because he was convinced of his innocence, the proponents of the death penalty were viewing the government step as “the best method to deter those whose crimes have increased in the recent period.”  Meanwhile, the penalty’s opponents denounced the return to the penalty’s implementation after it had been suspended for eight years, describing the penalty as “ending a human life through the law.”

 

Jordan had suspended the carrying out of the death penalty since March 2006, after executing Salem Sa’d Ben Suwaid and Fathi Freihat, who were accused of assassinating the American diplomat, Foley, in Amman.  This was a step that received extensive international welcome from lawmakers, before the position towards it turned into that of “exasperation” in view of the return to enforcing this “controversial” punishment.

 

Increase in Crimes and Constant Rate

 

The authorities described the step to revert to carrying out the death penalty as “a return to the correct legal path, which will deter anyone who contemplates committing a crime and which comes as submission to popular demands,” according to the spokesman of the Interior Ministry, Ziyad Al-Zou’bi.

 

Figures by the Criminal Information Department at the Public Security Directorate published this current year show an increase in crimes against people, such as “premeditated murder, attempted murder, and battery leading to death” over the past four years.  Furthermore, the Jordanian society recently witnessed a number of “brutal” crimes, which instigated a number entities, parliamentary representatives, and journalists to call for reinstating the death penalty in Jordan.

 

Nevertheless, 2013 saw a decrease in the number of premeditated murders, which are punishable by death according to Article 328 of the Penal Code.  The number reached 74 murders, down from 82 in 2012 and 87 in 2011.

 

The rate of premeditated crimes in Jordan did not exceed 2 crimes per 100,000 persons from 2006 to 2013, according to World Bank figures.

 

There were 80 death penalties issued between 2000 and 2005, or an average of 13 per year.  Although the number of those sentenced to death increased to 122 after freezing the penalty and before last Sunday’s executions, the ratio remained constant at 13.5 sentences per year between 2006 and 2014.

 

Human rights organizations described the reinstatement of carrying out the death penalty as a “setback” for the human rights track in Jordan, according to Isam Al-Rabab’ah, director of the Adalah Center for Human Rights Studies, who argued that reinstating the implementation of the death penalty will not deter criminals.  He also emphasized that the countries that stopped the implementation of the death penalty saw a major decrease in crime rates.

 

Two Penalties for One Crime

 

Al-Rabab’ah defines the death penalty as “revenge against the perpetrator of the crime through the law.”  He considers the implementation of the death penalty to be a violation of the right to life, which is human beings’ supreme right as stipulated in international conventions and monotheistic religions.  He sees no logical reason for reinstating the implementation of the penalty once again.

 

Furthermore, the Anti Torture Convention considers execution a form of physical torture.  Jordan ratified this convention, according to Al-Rabab’ah.

 

Kamal Al-Mashriqi, a human rights lawyer and activist, stresses that the latest executions were tainted by human rights-related violations.  He argues that executing convicts who spent a long time in prison is a violation of Jordan’s commitment to the International Convention of Civil and Political Rights, which prohibits the implementation of two penalties against a convicted person, based on guarantees of a fair trial.  Long-term imprisonment while waiting for the implementation of a judgment is considered a “curtailment of freedom,” according to Al-Mashriqi.

 

Dr. Sari Naser, Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Jordan, sees no connection between suspending the implementation of the death penalty and the rising number of crimes in Jordan, pointing out that there are subjective reasons behind the increase of criminal actions in Jordan.  He adds that the sudden increase in population, in addition to the successive economic crises, forced some people to commit crimes in order to provide their livelihoods.  Furthermore, the increase in violence scenes on media outlets after the modern communication revolution has contributed to a large extent to increasing the number of crimes.

 

Naser emphasizes that a criminal does not think of the punishment he may receive when committing his crime.  He points out that most crimes punishable by the death penalty are fast crimes, such as the murders that sometimes occur without prior planning.

 

Meanwhile, Al-Rabab’ah emphasizes that the death penalty for one who commits murder or any other crime can be replaced with life imprisonment, and this fulfils the objective of the death penalty, namely the removal of the perpetrator from society.

 

It has occurred before that a Jordanian court sentenced a person to the death penalty, only for another person to come forward and admit to committing the crime.  This was the case with Bilal Musa and Suzan Ibrahim, who were accused in 1999 of committing a series of 11 murders.  Before the court, Bilal and Suzan had admitted to only one crime on the pretext of self-defense.  However, Bilal was executed in 2000 in Swaqa prison, while Suzan was sentenced to hard labor, but died in prison a few months later of a heart attack.

 

One of the crimes they were accused of was the murder of Najeh Ibrahim in 1995, for which they were sentenced in 1999.  It became evident in 2005 that the crime was committed by a man called Zuhair Ahmad, who was lured by Najeh for sexual relations in return for a job in the Aqaba port.  Zuhair killed Najeh after he realized his false promises, and the High Criminal Court indicted Zuhair, who insisted that he did commit the crime.  The Court of Appeal, however, returned the decision, according to court proceedings examined by AmmanNet.

 

Details show that Bilal and Suzan did actually admit to killing Najeh Ibrahim.  However, Bilal said that that confession was extracted from him by force.  He stated this before the court, but he was convicted of premeditated murder.  This raised questions about the way confessions are extracted from suspects in Jordan at the time and about the presence of sufficient evidence and guarantees to pass the death penalty in court proceedings.

 

In its 2013 report, the National Center for Human Rights recommended restricting the death penalty, emphasizing the need for stringent conditions in investigation cases that could carry the death penalty.  It also recommended the need for courts to expand the margin of mitigating circumstances if the crime requires the death penalty.  Nevertheless, the Center did not call for freezing the laws that stipulate the death penalty.

 

Execution in the Jordanian Law

 

The Jordanian law defines execution as “hanging the sentenced person,” based on Article 17 of the Penal Code.  The death penalty was restricted to 23 cases stated in the Penal Code, the Military Penal Code, and the Law Protecting State Secrets and Documents.  The death penalty is passed by four courts, the main one being the High Criminal Court, followed by the State Security Court, the Military Court, and the Criminal Court of First Instance.

 

Based on its Article 208, the Criminal Court Procedures Law requires courts to assign a defense lawyer to defend those accused in cases punishable by death or life imprisonment, with or without hard labor, at the accused person’s expense.  If the defendant’s financial situation is lacking, the court assigns a lawyer for him.

 

However, a survey carried out by the Justice Center for Legal Aid in 2012 on the “state of detention and legal representation in criminal cases” showed that 43.9% of defendants in crimes that may qualify under Article 208 of the Criminal Courts Procedures Law did assign lawyers to defend them, while the court assigned lawyers for 3.1% of the defendants who could not afford a lawyer, and 2.8% had no defense lawyers.

 

The survey’s results showed that 50.2% of the defendants did not meet the conditions stipulated in the legal text for assigning a lawyer, because the potential of imposing the death penalty or life imprisonment with or without hard labor was not applicable.

 

According to the Penal Code, the death penalty is passed in cases of premeditated murder, murder in preparation for a crime, murder of a parent, or the crime of rape of a girl under 15 years of age.  These crimes are addressed by the High Criminal Court.

 

Furthermore, the death sentence may be handed in cases where “a person instigated aggression against the state,” or if someone “carries arms with the enemy against the state,” or if a person “contacts the enemy to assist it in defeating the state.”  This is based on Articles 110, 111, and 112 of the Penal Code, and these are crimes addressed by the State Security Court.

 

The State Security Court also addresses crimes committed against the constitution.  “Any person who assaults the life or freedom of the King, or those of the custodians of the throne, or attempts to change the constitution illegally, or anyone who acts with the intention of instigating an armed disobedience, or attempts an act that could promote civil war, or attempts to undermine the regime, or kidnaps a person with the intention of blackmailing an official authority,” shall be punishable by death.  This is based on Articles 135, 148, and 149 of the Penal Code.

 

The Special Military Penal Law stipulates the execution of the perpetrator of “disobedience and mutiny” or in cases of violating military orders during war, or a person who divests a wounded soldier of belongings during war, or assists the enemy in war, or one who surrenders to the enemy the soldiers under his command, or in cases of committing war crimes.  This is based on Articles 13, 36, 37, 38, 39, and 41 of the law.

 

In the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Law, any person who produces and manufactures narcotics shall be punishable by death, according to Article 10 of the law.

 

Islamic Disagreement over Execution as a Penalty

 

The General Iftaa’ Department in Jordan issued a Fatwa last August, in which it emphasized the inadmissibility of entirely cancelling the death sentence on the basis of arguing “mercy for the criminal and cruelty for the society, especially the victim and his family.”  Furthermore, some people, according to the Department, may resort to vigilantism.

 

The Fatwa emphasized, however, that Islamic Sharia did leave the doors wide open for dropping this penalty, “giving the victim’s family the right to drop the penalty in return for payment of the Sharia blood money, or without reparation.  It is more common among scholars that if one of the parents pardons the perpetrator, the penalty is dropped.”

 

Hamdy Murad, a Ph.D. in Islamic Sharia, says that Islam specified the death penalty in cases of “premeditated murder, terrorization, and adultery, which were stated in the Sunnah , while their punishment in the Koran was different.”  He emphasizes that carrying out the death penalty requires a number of Sharia conditions including “a proper Islamic society and Islamic laws, in addition to fair judiciary.”  However, he believes that in case these conditions were implemented, it is impossible to impose the death penalty in their process.

 

Participating in a program entitled “My Right” on Al-Balad radio station, Dr. Murad adds that “it is impossible for the judiciary to arrive at a 100% conclusive decision, even if the suspect admits to committing the crime.  It was evident in the Sunnah that Prophet Muhammad refused the confession of a suspect.  Dr. Murad believes that the controls placed by Islam are impossible to lead to the death penalty if they were to be implemented, adding that “Islam is a religion that calls for stopping bloodletting.”

 

In this respect, it seems that Jordan took its decision regarding the death penalty before the United Nations session on this subject-matter this week.  Jordan abstained from voting in the preparatory session in mid-December.  Jordan is expected to confirm this decision after it practically voted regarding its opinion about this penalty, which is opposed by 117 countries around the world, while 160 countries do not implement or practice it.

 

This material was prepared under the supervision of the “Enhancing Public Dialogue on Human Rights Issues through the Media.

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