August 21, 2013
Islamist Hamas in Gaza set to execute child offender
Justice system in Gaza is broken, say human rights groups
This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.
Hani Abu Aliyan, 28, has been convicted of two separate murders in the Gaza Strip. In the first case, he was only 14-years old in 2000 when he allegedly sexually assaulted and killed another boy. In a separate incident, he confessed to killing an acquaintance to whom he owed money in 2009 when he was no longer a minor. His lawyer said the confession was coerced under torture.
In an interview published on the Hamas-controlled Ministry of the Interior’s website, Gaza’s prosecutor general, Ismail Jabr, said that the Hamas council of ministers had approved the execution of a convict “in the coming days.” While he did not mention Abu Aliyan by name, there are only two convicts in Gaza who have exhausted all of their military appeals and face death.
“We, as a human rights organization, think that the death penalty wherever it is applied is cruel and inhuman treatment. There’s a global trend toward ending the death penalty,” Bill Van Esfeld, a researcher at Human Rights Watch told The Media Line. “However, it’s particularly concerning and atrocious in Gaza given the severe abuses that are endemic there. We have documented cases of arbitrary detention and of torture leading to confessions.”
Hamas spokesmen were unavailable for comment, but Jabr said that “the public is very satisfied (about the death penalty)” and that, “the only complaints come from some of the human rights organizations.” He also said that Hamas will ignore these voices because “our religious tradition” requires capital punishment as a deterrent.
In this case, complaints are coming from Palestinian human rights groups as well. Raji Sourani, the Gaza-based director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights sent a direct appeal to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Hanniyeh.
“I call on Mr. Hanniyeh to intervene to stop the application of the death penalty especially under the current circumstances facing the Palestinian people,” Sourani told The Media Line. “We are facing the Israeli occupation and the political split between our people and we should not take such an irrevocable step.”
The split he referred to is the ongoing rivalry between Hamas and Fatah, which controls the West Bank. All efforts to achieve “national reconciliation” which would lead to Palestinian elections have failed.
Human Rights Watch said that in the West Bank, while the death penalty is legal, there has been a “de facto moratorium on using it.”
Many Arab and Muslim countries carry the death penalty for murder, as prescribed in Islamic Sharia law. According to Amnesty International, Saudi Arabia carried out at least 79 executions in 2012; Iran carried out at least 314; and Iraq at least 129. Worldwide, the largest number was in China with more than 2,000 executions in 2012.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch says that what is especially egregious in this case is that one of the alleged murders was committed when Abu Aliyan was still a minor. Amnesty International says that only Iran and Saudi Arabia perform executions for crimes committed when the attacker was a minor.
“Here the impending execution would be of someone who was a child at the time of one of the offenses, so it’s really urgent that the Hamas authorities not carry this out, Van Esfeld said.”
The Independent Commission for Human Rights, a Palestinian organization which monitors human rights violations by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the Hamas authorities in the Gaza Strip, says 36 Palestinians were sentenced to death in Gaza between February 2010 and June 2013. Of the total, Hamas authorities have executed at least six men. Seven others were murdered by gunmen who have not been arrested or charged.
Human Rights Watch says torture is widespread during interrogations of suspects.
“We have done a lot of documentation of severe abuses of the justice system in Gaza,” Van Esfeld said. “There is no accountability for torture by the Internal Security Service which is the agency to which all detainees are transferred before interrogation. None of them get a lawyer during their detention with internal security which can last for weeks or even months and accusations of torture by security officials are common.”
Raji Sourani argued that in countries with extensive use of capital punishment such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, China and the US, levels of crime have not decreased, meaning it is not an effective deterrent.