In honor of the International Day Against the Death Penalty, The Jordanian Coalition Against the Death Penalty (JCADP) and the Amman Center for Human Rights Studies (ACHRS) held, in conjunction with the French Cultural Institute, a discussion based conference on the death penalty in Jordan, on the 9th of October, 2017. Government delegates, non-governmental organizations, abolitionists, and death-penalty experts gathered at the French Cultural Institute to discuss and celebrate the 15th anniversary of the International Day Against Death Penalty, with speakers such as Sophie Bel, Director and Cultural and Cooperation Counselor of the French Institute, Dr. Nizam Assaf, Director of the Amman Center for Human Right Studies, Mr. Mustafa Yaghi Member of the Jordanian Parliament, Dr. Hamdi Murad, and Dr. Mohammed Al Tarawneh, President of the Arab Coalition Against the Death Penalty (ACADP). Audience members were comprised of concerned citizens, students, and representatives from various human rights organizations.
“The death penalty, it is cruel, unfitting, and a weak crime deterrent” expressed Sophie Bel in her opening remarks. “It remains a complicated subject, both fascinating and sensitive. The reason that the French Cultural Center decided to host this conference, in affiliation with ACHRS, is to raise awareness about the dangers associated with the death penalty” she added. Ms. Bel described the death penalty, or capital punishment, as a controversial entity by highlighting the experience of her home country, France, which faced social unrest when the government abolished the death penalty in 1981. “However, in light of the recent terrorist attacks which have plagued France there exist no public desire to re-establish capital punishment. There is also no scientific analysis which supports using the death penalty as a deterrent. We do not judge those who accept the death penalty as a suitable punishment, we only seek to raise awareness,” she concluded.
In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, many countries in the MENA region, including Jordan, changed their stance with regards to human rights by reinstating the practice of the death penalty. In spite of a decrease in the total number of executions in Jordan, there has been a significant increase in the total number of countries practicing capital punishment in the MENA region, according to a report by ACHRS produced in 2014. 2014 was the year in which Jordan reinstated capital punishment as 11 executions were carried out. In the following year 2 executions were carried out. No executions took place in 2016. And, in 2017, 15 people were executed. 10 of the 15 of those executed in 2017 were charged with terrorism offence
The President of the Arab Coalition Against the Death Penalty, Dr. Mohammed Al Tarawneh, also stressed the fact that the region is experiencing a resurgence of capital punishment. Characteristically he remarked, “due to the massive social unrest which arose with the Arab Spring, governments are now inclined to reverse the positive strides made with abolishing the death penalty and instead we are seeing a resurgence of this archaic punishment.” He described the death penalty as the most severe of punishments and one that cannot be transposed. The problem in all Arab states, Dr. Mohammed Al Tarawneh voiced, is that they lack the legal infrastructure which guarantees that all defendants will be provided with a competent lawyer. Therefore, he continued, residents from meager backgrounds are often the most susceptible to harsh sentencing. “We must insist that defense lawyers have an ample amount of time to prepare their cases,” he said. Dr. Mohammed Al Tarawneh concluded with the recommendation of establishing a modernized legal system with respect to the death penalty. “One in which every public defense lawyer should have a proven ability to represent those who cannot afford their own lawyer. One in which we introduce a psychological evaluation system. One in which evidence obtained via coercion, be it physical or mental, is exempt from use. One in which those who are sentenced to death are placed on death row, which would make a sentence retraction possible”. Most importantly as he emphasized, the death penalty is illegal under international law and we must continue to work towards its gradual abolishment.
“Nothing is more powerful than an idea rooted in the people’s opinion” stated Mustafa Yaghi, a member of the Jordanian Parliament. “Regardless of the facts or evidence supporting that opinion.” He cited a recent attempt by 17 MP’s, including himself, to reinstate a ban on the death penalty. “This year, my fellow abolitionist and I succumbed to the public’s pressure because of a shift in public opinion due to a notorious rape case which stunned Jordanian citizens. As such, we were forced to support the death penalty, as it was the will of the people,” he expressed. Mustafa Yaghi, underlined the fact that the public’s opinion regarding the death penalty is being shaped by the wrong forces. “NGO’s should put more effort to raise awareness about the negative impacts implementing the death penalty within a society, as the public opinion is the most powerful factor with regards to the death penalty,” he suggested.
The Sheikh, Dr. Hamdi Murad, discussed the death penalty from a religious context and explained how the death penalty is understood within Islam and Sharia law. “The death penalty is legal in Islam and Sharia, but for a few unique circumstances,” he said. “However, it is impossible to implement these practices because there are no legal mechanisms to ensure that we as humans can fairly apply the death penalty to said circumstances in which the death penalty is permissible, as we have no system in place to ensure that we are 100% positive that we are correct in our judgment. God would never accept injustice or an incorrect judgment with regards to the taking of a life. Thus, it is impossible for any government to claim that the death penalty is a fair practice of governance.” He continued, “Through enacting the death penalty we dispose of life. When we dispose of life, we remove the soul from its natural form, the body. God said to Muhammad (PBUH) that mercy is for all human beings. The opposite of promoting mercy is cultivating violence, inflicting physical harm, the practice of torture, and worst of all; killing. God said to Muhammad (PBUH) that one soul is equal to all souls and to kill one soul is like killing all of humanity. Therefore, everything that is unmerciful should be treated as an act against God.”
“CSOs and NGOs are unique in that they are not influenced by governments or public opinion,” said Dr. Nizam Assaf, Director of the ACHRS. He emphasized that the foremost function of non-governmental organizations is to raise awareness, as NGO’s exist as one of the few entities who operate independent of influence. Accordingly, NGOs are responsible for enlightening those who harbor misconceptions about the death penalty. “We must continue to highlight the evidence which proves that the death penalty is not a deterrent, present different forms of punishment, and break the notion that it is acceptable to take an eye for an eye.” he added. In conclusion, Dr. Nizam, recommended that NGOs and CSOs must lobby and exercise influence within their respective political and legislative spheres as the Jordanian Coalition Against the Death Penalty continue to do.
The conference concluded with audience members asking questions regarding the role of CSOs and NGOs, in relation to capital punishment. Likewise, the panel emphasized the need to continue to work towards the abolishment of the death penalty. The ACHRS, in compliance with International Law, opposes the death penalty in all countries and all circumstances. The death penalty is a cruel punishment and violates the right to life. There is no proof that the death penalty is an effective crime deterrent, even when considering terrorist attacks. While it is noteworthy that 141 countries worldwide have abolished the death penalty, we must continue to seek total abolishment.