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Jordan: Commute death sentences and end executions

News Release Issued by the International Secretariat of Amnesty International

AI Index: MDE 16/003/2005 8 July 2005

Jordan: Commute death sentences and put an end to executions

The Jordanian Criminal Court sentenced Zuheir Ahmed to death on 15 May 2005 for the murder of Najeh Khayat in 1995. However, Bilal Musa was executed for the same killing in 2000 following conviction in an entirely unrelated trial, during which he said he was tortured to "confess" (see AI Urgent Action and follow-up MDE 16/04/2000 and MDE 16/06/2000). Twenty-seven-year-old Zuheir Ahmed was also convicted of killing two other people: Salaheddin Muhammad and Jamal Qawasmeh. He apparently pleaded guilty to each killing and his sentence is subject to appeal before the Court of Cassation. According to Amnesty International's information, the presiding judge in Zuheir Ahmed's case also sat on the panel of judges who sentenced Bilal Musa to death, and both men were charged by the same Public Prosecutor. Amnesty International believes that the apparent, blatant contradiction in these cases, and the "confession" stated to have been extracted under torture in the Bilal Musa case, highlight some of the problems inherent in using the death penalty.

Amnesty International is calling on the Jordanian government to put a stop to all executions and bring itself in line with the international movement away from the death penalty. Eighty five countries and territories have abolished the death penalty for all crimes; 11 countries have abolished the death penalty for all but exceptional crimes such as wartime crimes and 24 countries are abolitionist in practice, i.e they retain the death penalty in law but have not carried out any executions for the past 10 years or more, making a total of 120 countries which have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. However, 2005 has witnessed the execution of nine people in Jordan and the issuing of at least four death sentences.

While Amnesty International recognizes the right of governments to ensure that anyone suspected of involvement in criminal acts is brought to justice, the death penalty has never been shown to deter crime more effectively than other punishments. It can contribute little to alleviating the suffering of the families and friends of murder victims, for whom the organisation has the greatest sympathy and consideration. Moreover, the death penalty is irreversible and can be inflicted on the innocent.

On 7 December 2000, Bilal Musa, 26-years-old, was executed by hanging at Swaqa prison following King Abdallah bin Hussein's approval of his death sentence. He had been sentenced to death for 11 killings. Throughout his trial he maintained his innocence of all the killings except one, that of 57-year-old Mirewh Abdul Jalil, in May 1998. He also maintained that he had been tortured to 'confess' to the other 10 killings. He was reportedly denied sleep and food, beaten and hung up by his arms during interrogation in the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). Apparently, threats were made to Bilal Musa that his wife would be raped in front of him. Amnesty International is not aware of any judicial investigation having been carried out into his allegations. His wife, Suzan Ibrahim, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for her alleged role in the murders. Reportedly she had a miscarriage at two months, following her interrogation and prior to the trial. She said that, during her interrogation, she was beaten and deprived of sleep and food. Again, Amnesty International is not aware of any judicial investigation being conducted into her allegations. Bilal Musa and Suzan Ibrahim were held for 18 days in incommunicado detention without access to a lawyer or visits from their family members. A policewoman who was said to have witnessed the torture and was called to give evidence at the hearing failed to appear. Suzan Ibrahim died of a heart attack in Jweideh prison nearly a year after her husband's execution.

The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions has stressed the need to ensure that legal proceedings that could result in use of the death penalty are conducted in all jurisdictions and in all cases according to the highest standards. For example, in her report to the UN Commission on Human Rights in 2002 the Special Rapporteur stated, "It is imperative that legal proceedings in relation to capital offences conform to the highest standards of impartiality, competence, objectivity and independence of the judiciary, in accordance with the pertinent international legal instruments. Defendants facing the imposition of capital punishment must fully benefit from the right to adequate legal counsel at every stage of the proceedings, and should be presumed innocent until their guilt has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt. These safeguards must be implemented in all cases without exception or discrimination (UN document No. E/CN.4/2002/74, 9 January 2002, paragraph 119).

Over the years Amnesty International has repeatedly raised its concerns with the Jordanian authorities about the use of the death penalty. It has also approached them following reports that some people, particularly in political cases, have been sentenced to death after 'confessing' under torture. This practise apparently persists despite the fact that the Jordanian Penal Code gives clear conditions for a tribunal to assess and accept a confession as the only evidence in a case. The conditions include the competence of the defendant to stand trial and testify and provide clear testimony which is not contradictory and matches the crime details and that the authorities and court get the individual's confession without force or duress.

The death penalty remains prescribed in Jordan for a large number of offences, including premeditated murder; crimes against the security of the state including spying and illegal possession of weapons; rape of a girl aged less than 15 years; and a number of drug-related offences. In addition, the Law Amending the Penal Code (Provisional Law No. 54, 2001) which was hastily promulgated through a provisional royal decree in the absence of Parliament and became effective on 2 October 2001, expanded the scope of 'terrorist' offences punishable with the death penalty (see AI report, index number MDE 16/001/2002, Jordan: Security measures violate human rights). Prisoners have continued to be executed following unfair trials.

Amnesty International is calling on the Jordanian authorities to commute all death sentences. It urges the government to establish a moratorium on the death penalty pending its abolition. It also calls for the repeal of the Law Amending the Penal Code (Provisional Law No. 54, 2001).

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