Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Abolition of death penalty linked to stability
Sonele Daas sits on death row in Lebanon's central Roumieh prison, found
guilty of murder almost one decade ago. The 60-year-old Bangladeshi had
traveled to Lebanon to work and send wages home to his family. However,
after a dispute with a fellow compatriot, Daas was arrested, tried and
convicted by a Lebanese court for his friend's subsequent death.
Today Daas still does not understand Arabic, has lost touch with his
family and is entirely dependent on others for help, explains Jihane
Morad, a young social worker for the Association for Justice and Mercy
(AJEM), a grassroots organization with a daily presence in the prison
offering social services and legal aid. "He doesn't know who his lawyer
was" she says, "so we have agreed to review his case."
Daas is one of 40 men in crowded Roumieh prison currently sentenced to die
by shooting or hanging. Since Lebanon's independence in 1943, 54 people
have been executed by the state, many of them after the end of the Civil
War in the 1990s.
During an enormous national anti-death penalty campaign backed by over 50
civil society organizations a few years ago, a poll conducted by the
leading ban activist, Walid Slaybi, determined that 74 % of Lebanese
lawmakers were in favor of abolition.
The next step, recalls Slaybi, was to present a draft law on abolition,
already signed by a number of deputies, to Prime Minister Fouad Siniora on
July 12, 2006. However, that day the Israel-Lebanon conflict broke out.
"Now with the political crises today, the Parliament does not meet. Under
these conditions we cannot present it - but it is ready," says Slaybi.
Lebanon's last series of executions have been high profile and especially
controversial, enacted in the wake of national public outrage over the
In 1998 there was a public hanging in Tabarja town square of 2 thieves,
Hassan Abu Jabal and Wissam Issa, who had killed the owners of a house
they had broken into. Hundreds of people and television cameras watched at
dawn as the gallows briefly malfunctioned and the lifeless bodies were
then left on display for over an hour.
"This was a big trauma for the children of the village," recalls Marie
Daunay, president of the Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH). "It was
horrible - the kids were playing at hanging each other afterwards at
The executions coincided with the first known public protest in Lebanon
against the death penalty, says Slaybi, when he, Ogarit Younan, a lawyer,
and around 30 others staged a sit-in that morning in the town square.
After a brief halt of executions under former Prime Minister Salim Hoss,
who virulently opposed the death penalty, the murder of 8, mostly
Christian co-workers by a Shiite man, Ahmad Mansour, sparked widespread
sectarian anger in 2004. Careful to appease the various political parties,
Mansour was executed by hanging.
The state also executed by firing squad Remi Zaatar, a Christian, and
Badih Hamade, a Sunni, both on death row for unrelated murders.
Since then there have been no executions. "However those who are condemned
are always living in fear that they might be executed," says Morad.
"Many are receiving psychiatric treatment because of this constant fear."
In 1998 Nehmeh al-Haj, a 44-year-old from the Beirut area, was arrested by
Syrian intelligence agents and taken to Anjar, near the Syrian border. He
says he was interrogated with torture for up to a month, denied a lawyer
and forced to sign a confession that he murdered 2 Syrian laborers in
Lebanon. He was then turned over to Lebanon and transferred to Roumieh
prison. His trial, 6 years later, was based on his signed confession in
Anjar, and despite his allegations of torture, he received the death
Haj's case is presently adopted by CLDH and has been reported to the
United Nation's Human Rights Council. "If you study the cases of people
sentenced to death [in Lebanon]," explains Daunay, "with most of them you
will find big contradictions with international law. Their rights during
the trial were not respected. So if you don't respect the rights of the
accused, you cannot be sure that the decision is right."
Human rights advocates complain Lebanon's court trials are often
expedient, the accused lacks adequate counsel (defense lawyers for death
penalty cases are scarce and they usually work for without payment), the
appeals process is limited and torture to obtain a confession is
Lebanon is a signatory to international laws governing civil and political
rights, and against torture. "Lebanon as a state signs everything, but
nothing is implemented," says Daunay.
Death penalty abolitionists were hoping Lebanon would repeal the death
penalty in accordance with international laws governing the UN special
tribunal set up to try the suspects in the killing of former Premier Rafik
Hariri in 2005.
But the UN and the Lebanon reached an understanding that the tribunal,
which has power to impose penalties leading up to life imprisonment, would
have precedence over Lebanese national law where the death penalty would
still be valid.
With widespread public outrage over the Lebanese Army casualties in Nahr
al-Bared refugee camp at the hands of Fatah al-Islam last summer, in
addition to the current political crises, passage of a death penalty the
ban now seems somewhat remote.
But with the abolitionist campaigners having succeeded in getting
accidental death struck off the list of charges to merit the death
penalty, Slaybi believes the campaign will ultimately triumph. "If there
is stability in Lebanon - then the death penalty will be eliminated," he
says with conviction.
(source: Daily Star)
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