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Death Penalty Information

Monday, December 03, 2007

Syria: interview with anti death penalty campaigner
Nov. 30

Death Penalty Serves Interests of Despotic Regimes----Interview with Nedal
Nedal Naeiseh: Syrian writer, journalist and anti-death penalty campaigner

Syria strongly opposed the recently passed U.N. resolution calling for an
immediate moratorium on executions and end to capital punishment. But
Nedal Naeiseh -- Syrian writer and journalist -- believes the regime is
close to the day when it will join the growing number of abolitionist
In an interview with Abderrahim El Ouali, IPS correspondent for North
Africa and the Middle East, Naeiseh says solving the Middle East conflict
would remove any pretext for retaining capital punishment in his country.
Some excerpts from the interview:
IPS: You write regularly on abolitionist issues. Is there an active
anti-death penalty movement in Syria?
Nedal Naeiseh: There is no engaged, organized intellectual movement
working to abolish the death penalty in our country. There are individuals
who are campaigning. These, and independent groups, can only take on a
small number of cases because they lack funds and the facilities to lobby.
In Syria civil society organizations, independent associations and
political parties are almost non-existent. But there is an official
current -- still not so obvious -- progressing towards the abolition of
this barbaric punishment.
There is no doubt in my mind regarding Syria, Syria really intends to be
part of the global movement for radical international change. This
especially includes respecting the United Nations call for the abolition
of the death penalty.
Standing in the way of achieving this are some pressing regional problems.
IPS: The Syrian penal code calls for the death penalty for anyone who
belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood opposition group. Does this mean that
any other opposition group would face the same sanction?
NN: You are referring to law number 49. This was introduced in 1980 after
the bloody clashes that took place between the Muslim Brotherhood and the
Syrian regime. There were specific circumstances that led to this law; it
was to stop the bloody conflict of that period . . . We do not want such a
law applied in Syria or any other part of the world.
I should say here that the law is semi-suspended. All death sentences have
been reduced to 12 years imprisonment or even less. But there were
undoubtedly past abuses in the application of this law. The sentences are
now made public and published in the media.
I really do not think that any other political organisation has faced --
or will face -- such a measure as long as constitutional rules are
followed and violence is not advocated to achieve political ends.
IPS: In Syria the application of the death penalty is often tied to
collaboration with the enemy, which means Israel. Does this mean that
abolition depends on finding a solution to the Syrian-Israeli conflict in
particular, and the Arab- Israeli conflict in general?
NN: There is certainly a solid connection between the death penalty and
the on-going state of emergency in Syria and the Syrian conflict with
Israel. In nearly all legal codes around the world you will find sanctions
for collaborating with the enemy. It is termed high treason and severely
Solving the Arab-Israeli conflict would certainly lead to some radical
constitutional and legal changes in Syria. Then, efforts could be focused
on amending the laws now in force so they meet standards you would find in
the most developed countries. Solving this conflict would remove the
pretext for applying the death penalty -- or ever extending it.
IPS: Criminals who commit revenge crimes in Syria escape the death
penalty. When the family of a murder victim takes revenge against the
murders family or friends, in court they can argue that there were
extenuating circumstances. Is this encouraging murder by letting these
criminals go without full punishment?
NN: Syrian lawmakers are influenced by our customs and tribal traditions
because of the moral value they have in society. But, in my view, this
does not mean that the laws meet recognized legal standards and are
humane. Any criminal must be punished according to modern legal norms and,
of course, the death penalty is not one of these.
You are correct. What happens is unjust. It encourages more killings under
the guise of taking revenge. Also, no one should be punished for a crime
committed by another person. Revenge killings are absolutely illegal and
should be punished by the law.
There are other crimes even more dangerous than revenge crimes. I am
talking here about honour killings. These are also another kind of death
penalty carried out by individuals outside the law. Many women are killed
when there is suspicion they have committed adultery or because of an
innocent rendezvous. Many innocent girls are victims of unjust tribal and
sectarian laws. I can say that there are 2 kinds of laws existing in our
society: tribal laws -- some of which derive from Sharia law -- and modern
laws. But the first group remains the more influential of the 2.
IPS: Under the state of emergency in Syria is there really space for
abolitionist groups to work?
NN: The state of emergency and the absence of civil society organizations
and suspicion of any social movement are preventing any lobbying.
Under the emergency laws now in force any meeting of more than 2 people is
criminalized. But actually in our public activities we find these measures
are relaxed.
IPS: If another Arab state were to abolish the death penalty, would this
influence Syria to do the same?
NN: No, I dont think so. Arab countries have many similarities but they
vary in degree.
Syria, because of its ethnic and religious diversity and openness to
global changes, might be more prepared to abolish the death penalty and
adhere to modern and enlightened ideas. But for this to happen there must
be a general campaign here to increase death penalty awareness in society.
IPS: If Muslim scholars were to agree that the death penalty violates
religious teachings, would this oblige political regimes in the region to
abolish it?
NN: Scholars have always been servile and entirely dependent on the
political regimes in our region. They have always been mouthpieces of the
politicians. Throughout the entire history of the region there has been a
strong alliance between politicians and scholars.
Regimes have respected the holy texts only in so far as they have served
their own interests. The texts have always been interpreted by scholars in
a way that has ensured the continuity of these regimes and their
interests. Many Muslim reformists who have attempted to interpret the holy
texts in a more liberal way have faced criticism and accusations of
Our scholars have always been too conservative . . . they have closed
their eyes to the changes taking part in the rest of the world. Weve never
seen them taking an individual, intellectual stand on social issues.
I am sorry to say, the death penalty serves the interests of despotic
regimes in the region and it is futile to expect scholars will speak out
for abolition.
(source: IPS News)
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