Why did Jordan resume the death penalty?

Jordanians are divided over the government’s recent decision to end an eight-year moratorium on the death penalty.

According to government figures the majority of Jordanians are in favour of the death penalty [Reuters]

Amman – Last week Jordan put an end to an eight-year moratorium on executions and 11 men were hung at Swaqa prison which has Jordan’s only execution chamber.

It was the first time the execution room opened its doors since March 2006 when Jordan hung two men – a Jordanian and a Libyan – who had been convicted of assassinating US diplomat Laurence Foley in 2002 at his residence in Amman.

This came shortly after Jordan’s Interior Minister Hussein Majali announced  at a press conference last month that “the government was very seriously looking into resuming the death penalty”.

Jordanian officials cited the “rise in crime” as a justification for resuming the death penalty.

“It has become a necessity to deter people from committing vicious crimes which have started to appear in our society,” Ziad al-Zoubi, spokesperson for the interior ministry told Al Jazeera.

RELATED: Jordan accused over execution 

According to the Department of Public Statistics, homicide rates have increased gradually from 100 cases in 2008, to 153 in 2012. Both Jordan’s department of statistics and the public security department told Al Jazeera that the statistics for the years 2013 and 2014 “were not finalised yet”.

Zoubi and other officials said the “vast majority” of Jordanians support the death penalty, but no studies have been released by the interior ministry to prove that as of yet.

But two days after the executions took place, the Strategic Studies Centre at the University of Jordan released a survey saying that 81 percent of polled Jordanians support the death penalty. 

The 11 men who were hung on Sunday were “the oldest batch” of those sentenced to death in Jordan for committing “ugly” crimes which killed 17 people in total, according to officials.

With these executions, Jordan loses its standing as a rare progressive voice on the death penalty in the region.

- Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director of Human Rights Watch

While no one was executed during the eight-year bandeath sentences, however, continued to be issued making the total number of people on death row 133, according to the Ministry of Interior.

Activists were hoping that the moratorium would eventually result in abolishing the death penalty. Sunday’s executions, however, were a setback for their efforts.

“With these executions, Jordan loses its standing as a rare progressive voice on the death penalty in the region,” Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement condemning the executions.

“Reviving this inherently cruel form of punishment is another way Jordan is backsliding on human rights,” she added.

Jordanian lawyer and human rights activist Asma Khader told Al Jazeera that the “death penalty did not only – historically – fail to reduce crimes, but also implementing such a cruel punishment justifies killing”.

“The death penalty underestimates the value of the human soul,” Khader, a key founder of the anti-death penalty coalition, told Al Jazeera.

Khader, along with other critics, say that the rise in crime “comes in line with the growing population, almost 9 million now”, as well as the influence of the violence flaring in the region.

“Violent scenes are broadcasted daily on TV stations,” Khader said.  

RELATED: Jordan hangs 11 after lifting execution ban

Supporters of the death penalty, however, say it brings justice to the victims and their families and could prevents tha’r (the revenge killing committed by the family of the victim).

“Punishing the murderer is a right for innocent victims, which the state and the people are responsible for ensuring,” columnist Majed Tubeh wrote in al-Ghad newspaper, adding that it will help prevent Jordan from (the consequences) of the tradition of tha’r.

“If I was a mother of one of the victims, I would not want the killer to spend a few years in jail and then walk on the streets freely,” said 54-year-old Amal Ibraheem.

In Jordan, a “life sentence” amounts to a 20-year imprisonment. Opponents of the death penalty say an amendment to the penal code is an alternative to executions.   

“We are disappointed that this demand [to introduce a lifelong imprisonment] was not met. A lifetime sentence would balance between the rights of the victims and the need to deter people,” Khader said.

Local media focused on the horrific aspects of the executions by displaying images of the execution room and detailing the step-by-step process of the execution. A list of the names was released, as well as the crimes with which these men were charged.

In one case, three of the executed men had confessed to vandalising the victim’s house, murdering her, and then raping her. Another was convicted for shooting dead his three brothers and two nephews over an inheritance dispute. Other cases included premeditated murders over personal and work disputes.

In Jordan, death sentences are issued by the Supreme Crimes Court and the State Security Court. The first issues the death penalty for people convicted of premeditated murder, murder of a parent, murder to facilitate or hide another crime, theft or rape, and having sex with a girl below the age of 15, according to Judge Fawzi al-Nahar.

Among those on death row is Sajida Rishawi after being sentenced for her role in an attempted suicide bombing attack in 2005 [EPA]

State Security Court issues death sentences to people convicted of terror charges, including to the failed suicide bomber Sajida Rishawi for the triple hotel attacks in the capital in 2005.

Lifting the ban comes as Jordan adopts the use of “force” to “maintain stability”, according to commentator Fahad Kheetan.

“This is a part of the general trend of tightening the security grip, enforcing law by force, and encountering the challenge of terrorist movements,” he said.

In a few cases, the relatives of victims of murder, rioted, blocked roads, and set buildings on fire, calling on the government to arrest and punish the murderers. Kheetan says “the government was trying to reduce this response” by the executions.  

Other analysts, however, argue that the issue remains confusing as the decision lacks “transparency” and the pubic was not given enough information.

“Lack of transparency triggers doubts and invites speculations,” US-based Jordanian journalist and commentator, Imad Rawashdeh told Al Jazeera, adding that “people are entitled to ask questions on why this group? Why execute them together?”  

But as combating crimes requires more than security measures, “it is very difficult for people and observers to believe that the government’s motive is to reduce crimes while it is not implementing social strategies to eradicate poverty, which is a major source of crime”, Rawashdeh added.  

Meanwhile, it remains unclear what the next step would be as Jordanian officials did not confirm or deny whether Jordan will execute the remaining people on death row. 

Source: Al Jazeera