The message behind Jordan’s mass executions

Sunday 19/03/2017
Ineffective deterrent. A 2005 file picture shows the gallows at Suaga prison, south of Amman. (AFP)

London - Jordan’s execution of 15 pris­oners in one day sparked condemnation from interna­tional human rights groups but activists at home were di­vided over the decision to carry out the death sentences.
Jordanian Information Minister Mahmud al-Momani said ten of the prisoners hanged on March 4th had been convicted of terrorism and the other five were found guilty of com­mitting “heinous” crimes.
The aim, said Ziad al-Dmour, at­torney general for Amman district, was to send “a clear message to any­one who tries to undermine the se­curity of the country”. Executions are “the fate of all those who carry out criminal offences”, he warned.
The executions marked the larg­est number carried on a single day in Jordan’s recent history. Ninety-four people are on death row in Jordan, most of them convicted of murder or rape.
King Abdullah II promised in 2005 to halt carrying out the death penalty and Jordan observed a mor­atorium on executions from 2006- 14, despite the courts continuing to hand down death sentences.
Following a reported rise in crime, Jordan hanged 11 men convicted of murder in December 2014.
After Jordanian pilot Muath al- Kasasbeh was videotaped being burned alive by Islamic State (ISIS) militants in February 2015, Jordan hanged two people convicted of ter­rorism offences in retaliation.
Jordan has faced a rising threat from ISIS, which has claimed sever­al terror attacks inside the kingdom.
Israel’s Haaretz newspaper re­ported that Israel’s ambassador to Jordan expressed concern over in­stability in the neighbouring king­dom, prompting Israeli officials to urge their country to assist Amman. Jordanian analysts have dismissed the Haaretz report, saying that it is business as usual in Jordan.
London-based Amnesty Interna­tional expressed shock at the mass executions and warned the death penalty would not improve secu­rity. “The horrific scale and secrecy around these executions is shock­ing,” said Samah Hadid, deputy di­rector of Amnesty International’s Beirut regional office.
“This is a major step backward for both Jordan and efforts to end the death penalty — a senseless and ineffective means of administering justice,” Hadid said.
“Jordan had for years been a lead­ing example in a region where re­course to the death penalty is all too frequent… Hanging people will not improve public security,” she said.
New York-based Human Rights Watch joined the condemnation.
“Jordan may think this projects an image of strength but the death penalty will never deter terror at­tacks and murder or make Jordan safer,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa direc­tor at Human Rights Watch.
“Rather than model itself on Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, regional leaders in capital punishment, Jor­dan should lead by example on rights and protection and renew its moratorium on the death penalty,” she said.
In a column in the Jordan Times, Daoud Kuttab stressed that capital punishment has not proved to be an effective deterrent.
“Not publishing the names of five of the convicted… reflects a politi­cal decision that aims at protecting people from possible tribal attacks, a decision that shows how little this punishment works as a real deter­rent,” he wrote.
“Ending the life of a jihadist who aspires to martyrdom is hardly an ef­fective way to deal with the scourge of terrorism. Much more serious po­litical, social and economic reform is needed to lower the rates of crime and terror.”
Journalist Ghada al-Sheikh in­terviewed several Jordanian rights activists and noted on the website that opinion was divided among them over the death penalty.