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PA: Arafat Urged to Commute Death Sentences
(August 9, 2001) -- Human Rights Watch wrote to Palestinian Authority President Yasir Arafat on August 2 deploring the resumption of death sentences against alleged “collaborators” following unfair trials in State Security Courts.

Human Rights Watch urged Arafat to commute those sentences and also called on him to take effective steps to halt vigilante killings of people allegedly involved in violence.

Letter to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat
Regarding the Death Penalty for Accused Collaborators

August 2, 2001

His Excellency Yasser Arafat
Palestinian Authority
Gaza City, Gaza District

Your Excellency:

Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned that a State Security Court of the Palestinian Authority in Nablus this week issued death sentences against four men on charges of high treason and collaboration with Israeli intelligence services. The court today sentenced Ahmad Abu Isha to death on charges that he provided information to Israel's General Security Service leading to the July 25 assassination of Salah Darawaze, a senior Hamas activist. The court session reportedly lasted ninety minutes. Three other Palestinians-Samir Abu Zeina, Amjad Hafarza, and Hussein Abu Alayoun-were sentenced to death late Tuesday, July 31, for their alleged involvement in the December 31, 2000, killing of Fatah leader Thabit Ahmad Thabit in Tulkarm.

Your ratification, as President of the Palestinian Authority, is required before these four men can be brought before the firing squad. Human Rights Watch urges you in the strongest terms to commute these executions.

We also urge you to condemn in clear and unequivocal terms vigilante-type killings of alleged collaborators, and to order the authorities to bring to justice those responsible for such killings. Two Palestinians were reportedly shot dead on Wednesday night, August 1, and another seriously wounded. Another suspected collaborator was killed on Tuesday, July 31. According to press reports, militia leaders associated with Fatah have claimed credit for some of these killings and have threatened to carry out further killings.

The sentencing in the Thabit case, which followed earlier sessions on July 28 and 30, reportedly lasted ten minutes. It was originally scheduled for Wednesday but was moved earlier following an Israeli helicopter gunship attack on a Nablus office that killed eight persons, including two political leaders of Hamas, two journalists, and two children, and wounded fifteen. Nablus governor Mahmud Aloul told the media that it was rescheduled so that the verdict could be publicized prior to the funerals of the eight on Wednesday.

Another defendant in the Thabit case, 17-year-old Muhammad Abd al-Rahman, was spared the death penalty as a minor and sentenced to fifteen years in prison. A fifth defendant, Husan Afif Khalil, was released as mentally unfit. The Attorney General for State Security Courts, Khaled al-Qidra, had told Reuters news agency on July 9 that the Palestinian Authority would seek the death penalty for three of those accused in connection with the Thabit killing.

Human Rights Watch has condemned the Israeli policy of "liquidations" and the killing of Thabit Thabit, and has called for the investigation and prosecution of all persons responsible for attacks on civilians. Human Rights Watch opposes the use of the death penalty in all cases as a violation of the right to life, both because of its inherent cruelty, and because of the possibility that individuals wrongly convicted may be executed. We are further disturbed by the Palestinian Authority's recourse to the death penalty following trials before state security and military courts, trials which do not comport with basic international fair trial standards and whose verdicts may have been influenced by political considerations.

On January 13, after a twenty-two month moratorium on executions, Allam Bani Ouda was publicly executed in Nablus and Majdi Mikkawi was executed in Gaza. Both were convicted in State Security Courts of collaboration with the Israeli secret services following summary trials without access to lawyers and the right of appeal, in violation of the most basic fair trial standards. The executions were carried out after you ratified the death sentences.

Also on January 13, Muhammad Dayf Allan al-Khatib and Husam al-Din Musa Hamid were sentenced to death by a Bethlehem Higher State Security Court for collaborating in the killing of Fatah leader Hussain Abeyath, in a trial that lasted five hours and in which only one witness was called. On February 11, Hassan Muhammad Hassan Musallem, a Palestinian security official, was sentenced to death after being convicted by a Hebron military court on charges of collaboration. We request confirmation that these executions have not been, and will not be, carried out.

At a minimum, persons accused of collaboration and treason, as well as all suspects tried before any Palestinian court, should be provided with the following internationally recognized rights:

  • to be presumed innocent until proven guilty;

  • to be tried before a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal;

  • to be informed of the nature and basis of the charges against him or her;

  • to have adequate time to prepare a defense, to present a defense to the charges, and call witnesses in their defense;

  • to be provided with legal representation, if necessary paid by the state;

  • to examine the evidence and the witnesses against him or her;

  • not to be compelled to testify against himself or herself, or to confess guilt; and,

  • to appeal conviction and sentence to a higher tribunal according to law.

We therefore urge Your Excellency to commute these executions, and to take measures to prevent vigilante killings. It is a matter of deep concern to Human Rights Watch that the Palestinian Authority has reverted to policies that defy the worldwide trend towards the abolition of the death penalty by handing down death sentences and carrying out executions. We ask you to ensure the progressive restriction and ultimate elimination of the death penalty in Palestinian law.


Hanny Megally
Executive Director
Middle East and North Africa Division
Human Rights Watch