(New York) -Bahrain's king, Shaikh Hamad Bin Isa al-Khalifa, should halt plans to execute a man for a 2005 killing, Human Rights Watch said today. For many years, Bahrain observed a de facto moratorium on the death penalty. However, with three executions in 2006 and the pending sentence for Jassim Abdulmanan, Bahrain appears to be moving against the international trend away from capital punishment.
In January 2007, Bahrain's High Criminal Court sentenced Abdulmanan, a citizen of Bangladesh, to death by firing squad for the 2005 murder. The sentence was upheld on three appeals, including a final ruling on November by the Court of Cassation. The only hope of overturning the sentence lies with Shaikh Hamad, who must ratify all execution orders. Should Shaikh Hamad approve Abdulmanan's sentence, he could face execution within a week, according to Bahraini human rights activists.
"In law and practice, a growing majority of countries have rejected capital punishment, even for the most serious offenses," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "For a long time, Bahrain appeared to be part of this consensus, but this sentence, following the executions in 2006, calls that into question."
Two other Bangladeshi men were convicted of taking part in the same murder but received life sentences that the Supreme Appeals Court later reduced to 15-year prison terms.
From 1977 to 2006, Bahrain had not executed anyone, except for a single execution in 1996, a time of great political turmoil. But in December 2006, the government executed three other foreign citizens -- a Bangladeshi man and woman, and a Pakistani man convicted in two separate murder cases. According to the Rome based organization Hands Off Cain, which monitors death penalty cases globally, three inmates are on death row in Bahrain.
Internationally, 94 countries have abolished the death penalty in law and only a small number of countries - 25 in 2008 - continue to carry out executions.
Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all cases as a violation of the right to life and the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment.
"With his authority to reject this death sentence, Shaikh Hamad has an opportunity to show the Arab region and the world that Bahrain respects fundamental rights and human dignity," Stork said. "If Bahrain executes Abdulmanan, it will be a setback to efforts to bring Arab countries and Iran into the ranks of the many states that no longer tolerate capital punishment."