(Amman) – Jordanian authorities executed 11 Jordanian men by hanging on December 21, 2014, ending an eight-year de facto moratorium on the death penalty.

The official government news agency, Petra News, announced that authorities had executed the men inside Suwaqa prison, 70 kilometers south of Amman. Interior Ministry Spokesman Ziad al-Zu`bi told Petra News that the sentences “had previously been issued by the Serious Crimes Court for crimes of murder that [the men] committed. Afterwards the sentence[s] became final when upheld by the Court of Cassation…”

“With these executions, Jordan loses its standing as a rare progressive voice on the death penalty in the region,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director. “Reviving this inherently cruel form of punishment is another way Jordan is backsliding on human rights.”

The Jordanian cabinet established a special committee in November to explore a resumption of executions. However, the cabinet made no public statement on the topic prior to the December 21 executions. A member of the committee that oversaw the executions told Ammon News the men were put to death by hanging.

On December 21, activists and news websites furnished what they said were the names of the executed men, their case numbers, and the years in which they were convicted. But details of individual trials were not available.

Since Jordan’s last executions in mid-2006, King Abdullah II had not signed further execution orders. According to the Jordan Times, in late 2005 the king told an Italian newspaper, “in coordination with the European Union, we would like to modify our Penal Code. Jordan could soon become the first country in the Middle East without capital punishment.” 

But Jordanian lawmakers did not modify the penal code or other laws to remove the death penalty, and judges continued to hand down execution sentences. Jordanian law allows capital punishment for crimes of murder, terrorism, treason, and espionage, among others.

In December 2014, Jordan’s governmental National Center for Human Rights released its report for events of 2013. This stated that Jordan’s Serious Crimes Court had handed down 20 death sentences in 2011, 13 in 2012, and 7 in 2013. The report also stated that, by the end of 2013, 109 persons were on death row. The Interior Ministry spokesman told the al-Sabeel news website that prior to December 21, 2014, the number of death row inmates had risen to 122.

Executions in Jordan require endorsement from the king and the Court of Cassation, Jordan’s highest court. Article 39 of the constitution states: “No death sentence shall be executed except after ratification by the King …”

Human Rights Watch opposes capital punishment under all circumstances, as a practice unique in its cruelty and finality.

In 2013, following similar past resolutions, the United Nations General Assembly called on countries to establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, progressively restrict the practice, and reduce the offenses for which it might be imposed, with the view toward its eventual abolition. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has also called on countries to abolish the death penalty.