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(Jerusalem) – The Hamas authorities in the Gaza Strip should halt planned executions. Three men were put to death on the morning of May 31, 2016, as the first step in a declared plan to kill 13 convicted criminals. The executions came after a number of highly publicized murders.

“The death penalty is always wrong, especially in a legal system like Gaza’s in which torture and coercion are common,” said Sari Bashi, Israel and Palestine director. “Gaza’s leaders should be addressing due process abuses, rather than making them worse by killing people.”

On May 26, the authorities in Gaza announced a plan to execute 13 people convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Attorney General Ismail Jaber said that authorities would execute three people before the holy month of Ramadan, which begins next week, and the other 10 after the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, at the end of Ramadan. Those executed on May 31 were identified by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), an independent human rights group, as Sh., 43, from Khan Younis, a police officer who was shot to death by a firing squad; and E., 28, from Rafah; and Sh., 38, from an unspecified town, both of whom were hanged.

In recent weeks, Gaza’s social and mainstream media have buzzed with discussion of a spate of violent crimes.

Hamas authorities have sentenced 88 people to death since taking control of Gaza in 2007, according to PCHR. In that time, they have executed at least 46 people, including the three on May 31. Most of them were executed without any judicial process. During the 2014 war, Hamas authorities summarily executed at least 23 people accused of collaboration with Israel, as documented by Amnesty International. In February 2016, the Hamas military wing tortured and executed a commander accused of “morality” crimes.

A majority of the remaining 22 people executed were convicted in military courts, where due process protections are particularly compromised.

The Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights, a statutory watchdog group, said it had documented violations of Palestinian law and due process in the manner in which the three people executed on May 31 were detained, interrogated, and tried, including torture.

Palestinian law requires presidential ratification of death sentences. But Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president and Fatah leader, has refused to authorize executions since taking office in 2005. Hamas had refrained from carrying out judicially imposed death sentences since the two factions signed a reconciliation agreement in the spring of 2014. PCHR said that without presidential ratification, the executions amounted to extrajudicial killings.

Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances, because it is inherently cruel and irreversible. Human Rights Watch has documented serious abuses in criminal justice in Gaza that make the May 31 executions particularly egregious. Palestine, which acceded to International Convention on Civil and Political Rights in 2014, should ratify the treaty’s second optional protocol, with the aim of abolishing the death penalty in Gaza and the West Bank, Human Rights Watch said.

“Hamas should cancel its plan to resume executions after the holiday,” Bashi said. “Murder is a heinous crime, but imposing the death penalty is not the answer.”

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