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(Amman) – Jordan joined a worrying regional trend towards increasing executions when it hanged 15 Jordanian men on March 4, 2017, Human Rights Watch said today. Those executed included 10 convicted in six terrorist attacks between 2003 and 2016, and five convicted in murder cases. The official government news agency, Petra News, announced that authorities had executed the men inside Suwaqa prison, 70 kilometers south of Amman.

“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 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.”

Jordan’s State Security Court convicted five of involvement in the “Irbid terror cell,” an ISIS-affiliated group Jordanian authorities say was preparing attacks when security forces discovered it in downtown Irbid. The subsequent firefight left seven militants and one policeman dead.

The court convicted another five men individually for five separate attacks between 2003 and 2016, including the 2003 bombing of the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad that killed 19, a 2016 attack on a General Intelligence Directorate (GID) office north of Amman that killed five security officers, an attack that killed two policeman in the northern village Sama in December 2015, the September 2006 attack on tourists at the Roman amphitheater in Amman that killed one British man, and the assassination of prominent Jordanian writer Nahed Hattar in front of an Amman courthouse in September 2016.

According to media reports, Muammar Ahmed Yousef al-Jaghbeer, the man convicted of involvement in the Jordanian Embassy attack in Baghdad, was also involved in the assassination of US diplomat Laurence Foley in Amman in October 2002.

According to the Jordanian daily al-Ghad, the courts convicted another five men of murders in recent years, including two men convicted of murdering their daughters and one man who was convicted of killing a pediatric surgeon in May 2005 in Amman.

Between 2006 and 2014, Jordan maintained an eight-year moratorium on the death penalty. Authorities ended the moratorium on December 21, 2014, executing 11 individuals for murder. On February 4, 2015, following the murder of Jordanian pilot First Lt. Muath al-Kasasbeh by the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), Jordan executed two convicted Iraqi prisoners affiliated with Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the precursor group to ISIS.

“The terror attacks of the last two years in Jordan show that reinstating the death penalty has done nothing to end such violent attacks,” said Whitson. “The hard work of security agencies to investigate and apprehend criminals plotting attacks will do the most to deter such violence.”

In October 2016, Jordan’s governmental National Center for Human Rights (NCHR) released its report for events of 2015. This stated that Jordan’s Serious Crimes Court and State Security Court had handed down 68 death sentences between 2008 and 2015. The report also stated that 112 persons were on death row by the end of 2015. Eight of those executed on March 4 were sentenced to death on terrorism charges by the State Security Court in 2016, after the period covered by the latest NCHR report.

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 …”

Jordan’s executions are particularly worrying because of the increasing use of the death penalty across the Middle East. In January 2017, Bahrain ended a six-year de facto moratorium on the death penalty, executing three people. Kuwait carried out seven executions by hanging on January 25, 2017, its first use of the death penalty in four years. Saudi Arabia and Iran consistently have some of the world’s highest execution rates. Saudi Arabia has executed more than 400 people since the beginning of 2014, and human rights groups in Iran report the country may have executed as many as 437 in 2016 alone.

Human Rights Watch opposes capital punishment in all countries and under all circumstances. Capital punishment is unique in its cruelty and finality, and it is inevitably and universally plagued with arbitrariness, prejudice, and error. A majority of countries in the world have abolished the practice. In 2012 the United Nations General Assembly again 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. Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also called on countries to abolish the death penalty.

“We look to Jordan, among the most secure and peaceful countries in the Middle East, to lead the region with its moderate and sensible policies,” said Whitson. 

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