Lebanese waiting for death penalty verdict
By Mona Alami | Saturday, 11.29.2008, 01:29 AM

BEIRUT (IPS) — The Lebanese government will use television to gain maximum attention for its plan to abolish the death penalty, giving one station the first right to question Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar about the details of an abolition bill which will be eventually presented to parliament.

Lebanese peacefully protest the death penalty in the streets of Beirut in this undated photo.

"In the coming weeks, the minister will unveil the draft law on a TV station which has been granted exclusive broadcasting rights," the office of the justice ministry told IPS. The ministry refused to discuss the proposed law until this interview has been granted. No official date has been set for the parliamentary debate.

News of plans to abolish the death penalty was first made public on Oct. 10, the World Day against the Death Penalty.

Lebanese Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar

On the same day, Najjar informed the cabinet of the details. A brief official press statement said then that the proposal was to replace the death penalty with life imprisonment with hard labor.

Abolishing the death penalty was in line with Lebanon's religious and humanitarian values, as well as its legal culture, Najjar said at the time.

"Preventive measures are more effective than the death penalty in reducing crime," he said.

The abolition bill comes after years of campaigning by anti-death penalty activists.

"I am confident that it is only a matter of time before the law is passed," Walid Sleybi, head of the Lebanese Association for Civil Rights, told IPS.

"Society should not be allowed to sit back and look at the killing of people, even if they are found guilty of a crime. A crime should never be punished by another crime.

"Recent studies have shown that capital punishment does not contribute to curbing crime levels. On the contrary, people tend to resort to violence when they see the state itself commiting the ultimate crime."

Sleybi has long struggled to implement civil rights initiatives in Lebanon, promoting non-violent movements and battling against sectarianism with fellow-activist Ugarit Younan. In 1997, Sleybi published the book "The Death Penalty Kills," a critique of capital punishment.

In 2004, the movement against capital punishment, which includes seven MPs such as long-time activist Ghassan Mokhaiber, also proposed a bill to abolish the death penalty. However, the adverse political situation after the 2005 assassination of prime minister Rafik Hariri and the ensuing paralysis of parliament until recently prevented it ever being put to a vote.

"We have new hope now that parliament is reconvening on a regular basis," Sleybi said.

He added that executions in Lebanon had often been tied to politics.

"Presidents have often used the death penalty as an instrument to reaffirm power and control over the state, especially after the civil war, which lasted from 1975 to 1990. This was best illustrated during the term of President Elias Hrawi (1989 to 1998), which witnessed the highest number of executions," Sleybi said.

"The political and sectarian dimension of executions in Lebanon was further demonstrated in the execution of mass murderer Ahmad Mansour in 2004."

The accused, a Shi'a, was found guilty of killing eight people at the UNESCO building in Beirut, seven of whom were Christian. He was sentenced to death by the judges, who accused Mansour of orchestrating a sectarian hate-crime.

In an effort to maintain a fragile balance in a country with 18 recognized religious groups, Badih Hamadeh, a Sunni convicted of killing three members of the Lebanese army intelligence during an attempted arrest in south Lebanon in 2002, and Remy Zaatar, a Christian convicted of murdering two civil defense colleagues in 2000, were also executed on the same day as Mansour, at the Roumieh prison in Beirut's suburbs.

The sentences were carried out in violation of a 1998 de facto moratorium on the death penalty, which was put into effect following pressure from the European Commission after the hanging of two men convicted of murder in a public square in the northern town of Tabarja in the same year.

The executions were broadcast by television stations in Lebanon and the two bodies were left on display for a few hours.

Since the country's independence in 1943, 51 death sentences have been carried out, while many have been suspended or remain pending. Only men were executed from 1947 to 2001, 45 percent of whom were between the ages of 19 and 27. Thirty-four were hanged and 14 shot, said Sleybi.

During the civil war, capital punishment was temporarily put on hold.

In May 2007, the U.N. Security Council authorized the setting up of a special tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of Hariri.

Lebanon had agreed that the tribunal's maximum sentence would be life imprisonment and not the death penalty.


By Mona Alami

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