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Call for abolition of death penalty due to miscarriage of justice

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A miscarriage of the Jordanian justice system that led to the execution of a man wrongly convicted of murder in 2000 has become a new reason to abolish the death penalty in the Kingdom, human rights groups said.

In a letter addressed to Jordanian Prime Minister, Marouf Bakhit, Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged the head of the cabinet to support abolishing the death penalty.

The HRW request coincides with recent information about the case of Bilal Musa, a man sentenced to death in April 2000 by the Serious Crimes Court in Amman for the 1995 murder of Najih Khayyat.

Five years ago, the court did not take into consideration Musa’s claim to have been tortured into confession or the lack of any proven connection to the victim. In a court testimony a witness testified that he had heard Musa screaming from beatings he received while being interrogated.

“We could not rely on that witness’s testimony. He was a friend of Musa and had also an extended criminal record on his back,” an official source who preferred to remain anonymous told IRIN in Amman.

In addition, the judges also convicted Musa of murdering nine other people over a period of four years, “based entirely on his contested confessions,” said HRW.

The prosecution failed to present any evidence linking Musa to the death of Khayyat or to the other murders, according to HWR’s letter.

“We had Musa’s confession before the police,and that was the evidence,” affirmed the official source.

On 7 December 2000, Musa was hanged at Sawqa Prison in southern Amman.

Two confessions for the same crime

Last May the same two judges at the Serious Crimes Court convicted Zuhair Khatib for the murder of Khayyat and two other people. According to court papers, Khatib voluntarily confessed to the murder of Khayyat.

After realising that they had already sentenced Musa to death for the same murder, the court reviewed the case and reversed its decision to convict Khatib.

The Serious Crimes Court argued that Musa’s confession corresponded more closely with the facts of the murder.

“These two cases exemplify the Jordanian judiciary’s failure to conduct even the most basic inquiry into the facts, even in the most serious cases,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW.

“There is no mistake, Khatib’s description of Khayyat’s murder did not correspond to what the police found at the scene of the crime,” commented the official source.

In its letter to Bakhit, HRW also urged the Prime Minister to start an independent investigation into the two cases and overhaul investigation techniques used in Jordanian Courts.

“It is clear that after this mistake Jordan needs to adopt judicial reforms,” stressed Nizam Assaf, director of the Amman Centre for Human Rights Studies (ACHRS).

The local human rights group did not have any statistics about torture practised by the police during interrogations. “Most of the detainees are deprived of external contacts. Few are the cases where we get reports from family members or friends,” Assaf explained.

Last word from the King

Serious crimes in Jordan, such as raping a girl under 15 years-old, first degree murder or crimes affecting national security, are subjected to the death penalty by the Serious Crimes Court, the official source said.

After a trial is held, a judgment from the court must be reviewed by a Court of Cassation and ,finally, by King Abdullah II.

“There’s no criteria or time limit for carrying out the sentence, it all depends on how long it takes the procedure within the Higher Court and from his Majesty,” the official source explained.

“There won’t be any execution until the King authorises it,” added the same source.

In 2004, only two people sentenced to death were exempted from being executed, according to official sources.

Earlier this month, King Abdullah II called for the abolition of the death penalty.

“Jordan should urgently follow King Abdullah’s call in order to prevent tragic cases like this Musa’s case in the future,” stressed Whitson in the letter to the Prime Minister.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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