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Hamas justice under scrutiny over Gaza executions

Wednesday - 8/21/2013, 3:38am  ET

This Sept. 2012 photo taken in Gaza's Central Prison released by Human Rights Watch shows Hani Abu Aliyan, a 28-year-old convicted of killing a boy in 2000, when he himself was 14 years old, and of killing a friend in a dispute over money in 2009. Human Rights Watch demanded Tuesday Aug. 20, 2013 that Gaza's Hamas government halt all planned executions, including that of Aby Aliyan. (AP Photo/Human Rights Watch)

IBRAHIM BARZAK
Associated Press

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Gaza's Hamas government is sticking to plans to carry out more executions and to do so in public for the first time, despite new protests by human rights groups Tuesday.

Among those facing death by hanging in coming days is Hani Abu Aliyan, 28, convicted of two killings, including sexually assaulting and bludgeoning to death a boy when he himself was only 14. His lawyer alleged Abu Aliyan confessed to that killing under torture.

The international group Human Rights Watch on Tuesday urged all upcoming executions halted, saying Gaza's justice system is badly tainted, including by forced confessions, and that executing a child offender is "especially atrocious."

A Gaza rights group, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, said inviting spectators to executions adds cruelty to an already inhumane punishment.

In all, Hamas authorities have executed 16 prisoners since 2010, most convicted of killings or spying for Israel, according to the New York-based Human Rights Watch. Sixteen more await execution, including Abu Aliyan and another prisoner who are first in line because they have exhausted all appeals.

Abu Aliyan's father, Mohammed, a 55-year-old farmer from the southern town of Khan Younis, pleaded for his son's life, saying he has shown remorse, has turned to religion and should get a chance to see his own 5-year-old son grow up.

"They can keep him in jail forever," the elder Abu Aliyan said in a phone interview Tuesday. "At least let his son know his father."

Executions have aroused little public opposition in conservative Gaza, where tribal customs and Islamic religious law, or Sharia, call for putting to death convicted killers.

As an Islamic militant group bound by Sharia, Hamas would have ideological difficulties halting executions, said Ahmed Ali, a sociologist at Gaza's Al Quds University. Carrying out executions also prevents revenge killings by angry relatives that can quickly spiral into long-running blood feuds, he said.

Hamas seized Gaza in a violent takeover in 2007 and has firmly entrenched its hold on the territory, home to about 1.7 million people, sidelining its opponents.

The Hamas-run justice system and past executions have repeatedly been criticized by human rights groups.

Last week, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said the Gaza government must halt all executions, arguing that a fair trial is not possible there, either legally or practically. She said she was concerned about allegations of ill-treatment and torture during interrogations of people who were later sentenced to death.

Gaza's attorney general, Ismail Jaber, said he would not back down. "The death sentence will be carried out against a number of criminals in the presence of the families of victims and dignitaries," Jaber said in remarks on the Interior Ministry's website. "The objective of these public executions is to deter others from committing similar offenses. The law will take its course and no criminal will escape punishment."

Ehab Ghussein, a Gaza government spokesman, denied allegations that defendants were denied due process, including being tortured during interrogation.

He said the government's recent approval to go ahead with Abu Aliyan's execution came after all legal proceedings were exhausted.

The case against Abu Aliyan began in 2009, when he turned himself in to Khan Younis police after stabbing to death an acquaintance, Hazem Borhum, during a dispute over money. At the time, he was newly married and worked as a food merchant, his father said.

His former lawyer, Ghazi Abu Warda, alleged that during interrogation, Abu Aliyan was tortured and confessed to sexually assaulting and killing a young boy in 2000.

In May 2010, Abu Aliyan was sentenced separately for the 2000 and the 2009 killings, in the latter case for "involuntary murder," and received a life term for each crime, Human Rights Watch said.

The prosecutor's office appealed the sentences as too lenient, and an appeals court imposed the death penalty in both cases in September, Human Rights Watch said. Gaza's highest court upheld the decision in July.

The families of the two victims have refused to negotiate compensation according to tribal customs, which are still strong in Gaza and serve as a parallel legal system, the elder Abu Aliyan said.

"They wanted him to be killed," Mohammed Abu Aliyan said, adding that he and is other sons have been shunned by his own clan since the legal proceedings began. '

Raed Borhum, 34, a cousin of the second victim, said nothing short of execution will appease the family. "This is the only thing that will cool our anger and will make the soul of Hazem rest in peace," he said. "Islam says for killers to be killed."

Amid such sentiments, appeals by human rights activists to stop executions seem bound to fall on deaf ears.

Still, they keep trying.

Last week, Raji Sourani of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights wrote to Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, urging him to halt executions.

Sourani told Haniyeh he was also worried about the decision to make them public.

Hanging prisoners in front of an audience "constitutes a form of humiliation that aggravates the cruelty of this inhumane penalty," Sourani said.

___

Laub reported from Jericho, West Bank.


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