On Sunday, 19 March 2017, in a serious precedent, the Military Court in Gaza issued two death sentences against two persons convicted of drug possession; one of whom is military and the other is civilian. There is no legal text upholding the application of death penalty in crimes of drug possession. Moreover, the Court heard an entirely civil case in terms of subject and persons, regarding the second convicted person.
According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR’s) follow-up, the Permanent Military Court in Gaza issued two death sentences against two persons on charge of drug possession. The first one, “R. H. M. (40)”, was sentenced by fire squad while the other “Z. A. T. (26)” was sentenced in absentia by hanging. Both persons are from Rafah.
PCHR is seriously concerned over the serious development of applying death penalty. PCHR also emphasizes that issuing and applying this penalty in drugs cases is very dangerous, particularly in absence of fair trial guarantees and presence of many reports exposing widespread use of torture during the interrogation period, especially in drugs crimes.
PCHR refuses that civilians appear before the military judiciary, constituting a flagrant violation of Article 30 of the Palestinian Basic Law (PBL), which stipulates that “Each Palestinian shall have the right to find sanctuary in the legal system.” PCHR also calls upon the Palestinian President not to ratify any death sentence.
Although only 2 months passed in this year, the number of death sentences issued in 2017 has risen to 14 sentences, 10 of which were new sentences while 4 others were to uphold previous sentences. Thus, the total number of death sentences issued in the Palestinian Authority PA controlled areas has risen to 194 sentences since 1994. Thirty of which have been issued in the West Bank and 164 in the Gaza Strip. Among those issued in the Gaza Strip, 106 sentences have been issued since 2007.
Since the establishment of the PA, 35 death sentences were issued; 33 of which were in the Gaza Strip and two in the West Bank. Among the sentences issued in the Gaza Strip, 22 were issued since 2007 without the ratification of the Palestinian President in violation of the law, and 3 of which were implemented on 31 May 2016. These were the first death sentences to be implemented without the Palestinian presidential ratification following the formation of the National Unity Government in June 2014. PCHR emphasized that it is extra-judicial execution and constitutes a flagrant violation of the PBL since it requires the ratification of the Palestinian President for implementation.
PCHR emphasizes that drug trafficking should be fought, but not fighting this crime by committing another one, which is issuance of extrajudicial death sentences.
PCHR also believes that illegally issuing death sentences is considered as extra-judicial killing, and those participated or contributed to issuing them should be held accountable on grounds of extra-judicial killing and abuse of power.
PCHR calls upon Hamas Movement to prevail the voice of reason while running the Gaza Strip and emphasizes that promoting and respecting law is the real way to end this crime.
Moreover, PCHR points out that the call for abolition of the death penalty does not reflect tolerance for those convicted of serious crimes, but rather a call for utilizing deterrent penalties that maintain our humanity.