27 Nov. '08: Palestinian Authority court imposes death sentence on man convicted of collaborating with Israel

27 Nov 2008

On 12 November 2008, the Palestinian military court in Bethlehem sentenced Ayman Ahmad ‘Awad Dagharmeh to death. The court found him guilty of treason for passing information to Israeli security forces. Dagharmeh, 24, lives in the al-‘Arrub refugee camp, Hebron District, and was a member of the Palestinian General Security Service. Execution of the sentence requires the approval of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights reported that Dagharmeh's conviction was based on the Palestinian Revolutionary Penal Code of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which was never adopted by the Palestinian Legislative Council. The law contradicts international standards of due process and does not include an independent apparatus to appeal the court's decision. Capital punishment in the Palestinian judicial system is also problematic because of the great number of offenses for which the death penalty may be imposed.

Seven Palestinians have been sentenced to death this year, raising the total of death sentences in the Palestinian Authority to 71. Of these, 13 were executed, seven were released or had their sentences reduced to life imprisonment, eight were murdered, and seven escaped from prison. The remaining convicts await execution of their sentence.

The right to life is one of the most fundamental human rights.  It is enshrined in article 3 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, of 1948, and other international and regional conventions. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of 1966, includes an optional protocol that prohibits capital punishment. To date, 68 states have ratified the protocol.

On 18 December 2007, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution calling on member states “to establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.” The resolution also calls on states that still maintain the death penalty “to reduce the number of offenses for which it may be imposed” and to comply with safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty. The resolution is non-binding, but it reflects the clear international trend to abolish capital punishment.

According to figures of Amnesty International, until 1977, only 16 countries had abolished capital punishment for all crimes. As of October 2008, that figure stood at 92, and more than two-thirds of the countries in the world had abolished the death penalty in law or practice. Of the 60 countries that retain capital punishment, only 24 carried out executions in 2007. 88 percent of these executions took place in five countries: China, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United States.

B'Tselem calls on the president of the Palestinian Authority not to approve the death sentence in the case of Daraghmeh. B'Tselem also calls on the PA to abolish the death penalty and to commute the death sentences to life imprisonment, for those already sentenced. Furthermore, the Palestinian Authority must uphold a just and fair criminal system, one that is committed to safeguard the right to life and respects the principles of due process, including the establishment of an effective appeals apparatus.

Recently, the media reported that the Hamas prime minister in the Gaza Strip, Isma'il Haniyeh, wants the power to approve the death penalty transferred to him. If the power is indeed transferred, he will be obligated to commute death sentences to prison sentences and to establish a judicial system that conforms to principles of due process.