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RIGHTS-BAHRAIN: It’s Time to Abolish the Death Penalty – Activists

Suad Hamada

MANAMA, Apr 1 2010 (IPS) - Bahrain has observed a de facto moratorium on the death penalty for years, but many are watching to see if the Gulf country will follow the international trend toward the abolition of capital punishment in the future.

In March, Bahrain was one of three Gulf countries that handed down a death penalty verdict. On Mar. 23, the High Criminal Court sentenced to death 26-year-old Bangladeshi migrant worker Russell Mezan, who had been convicted in the murder of a Kuwaiti man.

Elsewhere in the Gulf, 18 other people received death sentences in March. On Mar. 29, Sharjah’s Shariah Court sentenced 17 Indian nationals to death for killing a Pakistani and injuring three others over alcohol business disputes.

On Mar, 30, the death sentence set by a Kuwait court was the final chapter of the Al Jahra tragedy that left 57 dead after Nasra Yussef Mohammed Al-Enezi set ablaze a tent that was the venue of her ex-husband’s wedding. If the verdict is upheld, she might be the first female Gulf national to be hanged to death.

Bahrain had its most recent executions – of three people — in 2006 and activists are looking to see if the moratorium on carrying out death sentences will continue. Even then, some say that it is time to go farther and remove the death penalty altogether because its existence – even if not used often – is a blot on Bahrain’s record.

The death penalty is provided for crimes such as murder, drug trafficking and treason, but executions have taken place only for murder cases.


The use of the death penalty four years ago drew criticism because no one has the right to take away lives, argues Faisal Fulad, a member of the upper house of parliament and general secretary of the Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society.

“As a politician and human rights activist, I feel that life sentence is the best punishment for murderers and high-risk criminals,” he said. “If you kill murderers, they would die before repenting their deeds, but sentencing them to life imprisonment could allow them to change and become better persons.”

In 2006, three Bangladeshis – two women and one man – were executed for their involvement in murder cases after almost 20 years of the suspension of the implementation of the death penalty in Bahrain, Fulad recalls. The three were the first to be put to death since 1996.

Fulad is working to table a bill ending the death penalty in Bahrain. But this would face an uphill climb because it would have to be debated in the lower house of parliament, majority of whose members are conservatives who would not hesitate to include the death penalty in draft laws on corruption or money laundering. “The death sentence isn’t the solution to deter crimes, as the number of murder cases of about three in few years, which is big in a country the size of Bahrain, were reported after the first execution in 2006,” Sabina Al Najar of the Bahrain Human Rights Society points out.

But Al Najar says that getting rid of the death penalty is difficult because of community pressure on the government.

Having the death penalty also means that governments face the tricky issue of ensuring that capital punishment is meted fairly across different groups in society.

Activists and legal experts have pointed out weaknesses in cases where migrant workers, which make up a sizable proportion of Gulf residents, do not get full legal protection and services because of unfamiliarity with Arabic in courtrooms. Sometimes, translators are not provided.

Beyond this, a report circulated by Nabeel Rajan, president of Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, highlights how Gulf countries are known for consistent and endemic violations of the rights of migrant labourers, who work in construction sites and oil rigs, hospitals, offices and as domestic workers.

“When it comes to the death penalty, the number of migrants who are killed by judicial execution is grossly disproportional to the size of their populations,” the report said. There are 12.4 million migrant workers in the Gulf, the bulk of them from Asia.

Official documents say that Mezan, the Bangladeshi sentenced to death in Bahrain in March, is a migrant worker at a hotel but that he was accused of working as a pimp.

Still, there are those who find the death penalty justified for serious crimes.

Psychologist and women’s rights activist Fakhriya Dairi supports its use in rape. “Executing criminals could be cruel, but rapists destroying the future of their female victims is more cruel. Rape is a tragedy to all women, but it is worse here as female rape victims are blacklisted in Arab societies with no hope of getting married,” said Dairi.

The Bahrain Human Rights Centre says around six people in the country have been sentenced to death, most of them migrant workers. Amnesty International reports that from 1977, only one execution was carried out until Bahraini national Issa Ahmad Qambar was executed by firing squad in March 1996.

The death penalty exists in all six oil-rich Gulf countries — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. All carry out death sentences by hanging and firing squads, except Saudi Arabia which follows Islamic rules of beheading and stoning.

 
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