The surprise announcement, Saturday morning, of the implementation of the capital punishment against 15 Jordanians caught many off guard.
Everyone knows that there are many (over 100) people on the death row; many were hoping that Jordan would continue abstaining from carrying out the capital punishment, as it had for years.
Jordan had applied a moratorium whereby it had voluntarily agreed not to pursue capital punishment between 2006 and 2014.
It was felt then that the moratorium was the first step in a process that would eventually lead to the abolition of capital punishment.
It was also believed that such a move would fit in Jordan’s efforts to be in sync with the thinking of the international community as the best way to keep a country safe.
Despite popular claims and often-repeated statements by politicians, capital punishment failed to prove that it is the best and most effective deterrent.
In Jordan the execution is carried out by hanging, usually in the prison where the convicted are held. Article 93 of the Constitution states that the King must approve the implementation of the death penalty.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which opened the door for the abolition of capital punishment, stipulates in Article 6, paragraph 2, that “in countries which have not abolished the death penalty, sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes”.
The UN Human Rights Committee that monitors the observance of that international treaty considers that the application of this penalty contravenes Article 7 of the covenant, which states that “no one shall be subjected to torture or cruel or inhuman treatment or punishment”.
Human Rights Watch correctly stated that the action will do little to make Jordan safe.
“Jordan may think this projects an image of strength, but the death penalty will never deter terror attacks and murder, or make Jordan safer,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
“Rather than model itself on Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, regional leaders in capital punishment, Jordan should lead by example on rights and protection, and renew its moratorium on the death penalty,” she said.
Amnesty International added its voice to those opposing Jordan’s act.
This is a major step backwards for both Jordan and efforts to put an end to the death penalty — a senseless and ineffective means of administering justice.
Jordan had for years been a leading example in a region where recourse to the death penalty is all too frequent.
“There is no evidence that the death penalty addresses violent crime, including terrorist-related acts. Hanging people will not improve public security,” said Amnesty International.
In 2015 and 2017, the implementation of the capital punishment was connected to political acts and was carried out for a clear political purpose, rather than as part of the normal process of mitigating an agreed-to punishment.
In 2015, the capital punishment was carried out against 11 individuals, among them an Iraqi woman, Sajida Rishawi, whose release had been demanded by Daesh in exchange for sparing the life of Jordanian pilot Muath Kassasbeh who was burnt to death by militants.
In 2017, the names of only 10 of the 15 individuals were made known. The naming of some of those hanged was meant as a clear response to their actions and to allay the anger of the Jordanian security forces who had lost one of their members in the attacks in Irbid and Baqaa, as well as of the family of Nahed Hattar who was assassinated in a hate crime carried out by a radical individual.
Not publishing the names of five of the convicted also reflects a political decision that aims at protecting people from possible tribal attacks, a decision that shows how little this punishment works as a real deterrent.
Jordan is a stable and safe country in a troubled region. Its geopolitical status allows it to reject international pressures in an area like the death penalty without much political or economic consequences.
As in many countries, it is easy to gain popular support for an act like the death penalty.
Gaining popular support by using demagogic rhetoric might be easy and politically expedient, but in the long run, it does little to produce deterrence and safety.
Ending the life of a jihadist who aspires to martyrdom is hardly an effective way to deal with the scourge of terrorism. Much more serious political, social and economic reform is needed to lower the rates of crime and terror.