Al-Maydan Military Court in Gaza issued today, 21 May 2017, death sentences against three Palestinians charged with collaboration with foreign entities, murder and engagement in the murder of Mazen Foqaha’, one of Hamas leaders. The death sentences were issued within one week after the trial had started, during which four sessions only were held, constituting a precedent since Hamas take-over of the Gaza Strip in 2007. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) is concerned over not granting the accused persons the right to receive a proper defense or fair trial, and is shocked over the unjustified urgency in issuing the sentences.
According to information collected by PCHR, “al-Maydan” Military Court in Gaza sentenced to death by hanging each of A. M. L. (38), from al-Nusairat refugee camp, and H. M. E. (44), from Gaza City. Moreover, the Court sentenced E. A. N. (38) to death by firing squad. The three persons were convicted of collaboration with the Israeli authorities, murder and engagement in murder.
It should be noted the Gaza Strip courts excessively applied death sentences, as the number of death sentences issued in the Gaza Strip since the beginning of the year reached 23 sentences, 15 of which are recent and the eight others were issued to upheld previous sentences. Thus, the total number of death sentences issued in the Palestinian Authority (PA) controlled areas has risen to 189 sentences relevant to 189 cases since 1994, 20 of which have been issued in the West Bank and 169 in the Gaza Strip. Among those issued in the Gaza Strip, 111 sentences have been issued since 2007.
PCHR believes that resorting to “al-Maydan” Military Court is a violation of the right to a fair trial and the right to litigate before the natural judicial body. PCHR further stresses that the 1979 Revolutionary Penal Code and its provisions are not constitutional and violate the PA’s obligations at the international level, and this has always been PCHR’s attitude since 1995.
It should be noted that “al-Maydan” Court is one of the judicial mechanisms stipulated by article 11 of the Revolutionary Procedural Law. It is a court with absolute powers, issuing non-appealable sentences. This constitutes a flagrant violation of the Palestinian Basic Law, mainly article 30 of it, and a clear violation of the PA’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), specifically article 14 of it.
Based on PCHR’s follow-up of the hearings, PCHR highlights that the accused persons were not actually granted the right to receive a proper defense, as the jury claimed that the accused persons refused to be represented by a lawyer, therefore, the court assigned a lawyer for them working in the military prosecution. All that lawyer has done was displaying the evidences in one hearing without requesting a time limit to prepare his defense. This raises real concerns that the trial was pseudo.
PCHR underscores that a fair trial, especially when issuing death sentences, is one of the international binding rules, the violation of which is a violation of the international minimum human rights standards, especially article 6 of the ICCPR to which Palestine acceded in 2014.
PCHR rejects the insistence on applying death penalty as a deterrent penalty. Furthermore, PCHR believes that achieving justice is completely different from revenge and warns against the impact of revenge concept prevailing in the public opinion over the judiciary.
Since the establishment of the PA, 38 death sentences were applied; 36 of which were in the Gaza Strip and two in the West Bank. Among the sentences applied in the Gaza Strip, 25 were applied since 2007 without the ratification of the Palestinian President in violation of the law, and 6 of which were implemented following the formation of the National Unity Government in June 2014. PCHR denounced those death sentences without the ratification of the Palestinian President and highlighted that they constitute a flagrant violation of the Palestinian Basic Law since they required the ratification of the Palestinian President for implementation.
PCHR confirms that any death sentence should not be applied without the Palestinian President’s ratification according to article 109 of the 2003 Palestinian Basic Law, otherwise it is considered extra-judicial execution.
PCHR underscores rejection of the speedy trial policy whatever the justifications and motives were. PCHR also demands the military judiciary to respect the Basic Law and grant the accused persons the right to receive proper defense without discrimination and regardless of the nature of the crime.
PCHR calls upon the Attorney General and/or Administrative Committee in the Gaza Strip to not refer civilians to appear before military courts because it is a violation of the law and denial of justice.