January 17, 2004
"Protests mark 1st executions of Lahoud’s term"
‘We are here to say that this is not being done in the name of the lebanese people’
Human rights advocates decried on Friday the planned executions of three men, holding sit-ins in front of the Parliament building and an overnight vigil outside Roumieh Prison where the death sentences will be carried out on Saturday morning.
About 150 people demonstrated for an hour in Nijmeh Square on Friday, then walked toward Riad al-Solh, where they performed a so-called die-in, falling on the ground and feigning death. Military and security forces barred visitors from entering the area and closed down all restaurants in the vicinity.
The demonstrators, many of whom were members of Amnesty International and Greenpeace, were carrying black flags and banners with slogans such as “Don’t make their same mistake,” and “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth leaves us all toothless and blind.”
Imad Mortada, who calls himself an independent leftist activist, said, “How can he (Hariri) tolerate that people are being executed?”
Mortada added that he felt sympathy for the families of the victims but that he was categorically against any death penalty. “The people who committed these crimes are victims of the social system in Lebanon. They shouldn’t punish the outcome, but treat the causes of such deeds.”
Mortada also said he believed that many Lebanese felt this way.
“We are here to say that this is not being done in the name of the Lebanese people.”
Ghassan Makarem, a member of the group Hurriyat Khasa (civil rights), pointed out that the choice of who would be executed was made along sectarian lines. “One is Sunni, one Shia and one Christian. This is not a coincidence.”
The demonstration was organized by The National Campaign to Eliminate the Death Penalty, The Forum for Human Dignity in the Penal Code and Amnesty International, which strongly urged President Emile Lahoud to use his powers to halt Saturday’s executions.
In a Friday press release, Amnesty International urged the president to take the necessary steps to commute the death sentences that have been handed down to Ahmad Mansour, Badih Walid Hamade and Remi Antoine Zaatar, the three slated for execution on Saturday.
“The finality and cruelty inherent in the death penalty, and the lack of evidence showing it to be a deterrent to violent crimes, make it an inappropriate and unacceptable response to crime,” the press release said.
The executions are due to take place at Roumieh prison at 5am. Mansour, who was convicted of killing eight people at the Private School Teachers’ Pension Fund in August 2002, will be executed by hanging. Hamade, who was accused of killing three army intelligence personnel in July 2002 in Sidon, and Zaatar, who murdered two Civil Defense members, will be executed by a firing squad.
An unknown assailant threw a bomb Friday night at a crossroad that leads to Mansour’s southern village, Loubieh. No one was hurt.
Saturday’s planned executions will be the first to be carried out during Lahoud’s term, despite pressure from the European Union, which wants Lebanon to abolish capital punishment in order to meet conditions set by Euro-Med agreements signed with Lebanon. Lahoud signed the final execution decrees on Jan. 14, following approval by Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and Justice Minister Bahij Tabbara.
Meanwhile, six decrees were issued Friday reducing the sentences of six other prisoners from the death penalty to imprisonment with hard labor. The six are accused of intentional murder rather than premeditated murder.
President of the Higher Judicial Council, Magistrate Tanios Khoury, told the National News Agency that a premeditated murder was “any crime committed with previous planning” while intentional murder was the result of “immediate circumstances without previous planning.”
State Prosecutor Adnan Addoum authorized Mansour’s wife, his sister and her husband and Hamade’s mother and sisters to see both men on the eve of their execution.
The execution will be attended by a member of the Judicial Council, Magistrate Mukhtar Saad, representing the State Prosecutor’s office; Brigadier Samir Rahme, Mount Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces commander; the warden of Roumieh Prison and security officers; and the three men’s lawyers.
After the execution, the bodies will be taken to the nearest hospital before being handed over to the parents.
Before the execution, two Muslim sheikhs will write Mansour and Hamade’s wills, while a Christian cleric will write Zaatar’s. According to Amnesty International, the organization has great sympathy for the families of the murder victims, but executing the three men will do little to alleviate the families’ suffering.
“Beams of hope lit by a de facto five-year moratorium on the death penalty have been dimmed by Lebanon’s decision to kill these men,” a press release issued by the organization said. “Their lives and those of 24 others under sentence of death, whose fate may well be similar, are now at the gravest risk imaginable, and no effort should be spared to save them.”
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all circumstances, and considers it to be a violation of the right of life and the right to be protected from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
A sit-in was also held Friday by the National Campaign for the Abolition of the Death Penalty. The sit-in will continue until Saturday. A statement issued by the campaign said the sit-in would be held under the theme of absolute refusal of the death penalty, and solidarity with the condemned and their parents and with the victims’ parents. The statement said participants would wave black flags and candles and wear black clothes.
The Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights Leagues also “expressed its deepest concern” at the planned executions. It called on authorities to commute all death sentences and abolish the death penalty. The federation brings together rights groups from across the world and is an advisory body to the United Nations.
Meanwhile the Forum of Human Dignity in the Penal Code issued a statement denouncing the executions.
“What’s the point of re-implementing the death penalty in the present situation?” the statement said.
“Is it to appeal to people’s instincts … while work should be done to appeal to their minds and develop the feelings of tolerance?”
Rita Boustani and Hannah Wettig
Daily Star staff
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