Rights group urges Gaza’s Hamas to halt executions

IBRAHIM BARZAK, Associated Press
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This Sept. 2012 photo taken in Gaza's Central Prison released by Human Rights Watch shows Hani Abu Aliyan, a 28-year-old convicted of killing a boy in 2000, when he himself was 14 years old, and of killing a friend in a dispute over money in 2009. (AP Photo/Human Rights Watch)

This Sept. 2012 photo taken in Gaza’s Central Prison released by Human Rights Watch shows Hani Abu Aliyan, a 28-year-old convicted of killing a boy in 2000, when he himself was 14 years old, and of killing a friend in a dispute over money in 2009. (AP Photo/Human Rights Watch)

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — An international human rights group demanded Tuesday that Gaza’s Hamas government halt all planned executions, including that of a 28-year-old convicted of killing a child when he himself was still a minor.

Human Rights Watch alleged that Gaza’s justice system is deeply flawed and that prisoners were executed in the past despite unfair trials based on forced confessions and violations of basic rights.

Ehab Ghussein, a government spokesman, on Tuesday denied the allegations, including complaints of the use of torture to obtain confessions, and said all those sentenced to death were given due process.

Gaza’s attorney general, Ismail Jaber, has been quoted as saying that a number of executions are being planned, for the first time, in the presence of relatives of victims and members of the public, though he did not give dates.

“The law will take its course and no criminal will escape punishment,” he said in remarks published on the Interior Ministry’s website last week.

The Islamic militant Hamas seized power in Gaza from the forces of the Western-backed Palestinian Authority in 2007. Its rule over Gaza, a crowded seaside territory on Israel’s southwest flank, is not internationally recognized.

Human Rights Watch said Hamas authorities have executed 16 prisoners since 2010, most convicted of killings or spying for Israel. In addition, 16 prisoners are awaiting execution, the group said.

Of those, two have exhausted their appeals, including Hani Abu Aliyan, from the southern town of Khan Younis. He was convicted of sexually assaulting and killing a boy in 2000, when he himself was 14 years old, and of killing a friend in a dispute over money in 2009.

Abu Aliyan surrendered to police in Khan Younis after the 2009 killing, said his lawyer at the time, Ghazi Abu Warda. The lawyer alleged that while in custody, his client confessed to the 2000 killing under torture.

In May 2010, Abu Aliyan was sentenced separately for the 2000 and the 2009 killings, in the latter for “involuntary murder,” and received a life term for each crime, Human Rights Watch said. The prosecutor’s office appealed the sentences as too lenient, and an appeals court imposed the death penalty in both cases in September, Human Rights Watch said. Gaza’s highest court upheld the decision in July.

Human Rights Watch urged the Gaza government not to execute Abu Aliyan and others on death row.

“Imposing the death penalty for a crime committed by a child makes the executions under Gaza’s abusive justice system especially atrocious,” said Joe Stork, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. He said only four countries — Sudan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen — have executed child offenders in the past five years.

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