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Despite protocol against death penalty, Gaza sentences six more to death

A military court in the Gaza Strip sentenced six civilians to death over charges of collaborating with Israel, despite Palestine recently signing a UN protocol advocating the abolition of the death penalty.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Hamas-controlled military court in Gaza has sentenced six people to death for allegedly collaborating with Israel on a failed covert operation in Gaza on Nov. 11, in which six Palestinians and one Israeli soldier were killed.

Numerous rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, condemned the verdicts, especially since Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been an outspoken opponent of capital punishment. In June, Abbas signed seven international conventions and treaties, among them the 1989 UN Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which aims to abolish the death penalty. Hamas immediately rejected his action.

Hamas, which administers the Gaza Strip, has ignored the protocol. Mohammad Abu Hashem, a lawyer with the Palestine Center for Human Rights, told Al-Monitor that just since the protocol was signed, civil and military courts in Gaza have sentenced 13 people to die, and that figure doesn't include the six just condemned for allegedly colluding with Israel.

He noted that the criminal codes in place in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip are different, but each provides for the death penalty. "The 1979 Revolutionary Code of Criminal Procedure applicable in the Palestinian Authority (PA) territories sets the death penalty as punishment for 45 crimes," he said. "The 1936 Criminal Code applicable in the Gaza Strip, and the Jordanian 1960 Criminal Code applicable in the West Bank, also provide for this punishment for 15 civil crimes.”

Abbas apparently hasn't sought to have new laws implemented to supersede those criminal codes. "The PA hasn't issued such laws since the accession to the protocol in June," Abu Hashem said. Until that happens, the courts aren't legally bound to stop issuing death penalty verdicts.

He also said the courts in Gaza are too willing to impose the death sentence. "[In the Gaza Strip] most of these verdicts are issued against people accused of collaborating with Israel and are pronounced by military rather than civil courts,” he said. He pointed out that issuing death penalty verdicts against the six civilians in military courts is considered a violation of their right to a fair trial in a civil court.

According to the Ministry of Interior in the Gaza Strip, the charges against the six people condemned to death were: collaborating with Israel, leaking information about resistance members in Gaza, collecting information about resistance missions or influencing others into collusion with Israel. The ministry noted that the death penalties would be carried out either by hanging or shooting.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) confirmed in a statement Dec. 4 that death penalty verdicts in PA territories from 1994 to the present reached 215, including 185 in the Gaza Strip — 127 of which were issued after the Palestinian internal division in 2007.

Abu Hashem confirmed, “Since its establishment, the PA has [carried out] 41 death penalty verdicts, 39 of which were in the Gaza Strip — 11 of these were issued before the Palestinian division and 28 after it.”

Abbas didn't approve those verdicts. Article 109 of the 2003 amended Palestinian Law stipulates that “a death sentence pronounced by any court may not be implemented unless endorsed by the president of the Palestinian National Authority.”

But Gaza Strip lawmakers approved their own measure in 2016, stating that carrying out the death penalty in Gaza doesn't require Abbas’ consent.

Reiterating the PCHR’s rejection of the death penalty, Abu Hashem added, “The Gaza Strip lacks guarantees of fair trials. The PHCR is against the trial of civilians in military courts and the use of systematic torture methods against them. It classifies the death penalty verdicts in Gaza as extrajudicial killing, since these verdicts are not approved by the Palestinian president.”

The Palestinian national Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR), based in Ramallah in the West Bank, called for the death penalty verdicts issued by the military court in Gaza last month to not be enforced.

Jamil Serhan, ICHR general director in the Gaza Strip, told Al-Monitor that the ICHR sees the death penalty as a violation of international covenants. “The ongoing issuance of such verdicts constitutes a setback in the human rights field in the Palestinian territories," he said. “The judiciary in Gaza violates the right of civilians to fair trials in civil courts. The six civilians sentenced to death Dec. 3 appeared before military rather than civil courts.”

Serhan demanded fair trials and said all Palestinians should abide by covenants that the PA signed to abolish the death penalty.