On Thursday, 11 May 2017, the Permanent Military Court in Gaza sentenced the civilian A.Q., 29, from Rafah, to death by hanging, and M.G., 36, from Gaza City, to death by firing squad after convictions for drug dealing.
The Military Court based its ruling on both military and civil laws, despite the fact that one of the defendants is not in the military and therefore shouldn’t be tried in a military court. In addition, the sentence was also based on outdated Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) ‘revolutionary law’ that is not applicable in the Palestinian legislative system. Al Mezan Center for Human Rights has rejected the use of such law in the past. Furthermore, the law in question were passed during the suspension of the Palestinian Legislative Council, and as such are not considered applicable.
Al Mezan expresses deep concern about the continued issuance of death sentences in Palestine despite the universal trend to abolish the practice. Palestinian Basic Law also authorizes the civil public prosecutor’s office as the sole authority eligible to pursue criminal cases. The proceedings constitute a denial of the principles of fair trial and a violation of the safeguards stipulated in the Code of Criminal Procedures No. 3 of 2001 and the Code of Civil Procedures No. 2 of 2001.
On 22 December 2016, the Council of Ministers in Gaza issued a decision requiring cases related to drug dealing and drug trafficking to be referred to the Military Judicial Commission. The legal reasoning cited by the legislative council for its decision was based on a previously issued decision, on 10 August 2016, under which drug-related crimes are considered detrimental to national security.
On 9 May 2017, Al Mezan sent legal memoranda to the chairman of the Military Judicial Commission, the head of Oversight and Human Rights Committee at the Palestinian Legislative Council, and both the General Observer and the Director of Internal Security Forces at the Ministry of Interior. The memoranda highlighted the great contradictions between the Revolutionary Law of Procedures of 1979 used by military courts and the Penal Procedures Law No. 3 of 2001 which is considered the governing law of civil courts. The memoranda also noted that according to Article 116 of the Palestinian Basic Law and Article 70 of the bylaws of the Palestinian Legislative Council, all laws and respective changes of existing laws must first be published in the Official Gazette.
It is needless to say that drug crimes have a harmful impact on society. However, regardless of how grave the crime is, nothing justifies violating the principle of the rule of law. Al Mezan asserts the importance of respecting the independence of the judicial authority, and reiterates full opposition to the death penalty. Capital punishment has been proven not to deter crime. Thus, in order to effectively reduce crime rates, steps must be taken to ameliorate socioeconomic conditions in the Gaza Strip, create stability and security, and uphold the rule of law.
Al Mezan calls on the concerned authorities in the Gaza Strip to ensure respect for the rule of law and the separation of powers, and to take necessary measures to address the increasing drug abuse problem. Al Mezan also calls for respecting obligations of the State of Palestine after its ratification of human rights conventions, especially the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.