A Quiet End to the Death Penalty in Lebanon?

The death penalty is not a solution and has not helped reduce crime. It only increased the number of victims. (Photo: Marwan Tahtah)

By: Sabine Salameh

Published Friday, January 11, 2013

It has been over a decade since Lebanon carried out its last death penalty sentence. Despite the fervor of some victims’ families to carry out executions, many say that the government has instituted a de facto moratorium on the practice.

Before his brother was killed, Charbel Naaman didn’t support the death penalty. Now, he has decorated the entrance to the garage where his brother was slain with banners reading: “We want the death penalty” and “Hell awaits you.”

Some might find his means of expression a bit extreme, but he speaks about his views calmly. He states that if his brother’s murderers are not sentenced to death, he’s going to kill them himself. “They have killed my brother, and he is not their first victim,” he says.

There are around 60 prisoners awaiting the death penalty Lebanon today, but the last time that the sentence was actually carried out was in 2004.

The controversy surrounding the death penalty is nothing new, whether in Lebanon or the rest of the world. In a 2012 Gallup poll, up to 63 percent of the respondents said they were in favor of the death penalty for a person convicted of murder.

Roy Chbeir, the older brother of Roland Chbeir, was murdered by his friend Charbel (no relation to Naaman). The court classified Roland’s murder as “malice aforethought,” which means that the fair punishment as per Article 549 of the Penal Code would be the death penalty.

“I wish we could do even more than that, but this is what is possible,” said Roy.

The Chbeir family believes that Roland’s killer deserves the death penalty, and is even lobbying for it at various levels. To this end, the family contacted President Michel Suleiman to discuss the issue with him.

According to Roy, the president “was very forthcoming and promised that he would sign the execution order when it is issued.” This comes after Ziad Mkanna, the investigating judge in Mount Lebanon, recommended that Charbel be sentenced to death in the indictment he issued against him.

On 14 December 2012, the criminal court of Mount Lebanon convicted a man in the killing of Miram al-Achkar. Although Miriam’s family is “devoutly Christian and does not condone capital punishment,” as the slain victim’s brother Tony asserted, it accepted the court’s decision since it was “issued by the state.”

Tony continued, “If it was up to me, I would not execute him. But the judiciary has decided that this inhuman crime deserves the death penalty, and we respect the decision of the state.”

The first campaign in Lebanon against the death penalty dates back to 1998, when several activists rallied in Tabajra to protest the execution of Wissam N. and Hassan A.

“From that day onwards, civil society’s battle to defend life and refuse death as part of the law began,” according to Abbott Hadi Ayya, who is active in the group Justice and Mercy.

“The death penalty is not a solution and has not helped reduce crime. It only increased the number of victims by observing the barbaric law of an eye for an eye,” said Ayya.

He added, “The responsibility for crime does not rest solely with the perpetrator, as the whole of society is responsible.”

While Ayya said that he understood the position of the victims’ families and their angry reaction, he stressed that “the law is not supposed to accommodate such reactions. The sentencing process must run its course, and it is unacceptable that it should be fast-tracked just to please the victims’ relatives.”

Former prime minister Salim Hoss can be credited with taking the most prominent political stand against capital punishment when he refused to sign execution orders.

In 2000, he asked all those who called on him to sign these orders, “You, who believe that death sentences should be carried out, are you willing to behead someone with your own hands? If the answer is no, which is what I expect from most people, then why do you excuse yourself in refusing to carry it out with your own hands, but do not excuse me if I refuse to sign an order to execute a human being, even if he were a criminal?”

In 2006, the Lebanese Association for Civil Rights (LACR) published a comprehensive study of the Lebanese law, which was endorsed by seven MPs, including Ghassan Moukheiber, who presented the study to parliament. In 2008, former Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar introduced a draft amendment to the law requiring the abolition of the death penalty, but the amendment has yet to be put on the cabinet’s agenda.

On 22 September 2011, parliament approved a bill amending law No. 463/2002 on the implementation of sentences, creating a formal status for those “sentenced to death without being executed.” This amendment is a sign that the concept of punishment in the Lebanese penal system has begun to evolve.

Indeed, although the amendment did not abolish the death penalty, it has enhanced the unofficial position of the Lebanese authorities which, since 2005, has implemented a de facto moratorium on carrying out death sentences. It would thus be correct to assume at present that the Lebanese government is unofficially attempting to abolish the death penalty.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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