ALEXANDRIA: “The death penalty goes against all religions and humanity because God created man to live and He owns his life, so only He has the right to take it, Hamdy Mourad, researcher and Islamic lecturer, said in his speech at a seminar held by the Swedish Institute in Alexandria.
The institute kicked off on Monday a three-day seminar under the controversial title “Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty in the Arab Region.
The seminar, which is due to end today, is being run in cooperation with Penal Reform International, the Amman Center for Human Rights Studies, and Maat for Judicial and Constitutional Studies in Cairo.
“Huge efforts and events like this have to be directed towards combating this punishment, especially in this region, said Nizam Assaf, director of the Amman Center for Human Rights Studies in Jordan.
“God gave us the gift of life and only he can take it back, he added.
The seminar features guest speakers and participants from across the Arab region, including Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Palestine, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. In addition, there are a number of international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including Amnesty International in London, the European Union Commission in Cairo, World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, and the United Nations.
Participants from Lebanon were unable to attend due to the current political situation in their country.
Under discussion at the seminar are global trends regarding the use of the death penalty, specifically after the third World Congress Against the Death Penalty in February 2007.
“Countries are not obliged to abolish the death penalty but they are obliged to limit its use on the most serious crimes, said Adam Abdelmoula, from the Middle East and North Africa office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Statistics of the use of the death penalty worldwide were discussed and a comparison was made between the number of incidents in which the death penalty was issued and the number of times it was actually executed.
“Over all, there is a global trend towards not implementing the death penalty. However, these people awaiting their execution are standing in death row, which is a cruel and inhuman form of punishment, said Mervat Rishmawi, the Middle East and North Africa legal advisor for Amnesty International.
The highlight of the seminar so far was the session discussing the death penalty in Islamic law, which is a crucial subject considering that Islam is the dominant religion in the Arab region.
Mourad explained that there are exceptional crimes mentioned in the Quran in which God permits the use of the death penalty. First, it’s permitted in murder cases, in order to have equitable retaliation for the offended party. However, while the practice is permissible in Islam, God urges the victim’s family to accept less compensation or, even better, forgive altogether. The second crime is fornication. The thirst mention is in the case of the mortad, a person who willingly converts to Islam and then goes back on his decision.
Mourad added that in these cases the suspect has to be convicted beyond “any reasonable doubt, as it is a sentence that can not be changed.
The seminar aims to discuss the death penalty in the Arab world, in principle and in practice, both from a legislative perspective and a civil society perspective.
Representatives from each country are to report on the ongoing works in their countries regarding the death penalty and share examples with the audience.
At the end of the seminar the participants aim to draft a proposed declaration on the moratorium on the use of the death penalty in the region.
Tahar Boumedra, regional director of Penal Reform International in the Middle East and North Africa said: “We hope that the seminar will show our governments that we [civil society] have agreed on a declaration that suits our beliefs, regarding the moratorium on the use of capital punishment in our region.