Jordan Curbing The Death Sentence?

It’s a topic that’s recently floated to the surface in Jordanian politics: plans to curb, if not moves towards abolishing, the death sentence in the state security court. Amendments to the penal code are looking to remove capital punishment for all crimes except premeditated murder; in other words, crimes against state security, which include terrorism, espionage, etc. Over the years, the number of crimes eligible for capital punishment have been decreasing but I’m not sure if that has made any impact on the number of people on death row (currently 40). But it is indicative of moves to slowly phase out the punishment, or at least limit it through binding legislation.

The amendments to the code are being proposed by the government and still need to approval from Parliament. The Jordan Times is praising the move as one that is an indication of the government’s desire to “harmonize” itself with “international human rights standards.” I’m not so sure that’s the case. Prison reform still has a long way to go in this country. There are annual reports from various agencies that point to human rights abuses inside the Kingdom’s prisons, with some testimonials detailing torture. Whether these cases are true or not is irrelevant; the perception that they are is what matters.

That being said, if this is an attempt to symbolically show the world that we care about human rights then I am personally all for it. Even window-dressing for the international community is a good first step, specifically if it involves changing legislation as opposed to empty promises. It is a starting point that can actually have a trickle-down effect in the long run, and in the short run, the state isn’t killing people.

Nevertheless, any calls on limiting, if not completely abolishing the death sentence, should go hand in hand with calls to reform the Kingdom’s atrocious prison environment. It should also come hand in hand with the wider scope of judicial reform – many of our problems and issues with the system extend beyond mere legislation and more to do with judges and their judicial discretion.

It’s time for the government to start changing public perceptions, not only globally, but locally as well. Judicial reform as a whole needs to be taken more seriously, and I would argue that it’s probably more pertinent than economic or political reform at this point. Unfortunately, judicial reform is moving much to slow, even by judicial system standards. Change in this field does take time, especially if it’s the kind of proper change that goes through public and transparent channels as opposed to the hundreds of under-the-radar, temporary laws enacted by various governments over the past decade.

In the meantime, this latest piece of news is a good first step – it just shouldn’t be the only one being taken.


  • I am delighted by the Jordan Time’s editorial; only a few years ago it was advocating just the opposite – defending capital punishment and its capacity of ‘deterrence’. I wrote a letter to the editor at the time (the only one they ever published) making my own argument about why capital punishment should be abolished. Having said that, I think it is sad that even when we are finally willing to address capital punishment, our motives are not a more just society, but rather, ‘harmonizing our image’ with the rest of the world.
    To me, the primary role of the state in society is the provision of justice. And capital punishment transforms the role of the state from a benefactor of justice to a perpetrator of revenge.

  • Nas gave a good point about the case of human rights in Jordan. Personally, I believe that Capital punishment should be eliminated unless there were indisputable evidence or unforced confessions. I also think that 10 years should be given before the execution to give time for any further developments and that judges should investigate whether confessions were made under torture or not.

    con.t on

  • I think we suffer from a huge lack of information!!! I happen to know that the Ministry of Justice has a senior judge appointed to help with a programme on prison reform with the possibility of introducing parole and other innovative ideas. The police are also doing a programme of reform. I don’t know why these initiatives do not get into the news – bad journalism or lack of will by official bodies to let out any kind of information! T

  • One of the few things Jordan has going for it is the unbelievable level of personal safety afforded to its residents; the Security Apparatus — though unnecessarily ruthless at times and with corruption woven into its DNA — can not be called inept in tackling everything from petty to full-scale, organised crime. And even terrorism.

    If Capitail Punishment works in Jordan, why change it? Amman offers a super-save environment, this is especially true of Western Amman. I see no reason to mess with a formula that works just for the sake of “harmonising” with international norms. Who are you normalising with, anyway? Sure, here in the E.U we’ve abolished Capital Punishment, but many feel this to be a mistake; there’s a good deal nostgalia for the days when you could go out on a crisp Winter’s morn’, take a deep breath of fresh air…and hang a man.

    The United States — notoriously? — still does a great deal of “The Ultimate Punishment”, though in a very weird way, with far too much fanfare. “Which way to use? Okay, a needle. And bring in the families. And let’s have a demonstration outside calling the [murderer/rapist/Alaskan] evil. And a few TV cameras inside and out. All this after he’s been held for 20-30 years? Excellent.”

    China still executes, as does Japan — and indeed many other nations. And let’s face it, Jordanian execution is more akin to Japan’s, than say, Iran’s.

    Jordan’s execution mechanism is pretty quick, efficient and generally just “quiet”.

    There are more pressing issues to deal with: killing a few less criminals should be low-down on the Government’s to-do list. Reducing traffic accidents, campaigning against smoking, getting clean good water to the people; providing solid medical care; etc; will surely save more lives than abolishing the Death Sentence.

    In summary: abolish it? Yes. Just not yet. Don’t mess with one of Jordan’s few shining points — general safety and public order.

    Remember people, this is Jordan — not Norway.

  • Death penalty is dead wrong, when a member of any society commit a heniuos crime ,some of us start to calling for their murder in jubilation and in return, when the unjust judicial system sentence him/her to death , some of us praise the action in jubilation ,it’s just mind boggling..

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