Some rare good news is reported from Iran, where a reform of the country's drug laws may save the lives of thousands now on death row. Some 5,000 people are currently awaiting execution for drug offenses in the Islamic Republic, and all of them could now have their sentences reviewed, according to the New York Times. The move, part of a legal reform in the works since 2016, is aimed at reducing the number of executions in the country. Iran has seen ghastly mass executions of drug convicts in recent years, driving a spike in hangings that has appalled human rights groups. Iran saw 1,000 executions last year—making it second only to China, which keeps its stats on use of the death penalty secret.
London's High Court of Justice ruled (PDF) July 10 that the UK can continue to export arms to Saudi Arabia. The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) brought the suit on the grounds that the weapons have been used to violate international humanitarian and rights laws. For the last two years, Saudi Arabia has been waging attacks on Yemen, causing the deaths of over 10,000 civilians. Several advocacy groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, intervened in the suit. The court looked at a range of evidence, including secret information that was not released to the public due to security concerns. A substantial portion of Lord Justice Burnett's reasoning is contained in a "closed judgment" document that is only available to the government's legal team and a security-cleared "special advocate" for CAAT.
A Bahrain court on May 31 dissolved the major opposition political party, an act that Amnesty International said is a step toward the "total suppression of human rights" in the Persian Gulf monarchy. The National Democratic Action Society (Wa'ad) was ordered dissolved after Bahrain's Ministry of Justice accused the group of "advocating violence, supporting terrorism and incitement to encourage crimes and lawlessness." Amnesty called the allegations against Wa'ad "baseless and absurd." Wa'ad had criticized the Bahraini constitution in February, and condemned the execution of three men in January. Wa'ad was the last major opposition party in Bahrain, although two smaller opposition groups still exist in the country.
Turkish police on May 16 arrested two sisters and deported them to Saudi Arabia after receiving a formal complaint from their family living in the kingdom. The complaint was lodged by their father in March, claiming they are ISIS loyalists. Areej and Ashwaq al-Harby pleaded for help in a video that went viral on social media as they were being taken to a Turkish police station by immigration officers. In the video, they said their abusive family has been spreading lies to get them deported. The sisters, who fled Saudi Arabia in February, were seeking for asylum in Turkey, fearing they will be criminally charged and face execution if returned to their home country. (India Today, May 17)
The latest annual Amnesty International report on global use of the death penalty actually has some heartening news. For the first time since 2006, the United States did not make the top five executioners in 2016—falling to seventh, behind Egypt. The 20 executions in the US constituted the lowest number in the country since 1991. Most executions last year took place in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan—in that order. And after three years in a row of global executions surging, they appear to have dropped off in 2016. Not including data from China, Amnesty counts 1,032 executions throughout the world in 2016—more than 600 fewer than in 2015.
A lawmaker in the Philippines filed impeachment proceedings March 16 against President Rodrigo Duterte over killings carried out in the name of his war on drugs. Rep. Gary Alejano accused the president of constitutional violations, betrayal of public trust, bribery and other high crimes. "The most important thing here is the state policy of killing of drug suspects. The killings of fellow Filipinos were done without due process," Alejano said, according to ABS-CBN news service. "More than 8,000 have died. This is disturbing. We should not wait for the deaths to reach 20,000, 30,000, or 50,000 before we stand up and fight."
In response to the mass execution of 15 prisoners in Jordan on March 4, several human rights groups, including Amnesty International, condemned the hangings as secretive and conducted "without transparency." This mass execution was largest ever in one day in Jordan's history. Samah Hadid of Amnesty's regional office in Beirut called the executions "a big step backwards on human rights protection in Jordan." Among the executed, 10 had been convicted for some form of terrorist activity, but Hadid expressed concern that some may have made their confessions under torture or duress. Over the past several years, more than 100 have been sentenced to death in Jordan, in hopes of deterring terrorist activities.
The Palestinian high court in Ramallah on Oct. 3 amended a previous ruling, holding that municipal elections can take place, but only in West Bank and not in the Gaza Strip. The court had previously held that the election, once scheduled for Oct. 8, would not proceed after Hamas disputed party lists drawn by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party. In adjusting its previously holding, the court said that it would "implement the cabinet's decision to hold elections in all local councils except in the Gaza Strip," adding that Gaza did not have the necessary "guarantees" to hold the polls. The new election date must be decided within four weeks. Hamas has been quick to criticize the decision as politically motivated. Had the court allowed elections to take place in the Gaza Strip it would have been the first election between Hamas and Fatah since 2006. Hamas won a majority of the seats in the legislative polls in 2006, sparking a tumultuous rift in Palestinian politics, culminating in Hamas seizing the Strip from Abbas-loyal forces in 2007. No Palestinian presidential election has taken place since 2005 and Abbas has retained office since, despite expiration of his term.