Efforts to Abolish Death Penalty in Tunisia Impeded by Islamic Law

By Asma Ghribi | Mar 28 2012 Share on Linkedin Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google Share on pinterest Print

Tags: Al Sharia ,Amnesty International Tunisia ,Arab Muslim identity ,Ennahdha ,Farida Laabidi ,
death penalty

Efforts to abolish death penalty in Tunisia impeded by islamic law

Efforts to do away with the death penalty in Tunisia, which have grown since the revolution, are being held back by the tenets of Islamic Law, says the head of Amnesty International in Tunisia.

The abolition of the death penalty is causing a controversy within the Constituent Assembly as some members affiliated with Ennahda are claiming that it contradicts Shariaa [Islamic Law], said Sondes Garbouj, president of the organization’s Tunisian branch, after attending a session of the Subcommittee of Rights and Liberties that is in charge of deciding the issue.

Farida Laabidi, the head of the subcommittee and a member of the Islamist party Ennahda, believes exactly that: the death penalty should be maintained in keeping with the teachings of Islam.

“Shariaa is explicit regarding the death penalty. According to Shariaa, there are three cases where it can be used: intentional murder, qataa al-tariq [an outdated term that loosely translates to violent banditry], and adultery,” said Laabidi.

As Amnesty International pushes to have universal human rights inscribed in Tunisia’s constitution, the organization is often faced with claims such as the peculiarities of the Arab Muslim identity of the country must be taken into account while evoking human rights in a Tunisian context.

Garbouj finds this kind of claim inadmissible.”

Human rights are universal and global. Should we treat people differently because they belong to different faiths? How can religion interfere in human rights? she said.

Laabidi argues, however, that Islam is more merciful than Tunisia’s current civic law.

“There are 25 cases [in Tunisian law] in which we can use the death penalty. In Islam there are only three,” said Laabidi.

As it stands, the death penalty exists in Tunisia but has not yet been used since the Revolution.

On the occasion of the Tunisian uprising's first anniversary, 122 Tunisian prisoners sentenced to death were granted amnesty by interim President Moncef Marzouki and had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment. Marzouki, originally a human right's activist, announced at the beginning of his term that he would not sign any execution order as long as he served in office.

Such claims, however, are not new.

Garbouj said that back in 1987, when Ben Ali first took over power, he made the same promise as Marzouki. But by 1991, four people were executed, 3 of whom were political prisoners affiliated with the Islamist tendency. The fourth case was an assassin proved to suffer from serious schizophrenia and to be totally irresponsible for his acts, she explained.

However, Garbouj expressed that we cannot compare Ben Ali to human rights militant Marzouki.

I was not surprised by Marzouki's decision. After all he is a human right's activist and he is an ‘Amnestian’ [member of Amnesty International], and I don't doubt his intentions or whether he would keep his promise or not. But he is going to be Tunisia's president for how long? We need something more durable. It is good to have a moratorium on executions but it is only a step towards abolishing the death penalty, she added.

Garbouj highlighted the fact that the NCA is drafting Tunisia's new constitution and should not only represent the ideological inclinations of a single political party.

This constitution must grant all the universal rights. We won't be spending our lives amending our constitution, she said.

The subcommittee is not dominated by Ennahda and consists of members of different political parties representing different ideological backgrounds. Deputy President Salma Baccar, for example, is a member of the progressive center-leftist secular party Ettajdid.

Whatever the differences of opinion Tunisian politicians may have, Garbouj urged Tunisia to join the majority in abolishing the death penalty.

Only 22 countries in the whole world are still implementing death sentence, mainly Arab Muslim countries, concluded Garbouj.

She expressed her trust that the members of the Constituent Assembly who themselves were victims of serious human rights violations under the previous regimes would do the right thing.

Ali Laarayedh, the current Tunisian minister of the interior, was sentenced to death, she said.

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    I do not consider the death penalty as an assault on human rights; it’s rather a deterrence from murder. However, I would endorse any efforts aimed at tightening the legislation so as to ensure the best conditions of fair trial. The problem is more with the judiciary system than with the death penalty or any other penalty.

      • We cannot play the role of God. Even the most heinous crime does not warrant us going down to the level of murder. Prison is there for a reason. Now just to make sure that there arent mass breakouts again when the incumbent ruling group gets ousted.

      • “you are dead wrong there” this is a final statement, I may be so ,but where is the argument? There are really easy ways to seal loosing dabates!

  1. “According to Shariaa, there are three cases where it [the death penalty] can be used: intentional murder, qataa al-tariq [an outdated term that loosely translates to violent banditry], and _adultery_” said Laabidi.”

    how can misplaced love possibly be equated with willful murder?

    • It’s not automatically applied, if two persons commited adultary without beeing seen by less than 4 people nothing happen. But if it’s the case (4 people or more saw them during adultary) an other condition comes : if less than 4 person come to testify in front of the judge nothing happens. Yet if 4 persons or more come to testify then we apply the sentence.

      This is more complex in its application conditions

  2. It’s disturbing to say the least that some Tunisians seem to think they have to execute people in order to be proper muslims.

    I hope Tunisians realize that Ennahda is a right wing political party with a conservative agenda. Their politics is not the word of Allah.

    The death penalty is not holy. It’s not even a an effective way to fight crime. Rather, it could be seen as the hallmark of a dictatorship.

  3. There’s a difference beweten reading a text of the interview and actually watching the interview. In texts, you get none of the feelings behind words sometimes, you don’t know if the person stutters or struggles to find the words unless the text tells you. So I don’t think a text is an accurate representation of a person and their interview.However what I did get from the text is that she is against the death penalty, but whats so unique about her stance is that its not in a firm, ‘I’m against the death penalty and I don’t care what you think,’ but more in a way that convenes that if you saw whats going on in a death row situation, you would understand her position, as she stated the third question. And I think thats the message she is trying to get across about the death penalty, its a horrifying concept in some aspects of it, which for those reasons should not be legalized in the first place.Her argument about the death penalty is different then what I’ve seen so far, it is the atrocity of the death penalty, which I think she is trying to portray through dead man walking, and in this way I think that she is trying to present a different concept to consider about why the death penalty should be abolished that had never been considered before when this movie came out. This makes it all the more an even more interesting movie to watch with this piece of information in the back of your head.I think the way the question was phrased about what type of person would do this type of work is inaccurate in a way, it has more to do with why would someone do this. She talks about how she saw someone die from deathrow personally, thats her motivation, its not what she is, it is why she is doing it, she’s trying to do it to raise awareness about the death penalty.