Amnesty International's Sharia criticism rejected by UAE judge

An Amnesty International report has criticised several Gulf countries for sentencing minors to death but senior Supreme Court official says Islamic law states that juveniles may receive death sentence.

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A legal official has hit back at an Amnesty International report condemning capital punishment in the region, saying UAE law and Sharia are explicit on how and why the death penalty is used.

Twenty-eight people were sentenced to death in the Emirates last year, including some individuals under the age of 18, the report said.

The rights organisation said the UAE, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Sudan had "ignored international prohibitions" on executing minors.

But a judge at the Federal Supreme Court said that under Article 1 of the penal code, certain offences including murder, sex outside of wedlock, drugs, theft and alcohol must be tried under Sharia.

He said murder and drug trafficking offences can bring the death penalty.

"The death penalty for murder is the original sentence - a judge cannot ignore it," said the official, who did not wish to be named.

"Murder is an issue that has to do with the victim's family, and it is not up to the judge to rule against it unless the family accepts diyya [blood money] or forgives the killer.

"If we do not sentence a killer to death, the victim's family will seek revenge, and that would cause a problem in our society."

As for executing minors, he said, Sharia clearly states when a person becomes an adult.

"The point is to determine when a person is an adult - when he or she can decide what is wrong and what is right," he said.

In Islamic law, judges define adulthood as when a person has reached puberty.

It is up to the judge to decide adult criminal responsibility based on any physical evidence of puberty.

The official said that Amnesty International had raised these issues before, ignoring UAE explanations.

"We clarified our standards but they keep repeating the same points."

The Amnesty report, entitled Death Sentences and Executions 2010, released last Monday, also found that although the death penalty was regularly handed down in the Emirates, it was rarely carried out.

The international human rights organisation's research concluded that the Middle East and Asia were responsible for most executions in the world.

"At least 28 death sentences were imposed in the United Arab Emirates in 2010, mostly for drug trafficking, murder and rape," the 52-page global report found.

"There were no reported executions in Afghanistan, Indonesia, Mongolia, Pakistan, St Kitts and Nevis and the UAE, although these countries were known to have carried out executions up to 2008 or 2009."

The report referred to the cases of 17 Indians sentenced to die for the murder of a Pakistani; and of three Emiratis, including a woman, and a Bangladeshi national on death row for premeditated murder.

"While executions may be on the decline, a number of countries continue to pass death sentences for drug-related offences, economic crimes, sexual relations between consenting adults and blasphemy, violating international human rights law forbidding the use of the death penalty except for the most serious crimes," Salil Shetty, the Amnesty International secretary general, said in a statement.

Fewer people were executed worldwide last year, with 527 put to death compared with 714 in 2009.

China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United States and Yemen were the most frequent executioners.