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Activists call for increased legal aid for women prisoners

By Rana Husseini - Feb 28,2020 - Last updated at Feb 28,2020

AMMAN — Farah (not her real name), who has been on death row for the past 16 years, wept incessantly as she told a delegation of civil society members, MPs and lawyers about her situation, begging them to intervene and contact officials to reduce her sentence.

“I have been in prison since 2004 awaiting execution,” Farah told the delegation during a visit to Juweideh Correctional and Rehabilitation Centre (JCRC) in Amman on Wednesday.

The visit, during which delegation members heard from both inmates and family members of inmates, was organised by Mizan Law Group to mark International Women’s Day, which falls on March 8.

Farah, a mother of one who was given the death sentence for murdering her mother-in-law, told the gathering that she had settled with five of the victim’s family members but that “there is one more woman whom she cannot reach because she is in the United States”.

“Five of her family members signed papers that waive their rights, which would spare my life, but the judiciary is not recognising this and is asking for the victim’s mother, who cannot be reached,” Farah said as she wept.

“I have cancer and I have a boy who was 18 months old when I came to prison," she continued. "I am begging you to help me see my son and contact officials to reduce my sentence."

Noora (also not her real name), another death row inmate who spoke at the gathering, said that she and her sister “never received good legal representation”.

The two sisters were convicted of robbing and murdering a 72-year-old man and his Filipina domestic helper at their home in a west Amman suburb in February 2017.

“I had to basically read law books while at prison to defend myself in court after my sister and I were sentenced to death, because our court-appointed lawyer was very weak and basically did nothing to help us,” Noora said.

Noora urged the gathering to convey her request of clemency.

Noora and Farah are among 20 women currently on death row in Jordan. The last time a woman was executed in Jordan was in February 2015, when convict Sajida Rishawi, an Iraqi national, was executed.

Rishawi, 44, was convicted by the State Security Court in September 2006 of plotting terror attacks against three hotels in Amman in November 2005, which left 60 people dead and around 90 injured.

The first woman to receive the death sentence in a terror-related trial in Jordan, Rishawi was convicted of possessing explosives with illicit intent and plotting subversive acts that led to the deaths of individuals.

Mizan Law Group Executive President Eva Abu Halaweh said that the group will try to reach out to government officials to reduce the verdicts against Noora, Farah and other women who are on death row.

“We are against the death penalty because it is passed mainly against the poor and women, who in general are unable to reach reconciliation with the victims’ families,” Abu Halaweh told The Jordan Times on Thursday.

Women usually need money to pay the victim’s families, but their own families are often unwilling to “support them or appoint them a good lawyer, and they end up receiving the death penalty”, Abu Halaweh added.

Abu Halaweh called on the government to exchange the punishment of execution with life in prison.

Solidarity is Global Institute Executive President Asma Khader echoed Abu Halaweh’s demands, adding that “most of the people who are sentenced to death are the poor, women and foreign individuals residing in Jordan”.

“They cannot afford good legal representation and they end up being sentenced to death without the chance to get a fair trial,” Khader said.

In principle, Khader told The Jordan Times, SIGI is against the death penalty in Jordan because “it is a harsh punishment that threatens the right of life”.

Khader and Abu Halaweh agreed that delaying executions in general in Jordan is “causing more torture and anguish to inmates awaiting execution and is considered a double punishment for people on death row in Jordan”.

The two activists said that they are hopeful that the state will abolish the death penalty and substitute it with the sentence of life in prison.

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