Islamists have strongly opposed abolishing capital punishment (death penalty) for decades. Generation after generation of their leaders (and scholars) argued that the penalty is cornerstone of Islam principles (known as Qasas) and can’t be subject to even discussion.
Rights activists in Arab countries (as part of the larger Islamic world) defense has been merely built on fundamentals of international human rights law which stipulates the punishment as cruel, inhuman, degrading and most significantly that it is absolute.
Lack of success of historical rights-based campaigns to abolish the penalty in Arab countries has largely, although not solely, been stemming from strong convictions among vast majority of those countries’ societies that religious justifications prohibit abolishing it.
Latest death sentences against former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi provides yet an opportunity to briefly examine those arguments.
Critical among all other considerations is the fact that Morsi’s death sentence was preceded by a trial which both Islamists (Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters) and international human rights organizations characterized as lacking basic fair trial guarantees and which has violated defendant rights in due process. Compromising those fair trial standards and guarantees means a lot of things, but on top of them is that any evidence against defendant(s) leading to their conviction (no matter what is the penalty) cannot be “credible”.
The principle of benefit of doubt should serve the argument that even discipline, articulate, soundly executed and technically organized investigative work is not absolute and may arrive to different conclusion if re-adjusted or structured in a different manner. In the case of Egypt’s death sentences mounting observations indicate that neither a benefit of doubt has been granted nor that court cross-examination of evidence has been effective by any means.
The argument that “you can never be sure” has not yet been challenged in context of serving convicted with capital punishment. In fact, the essence of the justice mechanism is delivered through the “consciousness” of residing justice. Even in a judiciary system that is either influenced by teachings of Islam or one that is completely derived from those teachings, there will be the consciousness of a one judge or a group of judges that will mark the end of the day in court. Not the will of God.
Islamists now know the bitterness of confronting a ruthless political system that is capable of monopolizing of what used once to be a strong judiciary body. There will always be shifts in political systems- some may emerge as clean and respectful and others may be corrupt and abusive. Why should Islamists continue to waive this weapon be used against them and others in those societies? It is not enough to argue that judges who believe in Islam can’t deliver injustice to other Muslims. They can and they have done so, and Islamists know that well.
Political Islam leaders have golden opportunity to align themselves with human rights framework by engaging in efforts to abolish capital punishment, once and for all, as long as we live on this planet, by the will of God.