Amnesty International has strongly urged the Hamas de facto administration in Gaza not to carry out several pending death sentences, after high-ranking officials signalled their intention to execute those convicted of "collaboration" with Israel and "murder".
It is feared that these executions, which would be the first to be carried out in Gaza since 2005, may be implemented in the next few days.
Since seizing control of Gaza in 2007, Hamas has not carried out executions although its military courts have continued to hand down death sentences after proceedings which failed to meet international standards for fair trial.
“Hamas must not start carrying out executions. That would be a profoundly retrograde step and go against the emerging trend towards a worldwide moratorium on executions,” said Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Programme.
“It would be especially abhorrent to execute prisoners who, as in these cases, were sentenced to death after proceedings which failed to meet international fair trial standards.”
Hamas has not released information on how many people could face execution. However, in 2009, a total of 14 people are known to have been sentenced to death by military courts in Gaza after being convicted on charges of "collaboration", treason and murder.
On Sunday, the General Prosecution Office in Gaza said that ratification of outstanding death sentences was not only necessary, but that it was a legal duty.
In a public statement issued on 25th March, Mohammed Abed, Hamas’s Attorney General in the Gaza Strip, announced that during the previous two months, the General Prosecution Office had begun the process of ratifying the death sentences of those convicted of “collaboration” and murder.
Two days earlier, Fathi Hammad, the Hamas Interior Minister in Gaza, said in a radio interview that his Ministry had decided to execute prisoners convicted of “collaboration” despite the objections of local human rights organisations.
Mohammed Abed has also said the death penalty will be used against people convicted of dealing drugs - "We have the right to hasten the execution of those who are willing to kill their own people".
In November 2009, the Hamas de facto administration in Gaza approved a legal change that would permit the execution of convicted drug dealers.
Under Palestinian Law, death sentences must be ratified by the Palestinian Authority (PA) President before they can be carried out.
However, as a result of inter-factional tensions between the two main Palestinian political parties, Fatah and Hamas,the West Bank has been governed since June 2007 by a PA caretaker government appointed by the PA President, Mahmoud Abbas of the Fatah party, and Gaza has been ruled by a Hamas de facto administration led by Isma’il Haniyeh.
After June 2007, President Abbas suspended operations of PA security forces and judicial institutions in Gaza, creating a legal and institutional vacuum there.
Hamas responded by creating a parallel law enforcement and judicial apparatus. These however, lack appropriately trained personnel, accountability mechanisms or safeguards.
In May 2009, Hamas announced that it was establishing a committee composed of legal advisors and officials in the Hamas Ministry of Justice who would be responsible for ratifying death sentences in Gaza.
The General Prosecution Office said on Sunday 28 March that the cabinet had a duty to help ratify death sentences in order to implement outstanding death penalties.
The last known executions in Gaza were carried out in June and July 2005, prior to the establishment of the Hamas de-facto administration in Gaza.
Four men were hanged in Gaza central prison and one was killed by firing squad in the Police headquarters in Gaza City. All five had been convicted of murder in earlier years, some by the State Security Court, which has since been abolished.