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Since 2003, "all s uicide b ombers who were arrested by the police and later sentenced to death have been from poor areas and living in difficult conditions," Mostafa Hannaoui, a member of M orocco's Progress and S ocialism Party told El Ouali. |
Tahar Boumedra, PRI's Middle East and North Africa regional director, told IPS that the Is Iamic 'diyat' - under which the accused can pay money to the family of the victim in exchange for f reedom - could be used to d iscriminate against the poor in capital punishment cases.
"This practice is common in S audi Arabia, Y emen and other Middle Eastern countries with a c riminal j ustice system based on IsIamic law," Boumedra told IPS. "Those who cannot pay the 'diyat" have the death s entence applied against them."
In S audi Arabia, a nation that imposes one of the highest numbers of e xecutions in the region, Bannister reports that poor m igrant workers from Asia and Africa are most likely to receive a death s entence today.
"Unfamiliar with the legal system, often not understanding the language in which they are questioned and put on trial, such workers are particularly vulnerable to capital punishment. Shockingly, almost half of all the e xecutions in Saudi Arabia are foreign nationals," Bannister said.
In sub-Saharan Africa, Marie-Dominique Parent of PRI reports that few countries in the region provide adequately financed legal aid schemes offering "quality defence" for the poor.
It was completely "illusory" to think that the poor, especially those in far-flung villages, were being afforded fair t rials.
In Malawi, for example, any meaningful state legal aid was "impossible", Parent told IPS.
From Africa's most populous state, Nigeria, IPS correspondent Toye Olori reports that h u m a n r i g h t s a c t i vi s t s agree that almost all the estimated 600 people on death row are poor and without adequate legal assistance.
Olawale Fapohunda, a leading h u m a n r i g h t s la wyer working for an independent organisation providing free legal aid, told Fapohunda that Nigeria's death r ow inmates wanting to appeal were essentially "without legal representation" because of the absence of a fully financed state legal aid scheme.
R ights groups consider the link between poverty and the denial of competent legal defence one of the most compelling reasons for the abolition of the death p enalty.
"It is the right of everyone to stand equal before the legal systems of the world," Bannister said. "Otherwise, there remains the ever-present reality that someone is put to death not for the crime they were convicted of... but because they were poor..." (END)