Palestinians may annul rulings of security courts
By Cynthia Johnston
RAMALLAH, West Bank, June 22 (Reuters) - President Mahmoud Abbas asked his justice minister on Wednesday to annul court verdicts against dozens of Palestinians, including some convicted of collaborating with Israel, an aide said.
Abbas wants new trials for Palestinians convicted by security courts, including at least 10 sentenced to death, as part of efforts to implement political and security reforms aimed at curbing lawlessness and increasing accountability.
Human rights groups have long complained that Palestinian security courts lacked due process of law and often resulted in hasty summary judgments, especially in political cases.
The Palestinians would be re-tried in civilian courts where they could get a fairer hearing, Abbas's chief of staff Rafiq Husseini told Reuters.
"I think the president would like to see security courts removed," Husseini said. "They don't deal with the law as they should and don't give the defendant the right to appeal twice to higher courts."
Husseini said Abbas would not ratify death sentences issued by security courts and expected Justice Minister Farid al-Jallad, appointed in February, to respond positively to the request for retrials.
The Palestinian security courts established under President Yasser Arafat are not currently functioning, but have yet to be formally abolished.
Abbas's move comes 10 days after the Palestinian Authority executed four convicted murderers in defiance of international calls to halt capital punishment, especially from Europeans who are the top donors to the aid-dependent Palestinian Authority.
The four who were executed had exhausted all avenues of appeal. Abbas faces public pressure to allow executions of murderers and those who aided Israel, particularly if the information they passed to the Jewish state caused Palestinian deaths in airstrikes or raids.
Of those Palestinians due to be retried, some were convicted of collaborating with Israel while others were found guilty of crimes involving the security services or for particularly grave offences, Husseini said.
Human rights activists welcomed the move.
"It is an overdue step," said Said Zeedani, a professor of philosophy at al-Quds University and former head of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens' Rights.
"The bigger problem is the non-effectiveness of the legal system as a whole, not only when it comes to handling presumed collaborators. We have to take due process seriously."
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