Author:Tuttle, Robert

The first public judicial execution since 1983 has been carried out in Lebanon, sparking debate as to the virtue of employing capital punishment in a country desperate to leave its troubled, violent past behind as it strives to build local and international optimism in a brave new future.

At 5:00 am on a bright May morning Wissam Issa, 25, and Hassan Abu Jabal, 24, both convicted for the 1995 murders of Charbel, and Marie Sakim, aged 22 and 20 respectively, were hanged in the public square of the small seaside town of Tabarja, just 20 metres from the sight where the murders were committed three years earlier.

The execution was televised and shown on the country's news stations. About 1,500 spectators congregated on the balconies and rooftops of surrounding buildings and Internal Security Forces stood around the gallows, which had been erected in front of the local police station.

As the early morning sun was just beginning to rise over the mountains, the condemned men, dressed in identical black trousers and white shirts, were led out of the police station accompanied by the two executioners wearing clean white robes and hoods -- giving them the appearance of members of the Ku Klux Klan.

Once the procedure was over, throngs of people rushed forward for a close-up view of the bodies, which were left dangling for an hour. The gory public spectacle threw into the spotlight the debate over the appropriateness of capital punishment in Lebanon. The public nature of the executions was a strange aberration in the country's modern development.

Since the end of its violent 15 year civil war, Lebanon has been seeking to gain acceptance in the world community as a country trying to build democracy, respect human rights and attract foreign investors.

Issa and Abu Jabal were convicted and sentenced to death under a strict 1994 death penalty law that obliged judges to pass death sentences for all cases of murder, whether premeditated or not. In addition, the law denies the right to reduce death sentences to everyone except the president of the republic.

The 1994 law, its advocates claimed, was needed in order to wean citizens off the wartime propensity to resort to violence in order to resolve disputes. "We must not lie to ourselves and say we are in Switzerland. We are in Lebanon. We are a country that has passed through a long civil war," Lebanon's Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri, said in 1994 parliamentary debates on the measure. The law rode through...

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