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Jordan Hangs 11 After 8-Year Execution Moratorium

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Let's turn out to the Middle East. Elsewhere in the broadcast, we heard about the peaceful transfer of power in Tunisia, which just had a presidential runoff election. In the Kingdom of Jordan, the news is very different. After an eight-year moratorium on the death penalty, Jordan yesterday, executed 11 men. The kingdom sandwiched between Iraq and Syria says it's responding to an increase in violent crime, but NPR's Alice Fordham reports that the resumption of capital punishment in Jordan is being criticized harshly.

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: The men had been convicted of murder and were hanged Sunday morning at the Suwaqa prison, Jordan's largest. Rights campaigners were disappointed - they have a first execution since 2006. Human Rights Watch's Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson said Jordan had been a rare progressive voice in the Middle East on capital punishment, and reinstating it is backsliding on human rights. The group has recently criticized the government there for crackdowns on criticism.

Last month, local media reported the interior minister, Hussein Majali, said the government had discussed bringing back capital punishment after pressure from lawyers, officials and some of the public. One factor may be a sharp increase in crime over the last five years. Officials reckon the crime's mostly driven by poverty. Hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees have flooded in to Jordan and worsened existing economic problems.

The head of the Center for Strategic Studies there, Musa Shteiwi, told the Jordan Times he blamed higher unemployment and poverty and particularly, a growing sense of inequality in society for rising crime. And he blamed the lack of executions, too, saying suspending capital punishment might be a contributing factor to the increase in the number of revenge murders. Alice Fordham, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.