Jordan marks end of 8-year moratorium on death penalty by executing 11 convicts
Hangman's noose (Shutterstock)

Human rights groups took Jordan to task on Sunday as the country ended an eight-year moratorium on the death penalty with the hangings of 11 men convicted of murder.

The men were executed at dawn in a prison abut 70 kilometres (45 miles) from the capital Amman, interior ministry spokesman Ziyad Zoobi was quoted as saying by the official Petra news agency.

Authorities said the men were all Jordanians convicted on murder charges, with no links to politics or extremism, in 2005 and 2006.

A source in the prison system said the men were mostly in their 40s.

"Some of the prisoners asked to have their final words passed on their families, others asked only to smoke a cigarette," the source said.

Jordan's last previous executions were in June 2006 and 122 people have since been sentenced to death.

Interior Minister Hussein Majali suggested recently that the moratorium might end, saying there was a "major debate" in Jordan on the death penalty and that "the public believes that the rise in crime has been the result of the non-application" of capital punishment.

Experts said the government was responding to a rise in Jordan's crime rate.

"The authorities have been confronted in recent years with a wave of violence, criminality and murders and want to meet the challenge by opting for deterrence and the renewed application of the death penalty," said Oraib Rantawi, head of Amman's Al-Quds Centre for Political Studies.

But rights groups denounced the ending of the moratorium, saying it would make little difference to rising crime.

"We are surprised by this decision, which is a step back for Jordan," said Taghreed Jaber, the regional director for Penal Reform International.

The head of Jordan's Adallah (Justice) rights group, Assem Rababa, said the country's authorities would be better off tackling the root causes of crime.

"Political and economic problems are fostering crime," he said. "The authorities should not make a headlong rush (into executions) while ignoring these problems."

A number of countries in the Middle East continue to impose the death penalty for serious crimes, including Jordan's neighbour Saudi Arabia, which has executed 83 people so far this year.

China by far carried out the most executions in 2013, numbering in the thousands, followed by Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the United States, human rights group Amnesty International said in a report in March.