Thursday, 1 March 2018

Trump reportedly praised Singapore for executing drug dealers. Here’s how they’re killed.

Source: The Washington Post (27 February 2018)

President Trump has been privately praising Singapore, the small city-state once known as the world's most active executioner per capita.

This is according to Axios, which reported Sunday that the president has been telling friends for months that the death penalty should be imposed on drug dealers in the United States — similar to a policy enforced for decades by Singapore.

An anonymous senior administration official told Axios that the president has also spoken admiringly about the executions of drug traffickers in China and the Philippines, and has said he would love to have a law that allows the United States to execute drug dealers without exception. Axios reporter Jonathan Swan also said Tuesday that Trump has “talked up” executions in China, the Philippines and Singapore to not just confidants but also members of Congress and some foreign leaders. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump's reported comments are consistent with his penchant for embracing no-holds-barred policies and rhetoric on drug crimes, from his Justice Department's directive to federal prosecutors to pursue the harshest penalties possible, to his extraordinary endorsement of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, whose drug war has left thousands of suspected drug dealers dead without as much as a day in court.

But Singapore's unyielding stance on law and order has long raised red flags among human rights groups, especially as more and more countries eliminate the death penalty. Advocates say Singapore's judicial process is often shrouded in secrecy and misinformation and is designed to tip the scales of justice heavily toward prosecutors, who have nearly limitless power over who dies and who is spared.

The method has also been met with harsh criticism.

People convicted of capital offenses in Singapore are executed by hanging, which Kirsten Han, co-founder of an anti-death penalty group in Southeast Asia, described in chilling detail: “A noose — measured according to the individual's height — is placed over the prisoner's head, the knot behind the right ear to ensure the spinal cord is snapped upon the impact of the long drop through the trapdoor.”

Families are never present, just prison officers and doctors.

In a seemingly unusual part of the execution practice in Singapore, those condemned to die are allowed to change into regular clothes the day before they're executed — so they can pose for a picture that will be given to loved ones as a keepsake.

Australia's then-attorney general called the method “a most unfortunate, barbaric act” in 2005, when an Australian heroin trafficker was executed in Changi Prison. Many Australians held candlelit vigils on the eve of Nguyen Tuong Van's execution.

Hanging was the most common method of execution in the United States in the 1800s before widespread adoption of the electric chair. It remains widespread in several countries in Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

It is the lone method of capital punishment in Singapore, where executions are on the decline: The government has executed 24 people over the past decade — 16 of whom were convicted of drug crimes.

Singapore's mandatory death sentence would be imposed equally on a person who trafficked more than 15 grams of heroin and a person who bombed a government building and killed dozens. To place this in context, trafficking a much larger amount of heroin in the United States — 100 to 999 grams — is punishable by five to 40 years in prison.

Similarly, Singapore has some of the world's toughest gun laws. For example, a person who fires a gun, or attempts to fire a gun, while committing a crime in Singapore faces a mandatory death sentence upon conviction — even if nobody is wounded or killed.

“Simply having the keys to a car or to a room or to a house where drugs were found” means that a person is a presumed drug trafficker and, therefore, could face the death penalty, said Chiara Sangiorgio, a death penalty expert for Amnesty International.

Hence, there is no presumption of innocence. The burden of proof is on the accused, who are often poor people far down the drug chain, and foreigners who might not be fluent in the local languages, Sangiorgio said.

Advocates say there's no evidence that executions are any more of a crime deterrent than lesser punishments. In 2009, researchers from Columbia Law School compared murder rates in Singapore and Hong Kong, where capital punishment was abolished in 1993, and found little difference.

But Singaporean officials have long insisted that the specter of death, particularly for drug traffickers, has worked for their city-state.

“Singapore is relatively drug-free, and the administration is under control. There are no drug havens, no no-go zones, no drug production centers, no needle exchange programs,” K. Shanmugam, Singapore's minister of home affairs and law, said in 2016.

A “soft approach,” he said, would flood the island state with narcotics — a line of thinking that appears to be similar to Trump's.

The number of executions every year, however, has significantly dropped, and changes have been adopted.

Singapore, which is about half the size of Los Angeles, executed 76 people in 1994 and 73 in 1995, when the population was just more than 3 million. In 2015 and 2016, there were just eight executions in total on the island — five for people convicted of drug crimes.

Changes in 2013 to Singapore's Misuse of Drugs Act gave judges leeway in sentencing if defendants meet two conditions: (1) they were merely couriers or drug mules and (2) they have greatly cooperated with law enforcement officers by tipping them about other drug traffickers. Alternatively, those who have proven that they are couriers can also be spared if they are mentally or intellectually disabled. A judge can impose lesser sentences, such as life imprisonment and caning — a type of punishment that drew controversy in the United States in 1994, when a 19-year-old American was caned for vandalism.

The revised laws have cut the number of those sentenced to death. According to a recent study by Amnesty International, 38 out of 93 people convicted of murder and drug trafficking from Jan. 1, 2013, were spared from hanging.

Shanmugam, the Singaporean minister, also said last year that the drug trade has hardly flourished since the changes: Officials have caught 90 traffickers since 2012 through the help of drug couriers who cooperate in exchange for leniency, he said.

Eugene K.B. Tan, a professor at the Singapore Management University School of Law, called the revisions “tempering justice with mercy” in a 2016 column for the Straits Times.

“The Government has determined that the mandatory death penalty (MDP) may not be needed for all types of serious crimes. This is an important first step, notwithstanding the attraction and force of the MDP was its unequivocal demonstration of zero tolerance and resolve in maximum deterrence,” Tan wrote. “Yet, the shift to the discretionary death penalty regime should not be misconstrued as Singapore letting up on drug trafficking and murders. Instead, this shift was necessary to retain public confidence and legitimacy in our administration of criminal justice.”

But the revisions did little to ease the concerns of human rights advocates.

Amnesty International analyzed judgments issued by Singapore's High Court and Court of Appeal on the cases of 137 people charged with capital offenses from 2008, five years before the changes took place, to 2017, four years after. The organization said it found that although executions are happening far less often, major human rights violations still occur.

Defense attorneys, for example, are never present during interrogations. In many cases, particularly in the case of foreigners, the statements that lead to conviction were either misrepresented or were lost in translation, Sangiorgio said.

Prosecutors and not the judges still have unchallenged power to decide whether defendants should be spared from the gallows based on their level of cooperation. Prosecutors must first issue what is called a “certificate of substantive assistance,” which confirms that a defendant has given them substantial information about other drug traffickers. Only then can judges decide on a lesser punishment. In many cases, however, defendants can be so far down the drug hierarchy that they do not have any meaningful information to give, Sangiorgio said.

“In other words, people pay with their lives for failing to provide information which they are incapable of providing,” according to the study.

Take, for example, the case of a 32-year-old Malaysian man who was convicted after the Central Narcotics Bureau found him with 16.56 grams of heroin, just above the legal threshold. He told police that a friend had offered to pay him the equivalent of $236 to deliver the heroin. His attorney asked the High Court to consider him a courier, but prosecutors, without explanation, declined to issue a certificate of substantive assistance, leaving the judge with no other choice but to sentence him to death.

Here's how the High Court described the state of affairs in a 2016 ruling on the case of a man who was convicted of trafficking more than 100 grams of heroin:

“He is not given a certificate of substantive assistance.... We do not know why. He might not have much assistance to give. He might have declined to assist, in which event we do not know if his depressive illness had any connection to that attitude.... The language of the law here is precise and simple. Life, on the other hand, is not so. Every life is complex in its own way. The mandatory death penalty has been the law for a long time and I do not think that in providing the changes set out in [Section 33B Parliament] has become more lenient towards drug trafficking. This crime is no less serious today than it was before the amendment.”

Singapore and the United States were among the 40 countries and territories that voted against a United Nations resolution calling for a global moratorium on executions in 2016.

Trump, according to Axios, has acknowledged that executing people for drug offenses would never happen in the United States. In trying to add some nuance to Trump's comments, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, who is in charge of the administration's anti-drug efforts, told Axios that the president was talking about drug dealers who cause mass overdose deaths by flooding communities with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid far more potent than heroin or morphine.

“The president makes a distinction between those that are languishing in prison for low-level drug offenses and the kingpins hauling thousands of lethal doses of fentanyl into communities, that are responsible for many casualties in a single weekend,” Conway said.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Philippine Catholics protest drug killings, death penalty

Source: Straits Times (24 February 2018)

MANILA (REUTERS) - Around a thousand Catholics in the Philippines marched in Manila on Saturday (Feb 24) to protest President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on drugs and his efforts to reinstate the death penalty.

The protests come a day after students in the capital and provincial universities held demonstrations against Duterte, and a day before the 32nd anniversary of the "People Power" revolution that drove dictator Ferdinand Marcos into exile.

Catholic devotees prayed the rosary and sang hymns as bishops and the Philippines' own cardinal read sermons against what they say are not "pro-life" policies in the government.

The protesters carried banners and placards with the message "Protect and Defend the Sanctity of Life and Marriage," "End Impunity" and "Stop the Killings."

Despite criticism of the Philippine leader's bloody war on drugs campaign, Duterte remains wildly popular and a trusted public official in the South-east Asian nation.

The Social Weather Station's (SWS) latest quarterly poll shows Duterte's trust rating bounced back to "excellent" in December from "very high" three months before. Another survey by the privately-run pollster gave his government the best rating so far for a Philippine administration since surveys started in the 1980s.

The Catholic Church protested the pending Bills in Congress introducing divorce and re-imposing capital punishment.

The majority of the Philippines' 105 million people are Catholic. Despite the popularity of the anti-drugs crackdown, some sectors of the church have become increasingly vocal on the drugs killings, with the church calling for justice and offering sanctuary to drug users.

"The threat is still there. We still hear news of extrajudicial killings. And still the bill of the death penalty is in Congress," said Broderick Pabillo, Manila auxillary bishop.

More than 4,000 suspected drug dealers have been killed since Duterte took office in June 2016. Police said the killings resulted from self-defence during raids and sting operations.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Malaysia - Delay in Coming Into Force Law That Abolishes Death Penalty for Drug Trafficking results in 10 unnessarily [sic] sentenced to death

Source: Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (13 February 2018)

MADPET (Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture) notes that despite the fact that the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act 2017 receiving royal assent on 27/12/2017, that effectively abolishes the mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking, the failure of the Minister to do the needful to bring the law into force has resulted in Malaysian judges still having no choice but to sentence convicted drug traffickers to death.

‘…”Since there is only one sentence provided for under Section 39B of the Act, the court hereby sentences all the accused to death,” he [Judge Datuk Ghazali Cha] said….’(The Sun Daily, 22/1/2018). Until the new Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act 2017 comes into force, Judges continues to have no discretion but to sentence those convicted to death.

The most recent victim was Malaysian lorry driver S. Gopi Kumar, 33, who was sentenced to death (The Sun Daily, 24/1/2018). Earlier, on 17/1/2018, it was reported that 5 others, Malaysian A. Sargunan, 42, and four Indian nationals (Sumesh Sudhakaran, Alex Aby Jacob Alexander, Renjith Raveendran and Sajith Sadanandan) were convicted and sentenced to death by the Shah Alam High Court on Wednesday (Jan 17) for drug trafficking under Section 39B (1)(a) Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 (Star, 17/1/2018). As not all cases get reported by the media, there may be many others that have been sentenced to death, who may not have been if not for this Ministerial delay.

A perusal of the Malaysian official e-Federal Gazette website on 25/1/2018, shows that the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act 2017, that received royal assent on 27/12/2017, has still not come into force. In comparison, other laws that received royal assent on the same day like the Income Tax (Amendment) Act 2017, came into force on 30/12/2017. Even some laws that received royal assent later on 29/12/2018, like the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (Amendment) Act 2018 has already come into force since 11/1/2018.

When the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act 2017 comes into force, it will finally abolish mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking that have existed since 1983. Judges, will thereafter, have the discretion to impose a sentence for drug trafficking other than the death penalty, being life imprisonment with whipping of not less than 15 strokes, for the offence of drug trafficking.

Section 3(2) of Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act 2017 states, ‘ (2) Any proceedings against any person who has been charged, whether or not trial has commenced or has been completed, and has not been convicted under section 39b of the principal Act by a competent Court before the appointed date, shall on the appointed date be dealt with by the competent Court and be continued under the provisions of the principal Act as amended by this Act.’

This means that any person even already on trial for drug trafficking (section 39B), so long as they have yet to be convicted, can still enjoy the benefits of Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act 2017. But, until the Minister do the needful, to ensure this law comes into force, judges will continue to have no discretion but to impose the mandatory death penalty on those convicted before the new law applies.

The new law, sadly, do [sic] not provide any remedy to those already convicted and/or for the 800 or more currently on death row by reason of having been convicted for drug trafficking.

Hence, as of today, Malaysian Gopi Kumar and possibly 5 or more that have already been convicted by the High Court before the new law come into force, are victims of a great injustice and may be hanged to death.

As it stands now, under even the new law, after conviction and being sentenced to death by the High Court, the Appellate Courts also will not have the capacity to change the death sentence to imprisonment, unless they choose to acquit them of drug trafficking, or possibly elect to convict for for [sic] a lesser offence that does not carry the mandatory death penalty.

In light of the adequacies of the new upcoming drug law, Malaysia must really table another new law that will result in the commuting of sentence of all those currently on death row by reason of being convicted of the offence of drug trafficking, and even other offences that carries [sic] the mandatory death penalty. This will be just for 2 Malaysians and 4 foreigners sentenced in 2018.

This new law could be tabled in the up-coming Parliamentary session this March 2018. This is the most reasonable approach, considering that there are more than 800 on death row, and judicial review of the sentence of so many may really be a difficult or near impossible task.

It must also be reminded, that Malaysia was looking at abolishing the death penalty, especially the mandatory death penalty. While the new Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act 2017 will do away with the mandatory death penalty for just one offence – drug trafficking, mandatory death penalty still exist for murder and so many other offences, some of which are offences that do not result in any grievous injury and/or death to victims.

As such, Malaysia need [sic] to speedily table new laws, which will at the very least abolish the mandatory death penalty – returning discretion to judges to mete out appropriate just sentences based on the facts and circumstances of each and every case.

In the meantime, while Malaysia works towards abolition, there must justly be a moratorium on executions.

MADPET reiterates its call on the Minister to do the needful to ensure that Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act 2017 comes into force immediately without any further delay;

MADPET also calls for all trials of persons charged under section 39B(drug trafficking) be stayed, or where trial [sic] is almost over, that courts do not proceed to convict until after Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act 2017 comes into force. This will prevent any further injustice on any other person, as had embarrassingly happened to Gopi Kumar and 5 or more, who have in 2018 sentenced to death just because of the delay of the law that abolishes mandatory death penalty coming into force;

MADPET reiterates the call for Malaysia to speedily abolish all other remaining mandatory death penalty offences, other than drug trafficking, and returning sentencing discretion to judges; and

MADPET also reiterated the call for a moratorium on all executions, pending the abolition of the death penalty in Malaysia.

Charles Hector

For and on behalf of MADPET(Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture)

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Vietnam to scrap death penalty for 5 felonies under amended Penal Code

Source: Tuoi Tre News (25 October 2017)

The amended 2015 Penal Code of Vietnam, which will take effect at the start of 2018, will no longer impose the death penalty on those found guilty of five felonies.

The code is an amened version of the country’s 2015 Penal Code that has been in place since July 2016.

According to the amended code, five felonies including robbery, manufacturing and trading of fake food and medicine, destroying facilities crucial to national security, surrendering to the enemy, and disobeying orders of commanding officers will no longer be subject to the death penalty.

The last two felonies are applicable to military personnel only.

The highest punishment for these crimes will be reduced to life sentence.

The amended Penal Code will also treat the felony of stockpiling, transporting, trading or appropriating narcotics under different articles.

Currently, those guilty of the crime faces capital punishment as the higest sentence.

Under the amended code, only the crimes of transporting and trading of narcotics are eigible for the death penalty, while those who stockpile or appropriate the illegal drugs will only face life imprisonment at most.

Additionally, criminals older than 75 years of age or those charged with corruption but had voluntarily submitted 75 percent of their embezzled property will be exempt from capital punishment.

Reinstating the death penalty a violation of international law

Source: The Manila Times (20/21 January 2018)

AS a consequence of President Duterte’s war on drugs, there has been in the Philippines a move to reinstate death as capital punishment. On March 7, 2017, the House of Representatives approved the reimposition of the death penalty for drug-related crimes, among others, by a vote of 217 yeses and 54 no’s. The bill is pending in the Senate. As might be expected from the chamber that approves the ratification of international treaties, certain Senators have raised objections to the bill on the ground that it is violative of international law.

As noted by the late chairman of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, Purificacion Valera Quisumbing, in her briefing paper submitted to the European Parliament in Brussels in January 2007 , the Philippines abolished the death penalty under its 1987 Constitution and became the first Asian country to abolish the death penalty for all crimes. It also became the first Asian country to abolish it only to reintroduce it later on.

The latter distinction owes to the fact that “the constitutional abolition of the death penalty, which immediately took effect upon the ratification of this Constitution, does not prevent the legislature from reimposing it at some future time (Bernas, The Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines: A Commentary). The Constitution in Article III, Section 1 9(1) reads that effective upon its ratification, “The death penalty shall not be imposed unless for compelling reasons, including heinous crimes the Congress hereafter provides for it. Any death penalty already imposed shall be reduced to reclusion perpetua (life imprisonment).”

A series of serious crimes widely described as “heinous” occurred in 1993 during the administration of President Fidel V. Ramos. To arrest the rising criminality, the Death Penalty Law (Republic Act 7659) was signed in December 1993. It listed a total of 46 crimes punishable by death, 25 of which are death-mandatory and 21 are death-eligible. Republic Act 8177 mandated the death sentence be carried out by lethal injection. With the amendment of the Anti-Rape Law (RA 8533) and Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 (RA9165), capital offenses were raised to 52; of these, 30 of are death-mandatory and 22 are death-eligible.

In 1999, the administration of President Joseph Estrada put to death seven death row convicts. It was observed that “1999 was a bumper year for executions which were intended to abate criminality. Instead, using the same year as baseline, criminality increased by 15.3 per cent, the total in the previous year of 71,527 crimes rising to 82,538 in1999.” Giving in to appeals from groups, including the Roman Catholic Church, President Estrada issued a moratorium on executions in observance of the Vatican’s “Jubilee Year.” The practice of carrying out executions was re-initiated and carried over to the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

After a rise in drug trafficking and kidnappings that mainly victimized the Chinese-Filipino community, President Arroyo announced on December 5, 2003, the lifting of the de facto moratorium on executions “to sow fear into the hearts of criminals.” The resumption of executions was, however, halted with the reopening of the Lara and Licayan capital case. The Supreme Court vacated the decision of the lower court and ordered the admission of newly discovered evidence, including the testimonial evidence of two other co-accused in the same case, both of whom gave testimony exonerating Lara and Licayan from culpability. Since then successive administrations have been issuing reprieves on scheduled executions without actually issuing a moratorium.

The Commission on Human Rights vehemently objected to the reimposition of the death penalty. It cautioned against it and recommended reforms for a more effective enforcement of penal laws. It should also be mentioned that the European Union and the Roman Catholic Church, among others, waged an intensifying campaign against the death penalty.

On April 19, 2006 in a letter to the House of Representatives and the Senate, President Arroyo endorsed the immediate enactment of House Bill No. 4826 entitled “An Act Prohibiting the Imposition of the Death Penalty.” It was signed into law as Republic Act 9346 on June 24, 2006.

At this point, the Philippines might be said to be the first Asian country to abolish the death penalty for all crimes only to reimpose it on certain heinous crimes, and then only to prohibit it totally once again.

To those who have followed the twists and turns of the history of the death penalty in the Philippines, much of the arguments for and against the current move to reimpose capital punishment are not new. Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, in sponsoring the bill reimposing the death penalty, cited four “compelling” reasons: 1) The death penalty is a fitting response to increasing criminality and killings in the county; 2)The death penalty is a measure to restore respect for the laws of the land; 3) Death is a path to achieving justice; and 4) Reimposition of the death penalty is geared towards a genuine reform in the Philippines criminal justice system.

OPPOSITION to the move to reimpose the death penalty has been most eloquently expressed by Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, in his pastoral statement on March 19, 2017:

“On the day the death penalty was repealed by the Philippine Congress on June 24, 2006, the lights were turned on in the Colosseum in Rome. History tells us how many people, among them countless Christian martyrs. were publicly executed in that infamous arena. Perhaps to erase the darkness of inhumanity that the Colosseum has been associated with, the citizens of Rome have since made it a point to have it illuminated, each time another country decides to repeal its capital punishment law. Each illumination has been made to symbolize another advancement in human civilization. Are we to reverse that advancement by restoring the death penalty again in the Philippines?

Even with the best of intentions, capital punishment has never been proven effective as a deterrent to crime.  Obviously, it is easier to eliminate criminals than to get rid of the root causes of criminality in society. Capital punishment and a flawed legal system are always a lethal mix. And since in any human society there is never a guarantee of a flawless legal system, there is always the great likelihood that those without capital will get the punishment more quickly because it is they who cannot afford a good lawyer and a guarantee of due process. As a law, the death penalty directly contradicts the principle of inalienability of the basic human right to life, which is enshrined in most Constitutions of countries that signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

To the arguments against the reimposition of the death penalty, an international law dimension has been added with the ratification by the Philippines on November 20, 2007 of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

The Human Rights Commission deserves credit for this development. The late Commissioner Quisumbling in her abovementioned briefing paper said: ”Today’s challenge to the Commission on Human Rights and the Right to Life advocates is to campaign for the ratification of the Second Optional Protocol and institutionalize efforts towards the approach of restorative justice.”

The ICCPR is one of the international Bill of Rights agreements, the others being the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The ICCPR commits its parties to respect the civil and political rights of individuals, including the right to life, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, electoral rights, and rights to due process and fair trial. The ICCPR was 12 years in the making, drafted in 1954, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 19, 1965, and entered into force on March 23, 1976. The Philippines was only one of six original signatories of the covenant. (The others were Costa Rica, Cyprus, Honduras, Israel, and Jamaica.) However, it took a long time for the Philippines to ratify the covenant, doing so only on January 23, 1987. O the Asean countries, Vietnam was ahead of the Philippines in ratifying(1982), but the Philippines was ahead of Cambodia (1992), Thailand (1997), Indonesia (2006) and Laos (2009). Malaysia, Myanmar, and Singapore are neither signatories nor parties.

The ICCPR has two optional protocols, The First Optional Protocol establishes an international complaints mechanism allowing individuals to complain to the UN Human Rights Committee about violations of the covenant. As of September 2013, the First Optional Protocol has 115 states parties, including the Philippines.

The Second Optional Protocol, adopted on December 15, 1989 and which took effect on July 11, 1991, abolishes the death penalty, although countries were permitted to make a reservation allowing for the use of the death penalty for most serious crimes of a military nature committed during wartime. As of December 2017, the Second Optional Protocol has 85 parties and two states which have signed but not ratified. The Philippines signed on September 20, 2006 and ratified on November 20, 2007. It did not make any declarations or reservations to the Second Optional Protocol. So far, the Philippines is the only Asean state party to the Protocol.

About the Second Optional Protocol, the question has been asked: “Is the abolition of the death penalty in a state party definitive and irrevocable?” Experts on the subject say, “the Second Optional Protocol is significant at the national level since it virtually precludes reinstatement of the death penalty. Indeed, any State Party wishing to reintroduce the death penalty would have first to withdraw from the Protocol. The absence in the Protocol of a procedural clause for withdrawal means that once a State has ratified the Second Optional Protocol, the death penalty can never be reintroduced without violating international law.”

Today there are two countries both state parties to the Second Optional Protocol that have announced their intentions to reintroduce the death penalty: Turkey (ratified March 2006) and the Philippines. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on October 29, 2016 that his government would ask Parliament to consider reintroducing the death penalty as a punishment for the plotters behind the July coup bid. The Philippines’ House of Representatives has voted to reimpose the death penalty for drug crimes. Should the moves of these countries prosper in the light of experts’ views that “once a State Party has ratified the Second Optional Protocol, the death penalty can never be introduced without violating international law?”

Historically, the death penalty has been used in almost every country of the world. Today it has been either abolished or discontinued in practice by a large majority of nations. Fifty-five countries have retained the death penalty in law or practice, while 103 have abolished it for all crimes and 37 have abolished it de facto. Those seeking to reimpose the death penalty appear to be out of step with the advancement of the world in human rights and moving contrary to international law.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Iran drug law change could spare thousands on death row

Source: BBC News (10 January 2018)

Thousands of Iranians who have been sentenced to death for drug crimes could be spared following a softening in the country's law.

Capital punishment has been abolished for some drug offences, and the head of the judiciary has said all cases on death row can be reviewed.

The move is set to be applied retroactively, meaning some 5,000 prisoners could escape execution.

Iran executes hundreds of people every year, mostly for drug offences.

In August, Iran's parliament raised the threshold on the amount of drugs that would be considered a capital offence.

Under the previous law, possessing 30g of cocaine would trigger the death penalty but that has been increased to 2kg (4.4lb). The limit on opium and marijuana has been increased tenfold to 50kg.

Judiciary chief Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani told local media that most death sentences would be reduced to extended jail terms.

Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, from Iran Human Rights (IHR), an independent NGO based in Norway, welcomed the law change.

"If implemented properly, this change in law will represent one of the most significant steps towards reduction in the use of the death penalty worldwide," he told the BBC.

But he expressed concern that those on death row might not be able to take advantage.

"Since most of those sentenced to death for drug offences belong to the most marginalised parts of Iranian society, it is not given that they have the knowledge and resources to apply for commuting their sentence," he said.

Human rights group Amnesty International also welcomed the news, but said it would like to see further progress.

"The Iranian authorities must stop using the death penalty for drug-related offences, with a view to eventually abolishing it for all crimes," a spokeswoman said.

"There are currently an estimated 5,000 people on death row for such offences across the country. About 90% of them are first-time offenders aged between 20 and 30 years old."

The group quoted an official who said that, since 1988, Iran had executed 10,000 people for drug crimes.

In 2016, Iran's then justice minister said he was looking for an "effective punishment" for criminals instead of execution. Mostafa Pourmohammadi said he thought the number of capital crimes should be revised and the death penalty kept for "corrupt people".

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Solutions sought to abolish death penalty

Source: The Jakarta Post (22 December 2017)

Civil society in Southeast Asia must work on more engagement, smarter solutions and data transparency in order to stem the tide of regression in efforts to abolish the death penalty in the region.

"The kind of change we want, we need to make it happen," international law expert Seree Nonthasoot said in a speech in Jakarta on Thursday at the Regional Conference on the Situation of the Death Penalty in ASEAN held by the Coalition for the Abolition of the Death Penalty in ASEAN (CAPDA).

He proposed several things for the fight to abolish the death penalty, such as using the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to attract ASEAN's attention. "Everyone in ASEAN loves SDGs. Goal 16 on access to justice will give you ammunition," he said. "Electrocution, gas, hanging, lethal injection, firing squad: Are these techniques for sustainability?"

Another way is by demanding transparency for penitentiaries.

"What we need is the numbers of prisoners on death row, the types of crimes carrying the death penalty, the means of commuting the death penalty, legal assistance and how many [death row inmates] are disabled," he said.

Nonthasoot highlighted the challenges that human rights defenders face in a region where only two countries have abolished capital punishment: Cambodia and the Philippines. He said the death penalty remains a sensitive topic.

"The only consensus we got is that we are going to study the treatment of those who have already been convicted [and sentenced to] the death penalty," he said, adding that he expect to launch the study in 2018.

In the past five years, more than 40 people have been executed in ASEAN, with many more waiting their turn on death row.

However, a worrying development in the region is the regression of the Philippines. The Philippine House of Representatives approved in March a proposal to reinstate capital punishment as part of President Rodrigo Duterte's main campaign promise to end crime and corruption.

Since Duterte took office in 2016, local media reported more than 8,000 deaths in his war on drugs.

CAPDA founder Rafendi Djamin called the development "ironic" considering that Manila was an exemplary case in ASEAN.

"It became a part of the international human rights commitment on the protocol where the death penalty is not part of the law anymore," he said. "But in the course of the year [...] we have had to make the Philippines a priority country for our work."

Rajiv Narayan, commissioner at the International Commission against the Death Penalty (ICDP), argued: "It's not enough to make a country an abolitionist; there are trends against it. We have to increase respect and protection for the right to life."

Narayan, who opened Thursday's conference, noted that a big part of his work with the ICDP to increase protection for the right to life involves engaging various countries and mapping out abolitionist and retentionist practices.

The primary rationale given in favor of the death penalty has always been that it deters crime. An official from the Indonesian Law and Human Rights Ministry, Mualimin Abdi, defended that rationale in Indonesia's case.

"The Indonesian Constitutional Court is of the opinion that the offenses punishable by death in Indonesia have met the standards of most serious crimes and that capital punishment is necessary for deterrence and that the reason is justified," he said.

"However the implementation of the death penalty is minimized in an effort to realize both interests of justice and fairness."

Indonesia resumed using the death sentence in 2013 following a four-year moratorium. In 2015, four people were executed, while at least 215 people remain on death row, according to CAPDA.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

China sentences 10 people to death in sports stadium as thousands watched

Source: The Independent (18 December 2017)

Thousands of people at a sports stadium in China watched as 10 people were sentenced to death before being taken away for execution.

The public sentencing was held in Lufeng, in southern Guangdong province, where 12 people were held on charges of producing and trafficking drugs, murder and robbery.

Video footage from the stadium showed those on trial being brought into the stadium in police trucks with their sirens blaring.

They were flanked by four police officers wearing dark sunglasses.

Seven of the 10 who were executed were convicted of drug-related crimes, The Paper reported, while the others were found guilty of murder and robbery.

After being convicted, they were taken to be executed.

Local media reports are unclear on what happened to the other two people.

It marks the second time in six months an open trial has been held at the sports stadium in Lufeng. In June, eight people were sentenced to death.

While China does not publish statistics on how many people receive the death penalty each year, Amnesty International estimated it killed "thousands" of people last year.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Malaysia scraps mandatory death sentence for drugs

Source: Bangkok Post (1 December 2017)

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's lower house of Parliament on Thursday passed an amendment to end the country's mandatory death sentencing of drug traffickers.

But the move comes too late to save a Japanese woman who is currently on death row for smuggling drugs, as the new law will not be applied retroactively.

The bill, which next goes to the Senate and then to the king for endorsement, would allow judges the discretion to either impose the death penalty or sentence a convicted person to life imprisonment and not less than 15 strokes of the cane.

Previously anyone found guilty of trafficking over a certain amount of dangerous drugs was automatically sent to the gallows.

The former law was Section 39(B) of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 (quoted here in part):

(1) No person shall, on his own behalf or on behalf of any other person, whether or not such other person is in Malaysia –

(a) traffic in a dangerous drug...

(2) Any person who contravenes any of the provisions of subsection (1) shall be guilty of an offence against this Act and shall be punished on conviction with death.

"The government is pursuing the amendment because it wants to see if, by giving the court the power to decide, it would help with the war against drugs," de facto law minister Azalina Othman Said told parliament, according to the official news agency Bernama.

She told the House of Representatives Thursday that despite various drastic measures taken by the government, the number of drug cases continues to rise.

Between January 2014 and October this year, she said, the police have detained 702,319 people for drug trafficking and possession.

Of this, 21,371 cases fell under Section 39B of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 that used to carry the mandatory death sentence, and 10,878 people have already been charged in court under that section.

Before imposing the life imprisonment and caning penalty under the proposed new law, the court must have the public prosecutor certify in writing that the person convicted has assisted law enforcement agencies in disrupting drug trafficking activities.

The court must also take into consideration whether the culprit was merely a drug courier and was not involved in buying and selling of the drug and there was no involvement of agent provocateurs.

Japanese citizen Mariko Takeuchi, 43, could be the last person hanged under the old law.

She was found guilty of by the High Court in 2011 of having trafficked 3.5 kilogrammes of methamphetamines into Malaysia via the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Oct 30, 2009.

Under the 1952 act, anyone found possessing a minimum of 50 grammes of methamphetamine is considered to be trafficking in a dangerous drug, which is punishable by death.

A section of the old Pudu Prison wall. (Photo via

In March, 2013, Takeuchi failed to get the appellate court to overturn her conviction and she took her case to the apex Federal Court, which in October 2015 ruled against her and sealed her fate.

"Unfortunately, the amendment is not retroactive. Too late for Mariko," her lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik said.

A former nurse, Takeuchi testified that she did not know about the drugs found in a suitcase she brought to Malaysia from Dubai. She said she was carrying the suitcase as a favour for an Iranian acquaintance.

Takeuchi, who has been incarcerated since her arrest, is the first Japanese national to be tried on a drug trafficking charge in Malaysia and the first sentenced to hang.

Hisyam said her last resort is to seek a pardon from the Sultan of Selangor state. Meantime, Takeuchi is being held at a women's prison in northeastern Kelantan state next to Thailand.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

LEDAP creates database of Nigerians on death row in Asia

Source: The Guardian (31 October 2017)

Legal Defense Assistance Project (LEDAP) said it is creating a database with a number of organizations in South East Asia in order to determine the number of Nigerians in death row in those countries.

The national coordinator of the group, Mr. Chino Obiagwu said the plight of Nigerians in death row in those countries is a source of concern to him.

“The plight of Nigerians who are on death penalty abroad, especially South East Asia is an area of interest to us. We are trying to do a database with a number of organizations in Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines. We know that about 50 Nigerians are in death row in Vietnam, more than 200 in China and in total, it is estimated that there are about 650 Nigerians, either on death row or facing death penalty in South East Asia alone,” he disclosed while addressing newsmen in his Lagos office last Thursday.

His words: “Our concern is that most times, their trials are in foreign languages and there are no interpreters and there is no guarantee of fair trial. The last Nigerian that was executed was in July and frankly, there are obviously unfair trials because there are no interpreters when the cases were going on. We are going to pay great attention to that in addition to our position against the use of death penalty.”

Obiagwu said his organization is also seeking judicial intervention in stopping the bogus pension allowances being paid to former governors by different states across the country. “We have been in the court in Abuja fighting this cause since 2014,” he pointed.

The human rights lawyer also noted that his organization sued the ministry of education over the legality of free and compulsory primary education and junior secondary education in the country.

He said: “Under the Nigerian law as it is today, primary and junior secondary school is free and compulsory, it is a right. The reason is that the right to education is under chapter two of the 1999 constitution and they said that it is not justiciable, meaning that nobody can go to court to challenge that. But sections 17 and 18 say government should try and provide compulsory free primary education and free junior secondary education and so on and so forth.

“To that extent, it is not justiciable. But the national assembly went and enacted the Universal Basic Education Act, where they said that primary education is free and compulsory and junior secondary education is free.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Thailand moves towards abolishing death penalty

Source: Straits Times (18 October 2017)

BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - As many as 447 convicts are now on death row in Thailand, which is reviewing the use of the death penalty.

"We have started with the move to allow judges to exercise their judgment to decide whether a convict should be sentenced to death or life imprisonment - instead of prescribing death sentence as the only penalty for certain offences," the Rights and Liberties Protection Department's director-general, Pitikan Sithidej, said on Tuesday (Oct 17).

She added that, in the next phase, the country might consider abolishing the death penalty for crimes that do not affect the lives of others. Pitikan was speaking at an event held to mark the World Day against the Death Penalty, which is observed on October 10.

Thai laws now prescribe the death sentence for those convicted in 63 offences, including drug offences.

Of the 447 convicts on death row, 157 have already been condemned through final court rulings. Of these, 68 were found guilty of drug-related crimes.

A foreign speaker at the same event said there was no international consensus that drug offences were crimes against human lives. "It should also be noted that there is a difference between serious legal enforcement and the use of harsh punishments," he explained.

Both Pitikan and Colin Josef Steinbach, the first counsellor (political, press and information) of the European Union delegation to Thailand, said at the same forum that there was no clear evidence that the death sentence could reduce crimes.

"The end of death penalty is not about encouraging crimes; it's about cancelling unreasonable types of punishment," Pitikan said.

Of 198 countries, 141 have already abandoned the use of death sentences. According to Pitikan, Thailand started implementing the death penalty in 1935. From that year until 2009, 325 convicts were executed.

Initially, death-row convicts faced firing squads, but lethal injections have been used in recent times.

However, in line with international trends, Thailand has not carried out any execution since August 2009.

The country is expected to eventually abandon the death penalty altogether. One foreign speaker at the event believed better technologies and greater budgets would be better able to deter crimes than the death penalty or life imprisonment.

Taiwan murder convict walks free after decade on death row

Source: Straits Times (26 October 2017)

TAIPEI (AFP) - A Taiwanese man who spent more than a decade on death row walked free Thursday (Oct 26) after being acquitted of murder in a retrial, boosting calls for the abolition of capital punishment.

Cheng Hsing-tse was condemned to death in 2002 after being found guilty of shooting a police officer during a gun battle in a karaoke parlour.

The death penalty was confirmed in 2006, when he had exhausted the appeal process.

But he was granted a retrial last year and released on bail when new evidence cast doubt on his conviction, suggesting he may have been tortured into admitting the crime.

The high court in central Taichung delivered its decision Thursday, overturning the original guilty verdict, saying Cheng's confession may have been forced and that evidence pointed to another culprit firing the fatal shots.

"I've waited for this acquittal for 15 years," Cheng told reporters on Thursday outside the court after the verdict.

Cheng was a follower of gangster Luo Wu-hsiung and was caught up in the gun battle after Luo fired a pistol at the ceiling and at bottles in a karaoke room in protest at the parlour's service.

Police stormed the venue and shots were fired by both sides, killing Luo and an officer named Su Hsien-pi.

Earlier verdicts found that Cheng fired the bullets that killed Su.

But judges on Thursday said after considering evidence of the firing positions, it could not be ruled out that Luo was the killer.

The high court said in a statement that Cheng's face had shown "obvious new bruising" during interrogations, "suggesting his confession wasn't voluntary".

The Control Yuan - the government's highest watchdog - recommended the supreme court prosecutor's office to apply for a retrial after investigating Cheng's case in 2014.

It said police forced a confession from Cheng "by means of torture" and certain autopsy findings were ignored.

Taiwan resumed capital punishment in 2010 after a five-year hiatus. Executions are reserved for serious crimes including aggravated murder.

The last execution was in May last year of Cheng Chieh, a former college student who killed four people in a stabbing spree on a subway in 2014.

There are currently 43 convicts on death row in Taiwan, according to campaign group Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty.

Rights groups including Amnesty International have urged Taiwan's government to abandon the practice, but polls show a majority of the public still support it.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Indonesia’s Contradictory Death Penalty Rhetoric

Source: Human Rights Watch (11 October 2017)

Indonesia’s government on Tuesday marked World Day Against the Death Penalty by issuing a self-serving and contradictory statement on its death penalty policy.

Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly reaffirmed the government won’t seek to abolish the death penalty, but would pursue a “win-win solution” designed to appease both death penalty supporters and opponents. That might include mandatory judicial reviews of death penalty judgments and possible sentence commutation for death row prisoners.

Indonesia ended a four-year unofficial moratorium on the death penalty in March 2013, and President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has made the execution of convicted drug traffickers a signature policy issue. Since Jokowi took office in 2014, 18 convicted drug traffickers were executed in 2015 and 2016 – the majority citizens of other countries. Jokowi has routinely rejected their governments’ calls for clemency, citing national sovereignty. The government’s apparent newfound flexibility on its death penalty policy, including a temporary suspension of executions in 2017, was linked by the attorney general to its ambitions to secure United Nations member support to become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.

Recent evidence uncovered by the ombudsman of “maladministration” by the Indonesian government in denying the legal rights of a Nigerian citizen executed for drug trafficking in July 2016 underscore the need for the death penalty’s abolition. But Laoly’s claims of a more flexible death penalty policy are contradicted by Indonesia’s performance last month during the UN Universal Periodic Review of Indonesia’s rights record. Jakarta rejected recommendations by UN member countries that the government enhance safeguards on the use of the death penalty, including adequate and early legal representation for defendants and not executing people with mental illness. It also rejected a recommendation to review all cases with a view to commuting death sentences or at least ensuring “fair trials that fully comply with international standards.”

Jokowi’s government should stop its cynical efforts to use the cruel and irreversible punishment of the death penalty as a bargaining chip for a Security Council seat. Instead it should publicly recognize that the death penalty has no place in a right-respecting country and immediately move toward abolition.

8 Years Since Last Thai Execution, Future of Death Penalty Uncertain

Source: Khaosod English (12 October 2017)

BANGKOK — Those campaigning for the abolition of the death penalty may take solace in the fact that no one has been executed for eight years. There have been no actual executions, but a senior government official said it’s simply impossible to predict when capital punishment will be abolished in Thailand.

Pitikan Sitthidej, Director General of the Department of Rights and Liberties said it’s impossible to pin down when Thailand will do away with death penalty despite having observed a de facto moratorium since 2009.

“I can’t say when it will end but in practice it will soon be 10 years since no execution has taken place,” Pitikan said. “We don’t know when death penalty will be abolished.”

Pitikan was vague on whether it would be.

At present there are 63 crimes that merit death sentence under Thai law, ranging from people found guilty of the rape and murder of girls under 15 or their parents to big time drug dealers and extremists. Pitikan pointed out that under the Thai penal code, any criminal sentenced to death will automatically be required to apply for a royal pardon to the king in hope of having the sentence commuted to life imprisonment.

According to a document of the justice ministry, there were 444 inmates sentenced to death at various stages of the judiciary system as of April 2017. The document also states that during the 65th UN General Assembly in 2010, Thailand no longer voted to oppose a move to end the death penalty but had decided to abstain from voting.

However, according to the same paper, the ministry conducted a survey on the possible abolition of the death penalty on 1,073 people in all the four regions of the country as well as in Bangkok and discovered that 73 percent of respondents still supported death penalty.

Campaign groups such as Amnesty International Thailand took the opportunity on the World Day Against the Death Penalty on Tuesday to renew its call for the abolition of capital punishment in Thailand.

Knowing that it is still far from being realized, the organization’s director Piyanut Kotsan said she wanted to see the Thai government announce a formal moratorium on capital punishment and decrease the number of crimes punishable by death.

“We’re quietly lobbying and maintain the trend for the end of death penalty,” said Piyanut on Tuesday.

Pitikan said there will be no formal announcement of moratorium as in reality Thailand is also a de facto moratorium state on the matter.

“What announcement? I am confused. How do we make such announcement?” said Pitakan, adding that the Third National Human Rights Plan, covering 2014 to 2018, clearly stated that the state shall conduct studies on the possible abolition of the death penalty. When asked about a campaign to educate the public about the negative repercussion of death penalty such as the violation of the right to life, Pitikan said the department lacks funding to engage in such campaign as it has only 300 million baht budget per annum.

In the end, said the director general, whether Thailand will abolish capital punishment or not depends not on international organizations such as Amnesty International or the government but on the society’s consensus itself.

“We must consider the direction of our society as well,” Pitikan said.

While it’s still common for some Thais on social media to keep calling for some criminals – particularly those who have committed rape and murder – to be executed, the anti-death penalty argument is slowly becoming known.

Pitikan for example stressed that a wrongful death penalty means those executed can no longer be brought back to life.

“It’s against the basic human rights principle of the right to life. Most of those [sentenced] tend to be poor and underprivileged.”

Chamnan Chanruang, a prominent campaigner for the end of death penalty said ending the death penalty is not about not punishing the wrongdoers while death penalty is vindictive and about revenge.

“What should be done is not to eliminate these people but to find out the root cause and eliminate it. If we hate what they did we shouldn’t commit the same things which is to become criminals by allowing acting as executioners on our behalf,” said Chamnan.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Amnesty: Singapore's death penalty reform flawed

Source: The Star Online (11 October 2017)

Singapore (AFP) - Singapore's reforms to its use of the death penalty are flawed, with some low-level drug offenders still being denied leniency and sent to the gallows, Amnesty International said Wednesday.

After years of criticism from rights groups, the city-state in 2013 eased the requirement for mandatory death sentences in some drug trafficking and murder cases.

The changes gave judges discretion to impose life imprisonment instead of the death penalty in certain cases.

In a new report, Amnesty acknowledged the number of people sent to the gallows had fallen but added that courts still impose death sentences when more leniency could be shown.

After the changes, judges can impose life imprisonment on drug couriers who give "substantive" cooperation to the authorities during investigations.

However Amnesty said decisions on who meets the criteria rest with the public prosecutor and not the judge, and are taken "behind closed doors in a murky and non-transparent process".

The group said the majority of people sentenced to death for drug offences in the past four years possessed relatively small amounts of narcotics. Many said they were driven by unemployment or debt.

"Singapore likes to paint itself as a prosperous and progressive role model, but its use of the death penalty shows flagrant disregard for human life," Sangiorgio said, urging the government to end capital punishment once and for all.

Amnesty said 17 death sentences were handed down over the past three years for murder and drugs offences and 10 convicts were hanged.

There was no immediate response from the government to AFP queries on the Amnesty report. Singapore has long defended its use of the death penalty as an effective deterrent against crime.