Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Death penalty: as world executes fewer prisoners, Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand are killing more

Source: South China Morning Post

The world may be turning its back on the death penalty, according to report by Amnesty International, but Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand are going in the other direction.

Globally, the number of executions has hit its lowest level in a decade, having fallen to 690 last year from 993 in 2017, according to the human rights watchdog’s 2018 death penalty report. While Southeast Asia as a region is broadly in line with that trend – with seven of the 10 Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) members carrying out no executions last year – the other three states are carrying out more.

Vietnam is the region’s most prolific executioner. It executed 85 people in 2018, more than any other Asean member. It also handed down 122 death sentences, meaning it now has more than 600 prisoners on death row. Meanwhile, Thailand carried out its first hanging since 2009 and Singapore hanged 13 people – its most since 2003. The Thailand execution was of a murderer; in Singapore most of the executions were of drug offenders. Vietnam, which uses lethal injections, executed people for a variety of offences, including murder, drug crimes and national security violations.

Amnesty International’s secretary general Kumi Naidoo said despite the fall in executions worldwide some states were “shamefully determined to buck the trend”.

Singaporean anti-death penalty activist Kirsten Han said the global trend made it even “more disappointing” that Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam were “still clinging on to this archaic, cruel punishment”.

“In 2018 we have seen more executions in Singapore than for a long time, even though there is a lack of evidence that it’s more effective at deterring crime than any other punishment,” she said.

And Amnesty International Malaysia’s executive director Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu said that despite the global trend, campaigners still had their work cut out. She pointed out that the
Philippines, which abolished the death penalty in 2006, was now looking to restore it.

“Efforts should be intensified, not lessened. Countries that are pushing for the death penalty are using political populism to retain or reintroduce it, despite research proving that it is not an effective deterrent. Politicians and leaders use the death penalty to show they want to be tough on crime, despite it not impacting the crime rate.”

Her view was echoed by legal adviser and human rights activist Michelle Yesudas, who said that despite the progress it was disheartening to see some nations “taking a hardline stance on retribution and executions”. “As Singapore chalks up increased executions, Brunei, an abolitionist country in practice for more than 20 years has now included stoning to death as punishment and the Philippines is considering the reinstatement of the death penalty. These moves ride on a wave of anti-crime rhetoric and the false idea that the death penalty is a deterrent and these narratives must be countered.”

For anti-death penalty campaigners, one of the highlights of last year was a commitment by
Malaysia to do away with capital punishment.

However, the former Malaysian representative to the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, Edmund Bon, noted that so far no other Asean nation had shown signs of following its lead.

Last May, Malaysian voters unseated the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition in favour of the more progressive Pakatan Harapan, which set about a series of legal reforms including a moratorium on the death penalty. The government, however, has not yet decided what will happen to the 1,275 prisoners already on death row.

Globally, China remains the world’s most prolific executioner. Amnesty International’s report said it believed the number of executions to be in the thousands, but it could not give an exact figure as the data was a classified state secret. Iran, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, and Iraq accounted for 78 per cent of the 690 executions in 2018. At least 98 of the executions were for drug-related offences.

There were 136 executions in the Asia-Pacific, up from 93 in 2017, although this increase was attributed mainly to Vietnam disclosing a figure – something it rarely does.

By the end of 2018, 106 countries had abolished the death penalty in law for all crimes and 142 countries had abolished the death penalty in law or practice.

In October last year, Singapore hanged Prabu Pathmanathan, who was convicted of drug trafficking despite appeals from the Malaysian government.

Human rights groups claimed that sentence was carried out in breach of due process.

In 2016, Singapore executed another Malaysian, Kho Jabing, for killing a construction worker. In the same year, law and home affairs minister K. Shanmugam slammed activists for “romanticising individuals involved in the drug trade”.

The minister said capital punishment would remain part of Singapore’s comprehensive anti-drug framework that includes rehabilitating users.

More recently, Singapore hanged Malaysian Michael anak Garing, who was convicted of murder in 2015.

15 foreigners among 48 handed death penalty in Indonesia last year: Amnesty

Source: Jakarta Post (11 April 2019)

Indonesia sentenced to death 48 people last year, including 15 foreigners convicted of drug crimes, according to the latest global report on capital punishment by human rights organization Amnesty International.

In its annual report released on Wednesday, Amnesty explained that of the 48 death sentences, 39 were in drug-related cases, eight were for murder and one for terrorism.

In 2017, 10 foreigners were among 47 individuals sentenced to death.

At least 308 convicts were on death row by the end of last year, awaiting their execution without a clear date.

Despite its stance on capital punishment, Indonesia has positioned itself as a human rights pioneer in Southeast Asia. But in 2018, the country observed a moratorium on executions for the second year in a row after the government under President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo executed 18 inmates convicted of drug-related offenses, including foreigners, in three batches between 2015 and 2016.

Nonetheless, Amnesty’s records show that Indonesia has not taken any steps toward abolishing the death penalty, much to the frustration of activists who point out that Indonesia is an initiator of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR). The country is currently also seeking a fifth term on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

“As a pioneer of human rights in Southeast Asia, Indonesia actually has a wider chance to progress from the moratorium [to abolition],” said Amnesty International Indonesia executive director Usman Hamid. “It is ironic that Indonesia has yet to take any formal steps to abolish the death penalty when the global trends show positive progress. Neighboring Malaysia has even announced an initiative to reform the punishment.”

Amnesty’s report shows a global decrease in executions from 2017 to 2018, down by 31 percent, from 993 to 690 executions – the lowest number in the past decade. The number of death sentences globally also slightly dropped from 2,591 in 2017 to 2,531 in 2018.

Known proponents of capital punishment have even started to abandon it last year. For instance, Gambia declared a moratorium on executions, while Burkina Faso abolished capital punishment for general crimes and Malaysia announced a death penalty reform after previously decided to halt executions.

Usman said that eliminating the death penalty could level up Indonesia's diplomatic efforts to save roughly 188 Indonesian citizens on death row abroad.

“Well, how can Indonesia convince other countries to save its citizens from capital punishment if Indonesia maintains a legal basis to practice inhumane punishments at home?"

Usman urged the House of Representatives to push the government into scrapping the death sentence in the Criminal Code (KUHP).

Lawmaker Charles Honoris of the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), who attended the report's launch, said that capital punishment was ineffective in curbing crimes, particularly drug offenses, given that the number of drug-related cases continued to increase in the past few years.

However, he shifted the responsibility to the government and the President, saying that the House was divided over the issue, with few lawmakers daring to openly voice their support for abolishing capital punishment. Therefore, the political will of the President was “key to starting the process of repealing the death penalty”.

The government softened its stance in the past few years by recategorizing the death penalty in the Criminal Code revision bill as an "alternative punishment" that could be commuted to life imprisonment if the convict showed good behavior. However, the draft’s deliberation has progressed at a snail's pace. (ipa)

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Malaysia urged to abolish death penalty by inmates’ families

Source: Arab News (30 March 2019)

KUALA LUMPUR: Families and friends of death row inmates petitioned the Malaysian government to repeal its mandatory death penalty on Friday. Earlier this month, the government backtracked on its decision to scrap capital punishment in the country.

Friends and kin of more than 20 death row inmates gathered in Putrajaya and sent a memorandum to the Malaysian Home Ministry, calling on the government to repeal mandatory capital punishment, and to pardon the inmates, some of whom have been in jail for decades.

“They are feeling very sad,” one friend of a death row inmate told Arab News. “Every family member was expressing their feelings about living without a child or a husband (to the government).”

The man, who asked to remain anonymous, is a friend of Mainthan, a death row inmate convicted of murder who has served 14 years in jail. Mainthan has maintained his innocence throughout his sentence and exhausted multiple avenues of appeal. “I’ve known him for the past two years,” his friend said. “I was really heartbroken — nobody should live like that. We are in 2019, not the 1990s.”

“The family is getting worse day by day,” he continued.

“It’s a family without a father. Even though the father is alive, he is not there to guide the family. It’s like there’s food in front of you, but you are not allowed to taste it. The kids are there (at the prison), but they are not able to hug … their father.”

In October last year, the Malaysian government announced it would abolish the mandatory death penalty for 33 offenses. However, in early March, Mohamed Hanipa Maidin, deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, told Parliament that the government would instead push for the abolishment of the mandatory death penalty for 11 offenses.

Those offenses include nine that fall under the Penal Code involving terrorism and serious crimes, including murder, hostage-taking, organized crime, offenses against the constitutional monarch, and the use of firearms.

Hanipa Maidin said that courts would be authorized to decide whether a person who had committed a serious crime should face capital punishment.

The March announcement met with criticism from human rights groups. The Malaysian Coalition Against the Death Penalty released a statement acknowledging the progress made by the government in abolishing the death penalty for 11 offenses, but expressing its concern over Malaysia’s justice system.

“We are concerned that, at the moment, there is still no developed jurisprudence, protection for the vulnerable, and no sentencing guidelines for the court to consider in exercising its discretion over whether to hand down a death sentence,” the group said.

Kasthuri Patto, a politician from the Democratic Action Party who attended last month’s World Congress Against the Death Penalty in Brussels is an advocate for the abolition of the death penalty, but emphasized the need for awareness and education on the matter.

“It is important to remember that … the death penalty cannot simply be (phrased) as a yes or no question,” Patto told Arab News. “There must be a series of questions that empower the person answering them with knowledge about the death penalty.”

She added: “We need to away from a retributive approach and move toward forgiveness and providing a second chance to death row convicts.”

The government has told Patto, she said, that the moratorium on executions would remain indefinitely, but that the final decision over prisoners’ fates lies with the Pardons Board.

“While no government should discount the emotional argument, as a government, we must also do what is right as per Article 5 of the Federal Constitution, the supreme law of the land, that the right to life must reign paramount to the act of extinguishing lives,” she said.

Mainthan’s anonymous friend told Arab News that he wants justice for his friend and for other long-suffering family members awaiting the fate of their loved ones on death row.

“Abolishing the mandatory death penalty is a secondary thing,” he said.

“What they are going to do with death row inmates should be the priority.”

He added that the Malaysian government must give hope to the people.

“For the past 60 years, the ruling party was Barisan Nasional, and nothing was changed. Now Pakatan Harapan (is in power). ‘Harapan’ means hope. For me, they should give families hope that they will be reunited with their loved ones on death row,” he said.

Death penalty never a solution to crime: advocates

Source: Asia Times (28 March 2019)

On March 11, at the beginning of the Lent season in the Philippines, where more than 90% of the population are Catholic Christians, the brutal murder and possible sexual assault of Christine Lee Silawan, a 16-year-old girl from Cebu City, in Central Visayas region, revived the call for the death penalty. The girl’s face was skinned, and the esophagus, tongue, and trachea were missing. A 17-year-old suspect was under the police custody. He was later released because of technicalities. The girl’s gruesome death reminded the nation of President Rodrigo Duterte’s promise: reimposition of capital punishment for drug-related offenses and heinous crimes.

On March 7, 2017, House Bill 4727 was approved in Congress. If it becomes law, the bill will revive the death penalty either by hanging, firing squad, or lethal injection. It was lauded by MalacaƱang Palace as an effective measure on Duterte’s war on drugs, but the Senate does not see it as a priority.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Duterte promised to revive the death penalty, believing that it would be a deterrent to criminals, specifically the drug lords. He believes that the “essence of the country’s penal code is retribution.”

In the 2018 Global Peace Index Report conducted by the Australian-based Institute for Economics and Peace, the Philippines ranked as the second least peaceful country in the Asia-Pacific region, despite the lower crime rate recorded by the Philippine National Police (PNP) in the same year.

According to the PNP, the crime rate was reduced to 9.13%, or a total of 473,068 crimes compared with 520,641 crimes posted in 2017. However, the murder rate in the capital city Manila was up by 112%. Common crimes in the Philippines include crime against a person – murder, rape, domestic violence – and crime against property, which includes robbery, theft and fraud. Drug trafficking and trade, human trafficking, and corruption are also rampant despite the government’s effort to curb criminality.
Crime against women

According to Edna Aquino, convener of the #Babae Ako (Iamawoman) Campaign, violence against women and girls, particularly rape, has been invoked in arguments to impose the death penalty. However, Aquino instead urges strong enforcement of existing laws such as those against rape and child abuse.

“Most women survivors of violence wish to see true and impartial justice delivered to them through fair trials and convictions, and through more robust enforcement of existing laws,” Aquino said.

According to the Center for Women’s Resources, one woman or child is raped every hour in the Philippines.

Duterte is known for his misogynistic comments and encouragement of killings. During his speech to soldiers and rebel returnees in Mindanao, he was quoted as saying that raping three women is OK, and told them to shoot female rebels in their genitals.

Davao City in Mindanao, Duterte’s bailiwick, had the highest number of rape cases in 2018, according to the PNP.

Father Flavie Villanueva, a Society of the Divine Word coordinator and the founder of Justice-Peace Integrity of Creation and also the executive director of AJ Kalinga Inc, believes that Duterte’s words have impact on how men treat women.

“Mr Duterte is not an ordinary citizen, he has the highest seat in the executive branch. When you say executive, what he says becomes a policy. There is no room here for freedom of expression. Because every expression that you create is regarded by people as something as executive,” Father Villanueva said.

‘Life is sacred’

In his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) in 2017, Duterte expressed his support for the reimposition of the death penalty, triggering criticisms from the Catholic hierarchy, from human-rights activists, and even from senators.

“In the Philippines, it is really an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. You took life, you must pay it with life. That is the only way to [make it] even. You cannot place a premium on the human mind that he will go straight,” Duterte said during the SONA.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) disagreed.

“We want punishment for the horrendous act committed but we do not call for the killing of a suspect nor the perpetrator who will be subjected to the imperfect justice system run by imperfect duty bearers,” CHR commissioner Karen Gomez-Dumpit said. She stressed that the death penalty is equated to a murder perpetrated by state agents because it is deliberate and premeditated and purposely kills a person. Father Villanueva agreed that it can never solve crimes, but instead creates a culture of fear and violence.

Aquino said the death penalty “threatens the fundamental rights of people, capital punishment will dismantle any hopes we have of building a peaceful, accountable and equal society which values human life and human rights; it further erodes our hopes for a people-centric governance model.”
‘Dancing with death’

In the only country in Asia to first ban the death penalty, then later reimpose it and ban it again, the international community as well as the Catholic Church and human-rights advocates are focusing again on Duterte’s latest stand on reviving capital punishment.

House Bill 4727, authored by former House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, was approved in Congress. The bill seeks death or life-long imprisonment on conviction of drug-related charges, including trafficking, manufacturing, importing, maintenance of drug dens and other drug-related crimes. The crime of plunder is no longer included. It will not impose the death penalty on convicted persons who were below 18 years of age or more than 70 years old during the commission of the crime.
Flawed justice

According to the Supreme Court decision on the case of People vs Mateo in 2004, after 11 years, it was found that there was a 71.77% error rate in verdicts and decisions impacting disproportionately against the poor. Before 2006, 483 death-penalty cases or 53.25% were reduced to reclusiĆ³n perpetua or life imprisonment, while 65 cases were acquitted.

Blaming the CHR for the rise of crimes or why criminals get away is illogical.

“CHR does not have the mandate of being a law enforcer. We cannot digress from the issues that matter and must help, within our respective mandates and responsibilities, the police and other law-enforcement agencies’ mission to serve and protect the people. The police as a human-rights protector of all persons (without exception) need to be put at the front and center of the ‘solutions to rising criminality’ debate,” Gomez-Dumpit said.

Aquino also said there was an urgent need for reforms in the justice system. Court cases can can drags on for several years, in addition to biased and prejudicial proceedings and frequent miscarriages of justice.

In a 2018 survey of Social Weather Stations and CHR, it was found out that 7 out of 10 Filipinos do not support the death penalty.

Dual purpose

Capital punishment in the Philippines has a long history. During the Spanish period (1521-1898), American colonization, the Japanese occupation and the martial-law era under the Ferdinand Marcos regime, capital punishment was used not only to deter crimes but also used to curtail freedom.

After the People Power Revolution the death penalty was abolished by the 1987 constitution, “unless for compelling reasons involving heinous crimes, Congress hereafter provides for it.” The Philippines thus became the first country in Asia to abolish the death penalty.

However, calls for the reimposition of the death penalty did not abate. The military lobbied for members of the Communist Party of the Philippines to be executed.

But it was only in 1993, during the presidency of Fidel Ramos, a Protestant, that the death penalty was restored by virtue of Republic Act 7659 because of rising criminality.

Despite the death penalty, however, the crime rate continued to soar. In 1999 it increased by 15.3%. President Joseph Estrada issued a de facto moratorium on executions because of pressure from the Catholic Church and rights groups.

Finally, on June 24, 2006, president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo signed into law the Republic Act 9346, titled “An Act Prohibiting the Imposition of the Death Penalty.” The death penalty was downgraded to life imprisonment. The Philippines entered the ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming at the abolition of the death penalty in November 2007. This act in effective binds the Philippines never again to reintroduce the death penalty.

Rule of law

Father Villanueva has seen the worst in his ministry to the orphans and widows of Duterte’s drug war. Although he thinks that the Philippines is already desensitized to the point of reaching the “threshold of inhumanity,” he still believes in restorative justice, where society must provide a chance for criminals to reform.

The CHR is always anchored on the universality of human rights and to look at violations of human rights, shortcomings, abuses, and failure of government institutions to uphold the human rights of all persons. The government (the executive) has the primary duty to implement programs that respect, protect and fulfill human rights.

“We are a system of laws. We adhere to the rule of law and the right to due process for everyone. The deprivation of due process is an injustice that will mean more when it is us or family who is affected. The guarantee of due process and the rule of law will ensure that when it is our turn, we are assured that we will be treated evenly and fairly,” Gomez-Dumpit concluded.

But Duterte has already imposed the death sentence on us Filipinos whether we are guilty of heinous crimes or not. His anti-people policies and shoot-to-kill orders are enough to wipe out not only the criminals but those who are opposing him.

Brunei Introduces Death by Stoning for Gay Sex and Adultery, Despite International Outcry

Source: New York Times (3 April 2019)

A harsh new criminal law in Brunei — which includes death by stoning for sex between men or for adultery, and amputation of limbs for theft — went into effect on Wednesday, despite an international outcry from other countries, rights groups, celebrities and students.

Brunei, a tiny monarchy on the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia, based its new penal code on Shariah, Islamic law based on the Quran and other writings, though interpretations of Shariah can vary widely.

“Brunei’s new penal code is barbaric to the core, imposing archaic punishments for acts that shouldn’t even be crimes,” Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, a nongovernmental organization, said in a statement on Wednesday.

He called on the nation’s ruler, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, to “immediately suspend amputations, stoning, and all other rights-abusing provisions and punishments.”

Brunei has a population of just 430,000 but tremendous oil wealth, which has made the sultan, ruler since 1967, one of the wealthiest people on earth, said to own the world’s largest home and the biggest collection of rare cars.

The sultan, 72, is also the prime minister and holds several other titles. He first introduced the draconian version of Shariah in 2013, as part of a long-term project to impose a restrictive form of Islam on his country, which is majority Muslim.

International protest delayed its implementation at the time, but in deciding recently to put the law into effect, with some revisions, Brunei has stood defiant.

Brunei “is a sovereign Islamic and fully independent country and, like all other independent countries, enforces its own rule of laws,” the prime minister’s office said in a statement on Saturday.

Shariah, “apart from criminalizing and deterring acts that are against the teachings of Islam,” the statement added, “also aims to educate, respect and protect the legitimate rights of all individuals, society or nationality of any faiths and race.”

Rachel Chhoa-Howard, a Brunei researcher at Amnesty International, said in a statement that the country “must immediately halt its plans to implement these vicious punishments, and revise its penal code in compliance with its human rights obligations.”

Beginning on Wednesday, extramarital sex, anal sex, and abortion are to be punished by death by stoning. The death penalty will also be required for some other offenses, including rape and some forms of blasphemy or heresy, like ridiculing the Quran or insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

The law requires amputation of a hand or foot for some crimes, and whipping for others. The punishment for lesbian sex, previously imprisonment and a fine, is now to be 40 lashes.

In some cases, the harshest penalties apply only to Muslims; in other cases, they apply regardless of faith.

The punishments apply to many people who would be considered minors in the West. Anyone who has reached puberty is treated as an adult — while younger children who are old enough to understand right and wrong may be flogged.

Friday, 22 March 2019

Malaysia to abolish death penalty for 11 offenses

Source: Anadolu Agency (14 March 2019)

Malaysian government has decided to abolish death penalty for at least 11 offenses, including terror-related offenses, according to media reports.

The nine offenses fall under the Penal Code and two under the Firearms (Increased Penalties) Act 1971, Malaysian daily The Star said.

According to the daily, Malaysian Deputy Minister Mohamed Hanipa Maidin said that the government had also proposed to give discretionary powers to the courts in commuting sentences for the 11 offenses.

Of 11 offenses, five pertain to terrorism, including directing and committing terror acts. The rest cover murder, hostage-taking, organized crime, offenses against the constitutional monarch and the use of firearms, a report by Singapore-based Straits Times said.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Malaysia to keep death penalty, but no longer mandatory

Source: Channel News Asia (13 March 2019)

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has rowed back on an earlier plan to completely repeal the death penalty, saying that while the government will abolish mandatory capital punishment, it will leave it for courts to decide whether a person convicted of a serious crime will hang.

The mandatory death penalty for 11 criminal offences will be repealed, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Mohamed Hanipa Maidin told parliament on Wednesday (Mar 13).

These offences include committing acts of terrorism, murder and hostage-taking.

“We have made a decision. The government will only repeal the mandatory death penalty. We will make the amendments,” said Mohamed Hanipa.

“This is in keeping with the 27th pledge in the Pakatan Harapan (election) manifesto.”

To a supplementary question on whether there are plans to set up a parliamentary select committee to discuss the repeal of the death penalty before tabling the amendment Bill, Mohamed Hanipa said he would forward the suggestion to the government.

The minister in charge of law, Liew Vui Keong, had said last October that the Cabinet had decided to repeal the death penalty.

“All death penalty will be abolished. Full stop," he was quoted as saying.


Lawyers for Liberty, a human rights lawyers organisation in Malaysia, slammed the government’s U-turn on repealing the death penalty.

“The reversal of the earlier decision is shocking, unprincipled and embarrassing,” Lawyers for Liberty said in a press release.

“This is all the more so as the decision for total abolition had made international news and was praised throughout the region and the world,” it added.

“More seriously, the October 2018 announcement of total abolition had given hope and relief to thousands of convicted or charged persons and their families. To hold out hope of being spared the gallows, only to have the hope snatched away again is extremely cruel and unjust.”

The group also called on the government to keep the current moratorium on executions, pending the total abolition of the death penalty.

Malaysia's decision against a total repeal of the death penalty could also weigh on the future of a fugitive policeman, Sirul Azhar Umar, who fled to Australia just before a Malaysian court sentenced him to death for the 2006 murder of Mongolian model Altantuya Shaariibuu.

Sirul and another policeman convicted of the crime had been serving as members of the personal security detail for Najib Razak, who was deputy prime minister at the time of the murder.

The question of whether anyone had ordered them to kill the woman has never been answered. Najib went on to become prime minister and led the country for nine years before his spectacular defeat at last year's general election.

Since then, Malaysian police have re-opened the case into the model's killing and Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has said his government could revoke Sirul's death penalty to make way for his extradition.

Sirul, who has been held at an Australian immigration detention centre since 2015, faces the prospect of deportation after failing a bid for asylum in Australia.

However, under Australian law, Sirul can only be deported if he does not face the death penalty.

Source: Reuters/Bernama/gs(hs)

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

JAPAN – World’s longest-serving death row inmate Iwao Hakamada

Source: Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network / Japan Times (16 February 2019)

The story of Iwao Hakamada, a former professional boxer and death-row inmate, 82, who continues to battle to clear his name over a 1966 quadruple murder, will be adapted into a manga series, supporters of the convict announced Wednesday.

Hakamada was sentenced to hang in 1968 by the Shizuoka District Court, but was freed in March 2014 after nearly 48 years in prison on death row. Much of that time was spent awaiting his retrial, which has yet to be held.

But a group of Hakamada’s supporters who believe the former boxer is innocent want to retell the events in his case in the form of a manga, to convey his side of the story to younger generations.

To better portray the atmosphere and circumstances surrounding Hakamada’s arrest and his trial, the supporters are working with a manga artist from Shizuoka Prefecture.

Shigemi Mori, 30, who shares Hakamada’s experience as a professional boxer, will create the series. In his younger years Mori lived in Shimizu, an area that is now part of the city of Shizuoka and is also where the 1966 murder occurred.

“I want to tell people how sloppily the investigation was conducted and what Hakamada’s life has been like, in as understandable a way as possible,” Mori said Wednesday at a news conference in Tokyo.

He said he learned about Hakamada’s case as a junior high school student and then-aspiring boxing apprentice, and started questioning the trial that put Hakamada behind bars.

Mori said he believes Hakamada is innocent. Nonetheless, he also said that he is keen to not “coerce readers to accept the supporters’ opinions, and to convey what really happened around Hakamada.”

The manga will be released in six episodes under the title “Split Decision,” with the first episode scheduled for publication on Feb. 15. Eight-page episodes will be published at on the same day of every month.

Those behind the project also plan to translate the series into English and make it available via YouTube to reach a global audience. “I like the title,” Hakamada’s elder sister Hideko said at the news conference. Conceived by Mori, the title is a winning criterion used in boxing matches in which two of three judges pick a different winner than the third judge.

The title also reflects supporters’ criticism of the “unfair” decision in which Hakamada was sentenced to death by a 2:1 majority. The courts’ decisions were split over DNA tests on bloodstained clothing found near the murder victims.

“I promised to do everything I can (to prove Iwao’s innocence) and I did,” Hideko said. She lamented, however, that her efforts to convey her plea have gone unheard.

“It won’t help anything if I tell his story, so I want to convey it through manga,” Hideko said.

Hakamada was a live-in employee at a soybean processing firm in Shizuoka when he was arrested in August 1966 for robbery and the murder of the firm’s senior managing director, his wife and two children. The police found their bodies with fatal stab wounds at their fire-damaged home.

Hakamada initially confessed to the charges, but changed his plea at trial.

The Shizuoka District Court found Hakamada guilty and sentenced him to death in 1968. The sentence was finalized by the Supreme Court in 1980.

Hakamada and his family have long sought retrials, to no avail. But a new development came in 2014 when the district court accepted DNA test results undermining the prosecution’s claim that Hakamada’s blood had been detected on clothing found at the crime scene. The court noted that the evidence could have been fabricated by police.

Then, last June, the Tokyo High Court overturned the lower court’s ruling granting the retrial, questioning the credibility of the DNA analysis method. Hakamada’s lawyers are planning to appeal that decision to the Supreme Court.

Hakamada’s case has gained international attention as the former boxer remains the world’s longest-serving death row inmate.

Japan’s capital punishment system has also been criticized internationally as inhumane.

Hideaki Nakagawa, director of human rights advocacy group Amnesty International Japan, who was present at the news conference, believes the manga will and should spark debate regarding capital punishment among the public.

As of January, 110 inmates were awaiting execution and 86 of them are seeking retrials, according to the Justice Ministry.

“The Justice Ministry says the death penalty system reflects public opinion and enjoys support from the public, but it’s misleading,” he said. “Some people already protest against it … and (the manga) could be thought-provoking for others, too, and could impact public perception.” – Japan Times, 23/1/2019

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Sri Lanka ready for landmark hanging of drug convicts: Minister

Source: Channel News Asia (5 February 2019)

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka is ready to execute five drug convicts and end its 42-year capital punishment moratorium once President Maithripala Sirisena signs the death warrants and a hangman is appointed, officials said Tuesday (Feb 5).

Sirisena announced last year a tougher line on spiralling narcotics-related crime including executions for repeat drug offenders, inspired by a similar crackdown in the Philippines.

The country's justice minister told parliament Tuesday that legal and administrative procedures for the five condemned Sri Lankans were completed last month, paving the way for the first hangings since 1976.

"We have already complied with the president's request to restart capital punishment," Thalatha Athukorale said.

Five names had been sent to the president between Oct 12 and the end of January, but Sirisena was yet to sign the warrants and fix the execution dates, Athukorale added. There was no immediate comment from Sirisena's office on the cases.

Following a visit to the Philippines last month, Sirisena reaffirmed his plans to replicate his counterpart Rodrigo Duterte's "success" in dealing with illegal drugs.

Sirisena praised the "decisive action" of Duterte who has offered anti-narcotics help to Sri Lanka.

Duterte ran on a law-and-order platform that included promises to kill thousands of people involved in the drug trade, even officials.

"Even though I have not implemented some of the decisions of President Duterte, I will not bow to international non-governmental (rights) organisations and change my decision on death penalty for drug offences," Sirisena said last month.

Athukorale said there were 18 drug convicts who would qualify under Sirisena's guidelines to be hanged out of 376 convicts on death row.

But prisons spokesman Thushara Upuldeniya said authorities were still trying to fill a vacancy for an executioner.

Light work and a salary of 35,000 rupees (US$200) a month was offered in advertisements placed last year, but no suitable candidate came forward, he said.

"Technically, we don't have a hangman right now, but if the need arises, we should be able to get one fairly quickly," Upuldeniya told AFP.

While Sri Lanka's last execution was more than four decades ago, an executioner functioned until his retirement in 2014. Three replacements since have quit after short stints at the unused gallows.

Criminals are regularly given death sentences for murder, rape and drug-related crimes but their punishments have been commuted to life.

International rights groups have urged Sri Lanka not to revive capital punishment.

Source: AFP/aa

Monday, 4 February 2019

India: 2018 saw highest death penalties since 2000

Source: Anadolu Agency (25 January 2019)

In nearly two decades, Indian courts awarded highest number of death penalties last year, a new report has found.

According to The Indian Express, a local daily, the report -- Death Penalty in India: Annual Statistics Report 2018 -- released by New Delhi-based National Law University said that courts pronounced 162 death sentences in 2018 which are highest in a year since 2000.

India is one of the countries where awarding capital punishment is legal. In 2017, Indian courts had pronounced capital punishment to 108 persons.

The daily noted that rise in death penalties could be a result of an amended law, under which the capital punishment can be given to those convicted of rape and gang rape of girls below the age of 12.

On December 16, 2012, a 23-year-old student was brutally assaulted with iron rods and gangraped in a private bus in the capital New Delhi -- a horrific crime that roused anger in India. The then government set up a panel which suggested changes in Indian Panel Code (IPC), which were subsequently adopted by Indian Parliament in August 2018.

According to the report, eight of 29 Indian states -- Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Jammu and Kashmir, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, and Tripura -- did not award any death sentence during this period.

The report notes that most of the death penalties were awarded by trial courts which can be challenged in Supreme Court of India.

Last year, the Supreme Court had commuted death sentences to life imprisonment in 11 of the 12 cases it heard, the daily noted.

The spike in capital punishment has triggered a debate in India.

Rebecca John, an Indian lawyer, told The Wire, a local news website: “This scheme is a serious abnegation of all constitutional principles settled over decades by courts of law, and poses a direct threat to the fundamental right to life and liberty.”

Saturday, 29 December 2018

Death penalty: Global abolition closer than ever as record number of countries vote to end executions

Source: Amnesty International (17 December 2018)

After a record number of UN member states today supported at the final vote a key UN General Assembly resolution calling for a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty, Amnesty International’s Death Penalty Expert Chiara Sangiorgio said:

“The fact that more countries than ever before have voted to end executions shows that global abolition of the death penalty is becoming an inevitable reality. A death penalty-free world is closer than ever.

“This vote sends yet another important signal that more and more countries are willing to take steps to end this cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment once and for all.

“The result also shows the increasing isolation of the 35 countries that voted against the resolution. Those countries still retaining the death penalty should immediately establish a moratorium on executions as a first step towards full abolition.”


121 of the UN’s 193 member states voted in favour of the seventh resolution on a moratorium on the use of the death penalty at the UNGA plenary session in New York, while 35 voted against and 32 abstained. 117 had done so in December 2016. This resolution was proposed by Brazil on behalf of an Inter-Regional Task Force of member states and co-sponsored by 83 states.

For the first time, Dominica, Libya, Malaysia and Pakistan changed their vote to support the resolution, while Antigua and Barbuda, Guyana and South Sudan moved from opposition to abstention. Equatorial Guinea, Gambia, Mauritius, Niger, and Rwanda once again voted in favour of the call for a moratorium on executions, having not done so in 2016.

Five countries reversed their 2016 votes, with Nauru moving from vote in favour to vote against and Bahrain and Zimbabwe switching from abstention to opposition. Congo and Guinea changed from voting in favour to abstention.

When the UN was founded in 1945 only eight of the then 51 UN member states had abolished the death penalty. Today, 103 of 193 member states have abolished the death penalty for all crimes, and 139 have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. In 2017 executions were reported in 22 UN member states, 11% of the total. Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception.

Japan executes two more prisoners, taking annual total to highest in a decade

Source: CNN (27 December 2018)

Two death-row inmates were hanged in Japan on Thursday, taking the number of executions in the country this year to 15 -- the highest annual total since 2008.

Keizo Okamoto, 60, a former senior member of a crime syndicate, and Hiroya Suemori, 67, a former investment adviser, had been sentenced to death in 2004 for a robbery-murder.

They stole about 100 million yen ($900,800) from the president of an investment advisory company in 1988 before killing him and another employee. They then packed the bodies into concrete.

"It is an extremely brutal case in which they robbed the precious life of the victims, indeed for selfish reasons," Justice Minister Takashi Yamashita said on Thursday.

Yamashita signed the order for their execution on Tuesday.

Conducted in secrecy

Executions are done in secret in Japan, with no advance warning given to the prisoner, their family or legal representatives, according to Amnesty International.

Prisoners often only learn of their impending execution a matter of hours before it takes place.
Capital punishment is usually reserved for those who have committed multiple murders. All executions are done by hanging.

Japan's Code of Criminal Procedure states the death penalty should be implemented within six months of the issuing of the sentence, but in fact that is almost never the case.

The controversial system made international headlines in July when 13 members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult, which carried out the deadly 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, were executed.

A total of 36 prisoners have now been executed since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office in December 2012, and places Japan at odds with the growing international trend towards abolition of the death penalty.

Japan and the US are the only two developed democracies to have capital punishment. About 170 states have either abolished or put a stay on executions since the United Nations General Assembly called for a universal moratorium on the death penalty in 2007.

Monday, 26 November 2018

Bangladesh Cabinet approves death sentence for drug crimes

Source: wtop (10 October 2018)

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Bangladesh’s Cabinet has approved a draft law proposing the death penalty for drug offenses months into an anti-drug crackdown in which hundreds have been fatally shot by police.

Approval to the draft that came Monday needs to go through a number of procedures in parliament, but the go-ahead is a step toward harsher penalties for drug sellers and users in a country in which rights groups say there are a high number of extrajudicial killings and arbitrary arrests.

The draft of the Narcotics Control Act mainly focuses on use and carrying of methamphetamine, known locally as “yaba” and popular among young people.

Cabinet Secretary Mohammad Shafiul Alam said the draft proposes the death sentence as maximum punishment for producing, smuggling, distributing and using more than 5 grams of yaba.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina led Monday’s Cabinet meeting to approve the draft, which will be placed in parliament as a bill. It would then go to the country’s figurehead president for his signature to turn it into law.

Since May, when the crackdown began across the country, security officials have conducted many raids and killed nearly 200 people, mostly in “shootouts” or so-called “crossfires” as described by security agencies. But human rights groups said that most were targeted killings to break the network of drug dealers, especially of yaba. The government said the drive gained popularity, as local media reports said the spread of “yaba” was pervasive in the country.

Bangladesh does not produce the drug and blames Myanmar for setting up factories across the border.

Malaysia says no 'U-turn' in death penalty abolition

Source: Al Jazeera (16 November 2018)

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - As a lawyer, Liew Vui Keong helped one of his clients appeal successfully against a death sentence.

Now, as Malaysia's minister in charge of law, he is working to get the death penalty abolished in its entirety.

The legislation could be introduced in parliament before the house finishes its current sitting in the middle of next month.

"We have made a decision and I don't think we are going to make a U-turn," Liew, the de facto law minister, told Al Jazeera. He said studies showed that capital punishment was not an effective deterrent.

"The [only] question is whether we can do it in this session [of parliament] or the next."

Abolition of the death penalty was part of the election manifesto of the coalition that took power in May, the country's first change in government in six decades.

With the repeal, it joins only a handful of countries in the Asia-Pacific that have abolished the death penalty for all crimes and hands a reprieve to the 1,281 people who were on death row as of October 29.

A moratorium on all executions - Malaysia hangs those found guilty of capital crimes - is already in force.

Death row inmates are held in solitary confinement from the time of their conviction and allowed out of their cells for just an hour each day, according to those allowed to visit them.

Many have been there for years as their appeals make their way through the courts, a process lawyers say can take at least a decade.

About one-quarter have been found guilty of murder.

Balancing feelings

Some families, including relatives of murdered activist Bill Kayong and deputy public prosecutor Kevin Morais, have already said they don't support the abolition.

Last week's death of an 11-month-old baby, suspected of being abused in the care of a babysitter, has also prompted calls to maintain the death penalty for the most serious crimes.

"This is where I have to balance the feelings of the family of the victims who were murdered," Liew told Al Jazeera. "The Pardons Board can sit now to decide whether they want to commute that particular person to either life imprisonment or imprisonment for life."

The start of that sentence should also date from the time the board makes its decision on the offender, rather than the date at which they were originally convicted, he added.

"The government must not take a blanket approach to deal with death row inmates upon abolition," the Anti-Death Penalty Coalition of Malaysia, a civil society group formed last month, said in a statement. "The government must review each case individually as some of these crimes do not deserve the death penalty in the first place."

It's a view echoed by the Malaysian Bar. Sentences should be proportionate to the severity of the offence committed, its president George Varughese said.

Nearly three-quarters of those facing execution are people who have been found guilty of contravening Malaysia's harsh drug laws.

Until earlier this year, anyone found with a certain amount of drugs - 200 grams for cannabis and 15 grams for heroin - was considered a trafficker and faced a mandatory death sentence.

But recent amendments to Section 39B of the Dangerous Drugs Act gave judges the option to sentence an offender to life in prison and 15 strokes of the cane, providing certain conditions were met.

'I prayed'

Restaurant worker Shahrul Izani Suparman liked to play football and hang out with his friends in his village in Selangor, a state on Malaysia's west coast.

But when he was 19 he was stopped at a police roadblock and arrested after officers found 622 grams of cannabis hidden in the motorbike he'd borrowed from a friend.

Six years later he was sentenced to death - at that time the only option available to the judge - and transferred to death row where he found himself in a cell close to the "bilik akhir" - the final room - where inmates are taken the night before their execution.

"I prayed," Sapenah Nawawi, Shahrul Izani's mother, recalls in an interview through a translator. "I thought if this is what is fated then I accept it. But if my son has a chance to live I hope he does."

Many of the prisoners had been abandoned by their families who couldn't handle the social stigma of having a relative convicted to death, Shahrul Izani told her.

He thanked his mother for sticking by him.

In December 2016, with Shahrul Izani's appeals exhausted, prison officials called the family and asked them to come - all of them - for a special meeting.

Sapenah remembers the tense drive to the jail. Everyone was worried it might be the last time they would see Shahrul Izani.

But when they sat down with the officials, it turned out the Sultan of Selangor, following a global campaign, had decided to commute his sentence to life in prison.

"When we heard the news we were so happy," she said. Everyone was in tears.

Sapenah supports the government's decision to abolish the death penalty.

"A life sentence is good enough," she said. "It gives people a chance to repent and come out of prison a better person."

Miscarriages of justice

A year ago, South Korean student Kim Yun-soung was facing the death penalty on a charge of drug trafficking after being found with 219 grams of marijuana in a house south of Kuala Lumpur.

But the aircraft engineering student was freed after the main witness - the arresting officer - admitted lying about who was in the house at the time of the raid.

The police officer insisted in court there had been no one else at the scene of the arrest, but CCTV footage obtained by the defence clearly showed a second person in handcuffs.

"I am so happy and relieved and cannot describe my feelings," Kim's grandmother told the local media through tears of joy after he was acquitted.

Research from the Penang Institute, a think-tank, examining 289 capital cases found "inconsistency and a high judicial error rate" when it came to the death penalty in Malaysia.

Using legal publication databases, the institute found on average more than one-quarter of High Court judgements and half of Court of Appeal decisions were overturned by the immediate higher courts, mostly in relation to evidence.

"Decisions made by the high court have more than a one-in-four chance of being overturned," the October 30 report noted.

The type of offence, the accused's ethnicity, nationality and even the location of the offence were all found to contribute to the errors, while women were far less likely to be acquitted in drug trafficking cases than men.

Lim Chee Han, one of the report's authors, said its findings were further evidence of the need for the death penalty's abolition.

"It's quite big considering this is a life and death matter," he told Al Jazeera.

'A new era'

About 44 percent of death row inmates in Malaysia are foreign nationals; the largest group is from Nigeria, followed by Indonesia and Iran.

The Philippines is still reconciling the number of its nationals on death row. The embassy said there are "at least 50", including a group of nine who were sentenced to death for their part in the armed incursion into a settlement in southern Sabah.

It would like to see the commutation of sentences take into account each individual's crime.

"We are hoping the law will be more nuanced in terms of the severity of the crime," Ambassador Charles Jose told Al Jazeera.

Liew said the priority now is to secure cross-party support to ensure the abolition's smooth passage through parliament. The cabinet has already directed all ministries to get feedback on the repeal.

At least 32 offences across eight different pieces of legislation currently carry the death penalty, and in some cases the sentence is mandatory.

All will need to be amended for the abolition to become a reality.

Liew and his staff look queasy as they recall a recent visit to prison where officers explained how executions are carried out.

The inmate gets 48 hours notice and is moved to "the final room" the night before.

"It's just 15 seconds," Liew said of the time it takes from the hood being placed over the prisoner's head to their death on the gallows.

Malaysia's Cabinet decides to end death penalty for 33 offences

Source: The Straits Times (13 November 2018)

KUALA LUMPUR (BERNAMA) - Malaysia's Cabinet has reached a consensus that the death penalty for 33 offences as provided for under eight Acts of law should be abolished, including Section 302 of the Penal Code, which pertains to murder, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Liew Vui Keong said on Tuesday (Nov 13).

He said the decision, which was reached collectively, also encompassed the Firearms (Heavier Penalties) Act, 1971; Firearms Act, 1960; Kidnapping Act, 1961; and Armed Forces Act, 1972.

Death penalties also provided for under the Water Services Industries Act, 2006; Strategic Trade Act, 2010; and Dangerous Drugs Act, 1952, are also to be abolished.

"Following the Cabinet decision, a Cabinet memorandum has been circulated to the relevant ministries for their comments and to get public feedback on it," Datuk Liew said during a question-and-answer session in the Dewan Rakyat.

He was replying to a question from Dr Kelvin Yii Lee Wuen, the Pakatan Harapan MP from Bandar Kuching, who wanted to know the government's position on abolishing the death penalty, in particular with respect to whether there will be exceptions for extremely cruel crimes,

Mr Liew also told the House that the Bill on the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) was expected to be tabled at the next sitting of Parliament after all issues and policies were finalised.

He said follow-up meetings on the setting up of the commission had agreed that it should be truly independent, effective and have the power to tackle problems involving the police force.

"The framework takes into consideration powers that are more holistic and in line with existing laws and are currently in force," he said in reply to a question from Ms Maria Chin Abdullah, the Pakatan Harapan MP representing Petaling Jaya.

Mr Liew said the police's rights would also be assured as enshrined in Article 10 of the Federal Constitution.

In September 2018, the government announced the setting up of the IPCMC to replace the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission.