Monday, 31 August 2015

Chinese Law makers vote for abolition of Death Penalty for 9 more Crimes


National People’s Congress, the top law making body of Republic of China today adopted amendments to the Criminal Law, abolishing death penalty for nine more crimes.  Ninth amendment of criminal law was passed after a six-day bimonthly session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee. After this amendment crimes for which death penalty is a possible punishment stands reduced to 46. The amendment will come in force from November 1, 2015.
Now, according to the reports by Chinese media, death penalty cannot be awarded for the following crimes, anymore
  1. Smuggling weapons
  2. Smuggling ammunition
  3. Smuggling nuclear materials
  4. Smuggling counterfeit currency
  5. Counterfeiting currency
  6. Raising funds by means of fraud
  7. Arranging for or forcing another person to engage in prostitution
  8. Obstructing a police officer or a person on duty from performing his duties;
  9. Fabricating rumours to mislead others during wartime.
It is the second time China has reduced the number of crimes punishable by death since the Criminal Law took effect in 1979. In 2011, China had ended death penalty for 13 economic crimes such as smuggling cultural relics, gold and silver; carrying out fraud related to financial bills; forging or selling forged exclusive value-added tax invoices; teaching criminal methods; and robbing ancient cultural ruins.. Even after the present amendment, there are still more than 45 varieties of crimes are punishable with death penalty in China. The   Article 48 of China’s Criminal Law says “The death penalty is only to be applied to criminal elements who commit the most heinous crimes. In the case of a criminal element who should be sentenced to death, if immediate execution is not essential, a two-year suspension of execution may be announced at the same time the sentence of death is imposed”. Death penalty cannot imposed on minors and pregnant women. However, it is a possible punishment for sexual crimes in China.
 In China, It is said that it executes more people a year than rest of the world combined. Last to be executed was reportedly a Chinese billionaire mining tycoon Liu Han is executed over his links to a ‘mafia-style’ gang.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Amnesty International Calls Saudi Justice System ‘Faulty,’ Criticizes High Execution Rate

Source: International Business Times (25 August 2015)

Saudi Arabia executed one person in every two days on an average in less than a year, Amnesty International said in a report Tuesday. The London-based organization released a report, titled “Killing In the Name of Justice: The Death Penalty in Saudi Arabia,” in which it claimed that 175 executions had been carried out in Saudi Arabia from Aug. 2014 to June 2015.

According to the 43-page report, the Saudi regime executed 102 people between January and June 2015. There were 83 executions in 2014. The report also says at least 2,208 people have been executed in Saudi Arabia from January 1985 to June 2015.

Said Boumedouha, acting director of Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa program, called the Saudi justice system “faulty" and claimed that Saudi courts give death sentence to people for witchcraft, apostasy and adultery. The regime follows strict Islamic laws, which order execution for drug smuggling, rape and murder as well.

Iranian news agency Press TV has reported that Saudi authorities execute people for such crimes even if those are committed before the person reaches 18. According to an earlier Amnesty report, Iran is believed to have executed around 700 people in the first six months of 2015. Tehran, however, officially declared that the number was 246.

The Guardian reported that Indonesia decided in May that it will not send any more domestic workers to 21 countries in the Middle East. The decision was made after two Indonesian women, Karni binti Medi Tarsim and Siti Zainab, had been executed by Saudi authorities in April. The women were found guilty of murder.

According to 2014 estimates, Saudi Arabia has the third highest execution rate while the top two positions are held by China and Iran. Iraq and the United States come fourth and fifth consecutively.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Jakarta saves 12 citizens from Saudi death penalty

Source: The Straits Times (5 August 2015)

Indonesia said it has secured the release of 12 citizens from death row in Saudi Arabia this year.

The number of Indonesians freed from death row in Saudi Arabia since 2011 is 68, the Foreign Ministry's directorate of legal aid and protection said yesterday.

Ministry records show there are 24 Indonesian citizens at risk of the death penalty in Saudi Arabia. Of those, 12 face murder charges, nine are on adultery charges and three face black magic charges.

The ministry said that recently, the government managed to secure the release of Rika Mustikawati, a migrant worker.

In May 2012, a general court in Saudi Arabia sentenced Rika to death for allegedly performing witchcraft on her female employer.

In November 2012, a Saudi appeals court annulled the verdict and requested the general court to try Rika's case again with a new panel of judges. The ministry said this was made possible with the legal assistance provided by the Indonesian Consulate-General in Jeddah.

After a string of hearings, the court released Rika from death row, imposing on her only three years in prison.

The ministry said it has also sought clemency from the Saudi king for other Indonesian nationals sentenced to death.

"Indonesian representatives abroad have continued to make use of the good momentum created by recent meetings between Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi and Saudi Arabia's king and foreign minister to accelerate the settlement of legal problems affecting Indonesian citizens in Saudi Arabia," said the ministry.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Pakistan hangs Shafqat Hussain despite claim he was a child at time of crime

Source: The Guardian (4 August 2015)

The family of a man hanged in Pakistan despite claims he was a minor at the time of his crime have hit out at the justice system as human rights activists declared it a “deeply sad day” for a country seeing a surge in the number of executions.

Shafqat Hussain, whose execution had been repeatedly postponed amid international pressure, was hanged on Tuesday morning after Pakistan’s courts remained unconvinced by claims that he was a minor at the time he murdered a boy more than a decade ago.

He was executed at 4.30am local time in the central jail in the southern city of Karachi after four last-minute reprieves in recent months.

Pakistan has seen a spree of executions following the lifting of a death penalty moratorium following the attack in December by Taliban militants on a school in Peshawar that killed more than 130 teenagers.

Last week the European Union expressed its concerns about the “alarming pace” of executions, with more than 190 people hanged since December, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

Hussain was sentenced in 2004 by an anti-terrorism court for kidnapping and killing a seven-year-old boy who had gone missing from an apartment building in Karachi, where Hussain worked as a watchman.

The hanging took place despite last-minute attempts to spare him, including a request by the Sindh Human Rights Commission, a statutory body, for a supreme court inquiry into a case that has already been reviewed by the country’s top court.

Abdul Majeed, Hussain’s elder brother, said he and two cousins had rushed to the jail after officials warned them about the likely execution on Tuesday. “Shafqat was already like a dead man by the time we saw him,” he said. “His complexion was yellowish as if he had no blood in his body and he was crying and reciting verses from the Holy Qur’an. He requested us to take care of our old parents.”

He saw Hussain’s body after his execution and said there was a deep cut on his neck, suggesting the hanging had been botched.

Sumaira, Hussain’s sister, said it was impossible to “survive and fight for justice in Pakistan if you are from a poor family”, adding: “We had no money to contest the case or to free him from the cruel police.”

Hussain did benefit from the energies of human rights lawyers who took on his case. Central to their campaign has been the claim that he was just 14 at the time of the alleged crime, and therefore ineligible for execution under Pakistan’s law.

They also argued that Hussain was tortured by police into making a confession.

“Pakistan authorities have never undertaken a proper, judicial investigation into either issue,” the rights group Justice Project Pakistan said after Hussain’s execution. “Instead seizing and refusing to release key evidence such as Shafqat’s school record, which could have provided proof that he was under 18 when he was sentenced to death.”

The police have insisted Hussain was in fact 23 when he was arrested and that his age was never raised during his appeal.

Proving someone’s age can often be fraught with problems in a country were proper records are not always kept. In one court hearing the judges were reduced to an “ocular examination” of old photos of Hussain to try to ascertain his age.

We had no money to contest the case or to free him from the cruel policeShafqat Hussain's sister, Sumaira

Although one birth certificate emerged, the government said it was impossible to prove its authenticity.

Human rights special rapporteurs from the United Nations also became involved last month, complaining that Hussain’s trial “fell short of international standards” for not fully investigating the issue of his age or the allegations of torture.

Despite the vigorous efforts to spare Hussain, lawyers who have reviewed the case have remained unconvinced.

“There is no evidence that he was under age,” said Chaudhry Faisal Hussain, a prominent lawyer. He pointed out that the plea for an investigation into Hussain’s age was dismissed by Islamabad high court judge Athar Minallah, one of the country’s most respected human rights lawyers.

“This case has been needlessly lingered by civil society who want to create a parallel judicial system by creating media trials. Unfortunately people tend to believe what the media says.”

Despite international criticism of the number of executions, the government has remained firm as the death penalty is popular among the public, who widely regard it as an effective deterrent against crime and terrorism. Even a recent threat from the European Union to reconsider an important trade pact in light of the executions has not deterred the government.

“This is another deeply sad day for Pakistan,” said David Griffiths, from the rights group Amnesty International. “A man whose age remains disputed and whose conviction was built around torture has now paid with his life – and for a crime for which the death penalty cannot be imposed under international law.”

Pakistan clearing its death row backlog

Source: DW Made for minds (4 August 2015)

Despite rights group protests, Pakistan has hanged 'teenage' convict Shafqat Hussain. But the resumption of executions as a tool in the fight against terror is just a populist pretext, says DW's Florian Weigand.

To put it bluntly, I am against the death penalty. The punishment is, in essence, inhumane. It is often forgotten that it also burdens the judges with an enormous responsibility when they have to decide over life and death, particularly in cases where there is even the slightest doubt as to the defendant's guilt.

The Pakistani judiciary does not seem to be giving much thought to this responsibility. Since the government in Islamabad lifted the moratorium on capital punishment last December, 180 people have been executed. A further 8,000 prisoners in the South Asian nation's jails are awaiting the same fate.

It is not only suspected terrorists who are facing the death sentence in Pakistan. Capital punishment was actually reinstated to send those convicted of terrorism to the gallows - a reaction to the Taliban massacre at a Peshawar school, in which more than 150 people were killed, most of them children.

But, unfortunately, it now seems as if the proponents of the death penalty used this horrible incident as a populist excuse for a general resumption of executions. Even worse is the fact that death sentences are carried out even when there are doubts regarding the guilt of the offenders, as demonstrated in the case of Shafqat Hussain.

Pakistan just seems eager to clear its death row backlog. And it affects, as is the case elsewhere in the world, the underprivileged.

Shafqat Hussain comes from a poor Kashmiri family, on the edge of the Himalayas. There is no birth certificate that could prove he was a minor at the time of the crime. The family couldn't afford an effective and professional legal defense team. And the Pakistani judges seemed unaffected by UN demands to re-examine the case.

This combination of poverty, dubious legal proceedings and contempt for international criticism sends a devastating signal for similar cases. The case of Asia Bibi, for instance, has reverberated across the world.

As a member of a Christian minority, she stands accused of committing blasphemy against Islam - a crime punishable by death in Pakistan. Asia Bibi, whose case is based solely on accusations, is also from a poor background and received rudimentary education, at best.

She can't afford an expensive lawyer, and anyone defending her potentially endangers their own lives as they will be viewed as protecting a "blasphemer." This is why international human rights organizations have stepped into the breach. Even the pope has intervened on behalf of the fellow Christian.

Should her judges proceed in the same way as in the Shafqat Hussain case, then Asia Bibi will become another victim of Pakistan's judicial system. Even worse, the latest wave of executions could serve those seeking to get rid of political opponents, disturbing peasants or common people involved in land disputes or other kinds of private squabbles.

This is yet another reason why executions must be stopped - not only in Pakistan. Whoever ends up behind bars should have the opportunity to either be released or compensated, should conditions change at a later stage. An execution, however, is irreversible.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Death Penalty: An effective deterrent to prevent violent crimes or just a murder by the State?

Source: Merinews (24 Jul 2015)

Lone death row convict in the 1993 Mumbai serial blastscase Yakub Memon moved the Supreme Court on Thursday, challenging the validity of the death warrant issued against him by a TADA court for execution on July 30, a move that has reignited the debate about whether the state has the right take the life of any one, no matter what the provocation and whether capital punishment is truly a deterrent of any sort.

It is a knotty issue. In Europe the death penalty is abolished in all countries except Belarus for peace time crimes and in all countries except Kazakhstan and Belarus for war time crimes. The maximum penalty is life imprisonment in practically all of Europe, and yet Europe remains a relatively crime free zone.

Now look at the United States. 31 of the 50 states permit death penalty, in the exercise of which 35 were executed last year while 3002 inmates remained on death row. And yet according to the office of the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime which tracks crime statistics, the United States had a murder and homicide rate of 16.1, much higher than Europe.

In Asia, according to the Amnesty International report for 2014-15, titled The State of the World's Human Rights, showed the death penalty has been maintained, and even re-emerged, in law and practice across the Asia-Pacific. In 2014, China continued its extensive, and often undocumented, use of the death penalty and executions were carried out in Japan and Vietnam, including for economic offences.

India had no executions though the law remains on the books and the most recent executions including the matter of Yakub Menon looming on the horizon have been executions where the crime has had political overtones.

Is the death penalty an effective deterrent for preventing violent crimes as claimed by those would like to keep it on the books? A 2009 survey of criminologists revealed that over 88 per cent believed the death penalty was not a deterrent to murder. The murder rate in non-death penalty states has remained consistently lower than the rate in States with the death penalty.

While the country is beset with terrorism and insurgency, it will not be politically expedient to remove the death penalty from the statute books and any movement in that direction is unlikely in the country.

However some debate is required to specifically define "the rarest of rare" instances when the death penalty is to be awarded as per the directions of the Supreme Court as "rarest of the rare" is a term as subjective as it can get and because it is so ill defined, appeals and mercy petitions galore delay the whole process as each person involved in the appeals and mercy hearing process has to subjectively apply their mind to answer the question as to whether a particular incident can be classified as rarest of the rare.

That day is still too far away, when we will go Europe's way and completely abolish the death penalty, but the least the government and courts can do is to bring more clarity and sharpness on what is currently an essentially very subjective and therefore politically driven mechanism and minimise its misuse.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Capital punishment: On the way out—with grisly exceptions

Source: The Economist (4 July 2015)

DEPENDING on where you are, the death penalty may look as if it is in rude health. On June 29th America’s Supreme Court upheld Oklahoma’s use of midazolam, a sedative, in executions—despite evidence that it can fail to cause unconsciousness, leaving those being killed in agony from the lethal drugs with which it is combined. Meanwhile some countries in the Muslim world, notably Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, are executing people with increasing enthusiasm. Several others, including Nigeria and Egypt, are sentencing large numbers to death, though most of those sentences are unlikely to be carried out.

Indonesia has executed at least 14 people this year for drug crimes, most of them foreigners. Between 1994 and 2014 it executed at most 30. Using figures from official and human-rights sources, Amnesty International, a watchdog, counts 352 executions in the first four months of this year in Iran, which for its size probably executes more people than anywhere else. The true figure may be much higher. Since ending a moratorium in December, Pakistan has hanged or shot at least 150 people. Saudi Arabia has beheaded or shot 100 already this year, more than in the whole of 2014. In May it advertised for eight new executioners (no experience required).

In Nigeria, which has not carried out an execution since 2013, 54 soldiers have been on death row since December for mutinying. They say they refused to fight against the jihadists of Boko Haram because they had not been adequately armed. Amnesty International says that 589 civilians were sentenced to death last year in Nigeria; 1,500-plus are on death row. Last week another nine joined them after being convicted of blasphemy by a sharia court in the northern city of Kano.

But despite these punitive hot spots, the global total of executions continues to fall—and the trend is towards abolition, whether de jure or de facto. Since December Fiji, Madagascar and Suriname have joined the countries without the death penalty, pushing the total over 100. Another 40 or so still have it, but do not apply it. In December a record 117 countries voted for a moratorium at the UN General Assembly; 37 voted against and 34 abstained. The number voting yes was notably higher than in 2007.

The Western world’s chief executioner, America, is putting fewer people to death, too. Last year it executed 35; even if every execution scheduled for this year were to be carried out, which is unlikely, the total would be no more than 33. Of the 31 states that still have the death penalty, half have executed no one since 2010. In May Nebraska passed a law repealing it, the 19th state to do so—and the first conservative one for many years.

In 1994 80% of Americans said they endorsed the death penalty in principle. The Pew Research Centre reckons that fewer than 60% do so today—and notes that young Americans are less keen than their elders. Blacks are solidly against, as are a small majority of Hispanics. Even the Supreme Court’s recent pro-death-penalty ruling gave comfort to abolitionists by providing a chance to rehearse their case. The death penalty, argued one of the four dissenting judges, Stephen Breyer, is “highly likely” to violate the constitution. Evidence suggested that innocent people, he wrote, had been executed. People on death row had frequently been exonerated. The system was blighted by racial discrimination. Delays between sentencing and executions may violate the eighth amendment, which bars cruel and unusual punishment. And he noted that it is not proven, anyway, to deter crime.

Even China, the global leader, is cooling on executions. The number is a state secret but the Dui Hua Foundation, an American NGO, reckons there were about 2,400 in 2013, the last year it has been able to track. Campaigns against corruption and terrorism mean the fall may not have continued last year. But the long-term trend is steeply down. In 1983 24,000 people are thought to have been executed. In 2012, when Dui Hua put the tally at 12,000, a deputy health minister said the fall had contributed to a shortage of organs for transplant.

One reason is that the president of the Supreme People’s Court, Xiao Yang, has sought to create a more professional and accountable judiciary. Another is that some modernisers are embarrassed by China’s position at the top of this ugly league table. And though most Chinese are still thought to approve of capital punishment for murder, revulsion has grown as the media expose wrongful convictions.

Introducing the latest edition of “The Death Penalty: A Worldwide Perspective”, Roger Hood and Carolyn Hoyle, two experts at Oxford University, cite a Chinese professor, Zhao Bingzhi, recently conceding that “abolition is an inevitable international tide and trend, as well as a signal showing the broad-mindedness of civilised countries.” It was now, he added, “an international obligation”.

Mumbai bomber Yakub Menon's mercy plea rejected

Source: BBC News (21 July 2015)

India's Supreme Court has rejected a final mercy plea of a man found guilty of financing the 1993 serial bombings in the western city of Mumbai.

Yakub Memon will be the first person to be executed in India since a Kashmiri man, Afzal Guru, was hanged in 2013 for the 2001 attack on India's parliament.

The blasts in India's financial capital killed 257 people and wounded 713.

The attacks were allegedly organised to avenge the killings of Muslims in riots a few months earlier.

Memon is scheduled to be executed later this month. Before the Supreme Court hearing, the Maharashtra state government announced plans to hang him on 30 July.

In 2007, a special court in Mumbai handed out the death penalty to Memon, a chartered accountant, for playing a key role in the bombing conspiracy.

He is now lodged in a prison in the western city of Nagpur.

A total of eight members of the Memon family were initially accused of masterminding the bombings and dispersing funds for the attacks.

The eldest brother fled the country, and three other family members were acquitted for lack of evidence.

The alleged masterminds of the blasts, Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon, have been on the run since 1993.

Executions are rarely carried out in India, but in the last four years there have been two hangings in the country.

Mohammed Ajmal Qasab, the sole surviving gunman from the 2008 Mumbai attacks, was executed in November 2012.

Monday, 20 July 2015

New Thai Anti-Graft Law Extends Death Penalty to Foreigners

Source: The New York Times (14 Jul 2015)

Thailand has enacted a new anti-corruption law that extends a maximum penalty of capital punishment to foreigners.

Previous legislation provided various punishments, including a possible death penalty, for Thai officials convicted of bribery, though apparently no one was ever executed for the crime. The new statutes, which took effect July 9 and are part of a separate anti-corruption law, extend those punishments to non-Thais working for foreign governments and international organizations.

The military government that took power following the ouster of an elected civilian government last year has said countering corruption is one of its major goals.

Although such action is touted as part of a reform movement to clean up Thai politics, it is widely seen as targeting former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled by a previous military coup in 2006. Thaksin was accused of corruption, but also built a powerful, populist political machine that challenged the privileges of the country's traditional elite, associated with the military and the royal palace.

Another provision of the new anti-corruption law states that a statute of limitations of 20 years no longer applies if the convicted person flees the country. Thaksin was convicted in 2008 of a corruption-related charge but fled abroad. The old statute of limitations would have allowed him to return in 10 years.

Several corruption-related charges are also pending against Thaksin's sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, who was prime minister until shortly before the army ousted her government last year.

The secretary-general of the National Anti-Corruption Commission, Sansern Poljieak, has been quoted by Thai media as saying that the punishments under the new law are appropriate because graft involving public servants is a severe offense.

However, the new law also has critics.

"This is a huge step in the wrong direction," Amnesty International spokesman Olof Blomqvist said in an email. "Thailand should be working to remove the death penalty from the legal books, not expanding its scope."

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Experts applaud growing debate on death penalty

Source: China Daily (9 July 2015)

Zhou Lei has followed the heated debate on WeChat on whether anyone involved in child trafficking should get the death penalty.

Zhou, a legal scholar, has not found the argument on the popular instant messaging tool annoying. Indeed, he spoke highly of it.

"It's progress that more Chinese have paid attention to the application of the death penalty, even though the subject of how to apply it still has a long way to go," said Zhou, a legal researcher from the Difficult Case Research Center at China University of Political Science and Law.

In his view, the death penalty has been controversial among the public, and the recent debate should be applauded "because some people have realized the extreme penalty cannot reduce crimes and would like to explain that to those with opposing views", he said.

In mid-June, a WeChat post with pictures and stories of abducted children called for child traffickers to get the death penalty. The message was reposted more than 540,000 times and stirred up public debate, pushing the death-penalty issue to the forefront.

Ruan Chuansheng, a criminal lawyer from Shanghai, said: "The most valuable thing is the debate itself, not figuring out an answer. It's good to see that more ordinary people consider the issue important."

The minimum penalty for traffickers of children under current Criminal Law is five years in prison, but in the most serious cases, including the abuse or killing of children, offenders can be put to death.

"It's good to see some people in the debate researched the law before they voiced opinions online. Further discussion of the issue and advice based on what is learned is more helpful to legislators who want to improve the law," Ruan said.

Since 2007, when China's top court began automatically hearing second appeals of death-penalty sentences, a major task of Chinese judicial bodies has been reducing death-penalty cases and helping guide the public's thinking on the issue, Ruan said.

Until about 10 years ago, grassroots courts could sentence someone to death and execute him or her, "which caused some unnecessary wrongful verdicts and did not protect human rights", he said. "But since the Supreme People's Court assumed the power to review such cases, every death sentence must be reviewed twice, reflecting the nation's cautious approach to the penalty."

Meanwhile, the number of crimes for which one can be put to death has gone down in recent years. Under current law, 55 crimes are subject to the death penalty, a reduction from the 68 on the statute books before a 2011 amendment cut the number.

In addition, a recent session of the National People's Congress, the country's top legislature, discussed abolishing the death penalty for an additional nine crimes.

The number of death-penalty cases "shows that our justices have realized that the extreme penalty cannot root out some socially complicated disputes, and sometimes it may accelerate the conflicts", said Deng Yong, a law expert at China University of Political Science and Law.

"The death penalty cannot keep some people from committing crimes, and the simple and violent punishment has not been the best solution to prevent offenses," Deng said.

"The country needs more sensible ways with wisdom to keep the public abiding by laws, such as imposing a higher cost for breaching rules."

However, it is not practical to eliminate the death penalty in today's China because a few criminals, including terrorists who inflict great harm on the public, still need to be regulated through harsher punishments, he said.

Justices must work hard in the long term to educate people seriously influenced by Chinese history, culture and tradition relating to revenge, "because the thought of 'a life for a life' has been ingrained in a number of residents' minds and cannot be transferred as quickly and easily as one would expect", he added.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Iran executes hundreds in brutal crane hangings at mega-prison outside Tehran

Source: International Business Times (2 July 2015)

Almost 400 people were executed for drug-related charges and about 108 for murder. IHR also said at least seven prisoners, all of whom were Kurdish, were killed for their political or ideological affiliations, amid allegations of unfair trials.

The remaining 70 inmates were killed for sexual crimes, mainly rape, and for "waging war against God" and "corruption on heart".

Nearly 40% of the executions were announced by official Iranian media and 34 people were executed in public spaces.

Hanging is a 'slow torture' in Iran

All the executions were carried out by hanging. IHR spokesperson Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam told IBTimes UK that there are different ways of hanging inmates. In Iran, prisoners are usually pulled up by their necks with the use of cranes.

"It takes them many minutes to die, it's a way of torturing them along with the execution," Amiry-Moghaddam said. "Two years ago, a man had survived 14 minutes of hanging before dying. So hanging is not intended as the standard way of momentary pain. It's not that they just die, it is a slow strangulation."

IHR urged the international community to put pressure on Iran to halt pending executions and reduce its rate of use of the death penalty.

"We are talking about the worst execution surge in more than 20 years in Iran and this is happening while the relations between Iran and the European countries have not been better in many years," Amiry-Moghaddam said.

"The government of Mr Rouhani have defended the executions and in some cases members of his cabinet have asked for more. Besides the large number of executions, unfair trials and widespread use of torture to get confessions are major issues of concern."Saman Naseem was sentenced to death at the age of 17 following a gun battle in Sardasht between the Revolutionary Guards and Kurdish militant organisation PJAK(Amnesty)

Execution of juvenile offenders

The NGO also warned the Islamic republic executed at least one juvenile offender in 2015. Javad Saberi was hanged at the Rajaishahr prison of Karaj after being convicted of murder, despite the fact he suffered from mental illness.

The execution of juvenile offenders is in breach of both domestic and international laws. Iran allows capital punishment for juveniles in case of "qesas" (retribution-in-kind) and "hodoud" (offences and punishments for which there are fixed penalties under Islamic law).

However, article 91 of the Islamic Penal Code excludes the death penalty if the juvenile offender did not understand the nature of the crime or its consequences, or if there are doubts about their mental capacity.

The high-profile case of Saman Naseem, a 24-year-old man sentenced to death at the age of 17 and whose whereabouts are unknown today, prompted the international community to criticise Iran after it announced Naseem's execution.

Following pressure by several NGOs, Naseem has gone missing from his prison cell and his family do not know whether he is dead or alive.

Naseem was sentenced to death after being charged with "enmity against God" and "corruption on Earth", following a gun battle in Sardasht between the Revolutionary Guards and Kurdish militant organisation PJAK, of which he is believed to be a member.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Indonesia court rejects French citizen's death sentence appeal

Source: Jurist (23 Jun 2015)

The  State Administrative Court of Jakarta[official website, in Indonesian] on Monday denied the clemency appeal of a French citizen sentenced to death on a drug trafficking charge. The appeal of Serge Atlaoui was an effort to reverse the original clemency denial made by President Joko Widodo  [BBC profile] last year. The country has received significant criticism for its use of the death penalty for drug offenses, particularly against foreign nationals. In its opinion, the Jakarta court said that granting clemency was the exclusive prerogative of the president. France, which firmly opposes the death penalty, has aimed to provided aid [Le Monde report, in French] to Atlaoui and has warned of "consequences" should the execution be completed.

Indonesia's use of the death penalty has been an international point of contention, with several members of the international community speaking out against the practice. In April, Indonesia exectued eight convicted drug smugglers said to be part of the "Bali Nine" smuggling ring by firing squad. In February a spokesperson for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website]  urged the Indonesian government to halt all executions of people convicted of drug-related offenses. In January another spokesperson for the OHCHR voiced concern over the continued use of the death penalty in Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The OHCHR reported that eight more people convicted of drug trafficking in Vietnam had been sentenced to death. Also in January Brazil and the Netherlands recalled their ambassadors from Indonesia after an Indonesian firing squad executed six convicted drug traffickers.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Executing drug dealers in Southeast Asia

Source: Al Jazeera (22 June 2015)

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - Shortly before each plane lands in Kuala Lumpur, as the cabin crew politely ask passengers to put their seats upright and turn off all electronic devices, those on board also receive a chilling warning about "severe" penalties awaiting those found guilty of dealing drugs.
Malaysia is one of only 13 countries in the world that imposes a mandatory death sentence for drug trafficking - murder and nine other crimes can also result in capital punishment - but officials are again hinting at the possibility of review. The government first indicated the possibility of review six years ago.
"When policies are not working they should be changed," Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Paul Low told more than 300 delegates at a recent Asian Regional Congress on the Death Penalty.
Low, who has responsibility for human rights, noted the numbers sentenced to death for drug offences continue to rise, and Malaysia's commitment to capital punishment for such crimes made it difficult for the government to argue for a reprieve for its own citizens caught in similar circumstances in other countries.
Legal analysts say it's important that governments take the lead in moving away from retributive forms of justice.
"Even if there's high public support for the death penalty, countries that have abandoned it have not waited for their populations to change," associate professor Chan Wing Cheong, of the Faculty of Law at the National University of Singapore, told Al Jazeera. "They have done it because it's the right thing to do."
Reconsidering execution
Over the past 10 years, Asian governments, like much of the rest of the world, have reconsidered the death penalty. Cambodia, the Philippines, East Timor, and Mongolia have abolished it, while others including Vietnam and Singapore have reviewed the scope of the laws surrounding its use. Yet, despite recent progress, Asia remains the continent with the world's highest number of executions. Many on death row are drug mules.
Blaming the scourge of drug addiction, some countries have resumed executions while others have sent increasing numbers of people to their deaths.
"It's a policy that governments choose, or do not choose, to embrace," said Rick Lines, executive director of Harm Reduction International, which researches drug policy and the death penalty.
"The biggest example of that this year is Indonesia. In 2012, we categorised Indonesia as a 'low application' country, but this year they have executed 14 people for drugs. It's not a change of culture or tradition. It's a change in policy."
Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who took office in October 2014, says the executions were necessary to show Indonesia's commitment to fighting the drug trade. Nearly all of those shot by a firing squad - Indonesia's chosen method - were foreign nationals.
"There is a deeply rooted hatred against drugs [in Indonesia]," said Ricky Gunawan, director of Lembaga Bantuan Masyarakat Hukum, which provides legal assistance to people facing the death penalty. "With this kind of hatred, it's easy for politicians to use this as a political tool to get sympathy from the public."
Deterrent effect?
The United Nations says drug offences do not meet the threshold for " most serious crimes ". Moreover, the mandatory sentence imposed in countries such as Malaysia violates the defendant's right to a fair trial and due process.
Critics also question the death penalty's deterrent effect. The Golden Triangle, where Myanmar, Laos and Thailand meet geographically, still produces one-quarter of the world's heroin , and the cultivation of opium poppies has increased every year since 2006, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Southeast Asia is also at the centre of the methamphetamine trade.
"Organised crime moves drugs by the tonne," said Julian McMahon, an Australian lawyer who has worked on death row cases in the region for more than a decade - most recently for Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, who wereamong those executed in Indonesia in April.
"It's intellectually laughable to suggest that the arrest and execution of low-level drug mules will have any effect [on the drug trade]. They are immediately replaceable by any number of similarly stupid young people, too many of whom have been my clients."
Singapore's lead
In 2012, Singapore amended some of its laws related to the mandatory death penalty and returned some discretion to the courts. In drug-trafficking cases, the revisions meant those who could prove cooperation with the authorities or were ruled to have diminished responsibility could be sentenced to life imprisonment with caning, rather than the once-mandatory death sentence.
Low said the changes could provide a useful guide for Malaysia as it reviews its own legislation.
"We note that under the amended act, three Malaysians have since beenresentenced to life imprisonment," Low said.
Nearly 1,000 people are believed to be on death row in Malaysia, half for drug offences.
The Malaysian government does not release data on executions or the number of people on death row. The European Union estimates at least three people were executed in 2013 and two in 2014 in the country.
Given the repeated promises of the past few years, the Bar Council - which represents 12,000 lawyers in Malaysia and is at the forefront of the campaign for the abolition of the death penalty - is urging Malaysia to make clear its intentions.
"The first time we heard this announcement was in 2009," said Steven Thiru, president of the Bar Council. "We can't have promises repeatedly made. There are a great number of people on death row. It leaves too much uncertainty. There's a need to decide once and for all." 

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Compassionate Communists

Source: The Economist (20 June 2015)

ONE ordinary farmer, Nguyen Thanh Chan, is now a celebrity in Vietnam. In 2004 he was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a woman in Nghia Trung, a village north-east of Hanoi, the capital. Yet he was released in 2013 after a neighbour, confronted with evidence, confessed to the crime. Earlier this month the country’s Supreme People’s Court announced that it would pay Mr Chan $360,000—many times what he would earn in a lifetime—as compensation for his nightmare.
The day after the announcement Mr Chan welcomed reporters to his one-storey farmhouse. He said that after his arrest police roughed him up and forced him to make a false confession. Had it not been for his wife’s long-shot campaign to clear his name, he might still be rotting in prison.
As in China, death-penalty statistics in Vietnam are state secrets. But Amnesty International, a rights group, says that at least three prisoners were executed last year and more than 700 face possible execution. Of the 72 who were sentenced to death in 2014 alone, four-fifths were found guilty of drug trafficking.Mr Chan’s case comes as the Vietnamese government attempts to reform the criminal-justice system. Proposed changes to the penal and criminal-procedure codes were discussed this week in the National Assembly, Vietnam’s tame parliament. In part, the Communist Party seems to be pursuing change as an easy way to curry favour with Western governments at a time when Vietnam faces heightened tensions with neighbouring China. Yet the reforms seem to be gathering a momentum of their own, including over capital punishment.
Now the assembly is debating whether to cut the number of crimes for which the death penalty applies to 15 from 22. Stealing and disobeying military orders would no longer be capital offences. Drug trafficking will remain one for now. Yet a Western diplomat in Hanoi who follows legal matters thinks that it, too, could go within a year. He adds that if that happened, Vietnam’s stance on capital punishment would instantly become among the most enlightened in South-East Asia. Only the Philippines has abolished it altogether.
Yet whatever the assembly decides, Vietnam’s criminal-justice system will remain deeply flawed. The criminal-procedure code permits harsh interrogation tactics, while the penal code is littered with clauses that criminalise, on grounds of national security, vaguely defined activities such as “conducting propaganda against the state”. In court, the judge is almost always a Communist Party member, while the two jurors who flank him typically have ties to the security state. Most prisoners who attempt to kick against the system are silenced. In one well-known example, Nguyen Van Ly, a Roman Catholic priest, accused the police and the court of practising the “law of the jungle”, whereupon a courtroom officer clamped a hand over his mouth. As for death row, inmates there are not told when their executions will take place, while questions swirl around how the executions are conducted. Four years ago the government gave up firing squads in favour of lethal injections. But because of a European Union ban on selling lethal-injection drugs, it switched to home-grown varieties. Doctors have been coerced into administering them.
But at least lawmakers are beginning to acknowledge irregularities in state prosecutors’ work. One controversial case they are reviewing concerns Ho Duy Hai, a man in the southern province of Long An who was convicted of murder in 2008. The evidence against him looks questionable. In December Vietnam’s president, Truong Tan Sang, suspended Mr Hai’s execution after behind-the-scenes pressure from Western diplomats.
Meanwhile, though the farmer, Nguyen Thanh Chan, still believes that the system broadly works, he wonders aloud if all crimes are being properly investigated. In his own case, the only reason the courts finally paid attention to his pleas of innocence was that his wife became an amateur gumshoe. After months of sleuthing, she showed up at the justice ministry, grabbed a bureaucrat by the collar and demanded the right to present reams of overlooked evidence. The ministry should give her a job.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Death penalty does not deter crime, says Malaysian Bar president

Source: The Rakyat Post (11 June 2015)

Malaysian Bar president Steven Thiru said there was no empirical evidence or data to confirm that death penalty served as an effective deterrent to preventing crimes.

"There has been no significant reduction in the crimes for which the death penalty is currently mandatory, particularly true of drug-related offences," he said.

Malaysia remains one of the 13 countries which imposes mandatory death penalty sentence for drug-related offences.

Pointing out that there is lack of official data of prisoners on death row to conclusively support that death penalty is working as a deterrent, Thiru warned it could well have the opposite effect where courts could choose to stop convicting persons because the penalty was too severe.

"Nevertheless, the Malaysian Bar's primary opposition to the death penalty is because life is sacred and every person has an inherent right to life.

"This is guaranteed under Article 5(1) of the Federal Constitution that eschews arbitrary deprivation of life.

"We take the view that the right to life is a fundamental right which must be absolute, inalienable and universal, irrespective of the crime committed by the accused person," he said during the opening of the first Asian Regional Congress On The Death Penalty at the Renaissance Hotel here this morning.

The two-day event is organised by French organisation Together Against Death Penalty (ECPM) and Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network under the sponsorship of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Also present were Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Paul Low and Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) chairman Tan Sri Hasmy Agam.

Thiru pointed out that a public opinion survey in 2013 conducted by Malaysian Bar and the Death Penalty Project, a leading human rights organisation based in United Kingdom, revealed that mandatory death penalty for trafficking and firearms offences could be abolished without any public outcry in the country.

"As regard of the mandatory penalty death for murder, the majority favoured the exercise of discretion whether or not to sentence persons convicted of murder to death.

"As a whole the findings showed that the majority of public surveyed did not support mandatory death penalty, whether for drug trafficking, murder or firearms offences," he said.

Thiru further said that the reluctance to discard the death penalty might well be fuelled by the perception that a large portion of Malaysian society still felt that the sentence should remain as the convicted persons had indeed committed heinous crimes and found guilty by the legal process.

The campaign to abolish the death penalty, he said, was not to confer   licence to commit serious crimes with impunity.

"Persons convicted of serious crimes must receive the proportionate punishment but this does not mean that they, therefore, ought to die in the notion that 'an eye for an eye' provides the best form of justice."

Thiru urged the government to abolish the death penalty and, in the meantime, put in place an immediate moratorium on its use pending abolition, instead of merely making promises.

According to rights group Amnesty International, as of October 2012, death row in Malaysia held a population of 900 prisoners, with at least two reported executions last year.