Thursday, 11 January 2018

Iran drug law change could spare thousands on death row

Source: BBC News (10 January 2018)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Solutions sought to abolish death penalty

Source: The Jakarta Post (22 December 2017)

http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2017/12/22/solutions-sought-abolish-death-penalty.html

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

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

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

Another way is by demanding transparency for penitentiaries.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

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

Source: The Independent (18 December 2017)

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/china-public-execution-sports-stadium-10-people-thousands-sentence-dead-a8116906.html

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

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

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

They were flanked by four police officers wearing dark sunglasses.

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

After being convicted, they were taken to be executed.

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

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

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

Friday, 1 December 2017

Malaysia scraps mandatory death sentence for drugs

Source: Bangkok Post (1 December 2017)

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


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

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

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

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

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

(a) traffic in a dangerous drug...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

LEDAP creates database of Nigerians on death row in Asia



Source: The Guardian (31 October 2017)

https://guardian.ng/features/ledap-creates-database-of-nigerians-on-death-row-in-asia/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 30 October 2017

Thailand moves towards abolishing death penalty

Source: Straits Times (18 October 2017)

http://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/thailand-moves-toward-abolishing-death-penalty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taiwan murder convict walks free after decade on death row

Source: Straits Times (26 October 2017)

http://www.straitstimes.com/asia/east-asia/taiwan-convict-walks-free-after-decade-on-death-row

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Indonesia’s Contradictory Death Penalty Rhetoric

Source: Human Rights Watch (11 October 2017)

https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/10/11/indonesias-contradictory-death-penalty-rhetoric

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Khaosod English (12 October 2017)

http://www.khaosodenglish.com/politics/2017/10/12/8-years-last-execution-abolition-still-not-guaranteed/

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

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

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

Pitikan was vague on whether it would be.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Amnesty: Singapore's death penalty reform flawed

Source: The Star Online (11 October 2017)

http://www.thestar.com.my/news/regional/2017/10/11/singapores-death-penalty-reform-flawed-amnesty/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Death penalty has 'no place in 21st century'

Source: Channel News Asia (11 October 2017)

http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/world/death-penalty-has-no-place-in-21st-century-un-chief-9298458?view=DEFAULT

UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an end to the death penalty on Tuesday (Oct 10), insisting it has "no place in the 21st century".

He urged member states that still execute convicts to join the 170 countries that have halted or abolished the practice, warning that the risk of a miscarriage of justice is an "unacceptably high price" to pay.

"I want to make a plea to all states that continue this barbaric practice: please stop the executions," Guterres said at an event marking the 15th World Day Against the Death Penalty.

Capital punishment "does little to serve victims or deter crime," Guterres said, adding that most of the UN's 193 members do not carry out executions.

"Just last month, two African states - The Gambia and Madagascar - took major steps towards irreversible abolition of the death penalty," he said.

"In 2016, executions worldwide were down 37 per cent from 2015. Today just four countries are responsible for 87 per cent of all recorded executions," he added.
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Those four countries are China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, a UN official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Guterres also called for transparency from states where the death penalty is legal, asking them to let lawyers do their job.

"Some governments conceal executions and enforce an elaborate system of secrecy to hide who is on death row, and why," Guterres said. "Others classify information on the death penalty as a state secret, making its release an act of treason."

This lack of transparency "shows a lack of respect for the human rights of those sentenced to death and to their families."

Source: AFP/de

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Is there more to the death sentence for graft in Vietnam?

Source: The Straits Times (3 October 2017)

http://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/is-there-more-to-the-death-sentence-for-graft-in-vietnam-the-nation

BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Conviction for corruption in high places in Vietnam can bring a sentence of death, and yet even that doesn't seem to be much of a deterrent there. As earnest as the ruling Communist Party is in consistently cracking down on graft among politicians and businesspeople, the situation has improved little in recent years.

Last week it was the turn of a former chairman of state-owned PetroVietnam to be handed a death sentence and a bank's former chief executive was jailed for life in what has been called the biggest fraud trial in modern Vietnamese history, involving 51 defendants.

The People's Court of Hanoi found Nguyen Xuan Son and Ha Van Tham guilty of mismanagement, property appropriation and abusing their authority. At PetroVietnam, Son embezzled US$2.15 million (S$2.94 million) and scooped another US$8.7 million from Ocean Bank, which is partially owned by the state.

He'd worked there previously. Tham, chairman of the board at Ocean Bank, and accomplices also affiliated with the bank violated credit regulations that seriously undermined state monetary policies and cost the bank US$88 million. The massive trial resulted in jail terms ranging from three to 17 years as well as suspended sentences of between 18 and 36 months.

Vietnam is routinely harsh in punishing high-ranking officials convicted of corruption. In late 2013, in a high-profile corruption scam that riveted the nation, two former bosses of state-run Vietnam National Shipping Lines (Vinalines) received death sentences for embezzling nearly US$one million.

The tough stance, though, has barely made a dent in the country's "corruption perception index", as measured annually since 2012 by Transparency International. The watchdog's 2016 report released early this year placed Vietnam at 113 among 176 countries and territories. Its point score out of 100 was 33 last year and 31 from 2012-2015.

What's wrong with this picture? Ask most Vietnamese and they'll say the ferocious, highly publicised crackdowns on corruption mask an underlying political struggle among the powerful elite.

The case against the PetroVietnam and Ocean Bank officials had been brewing for some time. In May, the "mayor" Ho Chi Minh City, Dinh La Thang, was ousted from the inner circle of the decision-making politburo over alleged fraud involving PetroVietnam. Observers believe he might well have committed fraud, but the main reason for his purging was that he was close to Nguyen Tan Dung, the prime minister bumped from office last year.

It falls to current party chief Nguyen Phu Trong to establish for the world community that his seriousness in tackling corruption does not stem from a desire to get rid of political enemies. By all accounts a highly intelligent man, Trong must know that tough penalties alone will not curb corruption.

In fact, it is more often a matter of thuggish authoritarianism serving as a catalyst for graft and other abuses of power. Corruption flourishes in dark places. Only by ensuring that the workings of government are transparent to all, and that the rule of law is effective and efficient, can it be uprooted at the base.

If corruption genuinely concerns the leaders of any government, they must determine where in their administrative systems serious reform is required. That applies to state agencies and state-owned enterprises too. The problem will not go away without sincerity, transparency and accountability.

The Nation is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media entities.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Malaysia’s Planned Drug Reform Highlights Divide in SE Asia’s Drug War Approach

Source: Talking Drugs (10 August 2017)

http://www.talkingdrugs.org/malaysias-planned-drug-reform-highlights-divide-in-se-asias-drug-war-approach

Malaysia is set to repeal legislation that imposes a mandatory death penalty for people who sell drugs, despite most of its neighbouring countries implementing increasingly brutal drug policies.

On August 8, Minister Azalina Othman Said tweeted to corroborate a story in the press: Malaysia’s cabinet had "agreed to amend the colonial-era Dangerous Drugs Act of 1952 to give courts a choice in sentencing". Under current legislation, anyone found guilty of trafficking drugs faces a mandatory death penalty; the planned reform would give judges discretion in sentencing. While the proposed amendment has support from the cabinet, it must first be tabled in the parliament, which is expected to pass it in October, The Australian reports.

As TalkingDrugs reported in 2016, Malaysia seems to have placed a “secret moratorium” on the execution of people for drug offences for several years. Despite executing 229 people for drug offences between 1983 and 2013, Malaysia is not believed to have executed anyone for such an offence since then. Numerous people have, however, been sentenced to death for drug trafficking, but the executions have not taken place.

Malaysia also seems to be moving in a gradual progressive direction in relation to drug use. The country’s Ministry of Health has received acclaim from international non-profits, including Harm Reduction International, for its strong and successful policies that reduce the harms of drug use, including needle syringe programmes (NSPs) and methadone maintenance therapy. However, Malaysia is by no means a bastion of evidence-based drug policy, as it continues to force some people into compulsory “rehabilitation” centres, which a recent study suggests may increase the risk of relapse when compared to voluntary methadone treatment.

Regardless, Malaysia’s gradual shift away from executions marks a sharp contrast with many of its neighbouring countries in the Southeast Asia region.

Across the Straits of Johor, to the south of the Malaysian Peninsular, is Singapore, which was estimated in 2004 to have the highest per capita execution rate in the world. While the city state may no longer hold this grisly title, it continues to execute people for relatively low-level drug offences with considerable regularity and highly questionable judicial standards. Most recently, on July 14, the Singaporean state executed a Malaysian man who was given a mandatory death sentence after heroin was found in a car that he had borrowed. Such punitive measures are part of the country’s approach to drugs, which it calls "harm prevention"; a senior minister recently described this as including “tough, swift, and uncompromising… robust [law] enforcement” to prevent the distribution or use of drugs.

A few miles from the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, across the Malacca Strait, is Indonesia, where the government has been waging an increasingly vicious war on people involved with drugs in recent years. Within four months of the inauguration of President Joko Widodo in October 2014, the government had executed 14 people for drug offences. As TalkingDrugs has reported, the country’s approach has taken a significantly more draconian turn: in July 2017, Widodo told police to commit extrajudicial killings of foreigners if they are alleged to have sold drugs and resist arrest. The country's national police chief justified the approach by asserting that “when we shoot drug dealers, they go away”.

The Philippines, with which Malaysia shares a maritime border in the South China Sea, is currently implementing some of the most repressive drug legislation in the world. As TalkingDrugs has extensively reported on, President Rodrigo Duterte has presided over a drug war slaughter that has led to the deaths of an estimated 9,000 people since July 2016. In one of the more recent harrowing developments, Duterte called for the introduction of the death penalty in the Philippines for a range of offences – including drug possession.

Malaysia has perhaps only one neighbouring country with a relatively less punitive drug war: Thailand. Thailand’s Ministry of Justice launched a comprehensive nationwide harm reduction programme in January 2017, including methadone provisions and counselling, as well as job training to prepare people with problematic drug use for entering the work force. While Thailand does technically allow the death penalty for drug offences, it has not executed anyone under this law (or for any offence) since 2009.

If countries in the Southeast Asia region continue in their current trajectory, more successful harm reduction measures, and relatively less harsh punishments for trafficking offences, may be implemented in Malaysia and Thailand. Conversely, the near future seems increasingly harrowing for Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Asia-Pacific Countries – Death Penalty Status, Population, etc

Source: Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (18 August 2017)

https://adpan.org/2017/08/17/asia-pacific-countries-death-penalty-status-population-etc/

ASIA-PACIFIC COUNTRIES – Death Penalty Abolition Status

ASIA

Eastern Asia

China (1,367,820,000) **

China, Hong Kong SAR (7,298,600)**
China, Macao SAR (644.900)
China Tibet (3,002,000)   
Japan (126,920,000) **
Korea (North) (25,000,000 )
Korea (South) (50,800,000 ) **
Mongolia (3,061,000 )**
Taiwan (23,526,000 ) ** 

Northern Asia

Russian Federation (146,544,000)

South-Central Asia

Afghanistan (26,556,000 )  **         
Bangladesh (158,226,710 )  **        
Bhutan (760,000)
India (1,326,000,000) **   
Iran (78,226,000)         
Kazakhstan (17,713,300 )
Kyrgyzstan (5,895,000 )
Maldives (341,000)                       
Nepal    (31,000,000)   **
Pakistan (188,144,000 ) **
Sri Lanka (21,203,000 )  **
Tajikistan (8,352,000 )
Turkmenistan     (5,400,000 )
Uzbekistan          (31,000,000 )

South-East Asia

Brunei Darussalam * (417,200 )                
Cambodia * (14,676,591)
Indonesia * (258,705,000)     **      
Lao PDR * (7,000,000)
Malaysia * (31,660,000)     **          
Myanmar (Burma) * (51,419,000)
Philippines * (100,981,000)    **     
Singapore * (5,535,000)    **           
Thailand * (67,959,000)     **          
Timor-Leste (East Timor)
Vietnam * (90,730,000)  **             

Western Asia and Middle East

Armenia (3,000,000)
Azerbaijan (9,705,600)
Bahrain (1,234,000 )      
Cyprus (848,300)
Georgia (3,729,000)
Iraq (36,000,000 )           
Israel (8,522,000 )
Jordan (6,297,000)        
Kuwait (3,695,000 )       
Lebanon (4,460,000 )    
Oman    (4,469,500 )       
Palestinian territories (4,293,000 )           
Qatar (2,597,000 )          
Saudi Arabia (31,770,000 )          
Syria (24,044,000 )         
Turkey (78,741,000)
United Arab Emirates (8,264,070 )
Yemen (26,000,000 )      

PACIFIC

Australia (23,792,000)    **
Papua New Guinea (8,219,000)   **
New Zealand (4,579,000)**
Fiji (867,000)
Solomon Islands (587,000)
Vanuatu (278,000)
New Caledonia (France) [273,000]
French Polynesia (France) [273,000]
Samoa (193,000)
Guam (US) (162,000)       
Kiribati (113,000)
Tonga (104,000)  **
Federated States of Micronesia (103,000)
Marshall Islands (55,000)
American Samoa (US) [55,000]   
Northern Mariana Islands (US) [47,000]   
Palau [17,000]
Cook Islands (NZ) [15,000]
Wallis and Futuna (France) [12,000]
Tuvalu   [11,000]
Nauru [10,000 ]
Norfolk Island (Australia) [3,000]
Niue (NZ) [2,000]
Tokelau (NZ) [1,000]
Pitcairn Islands (UK) [60]

Key:-
RED BOLD – Retentionist Countries
BLUE  – Abolitionist Countries in Practice – RISK of return of DP
GOLD – US is a Retentionist Country – as such the status here is questionable?


KEY POSITIVE DEVELOPMENTS IN ASIA –PACIFIC
1985      AUSTRALIA abolished the death penalty for all crimes.
1989      CAMBODIA abolished the death penalty for all crimes.
1993      HONG KONG abolished the death penalty for all crimes
1997      NEPAL abolished the death penalty for all crimes
1999      EAST TIMOR, TURKMENISTAN abolished the death penalty for all crimes
2002      TURKEY abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes. CYPRUS abolished the death penalty for all crimes
2003      ARMENIA abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes
2004      BHUTAN, SAMOA and TURKEY abolished the death penalty for all crimes
2006      PHILIPPINES abolished the death penalty for all crimes.
2007      KYRGYZSTAN abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes.
2008      UZBEKISTAN abolished the death penalty for all crimes.
2015      FIJI abolished the death penalty for all crimes.
2016      NAURU abolished the death penalty for all crimes.
1 July 2017 MONGOLIA abolished the death penalty for all crimes.
*may not be comprehensive, some positive developments may have inadvertently left out