Sunday, 10 October 2021

BN, PH Plus and BN-PN-GPS governments and the Abolition of Death Penalty in Malaysia

Source: MADPET-Malaysians Against Death Penalty & Torture (9 October 2021) 

On the occasion of World Day Against the Death Penalty (10th October), MADPET (Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture) notes positively the change in the Malaysian position to now be inclined towards the abolition of the death penalty.

On Dec 16 2020, Malaysia voted in support of the resolution calling for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). The UNGA adopted the resolution with 123 votes in favour, 38 against and 24 abstentions. The global trend indicates growing support for abolition.

Barisan Nasional Rule

During the Barisan Nasional(BN) rule under the then Prime Minister Najib Razak, the then Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Azalina Othman, the de facto Law Minister, during the Parliamentary session on 2/11/2016 clarified that Malaysia was not just looking at abolishing the mandatory death penalty, but all death penalty.

The BN government then acted to remove the absolute mandatory death penalty for the offence of drug trafficking vide an amendment of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 that came into force on 15/3/2018. Now, judges could sentence those convicted to death or to imprisonment for life (plus whipping of not less than fifteen strokes). However, the alternate to death penalty was available only if limited conditions were fulfilled, one of which was ‘that the person convicted has assisted an enforcement agency in disrupting drug trafficking activities within or outside Malaysia…’, whereby this draconian condition undermines also one’s right to a fair trial, which include the right to 2 appeals. Full judicial discretion when it comes to sentencing is still being curtailed, but it was better than before when only death penalty if convicted of drug trafficking.

Pakatan Harapan Plus Rule

During the Pakatan Harapan Plus(PH Plus) rule, there was first talks about abolition of death penalty, and later just about the abolition of the mandatory death penalty but at the end of their time in power, sadly there was not even a Bill tabled towards abolition of the death penalty.

It was announced on October 10 2018 (being also the World Day Against the Death Penalty), that the Malaysian Cabinet had reached a consensus (a collective decision) that the death penalty for 33 offences as provided for under eight Acts of law would be abolished, and this was again reiterated several times(Straits Times, 13/11/2018).

However, on 13/3/2019, it was reported that Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Mohamed Hanipa Maidin in Parliament said that the ‘…the government will only repeal the mandatory death penalty...’ for 11 criminal offences. (NST, 13/3/2019)

The change in position from total abolition to death penalty, to just abolishing the mandatory death penalty may have sadly been because of a knee-jerk response to political actions initiated by the then Opposition, for example the ‘‘MCA Youth against Abolition of the Death Penalty’’ campaign that started on 20 Nov 2018.

It is disturbing when a government’s principled position and/or promises, can so easily change simply because of a questionable worry of possible loss of political support that may affect future elections. When the French National Assembly voted to abolish the death penalty 40 years ago, more than 60 percent of the population still backed capital punishment. But the then president François Mitterrand and the government stood by their position, no matter the political cost.

Perikatan-BN-GPS Plus Rule

When the Perikatan Nasional(PN)-BN Plus came into power, to date there is still no Bills tabled to bring about the abolition of the death penalty, or even just the mandatory death penalty. Malaysia, under this government, continued to vote in favour of UNGA resolution calling for a moratorium on executions pending abolition of the death penalty.

Now, we have a new UMNO Prime Minister, heading a BN-Perikatan-GPS plus coalition government, and we hope that this government finally do the needed to abolish the death penalty, and until then continue to maintain a moratorium on executions.

Death Row

Malaysia has a very large number of persons on death row. An Amnesty International report disclosed that in early 2019, there were 1281 persons on death row, including 141 women. Today, the numbers will be even higher.

Getting statistics from government is very difficult, and the normal method is if a Member of Parliament or Senator ask a Parliamentary Question. MADPET calls for the Malaysian government to be transparent, and reveal statistics of death row prisoners, and even crimes committed at least once every quarter.

The then amendment to the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952(DDA), that abolished mandatory death penalty, failed to address the issue of persons who committed the offence before the amendment came into force, and those that were on death row. Note that amendment came about after a realization that most on death row are ‘mules’, not the ‘kingpins’ of the drug trafficking trade, and as such ‘mules’ or persons conned should justly not be sentenced to death. The position that led to the amendment of the DDA should have resulted in pardons of many on death row, commuting their death sentence to imprisonment.

Pardon powers with King and State Rulers

In Malaysia, the King have the power to pardon if the offence was committed in Federal Territories only, and with regard to offences committed in States, then the ‘…Ruler or Yang di- Pertua Negeri of a State has power to grant pardons..’.

As many of the States are ruled by the Opposition, the question is why these State government failed to move the State Rulers to pardon and commute death sentences to prison terms for those on death row for offences committed in his State. Lack of transparency makes it difficult to conclude the numbers on death row inmates for offences committed in a particular state, or even the number of death row inmates that have applied for pardon, and the number who had been successful or otherwise.

In 1983, the late Datuk Mokhtar Hashim, then Culture, Youth and Sports Minister received the death penalty for the murder of Datuk Taha Talib, the state assemblyman for Tampin, In 1984 he received a ‘royal pardon’ when his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, and thereafter in 1991 another ‘royal pardon’ set him free from prison. We hope that pardons and commutation of sentences are available to all, not simply certain politicians.

MADPET calls on Federal and State governments to move to get persons on death row pardoned, and their sentences commuted. Malaysia must be against the taking of lives, for repentance and rehabilitation, for second chances and re-integration into society for the reformed criminal.

Abolition of the Death Penalty includes abolishing extrajudicial killings/executions

When the State/Government through police or other law enforcement personnel, instead of arresting and according a person a fair trial, ends up killing a suspect or some other, there must be an independent inquiry to determine whether it was an indirect ‘death penalty’ by State or its agents. This could be done by way of an inquest. As a matter of policy and/or law, the government can decide that all such police killing incidents will be inquired into by an independent Coroner (a Magistrate or Judge).

The abolition of the death penalty have many often stated reasons, including the risk of miscarriage of justice and the negative impact of the family and children of the executed or persons on death row. Death penalty has been shown not to be a deterrent to crime.

MADPET reiterates its call for the abolition of the death penalty, including extrajudicial killings, and that Malaysia continues to impose a moratorium on execution pending abolition.

Charles Hector

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

Monday, 27 September 2021

"I Cannot Take Off My Straw Sandals: Our Family's Lifelong Journey Seeking Justice for the Wrongfully Convicted"

"I Cannot Take Off My Straw Sandals: 
Our Family's Lifelong Journey Seeking Justice for the Wrongfully Convicted".

by Michiko Furukawa

Translated from the Japanese by Joel Challender

Foreword by Sister Helen Prejean

"I have worn straw sandals for ten years to help innocent prisoners. I keep walking through towns and villages shouting out about their innocence. One day, maybe...everybody will help release them. For otherwise...I cannot take off my straw sandals."

---Tairyu Furukawa

In the spring of 1961, Tairyu Furukawa, a Buddhist prison chaplain, suddenly became concerned that two death row prisoners under his watch were likely innocent. He discussed these fears with his wife Michiko, and from that instant, both decided to put their entire efforts into preventing wrongful executions. Both fought and suffered for many years, raising their children in abject poverty battling for the two prisoners.

The case, known as the 'Fukuoka Incident', is still very well known in Japan. And the quest for justice continues even today. In May of 1947, two clothes merchants, one Japanese and one Chinese, were shot and killed. The murder was linked to the burgeoning postwar black market in clothing. Two men were arrested, tried and sentenced to death. The prosecution claims the two conspired, but neither knew the other.

Furukawa, upon hearing the two men's stories became alarmed. He quit most of his ministerial activities, and worked full time pouring over the expansive trial transcripts which amounted to thousands of pages. He sought and received help from attorneys, law professors, and witnesses.

An Amazing Journey

Michiko Furukawa grew up in a well to do family, and attended an elite college in Tokyo, quite far from her native, rural Kyushu. Married at 21, she accompanied her husband to China during the war years. Life was comfortable until May 1945, when Russia renounced the non-aggression pact with Japan. Michiko's then husband was sent to the front, and she worried constantly about his safety, and later, of being raped by Russian soldiers.

Ironically, the woman who had grown up in opulence would end up doing laundry for the Russian army to make ends meet.

She returned to Japan in June 1946, "having frantically managed to survive in former Manchuria." Her husband, like other Japanese taken p.o.w by the Russians, remained a postwar slave. Two years later he died of disease. At age 30, Michiko was a war widow with two children.

An Auspicious Encounter

War widows in Japan had little chance of future marriage. Thousands of available women, few available men. Michiko began attending religious services conducted by a charismatic Buddhist minister. They grew close and Tairyu Furukawa, much to the widow's delight, proposed marriage.

They had little money, and the honeymoon was a lecture circuit around the island of Kyushu. One stop was a leper sanatorium. When she watched him on the stage comforting the residents, "tears of gratitude welled up inside me," and, "I wholeheartedly assented that my life's mission would be to support him. "

Eight years after marriage, Tairyu discovered the two prisoners. Michiko was running a Japanese style inn, but they would shore up juvenile delinquents and paroled prisoners. Very little money was coming from guests. Tairyu even wanted to draw back from his religious activities which would further deplete finances. When Michiko heard the plight of the two men, she was unperturbed, "I will steadfastly support you from behind the scenes. We will do this together."

A Turning Point

The couple suffered through deprivation after deprivation, even having their water shut off on New Year’s Day. A turning point came with the visit of a Tokyo attorney who wanted to assist in the case. At least he appeared to be an attorney. One of the Furukawa children noticed his face on the police's "most wanted list." He was arrested at their house, and the Fukuoka case received national attention.

14 years after the Furukawas began their efforts to save the two men, joy and tragedy occurred. On June 17, 1975, one of the defendants was granted a commutation - his sentence was converted to life. The next day, the other prisoner was hanged in the detention center.

I have been familiar with this case for many years, but one fact is very elusive. The prisoner whose sentence was commuted never claimed to be innocent. He testified that he shot the two clothing merchants in self-defence. Why did the Furukawas support him so strongly, and why was his sentence commuted? To this day, I am still befuddled with this point.

The Struggle Continues

Even after the hanging, the Furukawas continued to advocate for the two men. They took their case to the international arena. Despite enduring such dire poverty, Tairyu would later meet Mother Teresa in Poland, and Pope John Paul II in the Vatican. He passed away in the year 2000.

Sister Helen Prejean even became involved. She visited Japan in 2001 to publicize the case, and I attended one of the talks. The book contains an unforgettable picture of her with "Mama Michiko."

Michiko passed away in 2010. Her life of childhood opulence, surviving postwar deprivations in China and postwar Japan, her selfless support for her husband and so many others who cried for help, is an amazing tale. It is the story of a woman with daunting intelligence, an indomitable will, a love of justice, and altruistic dedication to the human spirit.

Reviewed by Michael H. Fox

Japan Innocence and Death Penalty Information Center

NOTE: The quest for justice of the defendants in the Fukuoka case continues. The Furukawa children maintain a website:

Saturday, 25 September 2021

Taliban official: Strict punishment, executions will return

Source: WTOP News (23 September 2021)

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — One of the founders of the Taliban and the chief enforcer of its harsh interpretation of Islamic law when they last ruled Afghanistan said the hard-line movement will once again carry out executions and amputations of hands, though perhaps not in public.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Mullah Nooruddin Turabi dismissed outrage over the Taliban’s executions in the past, which sometimes took place in front of crowds at a stadium, and he warned the world against interfering with Afghanistan’s new rulers.

“Everyone criticized us for the punishments in the stadium, but we have never said anything about their laws and their punishments,” Turabi told The Associated Press, speaking in Kabul. “No one will tell us what our laws should be. We will follow Islam and we will make our laws on the Quran.”

Since the Taliban overran Kabul on Aug. 15 and seized control of the country, Afghans and the world have been watching to see whether they will re-create their harsh rule of the late 1990s. Turabi’s comments pointed to how the group’s leaders remain entrenched in a deeply conservative, hard-line worldview, even if they are embracing technological changes, like video and mobile phones.

Turabi, now in his early 60s, was justice minister and head of the so-called Ministry of Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice — effectively, the religious police — during the Taliban’s previous rule.

At that time, the world denounced the Taliban’s punishments, which took place in Kabul’s sports stadium or on the grounds of the sprawling Eid Gah mosque, often attended by hundreds of Afghan men.

Executions of convicted murderers were usually by a single shot to the head, carried out by the victim’s family, who had the option of accepting “blood money” and allowing the culprit to live. For convicted thieves, the punishment was amputation of a hand. For those convicted of highway robbery, a hand and a foot were amputated.

Trials and convictions were rarely public and the judiciary was weighted in favor of Islamic clerics, whose knowledge of the law was limited to religious injunctions.

Turabi said that this time, judges — including women — would adjudicate cases, but the foundation of Afghanistan’s laws will be the Quran. He said the same punishments would be revived.

“Cutting off of hands is very necessary for security,” he said, saying it had a deterrent effect. He said the Cabinet was studying whether to do punishments in public and will “develop a policy.”

In recent days in Kabul, Taliban fighters have revived a punishment they commonly used in the past — public shaming of men accused of small-time theft.

On at least two occasions in the last week, Kabul men have been packed into the back of a pickup truck, their hands tied, and were paraded around to humiliate them. In one case, their faces were painted to identify them as thieves. In the other, stale bread was hung from their necks or stuffed in their mouth. It wasn’t immediately clear what their crimes were.

Wearing a white turban and a bushy, unkempt white beard, the stocky Turabi limped slightly on his artificial leg. He lost a leg and one eye during fighting with Soviet troops in the 1980s.

Under the new Taliban government, he is in charge of prisons. He is among a number of Taliban leaders, including members of the all-male interim Cabinet, who are on a United Nations sanctions list.

During the previous Taliban rule, he was one of the group’s most ferocious and uncompromising enforcers. When the Taliban took power in 1996, one of his first acts was to scream at a woman journalist, demanding she leave a room of men, and to then deal a powerful slap in the face of a man who objected.

Turabi was notorious for ripping music tapes from cars, stringing up hundreds of meters of destroyed cassettes in trees and signposts. He demanded men wear turbans in all government offices and his minions routinely beat men whose beards had been trimmed. Sports were banned, and Turabi’s legion of enforcers forced men to the mosque for prayers five times daily.

In this week’s interview with the AP, Turabi spoke to a woman journalist.

“We are changed from the past,” he said.

He said now the Taliban would allow television, mobile phones, photos and video “because this is the necessity of the people, and we are serious about it.” He suggested that the Taliban saw the media as a way to spread their message. “Now we know instead of reaching just hundreds, we can reach millions,” he said. He added that if punishments are made public, then people may be allowed to video or take photos to spread the deterrent effect.

The U.S. and its allies have been trying to use the threat of isolation — and the economic damage that would result from it — to pressure the Taliban to moderate their rule and give other factions, minorities and women a place in power.

But Turabi dismissed criticism over the previous Taliban rule, arguing that it had succeeded in bringing stability. “We had complete safety in every part of the country,” he said of the late 1990s.

Even as Kabul residents express fear over their new Taliban rulers, some acknowledge grudgingly that the capital has already become safer in just the past month. Before the Taliban takeover, bands of thieves roamed the streets, and relentless crime had driven most people off the streets after dark.

“It’s not a good thing to see these people being shamed in public, but it stops the criminals because when people see it, they think ‘I don’t want that to be me,’” said Amaan, a storeowner in the center of Kabul. He asked to be identified by just one name.

Another shopkeeper said it was a violation of human rights but that he was also happy he can open his store after dark.

Tuesday, 24 August 2021

Executed While Seeking Retrial: Attorneys File Redress Suit in Japan

Three attorneys who represented Keizo Okamoto, a former yakuza chief who was executed in 2018, have filed a civil suit in the Osaka district court seeking 16,500,000 yen (USD 155,000) in compensation.

In 1988, Okamoto killed two investment company executives and robbed them of approximately 100,000,000 yen (USD 900,000). He was found guilty of intentional robbery-homicide and his death sentence was finalized in 2004.

In a retrial filed in the Osaka District Court in 2008, his attorneys insisted, "the murder was decided after the robbery and that the death penalty or even life imprisonment were not inevitable sentences." The attorneys claim the charges could have been reduced to robbery, and murder, rather than intentional robbery-murder. Three successive retrials were denied.

A fourth appeal was filed. Unfortunately, Okamoto was executed in December, 2018, pending the fourth appeal. The following year, the appeal was rejected.

Posthumous appeals in Japan are not rare. The suit alleges that due to the execution, the prisoner cannot be visited, and therefore the search for new evidence has been permanently obstructed. After the filing, attorney Naoki Ikeda spoke at a news conference. "There are many lingering doubts regarding the final verdict, and a retrial is necessary to exhaust the arguments. Can an execution be allowed when retrials are currently filed? We need to expand the discussion of this issue."

Michael H. Fox

Japan Innocence and Death Penalty Information Center

Tuesday, 10 August 2021

Court ruling clears way for first executions in Papua New Guinea in nearly 70 years

Source: The Guardian (9 August 2021)

A ruling by Papua New Guinea’s national court has cleared the way for the country’s first executions in almost 70 years.

The 14 condemned prisoners have a chance to appeal to a government-appointed committee for clemency, but if that fails the executions will proceed pending a decision by a committee as to the most appropriate mode of execution.

This comes after a five-man bench quashed the National Court temporary orders that had stayed the death sentences.

The 14 men were convicted of crimes including murder and rape. In 2015, 13 of them were sentenced to death after they had exhausted all their appeals.

The prisoners can still apply for clemency. An advisory committee made up of five people – a lawyer, a medical practitioner with experience in psychiatry, a member of the parliament, a minister of religion and a person with experience in community work – will consider their applications.

The last execution in Papua New Guinea took place in November 1954 in Port Moresby. Papua New Guinea abolished capital punishment in 1970 but re-introduced it in 1991, though there have been no executions since the reintroduction.

In 2013, Papua New Guinea took steps to revive capital punishment, at the same time amending legislation to include harsher punishment for certain crimes.

The government then requested the constitutional law reform commission report on the most appropriate method of execution.

The commission travelled to countries with experience in capital punishment including the United States, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore in order to provide advice to the government.

After the commission’s report, the cabinet endorsed hanging, firing squad and lethal injection.

The then prime minister, Peter O’Neill, said that “The level of these serious crimes in our community, particularly crimes of sexual nature and murder are unacceptable. The heinous behaviour is perpetrated by a few, but the country at large is made to suffer. We must act now to protect the majority proposed laws are tough but they are necessary. We have to address a situation which is destroying our country.”

But many in Papua New Guinea are still against the death penalty.

The general secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, Fr Giorgio Licini, said: “As far as the Catholic Church is concerned it has recently ruled out, at its top level, any support, justification, approval for the death penalty under any circumstances.”

Wednesday, 21 July 2021

Myanmar: Junta Tribunals Impose 65 Death Sentences

Source: Human Rights Watch (21 July 2021)

(Bangkok) – The Myanmar junta’s military tribunals have sentenced 65 people to death following unjust trials since the military coup on February 1, 2021, Human Rights Watch said today. State media and local groups have reported that 26 of those sentenced are currently detained, while 39 were convicted in absentia.

Military tribunals handed down the death sentences in areas of Yangon where the junta declared martial law in March. In imposing martial law, the junta transferred all executive and judicial power to the head of the relevant regional military command and instituted the death penalty as a possible sentence for 23 crimes.

“The Myanmar junta has added to its mass shootings of protesters on the streets by having military tribunals hand down several dozen death sentences after egregiously unfair trials,” said Shayna Bauchner, Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Apparently aimed to chill the anti-coup protest movement, these death sentences should serve as a stark warning to foreign governments that urgent action is needed to show the junta that there will be a reckoning for its crimes.”

On March 14 and 15, the State Administration Council (SAC) junta declared martial law in 11 townships in Yangon and Mandalay, following a weekend in which security forces killed an estimated 120 people during anti-coup protests. The Yangon commander, Maj. Gen. Nyunt Win Swe, was granted oversight of all administrative and judicial powers in the designated Yangon townships.

The martial law orders lay out 23 categories of crimes to be charged in military tribunals in the designated townships, all of them carrying a potential sentence of capital punishment. The designated offenses include several put in place by the junta since the coup. The majority are not capital crimes in civilian courts. The 65 death sentences have been imposed for murder charges under penal code sections 302, 396, and 397.

The martial law regulations require the SAC chair, Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, to approve all execution orders. They also state there is “no appeal for decisions or convictions handed down” by a military tribunal. The only option for defendants sentenced to death is to apply to the SAC chair within 15 days of the conviction to reverse the decision. Min Aung Hlaing has the authority to overturn the decision, change the sentence to a lesser penalty, or approve the decision. The applications can only be filed through prison officials, not lawyers, Radio Free Asia reported.

The execution orders were issued in six batches between April and June. The rushed and concealed legal proceedings, carried out against civilians by military courts not properly convened according to law, have gravely deprived detainees and those convicted in absentia of their basic fair trial rights. Military tribunals in Myanmar have long been conducted behind closed doors inside Yangon’s Insein Prison, where the rules of evidence and procedure applicable in civilian courts do not apply. Those on trial before military tribunals face almost certain conviction regardless of the validity of the charges against them, while the trials are held outside the scrutiny of the public or the international community.

In the first death penalty case brought by the junta, state media reported that 18 men and a woman were sentenced to death on April 8 for allegedly attacking two military officers riding a motorbike, one of whom later died, in North Okkalapa township in Yangon on March 27. The 19 people were sentenced under penal code sections 396 and 397 for murder and robbery. Another man was sentenced to death on April 28 for the same incident. Three of those sentenced are in custody; the remainder were convicted in absentia.

A Yangon military tribunal sentenced two women and five men to death on April 12 under penal code section 302(1)(b) for their alleged involvement in the murder of a woman in Hlaing Tharyar township who had reportedly supported the military. Four are detained; three others were convicted in absentia.

On May 24, Insein prison’s military tribunal sentenced 18 people – 15 men, a woman, and 2 teenage boys – to death under penal code section 302(1)(c) on charges of allegedly killing a supporter of the military on March 29 in South Dagon. Seven are in hiding; eleven have been detained. The two teenagers, ages 17 and 15, were detained on April 17. State media reported that they were transferred to a juvenile court. Four of the detained men are brothers.

Five men were sentenced to death on May 27, four of them in absentia, under penal code section 302(1)(b) for the alleged fatal attack of a man living in Shwe Pyi Thar township.

In the latest reported convictions, a military tribunal sentenced 15 people – 13 men and 2 women – to death on June 21, charged under penal code section 302(1)(b) for allegedly killing an informant and two of his sons on March 15 in Shwe Pauk Kan Myothit, North Okkalapa township. Seven are detained; eight were sentenced in absentia.

Since February, the junta and security forces have responded with increasing violence and repression to the nationwide anti-coup movement. State security forces have killed over 900 people and detained an estimated 5,300 activists, journalists, civil servants, and politicians.

The martial law orders also allow for death penalty sentencing for treason and related offenses, several of which were put in place or expanded by the SAC to broadly criminalize protest activity and the Civil Disobedience Movement. Under the expanded treason provisions, it is unlawful to “excite disaffection against” the defense forces, effectively making any criticism of the military treasonous. The military courts have also been assigned to hear charges used to stifle dissent, including Penal Code section 505A, a new provision put in place by the junta that makes a criminal offense comments that “cause fear,” spread “false news” or “agitate directly or indirectly a criminal offense against a government employee.”

Some detainees on death row reported being beaten by police in prison. Myanmar security forces have subjected many detainees arrested since the coup to torture and other ill-treatment, including routine beatings. Detainees are frequently kept incommunicado, unable to contact relatives or legal counsel. The victims, among them a 17-year-old boy who spoke to Human Rights Watch, described beatings, burnings from lit cigarettes, prolonged stress positions, and gender-based violence.

Other sources interviewed said security forces often transported detainees to police precincts or military interrogation facilities, where they would be beaten and forced to stand, kneel, or lie in stress positions for hours.

Myanmar has not carried out judicial executions of prisoners since 1988, although Myanmar law still retains the death penalty, and courts have continued to sentence people to death. Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty under all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty and irreversibility, and has long called on Myanmar to ban all capital punishment.

“These bogus military tribunals are handing down unfair and unappealable death sentences under direction from a commander sanctioned by the European Union, United States, and others for committing the worst crimes under international law,” Bauchner said. “The United Nations, EU, US, and other governments should be demanding the release of all those wrongfully imprisoned and ramping up pressure so the junta knows that what they do – even behind prison doors – is being watched.”

South Asian Governments Consider The Death Penalty As Punishment For Sexual Violence

Source: The Organization for World Peace (8 January 2021)

In a video released on December 17th, 2020, Human Rights Watch stated that South Asian governments should accept the advice of their experts and ignore “populist death penalty rhetoric” in order to stop sexual violence against women. There have been several high-profile sexual violence cases in South Asia, provoking comments from experts on sexual violence from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka about the protests across the region. The movement is a protest against regional governments’ continued failure to adequately address sexual violence or to provide for the safety and wellbeing of survivors.

Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, addressed the increasing protest movement, stating that women and girls “have long watched their governments tolerate – or even facilitate – impunity for sexual violence and they are taking to the streets and demanding change now.”

The protests, which were led by women’s rights activists, were in response to numerous sexual violence cases across South Asia in 2020. In Pakistan, a woman was criticized by the police chief for not choosing a safer route after she was gang raped in front of her children when her car ran out of fuel. In India, the police and the government refused to acknowledge that a 19-year-old Dalit woman was gang raped even though she told them she was before she died. This was supposedly to protect the perpetrator, who allegedly belonged to a dominant caste. The Bangladeshi government also failed to remove a video of several men attacking and sexually assaulting a woman before it went viral on the internet.

The protesters expressed their outrage at government inaction, and called for legal reforms and better prioritization of women’s rights. Several South Asian governments have been criticized for choosing to use the death penalty for perpetrators of sexual violence rather than tackling the issue through comprehensive sexual education, gender-sensitive police training and mental and physical health and wellbeing services for survivors. Opting to enforce the death penalty is seen as a way out of addressing underlying societal issues that have allowed sexual violence to become endemic across the region.

While many of the protesters and experts are calling for legal reform, Farieha Aziz, the co-founder of the organization Bolo Bhi in Pakistan, stated, “We do have laws and certain procedures. What is necessary is that they are implemented.” In countries where the appropriate laws exist, the failings lie in enforcement, making it very difficult for survivors to receive justice.

Activists, experts and survivors across South Asia have criticized the legal systems for putting obstacles in front of survivors which may deter them from pursuing justice. In Bangladesh, it is estimated that less than one percent of investigated rape cases result in a conviction. This is a stark statistic that could make survivors feel that the likelihood of their cases being thoroughly investigated in order to achieve justice is exceptionally low. The legal process can be very traumatic on its own, and survivors might be less likely to come forward to name the perpetrator due to the historical lack of convictions.

Dr. Lhamo Yangchen Sherpa, a medical expert in Nepal, stated that “It’s not only that the police register the case. You then have to go to the court, which might take years and years… [The accused] have good lawyers, which means that the case either gets dissolved or the case goes on for a very long time.” This can often result in things being settled outside court, or survivors choosing not to report the crime at all. Shabnam Salehi, the commissioner at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, said, “The judges still consider [the] victim as a criminal, and they ask a lot of questions that is against the human dignities.” The process of reporting a crime and facing the accused in court carries the risk of re-traumatizing the survivor, particularly if the legal process is lengthy and biased.

The Bangladesh government has decided to approve the use of capital punishment in rape cases after the increase in protests over the past year. Introducing the death penalty is an easy option and does not address or respond to the protestors’ anger. There is a lack of evidence as to whether the death penalty reduces sexual violence; however, it has been suggested by experts that it could result in survivors choosing not to report a crime or accused rapists killing their victims to decrease the chances of their arrest.

As well as reforming the legal system and ensuring its proper enforcement, sexual education is an incredibly important aspect of a child’s upbringing. Sexual education informs young people about their bodies, consent, and reproductive rights, which gives them the tools to understand right and wrong. It also teaches them how to have healthy relationships and to understand the power structures within them. Rape culture is perpetuated because microaggressions such as cat-calling and misogynistic jokes are tolerated. The education system in South Asian countries should be restructured to challenge existing gender norms and reinforce the concept of consent.

In early 2020, the High Court in Bangladesh ordered the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs to create a commission in 30 days to respond to the increase in sexual violence. Nine months later, the commission still had not been set up. A witness protection law that was drafted by the Law Commission approximately 15 years ago has also not been passed by the government. Furthermore, sexual harassment legislation that women’s groups helped to draft a few years ago has yet to progress.

The Rape Law Reform Coalition, comprised of 17 women’s rights groups, is directly opposed to the use of capital punishment in rape cases. The Coalition drafted a list for the Bangladeshi government to begin implementing. It included changing the definition of rape to include all victims despite their marital status or gender identity, banning the use of character evidence in rape trials, implementing sexual and gender-based violence training for police and court officials as well as including sexual education in school curriculum.

It is clear that Bangladesh, and other countries in South Asia, must listen to their experts and women in order to make meaningful changes. By using expert knowledge and listening to the personal experiences of survivors, governments can gather information on which parts of the legal and education systems need to be changed and how to implement those changes effectively.

Lai Xiaomin: Criticism of death sentence on former Chinese tycoon

Source: BBC News (6 January 2021)

The death penalty handed out to a former Chinese finance chief found guilty of corruption has been heavily criticised by human rights groups.

Lai Xiaomin was arrested in 2018 on charges of taking 1.8bn yuan (£200m, $280m) in bribes over a 10-year period.

It is one of the most severe sentences to stem from President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption drive.

Human Rights Watch said "China is clearly taking a major step backwards."

Chinese officials said crimes committed by Mr Lai were during his time as chairman of Huarong Asset Management. The financial firm was set up in 1999 to to take bad debts off China's largest state-owned banks.

On Tuesday, a court in the northern city of Tianjin, said his crimes had "caused serious losses to the interests of the country".

"Imposing the death sentence on Lai Xiaomin for financial crimes, such as bribe taking, is outrageous and unacceptable and clearly violates China's commitments to respect international human rights standards," Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director at Human Rights Watch told the BBC.

'killing the chicken to show the monkeys'

Mr Robertson said the death penalty should be immediately commuted to prison time.

"By imposing this sentence, China is clearly taking a major step backwards on rights in what appears to be an effort to create fear among businessmen."

Human Rights Watch calls the tactic 'killing the chicken to show it to the monkeys' so it "makes an example of one person to instil obedience in all the others."

Yaqiu Wang, a China researcher at Human Rights Watch, added that President Xi "has little intention to end or slow down the campaign" to stamp out corruption.

Human Rights Watch added that it opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as "inherently cruel, and believes it violates of the right to life and fundamental dignity that all human beings possess."

The group has called on the Chinese government to impose an immediate moratorium on its use.

Cleaning up

Under Mr Lai's leadership, Huarong raised vast amounts of capital and expanded aggressively into investment banking services.

The asset management company which is listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange, also developed its own brokerage, insurance and leasing arms.

Caixin, a finance magazine in China, reported that 100 properties developed by a Huarong subsidiary in south China were distributed to Mr Lai's ex-wife and mistresses.

China's Communist Party has taken an increasingly tough stance on corruption among government officials and corporate executives, with more than one million punished.

In 2016, China raised the threshold for capital punishment related to corruption to 3m yuan from 100,000 yuan, but the penalty has seldom been used.

"China's leaders clearly continue to rely on the death penalty as a deterrent, but it seems they have a message to send to the broader public about their willingness to use it," Joshua Rosenzweig, head of Amnesty International's China team, told the BBC.

"If this signals a return to the so-called 'strike hard' approach to crime, then it could have really serious consequences for China," he added.

Mr Lai had previously worked at China's central bank and banking regulator.

China Sentences Former Bank Chief to Death in Rare Move

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald (6 January 2021) 

Beijing: The former head of state-owned China Huarong Asset Management Co Ltd has been sentenced to death for bribe taking in one of the harshest punishments for economic crimes in recent years.

Lai Xiaomin, 58, was also found guilty by the Second Intermediate People’s Court of Tianjin of lesser charges including corruption and bigamy.

Life sentences and suspended death sentences commuted to life after two years are frequently handed down in corruption cases, but death sentences without the chance of reprieve have become rare in recent years. Such sentences are automatically appealed to China's highest court.

Lai was placed under investigation by the ruling Communist Party's corruption watchdog in 2018 and expelled from the party later the same year.

In its ruling, the Tianjin court cited the “especially enormous” size of the bribes Lai accepted, saying they exceeded 600 million yuan ($120 million) in one instance. In total, it said Lai collected or sought to collect 1.79 billion yuan over a decade in exchange for abusing his position to make investments, offer construction contracts, help with promotions and provide other favours.

He was also convicted of embezzling more than 25 million yuan in state assets and starting a second family while still married to his first wife.

Although Lai provided useful details about malfeasance by his subordinates, the seriousness of his bribe-taking and “degree of harm caused to society" were not enough to win him leniency, the court said in its ruling.

“Lai Xiaomin is lawless and greedy in the extreme," the ruling said. “His crimes are extremely serious and must be punished severely under law."

Huarong is one of four entities created in the 1990s to buy non-performing loans from banks, helping to revive the state-owned finance industry. Such asset management companies expanded into banking, insurance, real estate finance and other fields.

Lai was accused of squandering public money, illegally organising banquets, engaging in sexual dealings with multiple women and taking bribes, the anti-corruption agency said in 2018.

Investigators seized hundreds of millions of yuan in cash from Lai’s properties, the Chinese business news magazine Caixin reported in 2018.

Lai was one of hundreds of officials at government agencies, state companies and the military who have been detained in an anti-corruption crackdown launched in 2012.

Other senior officials snared in the crackdown include a former head of China’s insurance regulator.

Saturday, 17 July 2021

Dramatic Drop in Saudi Executions After Laws Changed in 2020

Source: Bloomberg (18 January 2021)

Dubai, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- Saudi Arabia, for years one of the world's most prolific executioners, dramatically reduced the number of people put to death last year, following changes halting executions for non-violent drug-related crimes, according to the government’s tally and independent observers.

The Saudi government’s Human Rights Commission said Monday it documented 27 executions in 2020. That's compared to an all-time high of 184 executions the year before as documented by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The change represents an 85% reduction in the number of people put to death last year, compared to 2019.

"The sharp decrease was brought about in part by a moratorium on death penalties for drug-related offenses,” the Saudi rights commission said.

When asked by The Associated Press, the commission said the new law ordering a stop to such executions came into effect sometime last year. The new directive for judges does not appear to have been published publicly and it was not immediately clear whether the law was changed by royal decree, as is typically the case.

The AP previously reported that Saudi Arabia last year also ordered an end to the death penalty for crimes committed by minors and ordered judges to end the controversial practice of public flogging, replacing it with jail time, fines or community service.

The force behind these changes is 34-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has the backing of his father, King Salman. In an effort to modernize the country, attract foreign investment and revamp the economy, the prince has spearheaded a range of reforms curtailing the power of ultraconservative Wahhabis, who adhere to a strict interpretation of Islam that many Saudis still practice.

For years, the kingdom's high rate of executions was in large part due to the number of people executed for non-lethal offenses, which judges had wide discretion to rule on, particularly for drug-related crimes.

Amnesty International ranked Saudi Arabia third in the world for the highest number of executions in 2019, after China where the number of executions is believed to be in the thousands, and Iran. Among those put to death that year by Saudi Arabia were 32 minority Shiites convicted on terrorism charges related to their participation in anti-government protests and clashes with police.

While some crimes, such as premeditated murder, can carry fixed punishments under the Saudi interpretation of Islamic law, or Shariah, drug-related offenses are considered “ta’zir,” meaning neither the crime nor the punishment is defined in Islam. Discretionary judgments for “ta’zir” crimes led to arbitrary rulings with contentious outcomes.

The kingdom has long been criticized by independent rights groups for applying the death sentence for non-violent crimes related to drug trafficking. Many of those executed for such crimes were often poor Yemenis or low-level drug smugglers of South Asia descent, with the latter having little to no knowledge of Arabic and unable to understand or read the charges against them in court.

Saudi Arabia carries out executions mainly by beheading and sometimes in public. The kingdom had argued that public executions and those of drug traffickers serve as a deterrent to combat crime.

“The moratorium on drug-related offenses means the kingdom is giving more non-violent criminals a second chance," the president of the government's Human Rights Commission, Awwad Alawwad, said. In a statement obtained by the AP, he said the change represents a sign the Saudi justice system is focusing more on rehabilitation and prevention rather than solely on punishment.

According to Human Rights Watch, there were just five executions for drug-related crimes last year in Saudi Arabia, all in January 2020.

Kazakhstan abolishes capital punishment

Source: Euractiv (4 January 2021)

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has signed a decree abolishing the death penalty in Kazakhstan, according to a statement released by his office on Saturday (2 January).

The new law makes permanent the existing moratorium on state executions, introduced in 2003 by the first president of the country, Nursultan Nazarbayev.

The move was largely expected. Tokayev, a former high-ranking UN official who was elected in June 2019, announced that his country would join the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aimed at abolishing the death penalty. The announcement was made in his speech at the 74th session of the UN General Assembly in December 2019.

Russia, Tajikistan and Belarus are now the only three countries in Europe and Central Asia which haven’t yet signed or ratified the Second Optional Protocol. Belarus is the only country in Europe to carry out executions.

Capital punishment in Kazakhstan has been abolished but was still permitted for war crimes or terrorism, as the UN Convention allows. In 2008 and 2016, Kazakhstan voted in favour of the UN Moratorium on the Death Penalty.

While the former Soviet republic has not carried out an execution in almost two decades, death sentences have continued to be handed down to those convicted of serious crimes.

Tokayev has spared convicts sentenced to death. One of the last pronounced death sentences in Kazakhstan was reportedly that of mass murderer Ruslan Kulekbayev who shot and killed eight police officers and two civilians during a rampage in the country’s largest city, Almaty, in 2016. He will now serve a life sentence instead.

The last state-sanctioned executions carried out in the country were in May 2003, when 12 people were put to death by firing squad.

Sunday, 9 May 2021

COVID-hit Indonesia orders executions via Zoom, video apps

Source: Public News (23 April 2021)

Amnesty says virtually 100 inmates sentenced nearly by judges since early final 12 months.

Indonesia has sentenced a number of prisoners to demise over Zoom and different video apps in the course of the coronavirus pandemic in what critics say is an “inhumane” insult to these dealing with the firing squad.

The Southeast Asian nation turned to digital courtroom hearings as COVID-19 restrictions shut down most in-person trials, together with homicide and drug trafficking circumstances, which might carry the demise penalty.

Since early final 12 months, virtually 100 inmates have been condemned to die in Indonesia by judges they might solely see on a tv monitor, in line with Amnesty International.

The Muslim-majority nation has a number of the world’s hardest drug legal guidelines and each Indonesian and international traffickers have been executed, together with the masterminds of Australia’s Bali Nine heroin gang.

This month, 13 members of a trafficking ring, together with three Iranians and a Pakistani, realized via video that they’d be shot for smuggling 400kg (880 kilos) of methamphetamine into Indonesia.

On Wednesday, a Jakarta courtroom sentenced six fighters to demise utilizing a video app over their position in a 2018 jail riot wherein 5 members of Indonesia’s counterterror squad had been killed.

“Virtual hearings degrade the rights of defendants facing death sentences – it’s about someone’s life and death,” mentioned Amnesty International Indonesia director, Usman Hamid.

“The death penalty has always been a cruel punishment. But this online trend adds to the injustice and inhumanity.”

‘Clear disadvantage’

Indonesia has pressed on with the digital hearings even because the variety of executions and demise sentences dropped globally final 12 months, with COVID-19 disrupting many legal proceedings, Amnesty mentioned in its annual capital punishment report this week.

Virtual hearings depart defendants unable to completely take part in circumstances which can be typically interrupted in international locations with poor web connections, together with Indonesia, critics say.

“Virtual platforms … can expose the defendant to significant violations of their fair trial rights and impinge on the quality of the defence,” NGO Harm Reduction International mentioned in a latest report on the demise penalty for drug offences.

Lawyers have complained about being unable to seek the advice of with purchasers attributable to virus restrictions. And households of the accused have typically been barred from accessing hearings that will usually be open to the general public.

“These virtual hearings present a clear disadvantage for defendants,” mentioned Indonesian lawyer Dedi Setiadi.

Setiadi, who defended a number of males sentenced to demise within the methamphetamine case this month, mentioned he would attraction their case on the grounds that digital hearings had been unfair.

Relatives of the defendants weren’t given full entry, the lawyer mentioned.

Death penalty sentences are sometimes commuted to lengthy jail phrases in Indonesia and an in-person trial may need caused a much less extreme verdict, in line with Setiadi, who described his purchasers as low-level gamers within the smuggling ring.

“The verdict could have been different if the judges had talked directly with the defendants and seen their expressions,” he mentioned. “A Zoom hearing is less personal.”

Indonesia’s Supreme Court, which ordered on-line hearings in the course of the pandemic, didn’t reply to requests for remark.

But the nation’s judicial fee instructed AFP news company that it has requested the highest courtroom to think about returning to in-person trials for severe offences, together with circumstances with capital punishment.

There are almost 500 folks, together with many foreigners, awaiting execution in Indonesia, the place condemned prisoners are marched to a jungle clearing, tied to a stake and shot.

Friday, 23 April 2021

China, Middle East dominate 2020 list of top executioners: Report

Source: Al Jazeera (21 April 2021)

While the year 2020 witnessed an overall decline in the number of global death penalties, some countries increased the number of executions they carried out.

In its annual global review of the death penalty, Amnesty International said that the unprecedented challenge of the coronavirus pandemic contributed to a trend of decline in global executions between January and December 2020. But authorities in 18 countries continued executing last year.

Amnesty relied on official figures, judgements, media reports and information from families, individuals and civil societies to collate data for its report titled Death Sentences and Executions in 2020.

Commenting on the findings, Agnes Callamard, the secretary-general of Amnesty International, said in a statement: “As the world focused on finding ways to protect lives from COVID-19, several governments showed a disturbing determination to resort to the death penalty and execute people no matter what.”

“The death penalty is an abhorrent punishment and pursuing executions in the middle of a pandemic further highlights its inherent cruelty,” Callamard said, adding that many people on death row were unable to access in-person legal representation under these conditions, which is considered “a particularly egregious assault on human rights”.

Although the figures in the report provided an overall reflection of the global breakdown of executions in 2020, they were on the lower end of estimates for many countries.

Data on the use of the death penalty is classified information in some countries, including China and Vietnam, whereas in countries like Laos and North Korea, little or no information is available due to restrictive state practices.

Top six executing countries

China is believed to be “the world’s most prolific executioner”, executing thousands of people each year, said the report.

But with Chinese authorities classifying the total number of death sentences and executions as state secrets, it is difficult to verify the exact number carried out.

After China, four Middle Eastern countries – Iran, Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia – accounted for 88 percent of all known executions in 2020, said the report.

Iran came in as the second-highest global executioner with more than 246 executions carried out between January and December 2020.

Among those executed was journalist Ruhollah Zam, who was hung on December 12. He was once-exiled over his online work that helped inspire nationwide economic protests in 2017.

Coming in third was Egypt, which at 107 executions, tripled the number of yearly executions in 2020 compared with the year before.

The 2020 toll was the highest since the number of executions peaked in 2013, following the military overthrow in July 2013 of Egypt’s first democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi. At least 109 executions were carried out in 2013, according to Amnesty.

Dozens of those executions were related to political violence. Many of the trials were marred by serious human rights violations, including torture and enforced disappearances, said the report.

The spike in executions in Egypt occurred between October and November when the government executed 57 people, including four women. Several human rights organisations decried the executions.

In fourth place, Iraq executed more than 45 people last year. That total was still less than half the number of executions carried out by the Iraqi authorities in 2019, said the report.

Several of those cases involved prisoners in terrorism-related crimes, who according to the United Nations human rights experts, faced trials that were unjust.

With at least 27 executions, Saudi Arabia was considered the fifth top global executioner in 2020, according to the report.

Despite this, the number of recorded executions in Saudi Arabia fell by 85 percent from 184 in 2019.

Criticism of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record has grown since King Salman named his son Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) as crown prince and heir to the throne in June 2017 and Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in the Turkish city of Istanbul in October 2018.

In a huge setback, the US became the only country in the Americas to carry out executions in 2020 after the Trump administration carried out the first federal execution in 17 years in July 2020.

And yet, in 2020, the US reached its lowest figure of executions in almost 30 years.

International law violations

Additionally, Amnesty recorded several executions that violated international law including one public execution and three people executed for crimes that occurred below the age of 18 in Iran.

In violation of international law, people with mental or intellectual disabilities were also put to death in countries including the US, Japan, the Maldives and Pakistan, said the report.

Meanwhile, many counties are believed to have imposed death sentences following proceedings that did not meet international standards for fair trials in Bahrain, Bangladesh, Egypt and Singapore among others.

In China, Iran and Saudi Arabia at least 30 executions were linked to drug-related offences.

Lowest in decade

The total number of known global executions in 2020 was at least 483, said the report, which marked the lowest number of executions recorded by Amnesty in at least 10 years.

The figure represented a 26-percent decrease in the number of executions compared with 2019 and a 70-percent fall from 1,634 global executions in 2015. This drop was primarily linked to reductions in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, according to the report.

Furthermore, the number of known executing countries fell from 20 in 2019 to 18 in 2020.

At the same time, at 1,477 the report recorded a 36-percent decline in newly imposed death sentences in 2020 globally, compared with the previous year. According to the report, this decline was partly due to the coronavirus pandemic disrupting and delayed criminal proceedings globally.

No executions were recorded in several countries that executed people in the previous two years, including Afghanistan, Belarus, Japan, Singapore and Sudan.

Abolishing death penalty

Meanwhile, the US state of Colorado and Chad abolished the death penalty in 2020, which as of April 2021, brought the number of countries to have abolished the death penalty for all crimes to 108.

With Kazakhstan committing to abolish the death penalty and Barbados concluding reforms to repeal the mandatory death penalty, the number of countries that abolished it in law or practice reached 144.

“Despite the continued pursuit of the death penalty by some governments, the overall picture in 2020 was positive,” said Callamard.

“We urge leaders in all countries that have not yet repealed this punishment to make 2021 the year that they end state-sanctioned killings for good,” she added.

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Lame Duck Executioners

When historians look back and evaluate the Trump presidency, one focus will be the instigation of the federal death penalty. Until the execution of Daniel Lee Lewis on Jan 14, 2020, no federal prisoner had been executed in 17 years. The execution of Lisa Montgomery was even more extreme - no woman had been put to death by the federal government in 67 years, the last one being in 1953.

 A Political Punishment

Apart from restarting federal executions, another quagmire was Trump's insistence on carrying out executions even after election defeat. Whether one supports or opposes the death penalty, both sides can likely agree that it is a political issue. And political issues can bring political rewards. In the United States, prosecutors gain accolades when a sentence of death is pronounced. And then a second time - in the not so usual instance - if the accused is put to death.

Politicians often have much to gain. Preaching that law and order is necessary, and that the death penalty keeps our communities safe, brings donations and votes. Judges who oppose the death penalty draw the wrath of police organizations, and can end up as grass by the wayside.

 The Jilted and the Defeated

Jilted lovers and defeated politicians share similar mindsets. Like Monday morning quarterbacks, 'what did I do wrong, what could I have done better', are questions which dog the mind. Those who lose in love and politics often indulge in drastic actions. And this phenomenon is hardly indigenous to the United States.

In September 2009, The Democratic Party of Japan, an opposition party, took control of the Japanese parliament. It was only the second time in postwar history that the stalwart conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was sidelined. Human rights activists and progressives celebrated the victory. In particular, they welcomed the appointment of (Ms) Keiko Chiba, a practicing attorney, as Justice Minister. Chiba had a firm record of supporting human rights, actively opposed the death penalty, and was a member of a non-partisan abolitionist caucus within the parliament.

Death penalty abolitionists in Japan breathed a sigh of relief. From December 2006 until January 2009 - a period of 25 months - Japan had hung 32 prisoners. The country disposed of nearly one third of its death row. By comparison, the US as a whole would have had to carry out more than 700 executions to keep pace.

On July 11, 2010, ten months after assuming office, Chiba, who had served in parliament off and on since 1996, lost her bid for re-election. It is extremely rare for a sitting minister to lose a race for office in Japan. However, in a somewhat unusual move, she was allowed to remain on as minister of justice until the end of her parliamentary term.

A Shocking Reversal

Some two weeks after defeat, Chiba turned face. She ordered two executions. And to add fuel to the fire, she did something no other justice minister had even contemplated: opening the Tokyo gallows, which had never been photographed, to the press (albeit without the noose).

Executions in Japan are shrouded in secrecy. Prisoners need not be informed of when they will hang, and we surmise that most do not know until the morning of the execution. Until about 10 years ago, the Ministry of Justice did not even make public announcements of executions. The public and relatives of the deceased heard the news after the ministry informed prisoner's attorneys, who then alerted concerned family and human rights organizations.

Say it ain't so Keiko

Chiba's title, Minister of Justice, was a bit of a misnomer. A proper translation of the title 'Ministry of Justice' (Houmusho) is better rendered as the 'Ministry of Laws' (as it is called in the Philippines and in Singapore). The ministry is charged with maintaining the dominant social narrative: citizens should work hard, not complain, avoid litigation, and listen to authority. 'Justice' is hardly part of the agenda.

Quite often, ordering an execution is a rite of passage for new justice ministers. Many authorize them soon after appointment. Executions assuage upper-level bureaucrats, fellow ruling party politicians, as well as the public which supports capital punishment.

From the outset, Chiba refused to execute. Why did she renege? The most likely guess is that the apparatchiks teased, "See what your abolitionist tendencies have wrought? We told you to execute and you ignored us. You should have listened. The Japanese public believe in the death penalty. Now you are a lame duck minister."

Penal Populism

Long before running for office, Donald Trump firmly supported the death penalty. In 1989, he paid for several full-page articles, including in The New York Times, screaming for the reinstitution of the death penalty in New York state. This was revenge against five black men who were then alleged to have attacked a white woman and became known as the Central Park Five.

The Central Park Five were falsely accused. All were later exonerated. One would expect a normal mind to bear remorse for advocating what would have constituted wrongful executions. Or at the very least, to avoid making the same mistake twice.

Donald J. Trump was not of a normal mind. And one wonders if former justice minister Chiba also became temporarily deluded. Be it the US, or Japan, support for the death penalty brings political rewards, and from opposition can foster political reprisals. The US and Japan are the only large, advanced democracies that conduct executions. And until complete abolition is reached in both countries, penal populism - political actors teasing voters with executions and other severe criminal justice policies - will likely continue to woo the public.

Michael H. Fox is associate professor at Hyogo University and director of the Japan Innocence and Death Penalty Information Center (

Drug Smugglers Are Being Sentenced to Death via Zoom

Source: Vice (7 April 2021)

Courts in Indonesia and Singapore are using video calls to sentence to death people convicted of drug trafficking, according to drug harm reduction experts.

Harm Reduction International (HRI), which published its annual report into global drug war death penalties on Wednesday, told VICE World News that 19 drug offenders were sentenced to death in Indonesia during virtual hearings held on video apps such as Zoom and WhatsApp between March 2020 and March this year. Two people convicted of drug trafficking were handed death sentences over Zoom calls in Singapore last year.

The report said use of video calls for trial hearings and to administer death sentences introduced due to COVID-19 constituted a “significant violation of their fair trial rights”.

Lawyers for defendants said the video conference calls, which featured defendants speaking from prison, were often prone to interruption and “freezing” due to bad internet connections. Indonesia has some of the lowest internet speeds in the world.

In addition, they said the online format meant they could not properly consult with defendants, and that proceedings were not always be witnessed by the general public, including family members. A number of those sentenced to death were foreign nationals, some of whom who had no access to court interpreters. Lawyers also said Zoom calls were lacking in terms of security and confidentiality.

“We cannot record the process, nor take screenshots or photos unless we get the judges’ permission. Virtual hearings mean the whole process is not open for the public because the link is distributed limitedly,” lawyers who defended some of the traffickers told HRI.

The virtual death sentences in Indonesia include the case of three Malaysians, Kumar Atchababoo, Rajandran Ramasamy, and Sanggat Ramasamy, who were sentenced to death via an online video call in November after being convicted of attempting to smuggle 28.6kg of methamphetamine into Indonesia last January. A defence lawyer said he would be appealing the decision as the online trial meant he could not communicate with his client. In February a Pakistani national and a Yemeni national were handed death sentences for methamphetamine smuggling after an online Zoom trial and sentencing.

In Singapore last May, Punithan Genasan, a 37-year old from Malaysia, was sentenced to death by hanging via a sentencing hearing held on Zoom. Genasan, who had denied the charges, was sentenced after being found guilty of a heroin smuggling charge dating back to 2011.

“The use of virtual platforms to conduct criminal proceedings, especially those which result in a death sentence, can expose the defendant to significant violations of their fair trial rights and impinge on the quality of the defence,” said the report.

As of October 2020, according to the report, there were 355 people on death row in Indonesia, of which 214 were convicted for drug offences – a 29 percent increase from 2019. Indonesia has a reputation for harsh treatment of its addicted drug users, and has seen a clampdown on its tourists drug scene since 2019.

The report found that despite the COVID pandemic there was a rise in death sentences handed out for drug offences. In 2020, courts sentenced 213 people to death for drug offences, an increase of 16 percent from the previous year, with Vietnam (78) and Indonesia (77) representing three quarters of all death sentences given for drugs. In June five people, including a mother and her daughter, were sentenced to death for their role in smuggling 26.4kg of heroin into Vietnam from Laos.

However, the number of executions for drug offences tumbled last year by 75 percent, due to the pandemic and also a near moratorium on drug crime executions in Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s top executioners for drug offences for the past decade. There were 30 confirmed executions for drug offences in 2020, down from 116 in 2019. All of the executions took place in 3 countries, China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

One case involved an Egyptian truck driver who was arrested with a stash of amphetamine hidden in a truck he was driving transporting in Saudi Arabia in 2017. Human rights groups said he was tortured so badly he missed two court hearings and was denied legal representation. His family wasn’t informed of his arrest, conviction and execution, in January last year, which they found out about from fellow prisoners and a newspaper article.

Data on the death penalty for drug offences is “grossly insufficient” according to HRI, partly due to a lack of information on executions in China and Vietnam, with both nations reported to routinely execute people for drug offences. Vietnam considers the death penalty a matter of state secrecy.

The report said 35 countries still retain the death penalty for drug offences. There are at least 3,000 people currently on death row for drug offences worldwide.

“The fact that countries continued to sentence people to death for drug offences amidst a global pandemic is abhorrent and emblematic of an overly punitive approach to drug control. Too many countries remain reluctant to move away from capital punishment and their false belief that the death penalty deters drug offences,” said Naomi Burke-Shyne, executive director at HRI.

“While the record low number of executions for drug offences is certainly welcome, executions are only the tip of the iceberg. Executions are the most visible part of a hugely problematic system, characterised by human rights violations.”

There were no drug offence executions in the US in 2020. Although in February last year former President Donald Trump praised countries, including China, which impose the death penalty for drug offences, saying, erroneously, that “states with a very powerful death penalty on drug dealers don’t have a drug problem.” Incumbent President Joe Biden has pledged to eliminate the death penalty at the federal level. In December 2020, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly adopted its eighth resolution calling for a moratorium of the death penalty, with record-breaking support from 123 countries.