Saturday, 29 December 2018

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

Source: Amnesty International (17 December 2018)

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/12/global-abolition-closer-than-ever-as-record-number-of-countries-vote-to-end-executions/

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

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

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

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

Background

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

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

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

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

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

Source: CNN (27 December 2018)

https://www.cnn.com/2018/12/27/asia/japan-capital-punishment-intl/index.html

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

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

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

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

Yamashita signed the order for their execution on Tuesday.

Conducted in secrecy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 26 November 2018

Bangladesh Cabinet approves death sentence for drug crimes

Source: wtop (10 October 2018)

https://wtop.com/asia/2018/10/bangladesh-cabinet-approves-death-sentence-for-drug-crimes/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Al Jazeera (16 November 2018)

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/11/malaysia-turn-death-penalty-abolition-181115061626577.html

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About one-quarter have been found guilty of murder.

Balancing feelings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'I prayed'

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

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

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

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

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

He thanked his mother for sticking by him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miscarriages of justice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'A new era'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: The Straits Times (13 November 2018)

https://www.straitstimes.com/world/malaysias-cabinet-decides-to-end-death-penalty-for-33-offences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 5 November 2018

Singapore launches survey on death penalty

Source: Rappler (31 October 2018)

https://www.rappler.com/world/regions/asia-pacific/215651-singapore-survey-death-penalty

SINGAPORE – Singapore will gauge public attitudes towards the death penalty in a survey, the interior ministry said Wednesday, October 31, as human rights groups renewed calls for its abolition.

The city-state – which staunchly maintains that capital punishment is a crime deterrent – executed 8 convicts last year, the highest number in a decade, according to official data. They had all committed drug offenses.

The Straits Times said it was the first time that the MHA, which is in charge of the prisons department, is conducting a survey on the subject.

Last week's hanging in Singapore of convicted Malaysian drug trafficker Prabu N Pathmanathan sparked fresh calls to scrap the death penalty, a legacy of British colonial rule.

Neighboring Malaysia, where the cabinet had decided to abolish the death penalty, had asked Singapore to spare the 31-year-old convict on humanitarian grounds.

"The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is conducting the survey to give us a better understanding of Singapore residents' attitudes towards the death penalty," MHA said in a statement to Agence France-Presse (AFP).

It said the survey is part of the government's "regular research on our criminal justice system" and involves citizens and permanent residents.

"Participants were randomly selected based on age, race and gender, for a representative sample of the Singapore resident population," it added.

Some 2,000 respondents will be questioned between October and December by market research consultancy Blackbox Research, which the MHA has commissioned for the project, the newspaper said.

Human rights groups said the survey is unlikely to be a prelude to Singapore softening its position on capital punishment.

"There's been no indication whatsoever that Singapore's position on use of the death penalty is softening," said Phil Robertson, deputy director for Asia at Human Rights Watch.

"One wonders whether the MHA is counting on a survey of public opinion to back their views and provide justification for their continued defiance of the international trend towards abolishing the death penalty," he told AFP.

Previously, the death penalty in Singapore was mandatory for crimes like drug trafficking and murder.

Following a review, legislation was passed in 2012 removing the mandatory provision for drug trafficking and murder under certain circumstances. – Rappler.com

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Asia Bibi: Pakistan acquits Christian woman on death row

Source: BBC News (31 October 2018)

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-46040515

A Pakistani court has overturned the death sentence of a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy, a case that has polarised the nation.

Asia Bibi was convicted in 2010 after being accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad in a row with her neighbours.

She always maintained her innocence, but has spent most of the past eight years in solitary confinement.

The landmark ruling has already set off violent protests by hardliners who support strong blasphemy laws.

Demonstrations against the verdict are being held in Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Multan. Clashes with police have been reported.

The Red Zone in the capital Islamabad, where the Supreme Court is located, has been sealed off by police, and paramilitary forces have been deployed to keep protesters away from the court.

Chief Justice Saqib Nisar, who read out the ruling, said Asia Bibi could walk free from jail in Sheikupura, near Lahore, immediately if not wanted in connection with any other case.

She was not in court to hear the ruling, but reacted to the verdict from prison with apparent disbelief.

"I can't believe what I am hearing, will I go out now? Will they let me out, really?" AFP news agency quoted her as saying by phone.

What was Asia Bibi accused of?

The trial stems from an argument Asia Bibi, whose full name is Asia Noreen, had with a group of women in June 2009.

They were harvesting fruit when a row broke out about a bucket of water. The women said that because she had used a cup, they could no longer touch it, as her faith had made it unclean.

Prosecutors alleged that in the row which followed, the women said Asia Bibi should convert to Islam and that she made three offensive comments about the Prophet Muhammad in response.

She was later beaten up at her home, during which her accusers say she confessed to blasphemy. She was arrested after a police investigation.
________________________________________________________________________________

Fallout to continue

By Secunder Kermani, BBC News, Islamabad

The court delivered its verdict quickly, no doubt aware of the sensitivity of the case and the danger of a violent reaction to it.

Asia Bibi's lawyer, closely flanked by a policeman, told me he was "happy" with the verdict, but also afraid for his and his client's safety.

Even after she is freed, the legacy of her case will continue. Shortly after her conviction a prominent politician, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, was murdered for speaking out in her support and calling for the blasphemy laws to be reformed.

The killer - Mumtaz Qadri - was executed, but has become a cult hero with a large shrine dedicated to him on the outskirts of Islamabad.

His supporters also created a political party - campaigning to preserve the blasphemy laws - which gathered around two million votes in this year's general election.

It's the same party which many fear could be responsible for violent unrest in the coming days.
_________________________________________________________________________________

What is blasphemy in Pakistan?

Laws enacted by the British Raj in 1860 made it a crime to disturb a religious assembly, trespass on burial grounds, insult religious beliefs or intentionally destroy or defile a place or an object of worship, punishable by up to 10 years in jail.

Several more clauses were added in the 1980s by Pakistan's military ruler Gen Zia ul-Haq:
1980 - up to three years in jail for derogatory remarks against Islamic personages
1982 - life imprisonment for "wilful" desecration of the Koran
1986 - "death, or imprisonment for life" for blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad

What are Pakistan's blasphemy laws?

What did the Supreme Court say?

The judges said the prosecution had "categorically failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt".

The case was based on flimsy evidence, they said, and proper procedures had not been followed. The alleged confession was delivered in front of a crowd "threatening to kill her".

The ruling heavily referenced the Koran and Islamic history. It ended with a quote from the Hadith, the collected sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, which calls for non-Muslims to be treated kindly.
Why is this case so divisive?

Islam is Pakistan's national religion and underpins its legal system. Public support for the strict blasphemy laws is strong.

Hardline politicians have often backed severe punishments, partly as a way of shoring up their support base.

But critics say the laws have often been used to get revenge after personal disputes, and that convictions are based on thin evidence.

The vast majority of those convicted are Muslims or members of the Ahmadi community, but since the 1990s, scores of Christians have been convicted. They make up just 1.6% of the population.

The Christian community has been targeted by numerous attacks in recent years, leaving many feeling vulnerable to a climate of intolerance.

Many of the attacks are motivated by blasphemy cases, but others have come in reaction to the US-led war in Afghanistan.

No-one has ever been executed under the laws, but some people accused of the offence have been lynched or murdered.

Asia Bibi, who was born in 1971 and has four children, was the first woman to be sentenced to death under the laws.

Internationally, her conviction has been widely condemned as a breach of human rights.
What happens now?

There are fears that there could be a violent response to her acquittal.

As with her previous trials and appeals, large crowds gathered outside the court in Islamabad on Wednesday demanding her conviction be upheld and the execution carried out.

She has been offered asylum by several countries and is expected to leave the country.

Her daughter, Eisham Ashiq, had previously told the AFP news agency that if she were released: "I will hug her and will cry meeting her and will thank God that he has got her released."

But the family said they feared for their safety and would likely have to leave Pakistan.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

ADPAN – On the World Day Against the Death Penalty October 10, 2018

Source: Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (10 October 2018)

https://adpan.org/2018/10/10/adpan-on-the-world-day-against-the-death-penalty-october-10-2018/

Press Statement
On the World Day Against the Death Penalty
October 10, 2018

On 10 October each year, the international community reflects on the death penalty and its futility.

This year, we also reflect on the terrible and cruel physical conditions most death penalty prisoners are forced to suffer. All prisoners on death row share the same psychological torment, as they await an unnecessary and brutal death at a pre-arranged hour, whether soon or an unknown number of days or years away.

On this World Day Against the Death Penalty, Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN, a network of organizations and individuals aiming for the abolition of the Death Penalty) reaffirms its strong and unequivocal opposition to the death penalty in all circumstances and for all cases. ADPAN considers the death penalty incompatible with human dignity. The international research shows that the death penalty does not have any proven deterrent effect. Whether used against prisoners who are powerless and poor, minorities who are marginalized, or political enemies, the death penalty brutalizes and diminishes each society which employs it.

On this day of the year, we call on the retentionist States who still regularly execute, to immediately put in place a moratorium, and to abandon this futile and cruel relic of history.

All too often, conditions for prisoners facing execution are cruel and harsh. Conditions vary around the world, but in some places, cruelties range from torture to overcrowding in filthy conditions to denial of basic rights such as regular access to lawyers or family, to being detained without hope for long periods, all too often in cramped, excessively hot or cold and inhuman conditions.

Systemic problems vary around the world, but these terrible prison conditions are too often accompanied by trials which have been unfair, in justice systems in urgent need of reform.

In Asia, there has been mixed development in the abolition movement in the last 12 months. On the one hand, we have seen the amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act in Malaysia, which the government then described as a “baby step” towards abolition. In this amendment, the presiding judge is given some discretion to impose imprisonment rather than death on a convicted drug trafficking offender if certain conditions are proven. Nevertheless, whether this amendment will save lives is yet to be seen. Indonesia is also undergoing a review of its Criminal Code where, if passed, the death penalty will no longer be a primary sentence. Korea is affirming its commitment to abolition, while Cambodia has resisted a call to reintroduce the death penalty.

On the other hand, there was also a steep increase in executions in this region. Earlier this year, Japan executed 13 people within a short span of time; Thailand executed 1 person after 9 years of moratorium; Taiwan executed 1 person without much warning; we have information that Singapore recently executed 3 people; not to mention the many executions in China and Vietnam which are so often done in secret. The Philippines is threatening to bring back the death penalty, only a delayed Senate vote is holding back the floodgates; so too, Mongolia is debating reverting back to executions.

In Pakistan, executions through special and military courts and trials have been carried out, in the face of criticism of the courts’ failures to adhere to their guarantees of fair trial and due process. In India, despite extraordinary delays and other systemic problems within the justice system, there has been a rush to calling for more and more executions, in the face of child and other rape cases. In Bangladesh, there has been an increase on death penalty conviction in recent years, totally as at September 2018, 1680 people on death row.

What these occasional executions and clamor for executions all too often show is that the death penalty is used as a tool for some other undisclosed political purpose.

However, we also note that there has been an increase in discourse and dialogue on this issue within society and among policymakers, which we view as most desirable and healthy. We, in ADPAN, place much emphasis on continued education and dialogue in an open and transparent environment. We are firmly of the view that wherever there is honest, courageous and careful study of a justice system, its flaws, its strengths, its purposes; in combination with a study of trials, acknowledging the reality everywhere of the inevitability in every system of some wrongful convictions; with honest assessments of state brutality when it occurs, together with the study of prison conditions, and other relevant matters, then the futility and unnecessary cruelty of state-sanctioned executions will become apparent. So many countries of the world have already done this – rich and poor, of all political and religious persuasions. It is time for the remaining executing countries to do the same.

ADPAN envisions a world without the death penalty, and we start from Asia. Asia covers a vast geographical area, diverse and rich in ethnicity and culture, with different forms of government. We understand the challenges, yet we believe that with the hard work of all stakeholders and the commitment towards humanity, this is not an impossible goal. History and the changes of the last 70 years show us that such goals are not merely dreams but can become practical realities.

Last but not least, on this 10th October, as every corner of the world commemorates the World Day Against the Death Penalty, ADPAN wish to take this opportunity to express our heartfelt appreciation to the abolition community and welcome all others to join the family as we call for the abolition of the death penalty, an end to state-sanctioned killings.

Issued by:

ADPAN Executive Committee

10 October 2018

contactadpan@gmail.com

30 years’ jail to replace death penalty

Source: The Star Online (17 October 2018)

https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2018/10/17/30-years-jail-to-replace-death-penalty-liew-inmates-must-serve-out-term-in-full-with-no-retrospectiv/

DEATH row inmates, whose sentences have been commuted to 30 years life imprisonment, will have to serve out their full jail term, says Datuk Liew Vui Keong.

“There will be no retrospective effect for those serving their sentences.

“Their jail term will run from the date the pardons board commutes their death sentences to life imprisonment,” said the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department when answering a supplementary question by Kasthuriraani Patto (Pakatan-Batu Kawan) during Minister’s Question Time yesterday.

Besides the full jail term, he said there would be instances where the convicts would end up spending the rest of their natural lives behind bars.

He said the study took several factors into consideration and recommended that the death penalty in Malaysia to be abolished altogether.

Liew said the study noted that there was no proof to show the death penalty served as an “effective deterrent”.

He said it also found there was a risk of an innocent suspect being sent to the gallows due to a wrongful conviction.

“There are instances of those convicted with murder based on false testimonies from key witnesses.

“Although the conviction may be set aside, the fact is the conviction could have led to the death penalty,” he said.

Liew reiterated the government’s commitment to abolish the death penalty was in line with Pakatan Harapan election manifesto.

At present, he said there were 32 laws that carried the death penalty, of which 12 were mandatory sentences.

Will a New Malaysia Kill the Old Death Penalty?

Source: The Diplomat (18 October 2018)

https://thediplomat.com/2018/10/will-a-new-malaysia-get-rid-of-the-old-death-penalty/

In a sign of potential reform, the Malaysian government of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad appears to be moving toward abolishing the death penalty. Though there is still some uncertainty around how things will eventually play out, it has nonetheless sparked a conversation about potential alternatives the country could adopt in this respect.

Malaysia is not alone in having the death penalty in Southeast Asia. While a few countries have abolished the death penalty in recent decades, such as Cambodia and the Philippines, it is still used in other countries like Indonesia and Singapore and remains on the books in other places such as Brunei and Laos. Despite variations in frequency of use, it has at times led to unwanted tensions in diplomatic relations with countries opposed to the death penalty.

In Malaysia, by one estimate, about 1,200 people are on death row for crimes ranging from murder to drug trafficking. Charges like rape that causes death, child rape, kidnapping, and terrorism also carry the death penalty.

Law Minister Liew Vui Keong has raised the possibility of Malaysia getting rid of the death penalty and considering alternatives. Liew has cast this as part of a wider promise by the new government in its election manifesto to get rid of oppressive and cruel laws in the country.

The re-evaluation, which initially made headlines around the World Day Against the Death penalty, has been tentatively welcomed by international rights groups and was an obvious cause for celebration by those on death row. Amnesty International led the chorus of human rights groups that are campaigning for an end to the death penalty, saying the Malaysian decision was “a major step forward” for what is “an ultimate cruel, inhumane, degrading punishment.”

Despite the initial optimism, the exact path forward for Malaysia in this respect remains unclear. The Law Minister has expanded on why a reconsideration is necessary, pointing to the fact that there has been a government study conducted indicating that there is no deterrent effect from the death penalty. He also has ordered a halt on all executions until legislation is gazetted and comes into effect.

“Since we are abolishing the sentence, all executions should not be carried out… We will inform the Pardons Board to look into various applications for convicts on the waiting list to either be commuted or released.”

To address concerns among some, including lawmakers, Liew has also subsequently said that Malaysia will approach any re-evaluation carefully, including making sure that the death penalty is replaced by some version of life imprisonment or longer jail terms, with a terms of 30 years being thrown out as an example.

But the Malaysian Bar has warned that death sentences should not automatically be replaced by these alternatives, but rather be replaced by specific jail terms in relation to the severity of their offences and other specific circumstances.

“Only then will the punishment of imprisonment meted out be just and effective,” its president George Varughese said in a statement on October 16.

One thing is for certain: if Malaysia does get rid of the death penalty, it will be in good company. Malaysia will emerge as the 107th country to rid itself of state-sanctioned killing, compared with just 64 nations just two decades ago.

Luke Hunt can be followed on Twitter @lukeanthonyhunt

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Taiwanese man executed for killing ex-wife and daughter in island’s first capital punishment for two years

Source: South China Morning Post (1 September 2018)

https://www.scmp.com/news/asia/article/2162318/taiwan-carries-out-first-execution-two-years

Taiwan executed a death-row inmate on Friday, the first execution carried out under President Tsai Ing-wen’s government, despite ongoing calls from rights groups to abolish the death penalty.

Lee Hung-chi was executed at a jail in southern Kaohsiung city by firing squad, according to the justice ministry, for killing his ex-wife and five-year-old daughter in 2014.

Lee stabbed his former spouse to death outside the kindergarten their two daughters attended and then took one of the girls to his car, where he tried to kill both her and himself by carbon monoxide poisoning.

Lee survived after they were rescued but the girl died two months later despite treatment.

“His actions were brutal and ruthless … and inflicted irreparable harms to the victims’ families,” deputy justice minister Chen Ming-tang told reporters.

The court had ruled there was no likelihood of Lee reforming, he added.

Taiwan resumed capital punishment in 2010 after a five-year hiatus, with the death penalty reserved for the most serious crimes such as aggravated murder and kidnapping.

Some politicians and rights groups have called for its abolition, but various surveys show most people support the death penalty.

Chen said the government was gradually decreasing its use, but would not abolish it for now.

“Abolishing [the] death sentence is an international trend and a long-term goal for the justice ministry … but there is no consensus in our country,” Chen said.

There are currently 42 prisoners on death row in Taiwan.

Lee’s execution was the first since a former college student was put to death in May 2016 for killing four people in a random stabbing spree on a subway that shocked the generally peaceful island.

In 2012 the murder of a young boy in a playground reignited debate over the death penalty, after the suspect reportedly said he was anticipating free board and lodging in jail and would get a life sentence at most even if he were to kill two or three people.

Whatever happened to…Thailand’s abolition of the death penalty?

Source: Southeast Asia Globe (30 August 2018)

http://sea-globe.com/whatever-happened-to-thailands-abolition-of-the-death-penalty/

Two months ago, 26-year-old Teerasak Longji was stretched out on a rack and killed. In decades past, the young Thai man would have stared down a firing squad in his final waking moments. But in 2018, his end came via a lethal cocktail of drugs.

Teerasak, whose family was not notified until after his death, was just 20 years old when he was arrested for stabbing a teenage boy in a bloody robbery in Thailand’s Trang province. His victim, who was stabbed 24 times by Teerasak, lost his wallet, his phone and his life.

Teerasak’s execution marks the first death sentence to be carried out in Thailand in almost a decade following an arduous campaign against it in the Buddhist nation. Although Thai courts continue to hand down death sentences – 75 last year alone, down from 216 in 2016 – hundreds of men and women have remained on death row for years, waiting for the final blow to fall.

Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson described the move as a slap in the face to all the people who had campaigned for an end to executions in the Kingdom.

“Seeing Thailand make such a total reversal on a core human rights issue like the death penalty is really disconcerting,” he told Southeast Asia Globe. “The Ministry of Justice had previously been touting that Thailand was moving towards abolition and then boom, it was all gone. The NCPO [National Council for Peace and Order, the name adopted by the military junta that seized power in 2014] needs to provide some serious explanations to the entire international community for its unjustified and unacceptable resumption of capital punishment.”

Despite widespread international condemnation of the move, no explanation for the apparently arbitrary reinstitution of the death penalty has been offered. For some observers, though, the decision marked a logical next step in the junta’s ongoing attempt to paint itself as the stern guardian of the Thai people. Exiled political scientist Pavin Chachavalpongpun told Southeast Asia Globe that the revival of a practice long thought left in the past fit with Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s self-proclaimed strongman image.

“I think somehow this is part of the junta’s attempt to ‘toughen up’ society,” he said. “It’s the junta trying to redefine what social order is. And I don’t think it’s just about the junta – the whole of the Thai state, the system has been going in that direction. I’m also talking about many smaller details, instructed by the new king: you have to dress properly, you have to have a certain haircut – this is all part of the redefinition of order.”

The new king, Maha Vajiralongkorn, who served in the Thai military as both officer and pilot, has taken an interest in the discipline of the nation’s security forces – illustrated by a widely shared video from earlier this year showing soldiers and police dutifully practicing a new salute personally created by the monarch, complete with a stiff chest puff and an abrupt twitch of the head. Even more recently, dozens of police officers were temporarily suspended for failing to adopt an ultraconservative short-back-and-sides haircut made popular by the king’s own royal guard. But just how deep the new sovereign’s interest in the nation’s law and order extends remains a matter of much speculation.

Although Pavin was adamant that there was no way of knowing what role – if any – the palace had played in the decision, the complete silence from the Thai bureaucracy and media alike on the timing of the execution suggests a link to that most unutterable taboo in Thai society: the sovereign. Writing for New Mandala in June, a Thai journalist – anonymous to avoid prosecution under the nation’s notorious lèse majesté laws that make all criticism, and sometimes merely discussion, of the reigning sovereign or his family punishable by years in prison – pointed out that the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej had played an essential role in the death penalty’s effective abolition by refusing to respond one way or another to the petitions filed with him after the initial death sentences were handed down. With the petitions still pending the King’s decision, the journalist wrote, no execution could be carried out without infringing on His Majesty’s royal authority.

That the doomed Teerasak would fail to seek the same clemency as more than 500 men and women before him seems improbable. His sudden execution – carried out even before his family had been notified of his impending death – suggests that the palace has given up its long deliberation on the pleas of the condemned in favour of swift and decisive action.

While he stressed that there was little more than speculation to go on, Naresuan University’s Paul Chambers told Southeast Asia Globe that rumours of the palace’s involvement did seem in keeping with the more active role played by the sovereign since the 2016 succession.

“I’ve talked to some Thai academics and journalists about this issue, and they tell me that there has been a more proactive role played by His Majesty in many different dimensions of Thai society – and one of them is in regard to the justice system,” he said. “That means that they see the execution of that man as an indicator of this royal intervention. Indeed, we are likely to see a faster turnaround of those on death row getting proceeded through the system – if you know what I mean. Because he seems to have a proactive interest in these sorts of things.”

Unlike his father, who, despite being widely revered throughout the Kingdom, wielded power in a much more subtle manner during his 70-year reign, Chambers said the new monarch appears to have a more hands-on approach to his authority.

“You can see this not just in the death penalty system but in other areas as well, like the fact that many different laws are suddenly coming under direct control of the palace,” he said. “It seems like this particular sovereign is taking a more direct, proactive role in society – unlike that of his father, which was more indirect.”

For Pavin, though, a junta that justifies its own existence through the maintenance of peace and order may well have its own reasons for wanting a return to the death penalty.

“The junta might want to gain political points among conservative minds, who have the loudest voices in society,” he said. “There have been a lot of high-profile cases that have worried the Thai public involving crime, involving rape.”

Opinion polls gauging public appetite for execution in Thailand have found a people still overwhelmingly in favour of capital punishment: a survey of 1,123 Thai citizens carried out in the days following Teerasak’s execution found that a staggering 93.4% supported the death penalty in the case of “cruel murderers”. Viewed through this lens, Pavin said, the decision to again follow through on the death sentences still regularly handed down by the courts appears less a betrayal of public trust than a desire to court it.

“There have been so many polls – most of them agree that the majority of Thais agree with the death penalty,” he said. “So I think this is partly a political decision: the junta wants to become popular, wants to please the majority.”

But the 517 men and women who remain on death row after years of uncertainty stand to pay the highest price to satisfy that majority.

“The NCPO appears to be playing a game of public intimidation against criminal elements using the classic tactic of ‘killing the chicken and showing it to the monkeys’,” Human Rights Watch’s Robertson said. “Many diplomats in Bangkok are already expressing concerns that this will not be the last execution – and that more may be in the pipeline.”

Saturday, 18 August 2018

PH-Led New Government Should No Longer Delay Abolition of Death Penalty

Source: MADPET (5 August 2018)

https://madpet06.blogspot.com/2018/08/malaysia-ph-led-new-government-should.html

MADPET(Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture) is disappointed that there is still no abolition of the death penalty in Malaysia after almost 3 months since the new Pakatan Harapan led government came into power.

The former UMNO-BN government did abolish the mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking in 2017, but alas the delay of putting the new law in force for months resulted in at least 10 persons being sentenced to mandatory death penalty. Currently in Malaysia, the death penalty is mandatory for about 12 offences, while about 20 other offences are punishable by a discretionary death penalty. Many of these offences do not even result in grievous injury and/or death to victims.

It is MADPET’s hope that the new PH-led government will act justly, and expedite the abolition of the death penalty, especially the mandatory death penalty and not just procrastinate using lame reasons of further study and review as was the case with the past government. The greater the delay, more will be sentenced to death and may even continue to be executed in Malaysia. When in Opposition, many of the parties and their parliamentarians, who are now in the new government, were committed to the abolition of the death penalty. The time to walk the talk is now.

35 persons were executed in the last ten years (2007 – 2017), and 1,267 people on death row or 2.7% of the prison population of about 60,000 people, as revealed by deputy director (policy) of the Prisons Department, Supri Hashim recently (Star, 29/6/2018). Since the new government assumed power, there is to date no known executions, but reasonably many still may have been sentenced to death in the past months.

On 29/7/2018, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said that government is looking into the need to make amendments to do away with the mandatory death penalty in legislation pertaining to criminal offences. (Malay Mail, 29/6/2018)


Mandatory death penalty removes the ability of judges to impose the most just and appropriate sentence, as Parliament by law forces them to impose just the one sentence of death once a person is convicted of the relevant crime.

MANDATORY DEATH PENALTY IS UNDEMOCRATIC

In a democracy, there are 3 branches of government – the Executive (Prime Minister and Cabinet), the Judiciary and the Legislative(Parliament). Besides serving as a check and balance to the other 2 branches, each branch of government also do have specific functions.

The mandatory sentence including the death penalty, is really is a trespass by the Legislature into what must be the duties/functions of the Judiciary. We should really trust the Judiciary in Malaysia to provide every person with the right to a fair trial, including also the ability to impose the appropriate just sentence, after considering all factors, including points submitted in mitigations and arguments for a harsher sentence.

MANDATORY DEATH PENALTY IS UNCONSTITUTIONAL

The existence of the mandatory death penalty may be unconstitutional, which was also the recent finding of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Barbados’s highest court, on 27/6/2018, which struck down the mandatory death penalty on the grounds that it is unconstitutional. Amongst others, it said that ‘…the Constitution, which gives the right to protection of the law, was enforceable, and that the mandatory death penalty breached that right as it deprived a court of the opportunity to exercise the quintessential judicial function of tailoring the punishment to fit the crime…’. One of the judges also stated ‘…that the judicial monopoly on the power to sentence, which is protected by the separation of powers principle, is consistent with “ensuring respect for, and adherence to, the ongoing evolution in the protection of human rights”. (Caribean360, 27/6/2018)

Our Malaysian Constitution has similar provisions with Barbados, and is also a democracy.
In a criminal trial, after conviction, the accused have the right to raise mitigating factors for the courts to consider when deciding on a just sentence. When an offence provides for a mandatory sentence, the convicted person is denied this fundamental right, and as such, it may be said that he/she is denied the guaranteed ‘equal protection of the law’ and the right to a just sentence.

DEATH PENALTY IN MALAYSIA NOT IN ACCORDANCE TO ISLAM MUST BE ABOLISHED

Whilst, some Muslims have supported the death penalty on the basis that it is provided for in their religious teachings and/or faith, it must be pointed out that in Malaysia, all the offences that provide for the death penalty are not offences under the Islamic/Syariah law. In Islam, there are also strict criminal procedural and evidential requirements that need to be fulfilled, which arguably is not fulfilled in Malaysia’s present administration of criminal justice system that now allows for the death penalty. As such, the argument that Malaysia should retain the death penalty because Islam allows for it is weak, and possibly even baseless or flawed.

Being a caring nation, Malaysia needs to do justice to all – including also emphasizing on repentance and second chances rather than simply effecting revenge, punishment and even death. It must be noted, that Malaysia, may also be partially responsible for its failings of government to provide for the well-being and welfare of its people, may have been a factor that pushed many a poor persons to resort to crime for the survival and livelihood of themselves and their families.

Therefore, Muslim politicians and parties, in government or otherwise, should justly not resist the abolition of death penalty, for fear of losing the support of Muslim Malaysian voters.

DEATH PENALTY NOT IN THE ‘BEST INTEREST’ OF A CHILD

Malaysia, having ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1995, must uphold its commitment to the protection and well-being of children. The execution of a father/mother/sibling/relative of a child is really not in the ‘best interest of the child’.

This concern for the child is already reflected even in our present Malaysian criminal laws, where a pregnant woman will not be sentenced to death, not when she is pregnant nor even many years after she had given birth. The underlying value and principle could only be our concern for the child and the importance of a living parent to a child’s wellbeing. This care and concern now needs to be expanded by the abolition of the death penalty.

WHEN OTHER CO-PERPETRATORS NOT YET ARRESTED, TRIED OR BROUGHT TO JUSTICE

There is suspicion that in the Mongolian model Altantuya Shaariibuu murder case, there may be others involved besides the 2 who have been convicted and now sentenced to mandatory death penalty. The two, Sirul Azhar Umar andAzilah Hadri, were at the time of the said murder part of former Prime Minister Najib's personal security detail.

This may be the case also for many other murders and death penalty crimes, especially those cases where the prosecution in the charge sheet clearly stated that the crime was done together with others not named, and in other such cases where involvement of third parties are evident or suspected. If the convicted are executed, it is becomes all the more unlikely that these other perpetrators of crime may never be identified, arrested and brought to justice.

Now, Malaysia is considering the abolition of the death penalty with the hope that the convicted and those sentenced to death, will cooperate in making sure other perpetrators are also brought to justice – this is an additional reason for the abolition of the death penalty. It will surely make it more probable to bring to justice those in the shadows, including those who may have ordered or facilitated such murders and crimes.

In Japan, it was customary that the convicted were not executed until all those involved were brought to justice. In Malaysia, sadly this may not be the case.

Even in cases that the prosecution knows there are others still at large, as an example in the case of Gunasegar Pitchaymuthu(35), Ramesh Jayakumar(34), and Sasivarnam Jayakumar(37) who were executed for murder in March 2016. The charge levied against the 3 stated clearly that the murder was committed with ‘one other still at large’. Now that the 3 have been executed, that ‘one other still at large’ would most probably never be brought to justice, more so since crucial witnesses being the accomplices are now dead. Justice may not be done.

Everyone would want all perpetrators of crimes, including the ‘big bosses’, ‘kingpins’ and others that ordered or assisted in the crime to be brought to justice. Hence, the execution of possible ‘whistle blowers’ and crucial witnesses prior to the arrest and trial of all other perpetrators is foolish, and certainly yet another reason for the abolition of the death penalty.

Now, if there is no mandatory death penalty, better still no death penalty, it is more likely that the convicted, especially after they had been unsuccessful in their final appeal, to reveal information needed to bring other remaining perpetrators to justice possibly with an assurance that there will be reduction in their own sentences. A person, who is guilty of murder or any crime, is likely not to reveal any information about the involvement of others until after their final appeal – for any earlier disclosure will not help them in their own trial, and will more likely result in their own conviction.

COMMUTE DEATH SENTENCE RATHER THAN SIMPLY DELAYING EXECUTIONS

Dr Wan Azizah was reported saying that “The last Cabinet meeting resolved to implement the government decision to defer the death penalty imposed on 17 people convicted of drug offences….” (Malay Mail, 29/6/2018). This only means that their execution has been delayed. It should just be commuted to imprisonment

With regards to the offence of drug trafficking, all those on death row, especially the at least 10 persons who were sentenced to death, simply because of the then Barisan Nasional’s Minister’s procrastination in putting the law into force by several months, should really now have their death penalty commuted to imprisonment. In fact, it is just that all those on death row for drug trafficking should have their death sentence commuted to imprisonment.

HISTORIC SUCCESS OF OUSTING UMNO-LED GOVERNMENT CELEBRATED WITH COMMUTATION OF DEATH SENTENCE?

Given the historic success at the last General Elections on 10/5/2018, which saw Malaysians ousting the UMNO-led coalition who had been government since independence on 31/8/1957, it may be the best time to celebrate by having the death sentence of all on death row at this time be commuted to imprisonment possibly on the occasion of the upcoming Merdeka celebration at the end of this month on 31/8/2018.

There are many reasons why the death penalty needs to be abolished. It certainly does not serve as a deterrent, as in Malaysia itself, it has been previously revealed in Parliament that there was an increase of drug trafficking despite the existence of the mandatory death penalty.

The police, prosecution and the courts are certainly not infallible, and innocent people can sometimes wrongly be found guilty and even sentenced to death. This risk of miscarriage of justice itself is sufficient reason for the abolition of the death penalty.

The call for the abolition of the death penalty in Malaysia has been made for far too long by civil society, Malaysian Bar, Parliamentarians and many others. TheHuman Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) has also recently called on this new government to not delay in abolition of death penalty. (2/7/2018, Bernama-Malay Mail)

MADPET calls on the new Malaysian government to forthwith impose a moratorium on all executions pending the abolition of the death penalty.

MADPET calls on the Malaysian government to immediately commute the death sentence of all on death row, especially those on death row by reason of being sentenced to death for drug trafficking, when that offence still carried the mandatory death penalty.

MADPET calls for the abolition of the mandatory death penalty and all other mandatory sentences, and restore to the Judiciary the power to decide on the most appropriate and just sentence for each case. Parliament should maybe simply stipulate maximum and/or minimum sentences, and return to the Judiciary ‘the judicial monopoly on the power to sentence’ as should be the case in a true Democracy.

MADPET calls for Malaysia to no longer delay the abolition of the death penalty, and to abolish the death penalty immediately in 2018.

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

Friday, 20 July 2018

EU warns Sri Lanka over death penalty

Source: Channel News Asia (16 July 2018)

https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/eu-warns-sri-lanka-over-death-penalty-10535592

COLOMBO: EU ambassadors warned Sri Lanka on Monday against ending its 42-year moratorium on capital punishment and said the island risked losing trade concessions if it went ahead.

Last week President Maithripala Sirisena said repeat drug offenders would be hanged as part of his administration's new crackdown on narcotics.
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"The diplomatic missions have requested the President to maintain the moratorium on the implementation of the death penalty and to uphold Sri Lanka's tradition of opposition to capital punishment," the EU ambassadors said in a joint statement.

The communique was supported by their colleagues from Canada and Norway.

Police believe the Indian Ocean island is being used as a transit point by drug traffickers. More than a tonne of cocaine seized in recent years was destroyed by police in January.

The main Welikada prison said it was advertising this week for two hangmen to carry out the first execution in 42 years after refurbishing the gallows.
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Diplomats said they expected Sirisena to roll back the decision, but should the island go ahead it would loose preferential access for its exports to the 28-member EU bloc.

"If Sri Lanka resumes capital punishment, Colombo will immediately lose the GSP-Plus status," an EU diplomatic source told AFP.

This refers to its generalised system of preferences (GSP Plus) - a favourable tariff scheme to encourage developing nations to respect human rights - restored by the EU in May 2017 after a seven-year hiatus.

Sri Lanka was denied GSP Plus status in 2010 after failing to meet its rights obligations. The Sirisena administration reapplied after coming to power in 2015.

EU diplomats have estimated that Sri Lanka gains an estimated 300 million euro (US$350 million) advantage annually thanks to the GSP-Plus system.

Prison spokesman Thushara Upuldeniya said there were 373 convicts on death row in Sri Lanka, including 18 for serious drug crimes.

Death sentences are still handed down for crimes including murder, rape and drug-related crimes, but the last execution was in 1976.

Nearly 900 people are currently in prison after been sentenced to death, although many have had their sentences commuted to life or are appealing.

Southeast Asia Drug Use Persists Despite Death Penalty

Source: VOA News (16 July 2018)

https://www.voanews.com/a/drug-abuse-in-asia/4484308.html

HO CHI MINH CITY —

Southeast Asian authorities are not shy about doling out the death penalty to punish drug traffickers, and yet narcotics abuse has not abated. If anything, it is on the rise, which begs the question of whether the region’s war on drugs is working.

The latest report on global trends from the United Nations shows that while Colombia remains the world’s top source of cocaine, Asia is now emerging as a hub for both transportation and consumption of the drug. In 2016 cocaine seizures tripled across the continent in the span of just a year, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime said in its June report.

But methamphetamine is making even bigger leaps in Southeast Asia because it is not as geographically restricted as cocaine, which depends on cultivation of the coca plant. Officials in countries around the Mekong region seized 65 tons of methamphetamine in tablet and crystalline form in 2017, the UNODC said in a separate report -- that is nearly 600 percent more than the amount seized a decade earlier.

The latest findings “show that drug markets are expanding, with cocaine and opium production hitting record highs, presenting multiple challenges on multiple fronts," said UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov.

Irony of drug policy

The apparent popularity of some drugs around the region stands in stark contrast to the “tough on crime” approach of many Southeast Asian governments, most of which have seen single ruling parties, military juntas, or authoritarian leaders consolidate power at the central level in recent decades.

In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has earned notoriety for alleged extrajudicial killings of drug crime suspects. In Vietnam, capital punishment is meted out, often to drug traffickers, more often than anywhere else on the planet except in China and Iran, Amnesty International says. The human rights group also referred to Malaysia as one of the “staunch supporters of the use of the death penalty for drug-related offenses.”

People take part in a protest against the government of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in front of the Philippine consulate in New York, Dec. 10, 2017.

“Mandatory death sentences and the use of the death penalty for drug-related offenses remained an issue of high concern in Southeast Asia,” Amnesty International said in its roundup of state executions worldwide in 2017.

These trends might puzzle some who expect stiffer law enforcement to blunt the use and sale of drugs. But it is a tragic irony that legal crackdowns can actually fuel the narcotics trade, according to author Johann Hari. He writes in his book Chasing the Scream that when the police crack down on drugs, they drive up prices as buyers pay sellers a premium for the legal risk. Criminalization eliminates weaker rivals and allows the big players that are left standing -- usually gangs and cartels -- to corner the market and concentrate power, Hari said.

He is part of a growing chorus of people who question or outright reject the belief that the death penalty deters or reduces crimes like drug trafficking.

“The drug problem is a complex social issue that demands a multifaceted approach towards a lasting solution,” Nymia Pimentel-Simbulan, executive director of the Philippine Human Rights Information Center, told VOA. “PhilRights has always maintained that capital punishment, being punitive and retributive in nature, is a cure worse than the poison.”

Dark web

The UNODC offers other possible explanations for the spread of drugs in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. Buyers have new online options as it becomes easier to access the dark web, where hidden sites deal in contraband from weapons to counterfeit products to drugs. The anonymity of cryptocurrencies has facilitated these purchases on illicit sites. At one point in 2017 Vietnam was among the top three countries for bitcoin trading, though much of that had to do with investment and other legal business activity.

While the U.S. is grappling with an opioid epidemic, there could be spillover effects in other regions, and for similar reasons. One cause of the U.S. crisis was the labeling change that allowed certain opioids to be marketed as non-addictive because they didn’t take full effect immediately, but had a slow release. That allowed doctors to prescribe the painkillers more widely. In Asia the opioid of choice is tramadol. The UNODC said that not only are more people abusing tramadol here, but Asia is also the main source of illegal tramadol seized around the world.

A Cataldo Ambulance medic holds used doses of naloxone after medics revived a man in his 40's who was found unresponsive from an opioid overdose in the Boston suburb of Salem, Massachusetts, Aug. 9, 2017.

As for methamphetamine, the agency said the ease of cooking rather than growing it could explain why the stimulant is taking off.

“This unique characteristic of synthetic drugs provides a comparative advantage for drug trafficking groups in the Mekong and neighboring countries,” the UNODC said, “as Asia is the center of global chemical and rapidly growing pharmaceutical industries.

There were 86 drug labs discovered in East and Southeast Asia in 2006; a decade later, the number surpassed 500, UNODC figures show. As with so much other data, it is unclear whether the abuse and sale of controlled substances are increasing -- or if authorities are just getting better at finding them.