Saturday, 1 August 2020

US says man gunned down in Pakistani court was American

Source: WTOP News (31 July 2020)

ISLAMABAD (AP) — A man gunned down this week in a Pakistani courtroom while standing trial on a charge of blasphemy was a U.S. citizen, according to a U.S. State Department statement.

Tahir Naseem was “lured to Pakistan” from his home in Illinois and entrapped by the country’s blasphemy laws, which international rights groups have sought to have repealed, the statement issued late Thursday said. It did not elaborate on the circumstances in which Naseem came to be in the South Asian country.

Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law calls for the death penalty for anyone found guilty of insulting Islam but in Pakistan the mere allegation of blasphemy can cause mobs to riot and vigilantes to commit murder.

“We are shocked, saddened, and outraged that American citizen Tahir Naseem was killed yesterday inside a Pakistani courtroom,” the State Department statement read.

Pakistani officials said Naseem was charged with blasphemy after he declared himself a prophet. Police in northwest Peshawar province originally identified him as Tahir Shameem Ahmed, but later corrected themselves.

There was no immediate comment from Pakistani authorities and the assailant, identified as Khalid Khan, was arrested. It wasn’t clear how he entered the courtroom and managed to get past security with a weapon. Naseem died before he could be transported to a hospital.

“We urge Pakistan to immediately reform its often abused blasphemy laws and its court system, which allow such abuses to occur, and to ensure that the suspect is prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” said the statement issued by Cale Brown, the State Department’s principal deputy spokesperson.

Although Pakistani authorities have yet to carry out a death sentence for blasphemy, there are scores of accused on death row. Most are Muslims and many belong to the Ahmadyya sect of Islam, reviled by mainstream Muslims as heretics.

Besides the State Department, the U.S. Commission on International Freedom condemned the killing.

“Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are indefensible to begin with, but it is outrageous beyond belief that the Pakistani government was incapable of keeping an individual from being murdered within a court of law for his faith, and a U.S. citizen, nonetheless,” Commissioner Johnnie Moore said in a statement.

“Pakistan must protect religious minorities, including individuals accused of blasphemy, in order to prevent such unimaginable tragedies,” Moore said in the statement.

The Commission declared Pakistan a “country of particular concern” in its 2020 report released last month because of its treatment of minorities.

Religious minorities in Pakistan are increasingly under attack even as Prime Minister Imran Khan preaches a “tolerant” Pakistan. Observers warn of even tougher times ahead as Khan vacillates between trying to forge a pluralistic nation and his conservative Islamic beliefs.

A Punjab governor was killed by his own guard in 2011 after he defended a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who was accused of blasphemy. She was acquitted after spending eight years on death row in a case that drew international media attention. Faced with death threats from Islamic extremists upon her release, she flew to Canada to join her daughters last year.

Thursday, 30 July 2020

Bringing back death penalty will breach international law – CHR

Source: Manila Bulletin (29 July 2020)

President Duterte has long pushed for the return of the death penalty in order to bolster the government’s fight against illegal drugs, and he repeated this call during his 5th State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday.

“I reiterate the swift passage of a law reviving the death penalty by lethal injection for crimes specified under the Comprehensive Dangerous [Drugs] Act of 2002,” he said.

President Duterte’s statement alarmed the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), and Spokesperson Atty. Jacqueline Ann de Guia said that bringing back the capital punishment in the country “will be a breach of international law.”

In particular, the reinstatement of the death penalty will conflict the tenets of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the Philippines ratified in 2007.

De Guia added that it even goes against two affirmations made by the government during the 2020 SONA, which is to put human lives above all and to uphold its obligation for human rights.

“Time and again, CHR has invited the government to engage in a frank and factual discussion on the ineffectiveness of death penalty in curbing crimes,” she said. “We, too, believe that crimes must be punished. But the call for justice should not result [in] further violations of human rights, especially the right to life.”

The CHR said that a “comprehensive approach” is needed to address the threat of illegal drug trade and use, as well as other crimes. Instead of imposing punishments with little or no regard for human life and rights, de Guia said the government should focus on “restorative justice.”

The death penalty in the country was abolished back in 2006 during the term of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Since then, several organizations such as Amnesty International have voiced out against bringing back the death penalty in the Philippines – even if it means that it will help against the war on drugs.

“The idea that the death penalty will rid the country of drugs is simply wrong. The resumption of executions will not rid the Philippines of problems associated with drugs or deter crime. It is an inhumane, ineffective punishment and is never the solution. The Philippines’ attempts to reintroduce it are clearly unlawful. This will just earn the country notoriety as one of the few countries to revive its horrific use,” said Champa Patel, Amnesty International’s Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

Friday, 5 June 2020

Report finds concerns with access to fair trials in Malaysian death penalty cases

Source: Mirage News (28 May 2020)

A new report launched by Monash University, in partnership with Harm Reduction International (HRI) and the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN), has questioned the fair trial standards afforded to more than 1,000 people currently sentenced to the death penalty in Malaysia.

Key findings

Monash University’s research shows that the death penalty in Malaysia has been imposed following proceedings that did not meet fair trial standards either in accordance with international, domestic or cognate common law standards.

There are 1,280 people awaiting the death penalty in Malaysia, who have not experienced fair trial standards either in accordance with international, domestic or cognate common law standards.

In certain drug trafficking trials, the presumption of innocence is undermined because as a result of the double presumptions an accused is presumed to be guilty.

Many of those accused face socio- economic, nationality and language barriers that prohibit their access to the requisite level of legal assistance.

The report, titled ‘Ensuring a Fair Trial: Fair Trial Guarantees & the Death Penalty in Malaysia’, was today launched by Malaysia’s former Chief Justice, Judge Tan Sri Richard Malanjum.

Written by Monash University and the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN) with support from Harm Reduction International, the report also makes a number of recommendations, including that the Malaysian Government ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Second Optional Protocol.

“Our case analysis in the Report revealed that the death penalty in Malaysia has been imposed following proceedings that did not meet fair trial standards either in accordance with international, domestic or cognate common law standards,” said report co-author Dr Natalia Antolak-Saper, from the Monash University Faculty of Law.

“Evident throughout this report is that a significant population of those sentenced to death in Malaysia is comprised of individuals convicted of drug offending, many of whom face socio- economic, nationality and language barriers that prohibit their access to the requisite level of legal assistance needed to properly test the prosecution case,” said co-author Ms Sara Kowal, Monash University Capital Punishment Impact Initiative Manager (Partnerships & Clinics).

As at December 2019, 1,280 people were on death row in Malaysia, 89 per cent of these people weremale and more than two-thirds of all persons on death row had been convicted of drug trafficking offences, according to figures from Amnesty International.

“Our research draws on interviews with lawyers who identify some common fair trial challenges including the lack of sufficient funding for legal representation at all stages of the death penalty trial, appeals and clemency stages,” Dr Antolak-Saper said.

“Our analysis of the Malaysian drug trafficking legislation identifies four key challenges to fair trial rights, one of which is that the presumption of innocence is undermined because as a result of the double presumptions an accused is presumed to be guilty.”

Ms Kowal said they found the clemency process to appear at times arbitrary.

“The lack of a legal framework means the process lacks transparency and review, both essential to fair trial rights. Given the stakes are so high in death penalty matters this is particularly problematic,” she said..

Malaysia is one of 35 countries in the world that imposes the death penalty for drug offences and in 2019, was one of 13 countries to actually sentence the accused to death for drug trafficking.

“Capital punishment ends lives, destroys families, and operates in discriminatory and arbitrary ways throughout the world. It has no proven deterrence value or other demonstrated public benefits,” said Ms Kowal.

Singapore sentences man to death via Zoom call

Source: The Guardian (20 May 2020)

A man convicted of drug-trafficking offences has been sentenced to death in Singapore via a Zoom video-call, the city-state’s first case where capital punishment has been delivered remotely.

Rights groups condemned the sentencing of Punithan Genasan, a 37-year-old Malaysian, as inhumane, and a reminder of the country’s continued use of the death penalty for drug-related offences.

Genasan was found to have been complicit in trafficking at least 28.5g of heroin by coordinating two couriers in 2011. He denied any connection to the pair, but his defence was rejected on Friday.

A spokesperson for Singapore’s supreme court told Reuters the case involving Genasan was conducted online “for the safety of all involved in the proceedings”.

The country has been under quarantine measures since early April, following a surge in the number of coronavirus cases linked to migrant worker dormitories. Court cases considered essential have been held remotely, though many others have been adjourned.

Genasan’s lawyer, Peter Fernando, said his client received the judge’s verdict on a Zoom call and is considering an appeal. He said he did not object to the use of video-conferencing since it was only to receive the judge’s verdict, which could be heard clearly, and no other legal arguments were presented.

Rights experts described the decision to hold the case remotely as callous. “The absolute finality of the sentence, and the reality that wrongful convictions do occur around the world in death sentence cases, raise serious concerns about why Singapore is rushing to conclude this case via Zoom,” said Phil Robertson, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division.

Singapore, which has a zero-tolerance policy for illegal drugs, is one of only four countries known to still execute people for drug-related offences, according to Amnesty International.

“This case is another reminder that Singapore continues to defy international law and standards by imposing the death penalty for drug trafficking, and as a mandatory punishment,” said the group’s death penalty adviser, Chiara Sangiorgio.

Four people were executed in the city-state last year, compared with 13 in 2018.

Zoom did not immediately respond to a request for comment made via its representatives in Singapore.

A similar case in Nigeria, where a man was sentenced to death via Zoom for murdering his employer’s mother, has also been criticised by rights groups.

Thursday, 30 April 2020

Saudi Arabia eliminates death penalty for minors

Source: Channel News Asia (27 April 2020)

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Sunday (Apr 26) ended the death penalty for crimes committed by minors after effectively abolishing floggings as the kingdom seeks to blunt criticism over its human rights record.

The reforms underscore a push by de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to modernise the ultra-conservative kingdom long associated with a fundamentalist strain of Wahhabi Islam.

The death penalty has been eliminated for those convicted of crimes committed while they were minors, Human Rights Commission president Awwad Alawwad said in a statement, citing a royal decree.

"Instead, the individual will receive a prison sentence of no longer than 10 years in a juvenile detention facility," the statement said.

The decree is expected to spare the lives of at least six men from the minority Shiite community who are on death row.

The were accused of taking part in anti-government protests during the Arab Spring uprisings while they were under the age of 18.

United Nations human rights experts made an urgent appeal to Saudi Arabia last year to halt plans to execute them.

"This is an important day for Saudi Arabia," said Awwad Alawwad.

"The decree helps us in establishing a more modern penal code."

The kingdom has one of the world's highest rates of execution, with suspects convicted of terrorism, homicide, rape, armed robbery and drug trafficking facing the death penalty.

Saudi Arabia executed at least 187 people in 2019, according to a tally based on official data, the highest since 1995 when 195 people were put to death.

Since January, 12 people were executed, according to official data.

Human rights groups have repeatedly raised concerns about the fairness of trials in the kingdom, an absolute monarchy governed under a strict form of Islamic law.

On Saturday, the HRC announced Saudi Arabia had effectively abolished flogging as a punishment, which have long drawn condemnation from human rights groups.

The most high-profile instance of flogging in recent years was the case of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi who was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes in 2014 on charges of "insulting" Islam.

But "hudud" or harsher punishment under Islamic law such as floggings are still applicable for serious offences, a Saudi official said.

Hudud, which means "boundaries" in Arabic, is meted out for such sins as rape, murder or theft.

But "hudud" punishments are rarely meted out as many offences must be proved by a confession or be verified by several adult Muslim witnesses, the official added.

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Death penalty in 2019: Facts and figures

Source: Amnesty International (21 April 2020)

Global death penalty figures

Amnesty International recorded 657 executions in 20 countries in 2019, a decrease of 5% compared to 2018 (at least 690). This is the lowest number of executions that Amnesty International has recorded in at least a decade.

Most executions took place in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Egypt – in that order.

China remained the world’s leading executioner – but the true extent of the use of the death penalty in China is unknown as this data is classified as a state secret; the global figure of at least 657 excludes the thousands of executions believed to have been carried out in China.

Excluding China, 86% of all reported executions took place in just four countries – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Egypt.

Bangladesh and Bahrain resumed executions last year, after a hiatus in 2018. Amnesty International did not report any executions in Afghanistan, Taiwan and Thailand, despite having done so in 2018.

Executions in Iran fell slightly from at least 253 in 2018 to at least 251 in 2019. Executions in Iraq almost doubled from at least 52 in 2018 to at least 100 in 2019, while Saudi Arabia executed a record number of people from 149 in 2018 to 184 in 2019.

Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gambia, Kazakhstan, Kenya and Zimbabwe either took positive steps or made pronouncements in 2019 which may lead to the abolition of the death penalty.

Barbados also removed the mandatory death penalty from its Constitution. In the United States, the Governor of California established an official moratorium on executions in the US state with biggest death row population, and New Hampshire became the 21st US state to abolish the death penalty for all crimes.

Gambia, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, the Russian Federation and Tajikistan continued to observe official moratoriums on executions.

At the end of 2019, 106 countries (a majority of the world’s states) had abolished the death penalty in law for all crimes, and 142 countries (more than two-thirds) had abolished the death penalty in law or practice.

Amnesty International recorded commutations or pardons of death sentences in 24 countries: Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Gambia, Ghana, Guyana, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kuwait, Malaysia, Mauritania, Morocco/Western Sahara, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Singapore, Sudan, Thailand, UAE, USA, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

At least 11 exonerations of prisoners under sentence of death were recorded in two countries: USA and Zambia.

Amnesty International recorded at least 2,307 death sentences in 56 countries compared to the total of 2,531 reported in 54 countries in 2018. However, Amnesty did not receive information on official figures for death sentences imposed in Malaysia, Nigeria and Sri Lanka, countries that reported high official numbers of death sentences in previous years.

At least 26,604 people were known to be under sentence of death globally at the end of 2019.

The following methods of execution were used across the world in 2019: beheading, electrocution, hanging, lethal injection and shooting.

At least 13 public executions were recorded in Iran. At least six people – four in Iran, one in Saudi Arabia and one in South Sudan – were executed for crimes that occurred when they were below 18 years of age. People with mental or intellectual disabilities were under sentence of death in several countries, including Japan, Maldives, Pakistan and USA.

Death sentences were known to have been imposed after proceedings that did not meet international fair trial standards in countries including Bahrain, Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Malaysia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Viet Nam and Yemen.
Regional death penalty analysis


For the 11th consecutive year, the USA remained the only country to carry out executions in the region. Trinidad and Tobago was the only country to retain the mandatory death penalty for murder.

The number of executions (from 25 to 22) and death sentences (from 45 to 35) recorded in the US decreased compared to 2018.

More than 40% of all recorded executions were carried out in Texas, which remained the leading executing state in the country (from 13 to nine). Missouri carried out one execution in 2019 after none in the previous year. Conversely, Nebraska and Ohio did not put anyone to death in 2019 after carrying out executions in 2018 (one in each state).

Outside the USA, the progress towards ending the use of the death penalty continued. Barbados removed the mandatory death penalty from its constitution while Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Belize, Cuba, Dominica, Guatemala, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis and Saint Lucia did not have anyone on death row and no reports of new death sentences.


For the first time in almost a decade, the Asia-Pacific region saw a decrease in the number of executing countries, with seven countries carrying out executions during the year.

Without a figure for Viet Nam, the number of recorded executions (29) showed a slight decrease due to drops in Japan (from 15 to three) and Singapore (from 13 to four). This regional total, as in previous years, does not include the thousands of executions that were believed to have been carried out in China and is affected by ongoing secrecy in this country as well as in North Korea and Viet Nam.

Although Bangladesh resumed executions (two), hiatuses were reported in Afghanistan, Taiwan and Thailand, which all executed people in 2018. Malaysia continued to observe its official moratorium on executions established in July 2018.

Recorded executions in Pakistan in 2019 represented the same total as in the previous year with at least 14 men hanged in the country. Death sentences in the country increased significantly to at least 632, after additional courts became operational to deal with a backlog of cases.

The number of executions in Japan was down from 15 in 2018, when the country reported its highest yearly figure since 2008, to three in 2019. Two Japanese men were executed on 2 August and a Chinese national was executed on 26 December. All men had been convicted of murder.

Singapore reported 4 executions in 2019, from a record-high of 13 in 2018.

The Philippines attempted to reintroduce the death penalty for “heinous crimes related to illegal drugs and plunder”.

At least 1,227 new death sentences across 17 countries were known to have been imposed, a 12% increase compared to 2018.

Europe and Central Asia

At least two executions were recorded in Belarus in 2019, compared to at least four in 2018. The last time another country in the region carried out executions was in 2005.

Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation and Tajikistan continued to observe official moratoriums on executions. Kazakhstan also announced measures to start the process of joining the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which commits states to abolishing the death penalty.
Middle East and North Africa

The Middle East and North Africa region reported a 16% increase in the number of executions, from 501 in 2018 to 579 in 2019, bucking the trend that has seen a decline in the region’s recorded use of the death penalty since 2015.

This was mainly due to a sharp increase in the use of the death penalty in Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Iraq almost doubled the number of executions from at least 52 in 2018 to at least 100 in 2019, while Saudi Arabia executed a record number of people – 184 -- in 2019 compared to 149 people in 2018. Together with Iran, they accounted for 92% of the total number of recorded executions in the region.

Seven countries – Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen – were known to have carried out executions last year.

There were 707 recorded death sentences in 2019, a 40% drop compared to 2018, when 1,170 death sentences were recorded in the region.

Egypt again imposed the most confirmed death sentences in the region, but the 2019 number (at least 435) was dramatically lower from at least 717 people sentenced to death in 2018. The number of death sentences the Iraqi authorities imposed during the course of the year was also significantly lower -- at least 87 in 2019 compared to at least 271 in 2018.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Four countries – Botswana, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan – carried out 25 executions in 2019. Overall recorded executions in the region increased by one compared to 2018.

For a second year in a row, South Sudan saw an alarming increase in executions, putting to death at least 11 people in 2019; the highest recorded number in any year since the country’s independence in 2011. Of the people executed, three were from the same family, one was a child at the time of the crime and was about 17 when he was sentenced to death.

Recorded death sentences rose by 53% from at least 212 in 2018 to 325 in 2019.

The number of countries that imposed death sentences increased to 18 from 17 recorded in 2018.

OPINION: Recent Death Penalty Execution Undermines Taiwan's International Reputation

Source: The News Lens (13 April 2020)

At the center of Taiwan’s efforts to ameliorate its diplomatic isolation has been an effort to promote itself as one of Asia’s most progressive democracies, especially during President Tsai Ing-wen’s term. Following the legalization of same-sex marriage, the "Taiwan Can Help" and "Taiwan is Helping" campaigns of sending medical aid abroad have been the latest successes in winning international plaudits.

A recent execution and an ambiguous stance on death penalty abolition threaten to derail these efforts.

Weng Jen-hsien (翁仁賢) was executed by order of the Ministry of Justice on April 1. It had been a year and seven months since the last execution in Taiwan. Weng was convicted last year of setting a fire that killed his parents and four relatives during the Lunar New Year’s Eve holiday in 2016.

Taiwan's anti-death penalty community immediately expressed righteous indignation at the execution. The Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty (TAEDP) announced in a press release on April 3 its decision to quit the Gradual Death Penalty Abolition Research and Promotion Team of the Ministry of Justice, citing their abrogation of the rule of law.

The TAEDP said the Ministry of Justice paradoxically continues to carry out capital punishment based on a law that it regards as flawed. "This is not implementing the rule of law. This is disregarding the rule of law and is an illegal execution," the TAEDP wrote.

Minister of Justice Tsai Ching Hsiang (蔡清祥) responded that he only did what he had to do. He said he would continue promoting death penalty abolition, but would implement the death penalty judiciously while it is still legal.

When Premier Su Tseng Chang (蘇貞昌) said, "Confirmed death sentences should be carried out," during a legislative inquiry on October 25 last year, the TAEDP criticized his remark relentlessly. At that time, Premier Su cited Weng as an example of a criminal whose act was “heinous from heaven to earth.”

The execution has also aroused disapproval internationally. The European External Action Service (EEAS), the official diplomatic arm of the European Union, released a statement on April 3 condemning Weng’s crime and sympathizing with the families of the victims, while clarifying that the EU opposes the use of capital punishment under any circumstance.

"The death penalty is a cruel and inhumane punishment, which fails to act as a deterrent to crime and represents an unacceptable denial of human dignity and integrity," the EEAS statement read. It thereupon called on Taiwan to "refrain from any future executions" and to "pursue a consistent policy towards the abolition of the death penalty."

Taiwan is not the only country in which capital punishment is carried out. Many East Asian countries such as Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, and China are still executing prisoners and have received criticism from international human rights organizations.

However, it seems more morally inconsistent for Taiwan to keep the death penalty on the books. Taiwan has sought to brand itself as one of Asia’s most progressive democracies.

Weng was the second inmate executed under the Tsai administration. The first execution was carried out in August 2018 when a 41-year-old man was put to death for killing his ex-wife and five-year-old daughter. There are currently 39 prisoners on death row.

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, Taiwan's strong response to the crisis has helped raise its international profile, with media reports saluting its response appearing by the dozen. It has also successfully scored a public relations victory by donating over 10 million face masks to countries in need.

It seems that Taiwan has mitigated its international isolation with its "Taiwan Can Help" and "Taiwan is Helping" campaign. But while expressions of gratitude abound for Taiwan, the recent execution and ambiguous stance on gradual death penalty abolition may quickly reverse any diplomatic gains.

Saturday, 4 April 2020

Rights groups lament latest Taiwan execution

Source: Channel News Asia (3 April 2020)

TAIPEI: Rights activists on Friday (Apr 3) condemned Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen's government for executing a convicted murderer, saying the continued use of capital punishment undermined the island's progressive reputation.

Death row inmate Weng Jen-hsien, found guilty last year of setting a fire that killed his parents and four relatives in 2016, was executed by a firing squad on Wednesday, the justice ministry said.

Weng, 53, was the second man to be executed since Tsai came to power in 2016 despite a pledge to eventually abolish the death penalty.

The ministry described Weng's crime as "brutal and ruthless".

But it added: "Our policy is to gradually abolish the death penalty."

International and local rights groups urged Taiwan to immediately announce a moratorium on executions and set a timeline for complete abolition.

"The government said its policy is to gradually abolish the death penalty but it took opposite action to carry out its second execution," Taiwan Association for Human Rights secretary general Shih Yi-Hsiang said.

"This is certainly a regression in human rights. Carrying out executions will not solve any problem," he told AFP.

Chiu E-Ling, director of Amnesty International Taiwan, accused the government of making a "cynical attempt to bury bad news" by carrying out the execution on the same day it announced the donation of 10 million face masks to countries hit hardest by the coronavirus.

The justice ministry statement announcing the execution was released late at night on Wednesday.


Over the last few decades Taiwan has morphed from a dictatorship to one of Asia's most progressive democracies.

Some rights groups and media organisations have even set up regional headquarters in Taiwan, primarily as a base to monitor more authoritarian China.

Tsai's Democratic Progressive Party successfully legalised same-sex marriage last year, making Taiwan the first place in Asia to do so.

But the death penalty remains on the books, with most surveys showing it is popular among the public.

Taiwan resumed capital punishment in 2010 after a five-year hiatus. There are currently 39 prisoners on death row.

The first execution under the Tsai administration was in August 2018 when a 41-year-old man was put to death for killing his ex-wife and five-year-old daughter.

In 2016 a former college student was executed for killing four people in a random stabbing spree on a subway that shocked the generally safe island.

Tsai won a landslide second term in January and will be inaugurated in May.

Friday, 21 February 2020

Japan – If death penalty replaced with life imprisonment without parole, 52% for retaining death penalty

Source: Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (15 February 2020)

In a recent opinion poll by the Cabinet Office in November 2019 on the death penalty, 9.0% of Japanese respondents answered it should be abolished in all cases, while 80.8% said that it was necessary in some cases…

When asked if the death penalty should be kept or abolished in the case that a system of life sentencing without parole was introduced, 35.1% answered that it should be abolished, while 52.0% said it should continue.

Poll Reveals More than 80% Support Death Penalty in Japan

Society Feb 4, 2020

A poll conducted by the Cabinet Office in November 2019 found that 80.8% of Japanese people feel that the death penalty is sometimes necessary.

In a recent opinion poll on the death penalty, 9.0% of Japanese respondents answered it should be abolished in all cases, while 80.8% said that it was necessary in some cases.

The opinion poll was conducted by the Cabinet Office in November 2019, targeted at 3,000 Japanese adults. The poll is held every five years and in the four polls since 2004, support for the death penalty has continuously topped 80%.

Among those who want to see the death penalty abolished (multiple answers possible), the most common, with 50.7%, was that if there is a mistake in the judgment, it cannot be undone.

On the other hand, the most common reason given by those who said that the death penalty was necessary was that the victim’s feelings had to be considered (56.6%).

When asked if the death penalty should be kept or abolished in the case that a system of life sentencing without parole was introduced, 35.1% answered that it should be abolished, while 52.0% said it should continue.

According to the Amnesty International Global Report: Death Sentences and Executions 2018, executions were carried out in 20 countries in 2018, of which the only Group of Seven nations were Japan and the United States. That same year, 15 people were executed in Japan, 13 of whom were Aum Shinrikyō cult leaders who had been involved in the deadly Tokyo subway sarin gas attack in 1995.

Saturday, 28 December 2019

Parliament approves bill providing death penalty for sexual assault against children

Source: India Today (1 August 2019)

A bill seeking to provide death penalty for aggravated sexual assault on children and greater punishments for other crimes against minors was approved by Parliament after it was passed by the Lok Sabha on Thursday.

Piloting the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, 2019, Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani said it aims at making offences against children gender-neutral.

The Bill, which was already passed by the Rajya Sabha on July 29, defines child pornography, making it punishable.

Cutting across party lines, members supported amendments to POCSO Act though some demanded that Bill be referred to the standing committee or select committee as it makes certain offences punishable with death.

Seeking passage of the bill in Lok Sabha, Irani said this bill is not related to vote bank politics but to save the future of India.

In an apparent reference to Congress MP Ramya Haridas who raised the Unnao rape issue in the House, Irani said this bill should not be looked from the perspective of politics and should not be politicised for personal benefits.

Responding to Haridas, Irani said it was very unfortunate that when she was speaking some members who were supporting her were actually having fun.

She further said the courts of this country have even power to punish MLAs and MPs.

The Bill, said Irani, would provide added legal protection to 39 per cent of population or 43 crore children, irrespective of whether they are a girl or boy.

Besides other things, she said, the Bill defines child pornography so that sexual predators indulging in such heinous crimes could be punished.

Regretting that 5,000 persons followed the child pornography site operated by a person, Irani said, "this is a matter of grave concern for the society". The site had even shown the rape of a minor girl, he added.

Recalling a case wherein children were administered drugs and hormones to make them sexually active, she said, the law is aimed at providing stringent punishment to such offenders.

"We want to provide added protection to rarest of rare cases death (penalty)," she added.

Replying on the bill, Irani assured that under witness protection scheme, all measures such as doing threat assessment of the victim and witness and if required even changing their identity and others, were taken to ensure their safety.

On if juvenile is involved in the sexual offence against the children, the minister said that cases come under juveile justice act and the death penalty could be given only if he is above 16 years of age and juvenile justice board finds that he has an adult mind.

The minister acknowledged that the rate of conviction in sexual offences is very slow and informed that under Nirbhaya Fund, 1023 fast track courts will be established across the country and 18 state governments have already been taken on board by the government.

She also said that a national database for such cases have also been started and about 6.2 lakh sexual offence cases were registered in that base.

Sharing the details of awareness programme among children, the minister said CBSE will carry out programmes in school across the country to make aware children about good and bad touch.

She further said more than 40,000 teachers will also be trained for the same.

Participating in the discussion, Su Thirunavukkarasar (Cong) suggested that since the bill has a provision for the death penalty, it should be sent to a Parliamentary committee for further scrutiny.

Rita Bahuguna Joshi (BJP) said the Bill will go a long way in bringing offenders against children to book.

Kanimozhi (DMK) said that bill should be sent to select committee or standing committee as harsher punishment could deter people from reporting the crime.

While presiding over the proceedings, BJD's Bhartruhari Mahtab pointed out to Irani that the Hindi version of the POCSO bill used the word "balakon", a term for young boys, while the English word "children" is gender-neutral.

To this, she responded that the legislative department of the government had vetted the bill and cleared it.

Rajiv Ranjan Singh of the JD(U) hailed the bill, saying it will curb the growing trend in the society toward such heinous crimes.

He, however, suggested the government work towards having special courts across the country and ensure speedy trial so that the cases of sexual crimes against children are taken to a logical conclusion.

A short period of trial will also minimise the chances of accused influencing witnesses. Citing a survey, he said the cases of sexual harassment against children have risen by 500 per cent.

TMC's Satabdi Roy wondered if the death penalty will deter criminals and asked the government to explain as to what it is doing to help victims.

Shiv Sana's Vinayak Raut supported the bill and sought a time-bound trial for the accused.

BSP's Danish Ali also backed the bill, saying he supports capital punishment for those convicted under this Act even though he is ideologically against the death penalty.

Ali (BSP) said he was against the death penalty for the juvenile.

Hasnain Masoodi (NC) extended support to the Bill stating that the proposed legislation was for the 10 per cent of the victims and that for the remaining 90 per cent there was a need to strengthen the prevention system.

"We have to strengthen the prevention mechanism," he said and added that it was high time to make stringent and effective law for the protection of children.

Amid the opposition to the death penalty for juvenile by some members, Nishikant Dubey (BJP) said the government has shown the power to come up with the death penalty.

He also pitched for the need for an awareness campaign in the society.

Kalyan Banerjee (AITC) expressed concern that in the media the identity of the victim and his/her family got leaked which he said should not happen.

Pritam Munde (BJP) stressed on the rehabilitation of the victims.

Why is India passing more death sentences?

Source: BBC News (21 December 2019)

Four men found guilty of the gang rape and murder of a woman on a bus in Delhi in 2012 are due to be executed in the next few days, following a Supreme Court decision to reject an appeal by one of them.

Indian courts continue to hand down death sentences for the most serious crimes, although no executions have been carried out since 2015.

Other nations have much higher rates of capital punishment than India, with four countries accounting for most of the recorded executions in 2018.

But globally, the number of executions has been falling, and last year saw the fewest in a decade, according to the human rights group Amnesty International.

What crimes does India punish with the death sentence?

Most death sentences were imposed for murders, and murders involving sexual violence, at 45 and 58 respectively in 2018.

In India, these sentences can been be handed out under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (1860).

There are also 24 other state and central laws which contain provisions for the death penalty.

Since independence in 1947, the majority of executions have been carried out in Uttar Pradesh state, according to the National Law University in Delhi.

That state has executed a total of 354 people, with the next highest number being Haryana with 90, and Madhya Pradesh with 73 executions since independence.

The data shows that in 2018 alone, the courts imposed 162 new death sentences - 50% more than the previous year and the highest in nearly two decades.

The number of death sentences handed out by courts in India in 2018 for murders involving sexual violence jumped by 35% from the previous year, driven partly by changes in legislation.

In contrast, more than 250 death sentences were known to be handed out in Pakistan last year, and there were more than 229 in Bangladesh.

But globally, there were slightly fewer death sentences recorded in 2018 than in 2017 - 2,531 against 2,591.

Who executes most people globally?

Amnesty International, which campaigns against the death penalty, says 690 executions were known to have taken place last year, a drop of more than 30% compared with 2017.

In 2018, nearly 80% of all recorded executions took place in just four countries:

Saudi Arabia

In a rare official comment, Vietnam confirmed in November last year that it had carried out 85 executions. In previous years, Vietnam has not revealed the number of executions.

The Asia Pacific region saw a more than 46% increase in the number of executions last year compared with 2017, largely down to the figures from Vietnam. Japan executed 15 people, Pakistan at least 14, and Singapore 13. Thailand also resumed executions for the first time since 2009.

And in the US, for the second year in a row, there were slightly more executions than the previous year - 25 compared with 23 in 2017.

But there are some caveats to the figures:

They do not include China, where Amnesty believes thousands are executed, but the statistics are kept secret

The war in Syria means it is not possible to confirm if executions were carried out there

There is little or no information available from either Laos or North Korea

Amnesty says its figures for the use of the death penalty are therefore likely to be an underestimate.

Who has most people on death row?

There are limitations to the data and it is not available for every single country.

The largest number known about in 2018 was in Pakistan - more than 4,864 cases. Research by a Pakistani rights group this year said that the average prisoner spends 10 years on death row before any appeal gets to the country's top court.

There were more than 1,500 people on death row in Bangladesh, Amnesty International says.

India had 426 people on death row at the end of last year, according to National Law University data. More than half of these were convicted of murder, and a further 21.8% of murder with rape.

There are also large numbers on death row in the US - 2,654 people - and Nigeria had more than 2,000.

By the end of 2018, more than half of all countries had abolished the death penalty in law or in practice - up from 47% a decade ago.

In 2018, Burkina Faso abolished capital punishment, and both Gambia and Malaysia declared official moratoriums on executions.

The US state of Washington declared the death penalty unconstitutional, bringing to 20 the number of US states that have abolished capital punishment.

Friday, 11 October 2019

Malaysia: Unfair trials, secretive hangings and petty drug convictions reveal ‘cruel injustice’ of the death penalty – Amnesty International

Source: The Daily Blog (10 October 2019)

Malaysia must start to fulfill its promise to abolish the death penalty in forthcoming legislation by ending its use for drug-related offences and eliminating the mandatory death sentence, Amnesty International said today, as it launches a new report to mark the World Day Against the Death Penalty.

The report, Fatally flawed: Why Malaysia must abolish the death penalty, reveals the use of torture and other ill-treatment to obtain “confessions”, inadequate access to legal assistance, an opaque pardons process and other serious violations of the right to a fair trial that have put people at risk of execution.

The report also highlights how 73% of those on death row – 930 people – have been sentenced to death for drug-related offences in contravention of international human rights law. More than half of them (478) are foreign nationals.

“Malaysia has a golden chance to break with decades of cruelty and injustice, disproportionately inflicted on some of the most marginalized,” said Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu, Executive Director of Amnesty International Malaysia.

“Our research found a pattern of unfair trials and secretive hangings that itself spoke volumes. From allegations of torture and other ill-treatment to an opaque pardons process, it’s clear the death penalty is a stain on Malaysia’s criminal justice system.”

The death penalty is currently retained as the punishment for 33 offences in Malaysia and is mandatory for 12 of these. In recent years, it has mostly been used for murder and drug trafficking convictions.

A year ago, the newly-elected Malaysian government announced it would repeal the death penalty for all crimes, having already established a moratorium on executions in July 2018. But in a new parliamentary session starting this month, the government is expected to table legislation that will remove the mandatory death penalty only, and for just 11 offences – way short of full abolition.

Amnesty International is calling on the authorities to continue to observe the moratorium on executions until the death penalty is fully abolished and use the anticipated legislation to repeal the mandatory death penalty for all crimes – including drug trafficking.

Death row for the most marginalized

Of the 1,281 people reported to be on death row in Malaysia as of February 2019, 568 (44%) are foreign nationals, who face serious obstacles to access adequate consular assistance and interpretation.

Amnesty International has also found that some of Malaysia’s ethnic minorities are over-represented on death row, and data seen by the organization points to a large proportion of people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Amnesty International found that most people (73%) on death row were convicted of drug trafficking, more than half of them foreigners. Many of them claimed they were coerced or manipulated into bringing small amounts of drugs into the country and had not used any violence. Under international law, countries that have not yet abolished the death penalty must limit its use to the “most serious crimes,” such as murder.

The cases of many women on death row show the devastating impact of Malaysia’s draconian anti-drugs law combined with the mandatory death penalty. Nearly nine out of 10 women facing the gallows are foreigners convicted of drug trafficking. In some cases, women said they were in financial trouble or were coerced into carrying the drugs. However, the mandatory death penalty means judges have no opportunity to give any consideration to these circumstances.

Unfair trials

Lawyers and relatives told Amnesty International that it was common for defendants who could not afford a lawyer to go without any legal assistance until charges were brought before a court. They also described a critically under-resourced legal aid system that left many defendants without legal assistance for long periods, often until the very start of their trial.

Suspects in death penalty cases can be detained up to 14 days, and interviewees told Amnesty International that it was common for defendants to “get beaten up” to extract “confessions”. The practice continues to this day, despite ongoing outcry from Malaysian NGOs. A UN working group’s 2011 investigation already found that “virtually all detainees” had suffered torture or other ill-treatment during their interrogations.

Despite the very high rate of foreigners sentenced to death, as well as the numerous languages spoken inside the country, Malaysian law does not provide for any interpretation services to support defendants who do not speak Malay other than in courtroom proceedings. Amnesty International heard cases of people being asked to sign documents in Malay despite not understanding the language.

Hoo Yew Wah, a Malaysian national of Chinese ethnicity, was arrested aged 20 in 2005 with methamphetamine and convicted based on a statement he made in Mandarin, his mother tongue, but which police recorded in Malay. He says the statement they made him sign is inaccurate, that police broke his finger during the interrogation, and further threatened to beat his girlfriend if he refused to sign it. He did not have the assistance of a lawyer during the period in question. Hoo Yew Wah has been on death row since 2011.

An opaque and secretive system – and a chance for change
Malaysian law does not define the pardon process in any detail, nor does it set out the criteria for a pardon or how prisoners or their families are notified of a decision.

Defendants are not guaranteed a lawyer when they apply for a pardon, and many go without. Others fail to apply for a pardon altogether, either out of despair or because they do not want to admit guilt for a crime they say they did not commit.

While some pro-bono initiatives exist, access to these services is controlled by prison officials, and there is no transparency over how access is granted or not. While the criteria used are not known, they appear to affect foreign nationals: half of them have not filed a pardon application.

“A system this secretive denies Malaysians the full picture,” said Shamini Darshni.

“Amnesty International’s research shows why this government must now honour its pledge to abolish this ultimate cruel and inhumane punishment without delay.”

Monday, 5 August 2019

Singapore says drug smuggling worsens, even as hangings rise

Source: Reuters (31 August 2019)

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Drug trafficking into Singapore, which has some of the world’s toughest drugs laws, has risen recently, the law minister said on Wednesday, and he defended capital punishment for serious drug crime as reflecting public support.

Rights group Lawyers for Liberty warned of an “execution binge” after it said a number of prisoners on death row in Singapore had their requests for presidential pardons rejected this month.

“We have seen an increase in the number of people coming in from countries trying to traffic,” Minister of Law K Shanmugam told Reuters.

He did not elaborate on what type of illegal drugs were being smuggled in.

The wealthy city-state has a zero-tolerance policy for illegal drugs and imposes long jail terms on convicted users. It has hanged hundreds of people - including dozens of foreigners - for narcotics offences over past decades, rights groups say.

Malaysian-based law reform and rights group Lawyers for Liberty said this month that up to 10 prisoners in Singapore had their clemency petitions rejected in July.

“It indicates that Singapore is preparing for an execution binge, in total disregard of international legal norms and decent world opinion,” the group said.

Singapore does not disclose publicly information about clemency petitions and decisions.

Singapore, which has warned against a global trend to ease drug laws, reported 13 executions in 2018 - 11 for drug offences. Amnesty International said it was the first year since 2003 that the number hangings reached double-digits.

Globally, Amnesty recorded the lowest number of executions in the past decade in 2018.

Shanmugam said the higher number of executions last year was also partly due to a hiatus in executions over several years as the government reviewed the death penalty.

He said there remained “very strong support for the government’s current position” on drugs even as some neighboring countries ease their tough stands.

In next-door Malaysia, parliament voted last year to remove the death penalty as mandatory punishment for drug trafficking.

In Thailand, there has been debate on broader liberalization of laws around marijuana after the drug was legalized for medical use and research in 2018.

But Shanmugam said Singapore took a different stance.

“In the places where they have legalized marijuana ... crime has gone up ... medical costs and hospitalization costs have gone up significantly, much more than the tax dollars that the state had hoped to receive,” he said.

“Leave aside the economic costs, the social costs in terms of lives and the trauma and families has been very significant.”

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Sri Lanka: Resuming Death Penalty a Major Setback

Source: Human Rights Watch (30 June 2019)

(New York) – The Sri Lanka government should halt plans to resume executions and restore its de facto 43-year moratorium on the use of the death penalty, Human Rights Watch said today. Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena said he has ordered the execution of four drug offenders, claiming it would end increasing addiction problems in the country.

“Sri Lanka’s plan to resume use of the death penalty is a major setback for human rights,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Sri Lanka has been a bulwark against capital punishment in Asia for more than four decades, yet now the Sirisena government wants to throw in its lot with less rights-respecting regimes.”

The death penalty has not been carried out in Sri Lanka since 1976. Currently, 1,299 prisoners – 1,215 men and 84 women – are on Sri Lanka’s death row after having been convicted for capital offenses, including 48 people convicted for drug crimes.

Sirisena said he was determined to crack down on drug trafficking after over 300,000 people in Sri Lanka allegedly became addicts, with 60 percent of 24,000 prison inmates incarcerated for drug-related offenses.

The United Nations General Assembly has continually called on countries to establish a moratorium on the death penalty, progressively restrict the practice, and reduce the offenses for which it might be imposed – all with a view toward its eventual abolition.

Where the death penalty is permitted, international human rights law limits the death penalty to “the most serious crimes,” typically crimes resulting in death or serious bodily harm. In a March 2010 report, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime called for an end to the death penalty and specifically urged member countries to prohibit use of the death penalty for drug-related offenses, while urging countries to take an overall “human rights-based approach to drug and crime control.”

In its 2014 annual report, the International Narcotics Control Board, the agency charged with monitoring compliance with UN drug control conventions, encouraged countries to abolish the death penalty for drug offenses. The UN Human Rights Committee and the special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions have concluded that the death penalty for drug offenses fails to meet the condition of “most serious crime.” In September 2015, the UN high commissioner for human rights reaffirmed that “persons convicted of drug-related offences … should not be subject to the death penalty.”

Human Rights Watch opposes capital punishment in all countries and in all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty. The alleged deterrent effect of the death penalty has been repeatedly debunked.

“The death penalty is a cruel practice that has no place in modern society for combating drug crimes or any other offense,” Adams said. “Sri Lanka should work toward upholding its human rights pledges and immediately rescind the execution orders.”

Monday, 1 July 2019

After recruitment drive ends, Sri Lanka picks two hangmen as death penalty for drug offences resume

Source: South China Morning Post (29 June 2019)

Sri Lanka has hired two hangmen as it prepares for executions of four prisoners convicted of drug offences in what would be the country’s first use of the death penalty for over 40 years, prison authorities said on Friday.

The Prisons Department began the recruitment process in March after the last hangman
quit in 2014, citing stress after seeing the gallows for the first time. Another, hired last year, never turned up for work.

President Maithripala Sirisena announced on Wednesday an end to a moratorium on the death penalty in force since 1976, a move political analysts said was meant to boost his chances of re-election if he stands again later this year.

Local and international rights groups, along with Britain, Canada, the European Union and United Nations have raised concerns about the South Asian nation’s restoration of capital punishment

“The recruitment process is finalised and two [hangmen] have been selected. The two need to go through final training which will take about two weeks,” prisons spokesman Thushara Upuldeniya said.

The two were picked from among 100 applicants who responded to an advertisement calling for male Sri Lankans aged between 18 and 45 with “excellent moral character” and “mental strength”.

Prisons Commissioner TMJW Thennakoon declined to provide details of the four convicts whose death penalties were approved by the president.

On Friday, a petitioner – a Sri Lankan journalist – filed public interest litigation seeking to stop any executions, arguing that people’s rights were being violated. A court hearing will be held on July 2, and Thennakoon pledged that there would be no executions for the next seven days.

A spokesman for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said on Thursday international drug control conventions cannot be used to justify the use of the death penalty for drug-related offences alone.

“Application of the death penalty may also impede international cooperation in fighting drug trafficking as there are national laws that [bar] the exchange of information and extradition with countries which may impose capital punishment for the offences concerned,” the UNODC spokesman said.

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

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse