Thursday, 21 December 2006

Executions may resume in Japan

Lawyers and human rights activists in Japan fear the government may soon resume executions, after a break of about 15 months.

The recent appointment of a new Justice Minister, and the end of sittings of the Japanese Diet (parliament), have raised concerns that the country may again activate its secretive death penalty system.

Executions in Japan are usually carried out when the Diet is not in session, which campaigners say is deliberately timed to avoid scrutiny and debate about the death penalty.

The last execution in Japan was reported to have been on 16 September 2005.

Makoto Teranaka, secretary general of Amnesty International Japan, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur that the end of the current parliamentary session "raises the possibility that executions will be carried out".

Last week Japan's bar association appealed to Justice Minister Jinen Nagase not to approve any executions.

The organisation warned him of the potential for innocent people to be executed and cited the worldwide trend towards the abolition of the death penalty.

Minister 'ready to sign'
Following Jinen Nagase's appointment as Justice Minister on 26 September, The Japan Times reported he would sign execution orders when a prisoner's death sentence was finalised.

"I realise there have been voices against the death penalty itself," he said.

"But considering the feelings of the victims and maintaining order in the society, I do not dispute the death penalty."

The report said the minister told his inaugural media conference that a finalised verdict under law must be carried out.

"It's about ending a person's life, so it must be given careful consideration," Nagase said.

"But rulings by the courts must not be ignored."

'Personal feelings'
Japan's previous Justice Minister Seiken Sugiura, a Buddhist, had said he would not sign execution orders due to his religious beliefs, a move that divided legal opinion in the country.

After he was appointed in October 2005, he told a media conference: "I'll not sign (execution orders). It's a matter of my thoughts, religious beliefs and philosophy."

He later ‘clarified’ his remarks and said: "I only described my personal feelings. I didn't talk about performing my official duties."

He said if he was presented with an execution order to sign, he would "make judgments in an appropriate manner".

No prisoners were executed during his time in office.

Legal opinion divided
Legal commentators were divided on Sugiura's remarks.

Ryukoku University Professor Shinichi Ishizuka told Mainichi Newspapers that the minister's caution was appropriate in relation to death penalty cases.

"The Code of Criminal Procedure empowers a justice minister to issue execution orders because the law calls for cautious judgment," he said.

"The law may expect a justice minister to exercise leadership in such decisions depending on the trends of the times.

"It's an international trend to decrease the death penalty. I appreciate Sugiura's cautious attitude toward the death penalty," Ishizuka said.

Other academics argued the minister had failed to perform his official duties.

Chuo University Professor Emeritus Toyo Atsumi said: "It's a matter of course that he must abide by the Code of Criminal Procedure that stipulates that a just minister must issue execution orders.

"His refusal to do so means he has failed to fulfill his official duty as justice minister. The prime minister should dismiss such a minister," he said.

"Mr. Sugiura is a lawyer, so if he had no intention of issuing execution orders, he shouldn't have accepted the post of justice minister in the first place," Atsumi said.

Related stories:
Long wait, sudden death in Japan -- 28 August, 2006
Japan: Lonely wait for the noose -- 5 Apr 2006
Japan's death row hell -- 3 Mar 2006

Tuesday, 19 December 2006

Death penalty victims speak out

Execution leaves a prisoner dead, but it leaves their families serving a deeply painful life sentence. Yet we rarely hear their stories, and we are almost never confronted with the consequences for them of having a loved one killed by the state.

A new report in the USA has broken this silence surrounding the families of executed people.

The report by Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights (MVFHR), released on Human Rights Day -- 10 December, documents the experiences of the families and how they suffer similar effects to others who have experienced violent loss.

MVFHR said it produced the report Creating More Victims: How Executions Hurt the Families Left Behind "to highlight the similarities between the experiences of survivors of homicide victims and survivors of people who are executed".

MVFHR is an organisation of the families of people killed through murder and terrorist acts, and the families of people killed by the state. It works against the death penalty, based on a human rights perspective.

"Family members of the executed are the death penalty's invisible victims," said Renny Cushing, executive director of MVFHR.

"With each execution, we create a new grieving family who experience many familiar symptoms of trauma, some of them long-lasting. As a society, what are we doing to address the suffering of these families?"

Hearing their voices
The report is based on the deeply moving testimony of many families from "this new group of victims".

"I don't think people understand what executions do to the families of the person being executed," said Billie Jean Mayberry, whose brother Robert Coe was executed in Tennessee in 2000.

"To us, our brother was murdered right in front of our eyes. It changed all of our lives."

Robert Meeropol, whose parents Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed when he was six years old, emphasised the devastating effect of execution on children.

"What impact does this event have on children’s impressionable lives, and what cost does society pay for that impact?"

The report makes recommendations for mental health professionals, educators, and child welfare advocates.

MVFHR has also sent a copy to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights with a request that she undertake a study of the impact of executions on surviving families.

Read their stories
Our colleagues at the Abolish the Death Penalty blog are running a two-week, ten-part series with the families' stories from the MVFHR report.

The first post is available here.

The full report is available here. (Please note the file is 2.46Mb.)

Friday, 15 December 2006

No execution for Canberra murder: Report

China is ready to guarantee it will not execute the suspect in a Canberra murder case, according to a recent report in The Canberra Times.

The newspaper reported on 29 November that Chinese authorities have agreed not to impose the death penalty on Zhang Long if he is convicted of murdering his girlfriend Zhang Hong Jie (also known as Zhang Hongjie or Steffi Zhang).

Her badly decomposed body was found in January 2005 in their apartment in Belconnen, Canberra, several months after she was believed to have been strangled.

According to The Canberra Times, a spokesman for Australia's Justice Minister Chris Ellison said it was likely Zhang would be spared if he was found guilty.

"China has indicated it will give a written undertaking not to apply the death penalty," he said.

Zhang Long has reportedly been held in Chinese custody since 3 March, 2005.

The government of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) refused to hand over evidence in the case until China gave an undertaking the death penalty would not be imposed.

The ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell said the government would hand over the evidence once it had received a written undertaking.

"If that commitment is formally given then we would be willing to assist Chinese authorities with prosecution," he said.

"This person is accused of a very serious crime and obviously we need to ensure justice is carried out."

Mr Corbell said the case showed "the importance of insisting the death penalty is unacceptable".

"It reinforces the importance of refusing to be complicit in actions that may lead to the death penalty and shows you can be successful in averting it," he said.

Sensitive negotiations
In June 2005, the Australian Government confirmed it was negotiating with Chinese authorities over the case.

The government confirmed that sensitive negotiations were continuing when Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited Australia in April 2006.

Debate in China
In the past year, Chinese legal experts have suggested its death penalty system may need reforming, to ensure suspects in criminal cases can be extradited from countries which oppose the death penalty.

Under Australian law, an international request for assistance in criminal cases can be refused where that assistance may result in the death penalty.

Related story:
Australia China talks over murder case -- 3 April, 2006

Thursday, 14 December 2006

Taiwan: Death penalty benefit an 'illusion'

Taiwan approved plans to execute a man only three weeks after its Justice Minister wrote to Amnesty International saying the government believed "that execution is not the answer" to crime.

Amnesty International (AI) said Chong Deshu (also reported as Chung Te-shu or 鍾德樹) was at risk of imminent execution after the Ministry of Justice released a notice of final judgment on 1 December.

Executions are usually carried out three days after the notice is issued, but AI said the Proesecutor-General appears to have delayed the execution to allow Chong Deshu's lawyer extra time to review the case.

His lawyer was reportedly examining whether there were any legal options that could prevent the execution, however AI has warned that he "could be executed at any moment without notice".

Chong Deshu was convicted of arson after an April 2001 fire killed three people and injured eighteen others.

On Saturday, the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty (TAEDP) applied to the Supreme Prosecutors' Office to review legal documents relating to Chung's case.

According to a report in The Taipei Times, the group hoped to stop the execution.

"The review of the case's legal documents may lead to an extraordinary application [to stop the execution] if the documents reveal anything suspicious," said Y.C. Kao (高湧誠) from the TAEDP.

Take action
Please write to the President of Taiwan, urging him to stop the execution of Chong Deshu, commute his sentence and take steps towards the full abolition of the death penalty. Send letters to:

President CHEN Shui-bian
Office of the President
122 Chungching S. Road, Sec.1
Taipei 10048
Fax: +886 2 23115877
Salutation: Your Excellency

'Serious thought'
Minister of Justice Shih Mao-Lin wrote to AI on 8 November saying he would "give serious thought to your suggestion not to carry out any executions over the coming months".

"We must say we agree with you completely that the reliance on the death penalty as a method of crime control is illusory. We also believe that execution is not the answer," Shih Mao-Lin wrote.

AI had written to the Minister of Justice on the World Day Against the Death Penalty (10 October) urging the government "to take immediate and concrete steps towards abolition of the death penalty".

The human rights organisation said it was "encouraged by numerous statements made by Taiwanese officials over recent years indicating support for abolition" and welcomed that no executions had been ordered or carried out to date this year.

"Scientific studies have consistently failed to find convincing evidence that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than other punishments," AI said.

Related story:
Taiwan working towards abolition? -- 20 February 2006

Friday, 8 December 2006

Bali bombers lodge appeals

Three men convicted over the October 2002 Bali bombings have lodged appeals against their death sentences.

The Australian reports the office of the Attorney-General confirmed the men's legal team had applied for judicial review of their sentences.

Amrozi bin Nurhasyim, Imam Samudra and Mukhlas (also known as Ali Ghufron) were convicted in 2003 for the bombings in Kuta, Bali, which killed 202 people.

Wirawan Adnan, a member of their legal team, said the appeals would include the argument they should not have been convicted under anti-terrorism legislation which was passed after the bombings.

"They should not have been allowed to use the retroactive legislation, and the Supreme Court has made a ruling on this. There are some other points that we will present, but this is the strong point," Mr Adnan told The Australian.

The newspaper report said three separate panels of judges would hear the appeals in Denpasar District Court, after which the findings would be submitted to the Supreme Court in Jakarta. It said a date for the hearings had not yet been set.

The appeals came after a drawn-out game of tactics between their lawyers and Indonesia's Attorney-General Abdul Rahman Saleh.

On Wednesday, the Attorney-General told Reuters he would proceed with the execution process if the men hadn't filed their appeals by the end of the month.

"It is proper enough for the attorney-general's office to wait until the end of this month on whether they would file for a judicial review. If they don't file, the process will go forward," he said.

Related stories:
Execution delay for Bali bombers -- 21 August 2006
Bali bombers closer to execution -- 11 April 2006

Wednesday, 6 December 2006

Malaysia: Death penalty essay competition

The Malaysian Bar is holding an essay competition on the subject of the death penalty.

Malaysia Star reports the Council's Human Rights Committee has called for essays up to 3,500 words on the topic "Death Penalty: Yes or No?"

Essays must be written in English or Malay.

The competition is open to Malaysians who are "enrolled in the CLP Program, doing their chambering or [are] undergraduates studying in a local public or private university or college".

All essay competition entries should be sent to the Bar Council Secretariat by 31 January, 2007.

For details, call Mohd Rezib 03-2031 3003 ext. 185 or e-mail

In March 2006, the Malaysia Bar's annual general meeting passed a resolution calling for an end to the death penalty and for all death sentences to be commuted.

Related stories:
Renewed debate on death penalty in Malaysia -- 23 March, 2006
Malaysian lawyers against the death penalty -- 21 March, 2006

China admits organs from prisoners

A senior Chinese health official has admitted that most transplant organs in China - the world's second-largest transplant system, are taken from executed prisoners.

Vice-Minister of Health Huang Jiefu told a conference on organ transplantation in Guangzhou on 14 November: "There are about 1.5 million people in China who need transplants each year, but only around 10,000 operations can be carried out."

"Almost all organ transplants can be performed in China. However, the current big shortfall of organ donations can't meet the demand," he said.

"Apart from a small portion of traffic victims, most of the organs from cadavers are from executed prisoners," Huang said.

But Vice-Minister Huang denied the organs were taken without the consent of the prisoner or their family.

"The relevant government authorities strongly require the informed consent from the prisoners or their families for the donation of organs," he said.

Ministry of Health spokesman Mao Qun'an said the regulations required the written consent of a prisoner or their relatives in order to donate their organs.

However he admitted that the regulations had not been properly enforced because of poor government supervision.

Rich people, including foreign patients, could jump waiting lists by buying transplant organs.

Official turnaround
The latest admission is a sharp reversal of the Chinese Government's policy of denying that many organs came from executed prisoners.

As recently as 13 September, The Shanghai Daily reported that the "Ministry of Health said most organs in China had been voluntarily donated by citizens. A small number came from death-row inmates who had volunteered."

Large transplant system
Xinhua's report on the conference said according to the Ministry of Health, 2,500 cornea transplants are carried out every year in China, with a further 2 million patients awaiting corneas for transplant.

It said Ministry of Health statistics recorded 34,726 organ transplants in China between 2000 and 2004.

With 10,000 transplants every year, China ranks second in the world for transplants after the United States.

Lucrative trade in death
Amnesty International reported in May that "extracting organs from executed prisoners has been a widespread and highly profitable practice in China since the de facto privatization of health care several years ago".

The human rights organisation said it was estimated that around 99% of transplanted organs in China may come from executed prisoners.

Amnesty International's death penalty update said: "International medical standards state that transplants may only take place voluntarily and with the free and informed consent of the donor; it is unlikely that those faced with the trauma of imminent execution are in a position to provide such consent.

"The secrecy surrounding the application of the death penalty in China also makes it difficult to verify whether such consent was given."

Related stories:
Stop transplant tourism: surgeon -- 28 November, 2006
China restricts organs from executions -- 29 March, 2006

China, death penalty, executed prisoners, human rights, law reform, organ transplant

Wednesday, 29 November 2006

Remembering Van Tuong Nguyen

[Please note: long post]

One year ago this Saturday, Singapore hanged 25 year-old Australian citizen Van Tuong Nguyen.

Van was hanged at 6am in Changi jail on 2 December 2005, six weeks after his appeal for clemency was rejected by the Singapore President.

The Singapore government went ahead with the execution despite repeated appeals for mercy from the Australian government, the intervention of state and federal parliamentarians, an unprecedented level of protest in Australia, appeals from two Popes and protests by a small group of anti-death penalty activists in Singapore.

Singapore is believed to have the highest execution rate in the world, per head of its population.

One year on
Van's mother Kim Nguyen, his twin brother Khoa and his closest friends live with the continuing punishment of his execution.

His mother Kim, an intensely private woman, has spoken out about her anguish in the documentary Just Punishment, which will be aired on Australia's ABC TV on 7 December, from 9.20pm (AEDT).

Kim Nguyen says in the documentary that her son was not like the people who organise the drug trade.

"The people who have millions of money, they are the people who bring drugs . . . they never get killed," she says.

"He is just a stupid boy."

She adds that he was a "gentle" person who was very different to his brother.

His twin brother Khoa, a former heroin addict, says that he blames himself for his brother's death.

"I feel guilty that I did lots of bad things. I feel guilty that I influenced my brother in a bad way to do bad things."

The documentary narrates Van's final entry in his journal before his hanging: "I have reflected about what will take place at 6am and I can only smile, because I know I will be returning to heaven to watch over all those who have touched my life."

Catholic priest Father Peter Norden said he would lead a church service for Van's family and friends on Saturday, after which they would release balloons into the sky "as a sign of hope".

He said no public events were planned.

Van Nguyen's two closest friends, Kelly Ng and Bronwyn Lew, will restage their highly emotive Reach Out campaign in front of the State Library of Victoria on Friday.

During last year's campaign to save Van Nguyen from the gallows, the two women collected traced images of thousands of hands and messages of support from people across Australia.

Ms Ng told AAP they hoped displaying the hands again would remind people that the death penalty should not be used in the 21st century.

"Hopefully they will serve as a reminder to all the people who walk past, that we did lose our friend Van to something that shouldn't have happened," she said.

"The death penalty is something that shouldn't be happening in the 21st century. Van did do something wrong and he does require punishment, but the punishment that was given to him is disproportional to his crime."

She said she hoped her friend's execution would help others facing the same punishment.

"I don't think Van's life was wasted, his life wasn't taken away from him in vain.

"Some good will come of this and hopefully we will be able to help other people who are currently facing the death penalty," Ms Ng said.

A tragic case
Van Nguyen was arrested in Changi airport in December 2002, in transit from Cambodia to Australia, after police found a package of heroin strapped to his back and a second package in his backpack.

In March 2004 he was convicted of importing 396.2 grams of heroin into Singapore and sentenced to death under the country's Misuse of Drugs Act, which carries a mandatory death sentence for anyone found guilty of trafficking in more than 15 grams of heroin.

Van, who had no prior criminal record, was reportedly carrying the drugs in order to pay off debts owed by his twin brother. He was so naïve that, according to his statement to police, he didn't know how much he would be paid for carrying the drugs.

Related stories:
MP criticises "tragic waste of human life" -- 29 November, 2006
Singapore forum against death penalty -- 21 August 2006
Trade undisturbed by Singapore execution -- 04 July 2006
Victoria criticises Singapore death penalty -- 17 April 2006

Asia death penalty, death penalty, drug trade, drugs, execution, human rights, Nguyen Tuong Van, Singapore, Van Tuong Nguyen

MP criticises "tragic waste of human life"

An Australian parliamentarian has marked the first anniversary of Van Tuong Nguyen's execution in Singapore by condemning the pointless waste of his death.

Van Nguyen, a 25 year-old salesman from Melbourne, was hanged in Singapore on 2 December, 2005.

Ms Anna Burke, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) Member for Chisholm, told the Australian Parliament on 27 November that Van Nguyen's execution had served no purpose.

"Since his death, we have not stopped the drug trafficking. We have not stopped people stupidly going there and trafficking drugs.

"We have now had more Australians caught up in foreign countries who will also be facing execution," she said.

Six Australians are currently on death row in Bali, Indonesia, after being convicted of drug smuggling offences.

Ms Burke said Van Nguyen's death "was a tragic waste of human life".

"Yes, he should have been punished—he should been punished severely—but not by execution," she said.

Ms Burke said she had met Van Nguyen's mother Kim last week, who was still "a victim" of her son's execution.

"She still cannot come to terms with her situation.

"Day in, day out, she sees herself as the victim of this crime, of this execution. She does not like to leave her home. She does not like to interact with people," Ms Burke said.

She said execution had "served no purpose" in this case or in any other case.

Related stories:
Remembering Van Tuong Nguyen -- 29 November, 2006
Trade undisturbed by Singapore execution -- 04 July 2006
Victoria criticises Singapore death penalty -- 17 April 2006

Asia death penalty, death penalty, drug trade, drugs, execution, human rights, Nguyen Tuong Van, Singapore, Van Tuong Nguyen

Tuesday, 28 November 2006

Stop transplant tourism: surgeon

A leading Israeli surgeon has called on patients in his country to stop travelling to China for transplant surgery.

Dr Jacob Lavee, director of the heart transplant unit at the Sheba Medical Center, said 90 percent of transplant organs in China had been taken from executed prisoners without consent.

According to a 29 October report on the Israeli news website Ynetnews, Dr Lavee described transplants performed in China as "crimes against humanity" in a special survey published in the medical journal Harefua.

The rate of organ donation is very low in Israel, up to half the rate in Europe and the United States.

About half of Israeli patients on waiting lists travel overseas for surgery as a result of the shortage of available organs. Most travel to China.

Dr Lavee said: "It goes without saying that the distress of patients in Israel waiting for transplants is great, but one's distress doesn't justify committing a crime on another."

The Harefua article quoted a Chinese doctor who sought political refuge in the United States.

Dr Wang Guayoki testified before a House of Representatives committee that he had removed skin and corneas from more than 100 executed prisoners in China.

He said the prisoners were given an injection to prevent their blood from clotting and perserve their organs. They were then shot in the head, with medical staff waiting to remove the organs for transplant.

'Thriving trade'
In September, an undercover BBC investigation found a "thriving trade" in organs from executed prisoners.

One hospital in Tianjin told a BBC correspondent it could supply a transplant liver at a cost of £50,000 (US$94,400). The chief surgeon confirmed that the organ could come from an executed prisoner.

The BBC said China's foreign ministry admitted in March that organs from prisoners were used in transplants, but claimed this occurred only in "very few cases".

One official told the BBC that prisoners donated their organs as a "present to society".

Related stories:
China restricts organs from executions -- 29 March, 2006

, , executed prisoners, human rights, law reform, organ transplant

Saturday, 25 November 2006

Viet Nam death penalty "not deterring drugs"

A Vietnamese parliamentary commission has admitted the death penalty is failing to deter drug crime, despite the large number of people executed for drug-related offences each year.

Thanh Nien News reported on 3 November that the National Assembly's Legal Commission also favoured reducing the number of crimes that attract the death penalty.

Legal Commission vice director Tran The Vuong said it acknowledged the deterrent effect of the death penalty was "not so significant".

"Though there have been a lot of death sentences for drug-related offenses, the number of drug criminals has increased," Tran The Vuong said on the fringes of the assembly's winter session.

"It would be more effective to discover and punish ringleaders," Tran The Vuong said.

According to the report by Thanh Nien News, about 100 people are executed by firing squad each year, most for drug-related offences.

The report said many people executed for drug offences were merely couriers who transported drugs because of their situation or in ignorance of the law.

Tran The Vuong said the commission favoured a reduction in the number of crimes carrying the death penalty, although he would not specify which crimes would remain capital offences.

"It is a major issue that needs thorough study," he said.

Proposed changes
Viet Nam amended its Criminal Code in 2000, reducing the number of capital offences from 44 to 29.

It was reported in February 2006 that the Ministry of Public Security proposed a further reduction from 29 to 20 offences.

A spokesperson for the judicial department of the Ministry of Public Security said a reduction would be "in tune with the general tendency around the world, which Vietnam should follow".

Amnesty International said the proposal, which was submitted to the judicial reform commission for consideration, "reportedly recommends that economic crimes such as fraud and embezzlement, smuggling, counterfeiting and bribery should no longer be capital offences".

Viet Nam has continued to sentence people to death for non-violent economic crimes, despite the view of UN human rights experts that "the death penalty should be eliminated for crimes such as economic crimes and drug-related offences".

In February 2006, state media reported on proposals to change the method of execution, replacing firing squads with lethal injection.

A Police Ministry study reportedly said lethal injection would "minimise the psychological difficulties for executioners".

Related stories:
Another Australian spared in Viet Nam – 19 November, 2006
Viet Nam: Take action against the death penalty -- 24 June, 2006
Viet Nam easing the executioner's burden -- 26 February, 2006
To begin, good news in Viet Nam -- 18 February, 2006

death penalty, deterrence, drug trade, drugs, human rights, Viet Nam, Vietnam

Thursday, 23 November 2006

Mirza Tahir Hussain: Safe, free and home

UK national Mirza Tahir Hussain has returned home from Pakistan following President Pervez Musharaff's decision to commute his death sentence.

Hussain had endured three trials, two death sentences, four stays of execution and eighteen years in prison.

President Musharaff commuted the sentence to life imprisonment on Wednesday 15 October. A life sentence in Pakistan usually means a minimum term of 14 years in prison, making him immediately eligible for release. He was freed on Friday and he flew out for the UK the same day.

Hussain was scheduled to hang after 31 December, when a fourth stay of execution was due to expire.

After his family received confirmation of the decision, his brother Amjad said: "I welcome the news and I'm grateful to President Musharraf that he has taken this decision on humanitarian grounds.

"We are near the finishing line. At last, this 18 years of nightmare appears to be coming to an end."

Amjad Hussain said his brother would need time to recover and adjust after his years of imprisonment.

"There will be help and there will be counselling, he will have the best he can get.

"He needs to catch up on all the news that he's missed, the world has moved on and he's been living a life of standstill for the last 18 years," he said.

The BBC News website quoted a statement read on Mirza Hussein's behalf after his release: "It has been a tremendous strain to be separated from my family and loved ones.

"Freedom is a great gift. I want to use this freedom to get to know my family again, to adjust back to living here and to come to terms with my ordeal.

"My thoughts remain with all the prisoners I have left behind."

Under the shadow
Hussain was convicted of murdering taxi driver Jamshed Khan who died in Punjab Province on 17 December 1988. He had always claimed he was physically and sexually assaulted at gunpoint by the taxi driver, and the gun went off in the struggle that followed.

He was first sentenced to death in 1989, later reduced to life, before being acquitted of all charges in 1996. His case was then referred to the religious Federal Shariat Court and in 1998 he was sentenced to death for robbery involving murder, despite the Court's acknowledgement that no robbery was involved.

One of the three judges in his sharia court trial found that police had "fabricated evidence in a shameless manner".

The taxi driver's family later rejected an offer of blood money under Islamic law and insisted that the death sentence be carried out.

Amnesty International (AI), along with other organisations, argued he was convicted after an unfair trial and said "under no circumstances" should the sentence be upheld.

President Musharaff rejected a mercy petition, and he said in October that he did not have the power to override the judgement of a sharia court. But campaigners pointed out that article 45 of the constitution gave him the power to commute "any sentence passed by any court".

Later reports suggested the president was looking for legal grounds to commute the sentence.

UK campaign
Amjad Hussain led a strong campaign for clemency across the UK, including Amnesty International UK, the Muslim Council of Britain and the Catholic Church. Amjad reportedly gave up his job as a computer scientist to lead the campaign for his brother's freedom.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair intervened on Hussain's behalf, and Prince Charles made a direct appeal for mercy following an official meeting with President Musharaff in Islamabad on 30 October.

Related stories:
Pakistan: Fourth reprieve for Mirza Hussain -- 22 October, 2006
Call for abolition: Pakistan columnist -- 17 October, 2006
Pakistan: Thousands in "brutal" system – 12 October, 2006
Pakistan: Hanging delayed, but how long? -- 03 October, 2006
UK pressure over Pakistan hanging -- 01 October, 2006

Pakistan, Mirza Tahir Hussain, Amjad Hussain, death row

Sunday, 19 November 2006

Another Australian spared in Viet Nam

A fifth Australian national has been spared execution in Viet Nam, rewarding Australian government appeals and its co-operation in joint drug operations.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer announced this week that the death sentence against Trinh Huu, 53, had been commuted to life imprisonment.

He said Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet commuted Trinh's death sentence following diplomatic representations from the Australian government.

As in previous cases, the Vietnamese government cited humanitarian grounds and their country's good relationship with Australia as reasons for the decision.

Trinh was sentenced to death in December last year for trafficking about 2 kilograms of heroin. He was arrested near the Vietnam-Cambodia border in December 2004.

The Age newspaper reported in February this year that Trinh was arrested by Vietnamese police working with the Australian Federal Police (AFP).

A spokesperson for Justice Minister Chris Ellison confirmed that Trinh's arrest "was the result of co-operation between Australian and Vietnamese authorities regarding a large drug syndicate".

The AFP has been criticised for its co-operation with Indonesian police, following the April 2005 arrest of a group of Australian citizens known as the "Bali 9". The AFP provided crucial information that led to the monitoring, arrest and prosecution of the group for trying to smuggle 8.3 kilograms of heroin to Australia.

Six members of the Bali 9 have been sentenced to death for drug smuggling offences.

Clemency for foreign nationals
Viet Nam has only executed one foreign national since 1975, when it shot a Canadian woman of Vietnamese origin, Nguyen Thi Hiep, on 25 April 1999.

Five Australians have had their death sentences commuted in Viet Nam since 2003. In all five cases the Australian government made strong representations to the government of Viet Nam appealing for the sentences to be commuted.

In February 2006 President Tran Duc Luong commuted the death sentences of two Australians to life imprisonment, citing "humane tradition" and the good bilateral relationship between Australia and Viet Nam. He spared convicted heroin smugglers Mai Cong Thanh, an Australian citizen, and Nguyen Van Chinh, an Australian permanent resident.

The death sentence against Tran Van Thanh, convicted of heroin trafficking, was commuted to life in prison in August 2005 on the basis of humanitarian grounds and the strong relationship between Viet Nam and Australia.

Le My Linh, a 43-year old Sydney woman, was granted presidential clemency in July 2003 following appeals from the Australian government. The president again cited humanitarian grounds when commuting her sentence to life in prison.

Vietnamese citizens have not been so lucky. According to Amnesty International, there were 21 known executions in 2005 and at least 65 people sentenced to death, but "the real number is believed to be much higher".

Related stories:
World Day call for Australian leadership -- 10 October, 2006
UN: Australia should tackle drugs penalty -- 29 September, 2006
Australia's double standards under pressure -- 13 September, 2006
Firing squad for six of Bali nine -- 10 September, 2006
Australian police & the firing squad -- 19 February, 2006
To begin, good news in Viet Nam -- 18 February, 2006

death penalty, Vietnam, Viet Nam, human rights, drugs, drug trade

Tuesday, 14 November 2006

China: Judges try to limit death penalty

China's most senior judges have urged courts to restrain their use of the death sentences in criminal cases, the latest sign the government is attempting to reign in the country's massive use of the death penalty.

Chinese legal experts estimate between 8,000 and 10,000 people are executed each year, following trials that human rights organisations describe as routinely unfair.

On 31 October, the Chinese government introduced reforms requiring the Supreme People's Court to review all death sentences handed down by provincial courts. The new measure will take effect from 1 January 2007.

According to the Xinhua newsagency, Xiao Yang, the President of the Supreme People's Court, urged courts to exercise "extreme caution" when handing down death sentences and said that every judgement should "stand the test of time".

"In cases where the judge has legal leeway to decide whether to order death, he should always choose not to do so," Xiao Yang said.

The death sentence should be reserved for only an "extremely small number" of serious offenders, he said.

Xiao Yang also said a death sentence should not generally be given to a convict who surrendered to police, or who helped police solve crimes.

"Judges should be very cautious, as if walking on thin ice, when it comes to the death penalty. They should ensure the facts and the evidence are all clear and the verdict is issued in accordance with law," Xiao Yang said.

The vice president of the Supreme People's Court, Jiang Xingchang, stressed that appeals against death sentences should be heard in open court, and courts should record appeals on video-tape.

Related stories:
China reforms good, but not enough -- 08 November, 2006
China: Supreme Court review from January -- 01 November, 2006
China to video death penalty appeals -- 28 May 2006
China to retain death penalty, with reforms -- 13 Mar 2006

, law reform, , human rights

Wednesday, 8 November 2006

China reforms good, but not enough

Human rights groups have welcomed reforms to the death penalty in China, but say the changes fail to address the unfair trials, secrecy and widespread use that characterise the country's death penalty system.

The Chinese government passed new legislation last week reinstating a single national process of review for all death sentences. From 1 January 2007, the Supreme People's Court will review all death sentences handed down by provincial courts.

Amnesty International (AI) said the changes were "welcome" but people facing the death penalty would still be unlikely to receive fair trials. Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the reforms would not be effective if China did not disclose how many people were executed each year.

"This new legislation will possibly help improve the quality of trials for those facing the death penalty in China - and may also reduce the number of executions," said Purna Sen, AI's Asia-Pacific Programme Director.

"But there is a danger that it could also further entrench the death penalty system in China, unless it is accompanied by other measures, including full transparency on the use of the death penalty nationwide and a reduction in the number of crimes punishable by death," Purna Sen said.

Around 68 crimes attract the death penalty in China, including non-violent offences such as tax fraud, embezzling state property and accepting bribes.

Sophie Richardson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said: "Unless the government discloses how many people it executes each year, the reform isn't meaningful."

"Hiding the numbers might save the government embarrassment, but this is not acceptable. Without releasing basic public information such as the overall number of executions, the type of crime that led to the sentence, and basic data about the executed, meaningful penal reform still has not been achieved," she said.

Both organisations agreed that the reforms did not go far enough, and would not address the serious human rights violations in the use of the death penalty in China.
AI expressed fears that, even with the new process of review, "those facing the death penalty are unlikely to receive a fair trial in line with international human rights standards".

"Trials in China are generally marked by a lack of prompt access to lawyers, lack of presumption of innocence, political interference in the judiciary and the failure to exclude evidence extracted under torture," AI said.

Sophie Richardson from HRW said: "Having a higher court review death penalty sentences is a good first step, but much more needs to be done."

"The government must also work to ensure that courts are independent and that defendants have adequate legal representation. Otherwise, this reform will signal only very limited progress," she said.

Related story:
China: Supreme Court review from January -- 01 November, 2006

, law reform, , human rights

Friday, 3 November 2006

Singapore: Took Leng How hanged

Breaking news

The Singapore government this morning hanged Malaysian man Took Leng How. He had been convicted of the October 2004 murder of an eight year-old girl.

A report by Malaysia's national newsagency Bernama said his body was later released to family members, according to a prison official.

President S.R.Nathan's Principal Secretary wrote to defence lawyers at the beginning of last week, informing them an application for clemency had been rejected. He said the president had consulted with the Cabinet and decided the death sentence would stand.

Last week Took was visited in prison by his wife, 24, and their 3 year-old son.

Prisoners sentenced to death in Singapore are often executed within two weeks of the rejection of their application for presidential clemency.

Australian national Van Tuong Nguyen was executed for drug trafficking on 2 December 2005, six weeks after the announcement that his bid for clemency had been turned down. The hanging was carried out despite numerous appeals from the Australian government, widespread protest in the Australian community and appeals from two Popes.

The timing of today's execution suggests the Singapore government may have been attempting to minimise the level of protest at the imminent hanging. Members of Took's family had collected the signatures of more than 34,000 Singaporeans on a petition appealing for clemency.
Related story:
Singapore: Took Leng How facing gallows -- 27 October, 2006

Singapore, death penalty, execution, Asia death penalty

Wednesday, 1 November 2006

China: Supreme Court review from January

All death sentences handed down in China will be reviewed by the Supreme People's Court from 1 January 2007, a move senior judges have claimed will help prevent wrongful convictions.

A standing committee of the National People's Congress, the country's top legislative body, yesterday amended the law on the country's courts, requiring all death penalties handed down by provincial courts to be reviewed by the SPC.

China is the world's leader in executions, with an estimated toll of between 8,000 and 10,000 executions each year, although the true figure is a closely guarded 'state secret'.

Chinese government newsagency Xinhua said yesterday's amendments were "believed to be the most important reform on capital punishment in China in more than 20 years".

The China Daily newspaper described the move as "a major step to safeguard human rights".

Appeal and review
The amendment to the Organic Law on the People's Courts separates an appeal against a conviction from the new process reviewing the appropriateness of the sentence.

SPC president Xiao Yang said a convicted person would appeal the verdict to provincial courts, but the SPC would be required to review and ratify all death sentences handed out.

According to Xinhua, Xiao described the change as "an important procedural step to prevent wrongful convictions".

"It will also give the defendants in death sentence cases one more chance to have their opinions heard," Xiao said.

China Daily reported before the standing committee vote that the proposed review would apply only to death sentences handed down in provincial courts.

The report said the revision submitted to the committee stated: "Cases in which the death sentence has been issued should be submitted to the Supreme People's Court for approval except in those cases in which the judgments were issued by the Supreme People's Court itself."

After increasing criticism
The amendments introducing SPC review of capital cases come after intense – and rare – public criticism of miscarriages of justice in China's court system in recent years.

Official media have permitted at times angry discussion of high-profile murder cases, where police had used torture to secure confessions but the 'murder victim' appeared alive after their alleged killer had been executed.

Human rights organisations have long criticised provincial courts of political interference, corruption and poorly trained judges.

Even official newsagency Xinhua acknowledged yesterday that "the practice of provincial courts handling both death sentence appeals and conducting final reviews began to encounter increasing criticism in recent years for causing miscarriages of justice".

"Since 2005, China's media have exposed a series of errors in death sentence cases and criticized courts for lack of caution in meting out capital punishment," Xinhua said.

BBC NEWS said Jerome Cohen, a US expert on China's legal system, called the move to Supreme Court review a "step in the right direction", which he said showed that senior members of the judiciary were increasingly concerned by the use of the death penalty.

He said the legal system required further fundamental reform of death penalty legislation to change the way capital cases were tried and appealed.

Courts preparing
China's courts have taken a number of steps this year that the government has claimed would reform the handling of capital cases.

Through 2006 the SPC has been preparing for the introduction of the review process, establishing three new criminal tribunals and recruiting and training new judges.

In February 2006, Xiao Yang announced that after July all appeals against death sentences would be heard in open court, replacing the previous practice of closed-door judicial review of capital cases.

Related stories:
Political questions over China's new appeal judges -- 02 Jul 2006
China to video death penalty appeals -- 28 May 2006
China: Death penalty cases will soon be reviewed -- 09 Apr 2006
China to retain death penalty, with reforms -- 13 Mar 2006
Open courts to hear China’s death row appeals -- 26 Feb 2006
China acknowledges death penalty abolition trend -- 13 Mar 2006
China's world record - 8000 dead? -- 28 Feb 2006

, law reform,

Sunday, 29 October 2006

Stand up for Internet freedom

Many governments are working to close down freedom of expression on the Internet, often with the help of Internet companies that built their names (and fortunes) on the free exchange of information.

Websites are blocked, search engines reigned in, discussions monitored, and journalists, bloggers and activists are arrested for exchanging information online.

Amnesty International and The Observer newspaper have created the campaign, to defend freedom of expression on the Internet and put pressure on those same governments and companies.

Sign the pledge
You would not be able to read this blog without freedom of the Internet. Many people around the world won't be able to read it at all, or they may not be safe if they do.

I encourage you to join Amnesty International's campaign and sign the pledge on Internet freedom.

The pledge puts it simply: "People have the right to seek and receive information and to express their peaceful beliefs online without fear or interference."

Growing repression online
The website points out that "efforts to try and control the Internet are growing".

"Internet repression is reported in countries like China, Vietnam, Tunisia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria. People are persecuted and imprisoned simply for criticising their government, calling for democracy and greater press freedom, or exposing human rights abuses, online."

The campaign notes the complicity -- and active involvement -- of IT companies that "have helped build the systems that enable surveillance and censorship to take place".

"Yahoo! have supplied email users’ private data to the Chinese authorities, helping to facilitate cases of wrongful imprisonment. Microsoft and Google have both complied with government demands to actively censor Chinese users of their services.

"Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right. It is one of the most precious of all rights. We should fight to protect it.

The future of (freedom on) the Internet
Amnesty International is campaigning ahead of the UN's Internet Governance Forum (IGF) on the future of the Internet, in Athens this week.

Steve Ballinger, part of Amnesty International’s IGF delegation, said: "We bring with us to the Internet Governance Forum the voices of thousands of people who share our concerns and who have supported Amnesty's campaign.

"We are calling on governments to release prisoners who are held just for expressing their peaceful views online, and to stop unwarranted censorship of internet sites and searches."

Friday, 27 October 2006

Singapore: Took Leng How facing gallows

A Malaysian man convicted of murdering an eight year-old girl may be hanged within two weeks, following the rejection of his final appeal for clemency by the Singapore President.

Took Leng How, 24, was convicted of murdering Chinese national Huang Na at the Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre in October 2004. He was sentenced to death in August 2005.

The Court of Appeal upheld his death sentence in January this year, in a split two-one decision.

S.R.Nathan's Principal Secretary wrote to defence lawyer Subhas Anandan earlier this week, informing him the President had considered the application and consulted with the Cabinet, but the death sentence would stand.

Singapore is thought to have the highest execution rate in the world, per head of its population.

In a report in Singapore newspaper TodayOnline, Mr Subhas described the news as "crushing".

He said defence lawyers had hoped the split decision of the court of appeal, and a psychiatrist's opinion that Took was mentally disturbed, would be taken into account.

"I thought we had a chance," said Mr Subhas, who said Took would not be surprised by the news. "The last time I saw him, he said it doesn't really matter [if clemency was refused]."

According to Channel NewsAsia, Subhas Anandan said: "We thought he had hope because there was a dissenting judgement and at least one senior psychiatrist has said that he was suffering from diminished responsibility."

TodayOnline reported that Took's parents in Penang were distraught when another defence lawyer, Chung Ping Shen, told them the news.

His sobbing mother Loo Swee Heow spoke to the newspaper on the phone.

"We thought he had a chance and we have been telling him everything is going to be okay," she said. "Why couldn't he be pardoned?"

His father was too upset to speak to reporters.

Grounds for clemency
The clemency application had asked the President to take into account the views of the dissenting judge in the Court of Appeal, who had questioned if Took had killed the girl by smothering her.

Justice Kan Ting Chiu found that Took should instead be convicted of the less serious charge of voluntarily causing hurt, which carried a maximum sentence of one year's jail, a $1,000 fine or both.

Following the rejection of his appeal, Took Leng How was the subject of an extraordinary campaign on the streets of Singapore. Members of his family collected more than 34,000 signatures from Singaporeans on a petition appealing for clemency.

Earlier stories - Singapore:
Nigeria won't act to save man in Singapore -- 01 September 2006
Singapore forum against death penalty -- 21 August 2006
Trade undisturbed by Singapore execution -- 04 July 2006
Victoria criticises Singapore death penalty -- 17 April 2006

Sunday, 22 October 2006

Pakistan: Fourth reprieve for Mirza Hussain

Mirza Tahir Hussain was given a fourth stay of execution on 19 October, apparently to prevent cancellation of a state visit to the country by Prince Charles.

The UK citizen was scheduled to be hanged on 1 November, three days after Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall arrive in Pakistan.

President Pervez Musharraf issued the stay of execution, which delays the hanging until at least 31 December.

According to UK newspaper The Independent, there were "unconfirmed reports from Pakistan that President Pervez Musharraf has appointed a legal counsel to re-examine the case and consider the possibility of a pardon for Hussain".

UK's The Times newspaper quoted a senior Pakistani official as saying: "We are considering the case on humanitarian grounds. Initially, a two-month stay order is being given for his execution. In the meantime the Government will try to find a permanent solution to this issue."

A Pakistani cabinet minister reportedly told the Associated Press that the President was consulting legal experts and Islamic scholars to find a way to "permanently settle this matter".

The minister told AP there was " a possibility that he [Hussain] would be pardoned. God willing, we will find some solution."

The latest reprieve comes after Prince Charles raised the case directly with President Musharraf.

"The Prince of Wales has been concerned about this case for some time and had raised it with the Prime Minister of Pakistan," said a spokesman quoted in UK newspaper The Telegraph.

According to another report, the Pakistan Government has angrily denied the reprieve was a result of pressure from the UK.

"It has nothing to do with what the British leadership has to say. There was no pressure and I have said earlier that we do not accept ultimatums from anybody," a spokesman said.

Related stories:
Call for abolition: Pakistan columnist -- 17 October, 2006
Pakistan: Thousands in "brutal" system – 12 October, 2006
Pakistan: Hanging delayed, but how long? -- 03 October, 2006
UK pressure over Pakistan hanging -- 01 October, 2006

Tuesday, 17 October 2006

Call for abolition: Pakistan columnist

A Pakistani political columnist has called for the abolition of the death penalty and an immediate pardon for Mirza Tahir Hussain.

Mushir Anwar, writing in the PakTribune online news service, said Hussain's case "invites civil society's attention to reconsider the issue of death penalty in the light of the ethical problem it poses".

Hussain is set to be hanged on 1 November, at the end of Ramadan, after an unfair trial process and 18 years in jail.

In his column "Abolishing death penalty", Mushir Anwar argued that the way an execution was carried out could be "described as premeditated murder in cold blood on the part of the state".

"The argument that the state is only killing a person who has killed another fellow being is an unethical justification and does not absolve the state of the wrongdoing it commits that in its own eyes is a punishable crime," he wrote.

"Secondly, execution of a killer by the state is an act of revenge which is unbecoming of the state which is supposed to be the noblest and the highest of human institutions. Revenge is universally regarded as mean and ignoble while forgiveness is universally held to be divine."

'Compassion under Islam'
He said abolition of the death penalty was consistent with the principles of Islam, which called for compassion over revenge.

"In Islam, particularly, compassion is held superior to justice. In fact, the predilection of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) is for compassion and forgiveness.

"A Muslim society should embody the Prophet’s compassion and Allah’s mercifulness, His benevolence and boundless clemency in its laws."

Mushir Anwar argued that abolition in Pakistan would promote a good image for Islam and set a positive example for other Islamic countries.

"We, who hanker so much after our good image and want Islam to be known as a humane system of life, can give the Muslim world a lead by abolishing the crude and vengeful penalty of death from our statute books altogether," he wrote

"A life term with hard labour in the service of society should be the highest punishment. It gives the criminal the chance to reform and regain the goodness Allah created him with."

Pardon Mirza call
He said Mirza Tahir Hussain “has already paid heavily for his crime [and] should be pardoned by the president without any further delay. Let not a good act wait if it is to be done."

He concluded his column with the words for President Musharaff: "You have the law on your side. Use it."

Related stories:
Pakistan: Thousands in "brutal" system – 12 October, 2006
Pakistan: Hanging delayed, but how long? -- 03 October, 2006
UK pressure over Pakistan hanging -- 01 October, 2006

Thursday, 12 October 2006

Pakistan: Thousands in "brutal" system

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) reported in early August that more than 7,400 men and 36 women are being held on death row waiting to be hanged.

The HRCP singled out Punjab as particularly "brutal", saying that 37 people were hanged in that province alone between January and late July.

It said this figure compared with 52 people hanged in the whole country last year.

About a tenth of Punjab's 53,000 prisoners are facing death, according to the IRIN News report, with many held in cells that measured about 10 square metres. The HRCP said the cells were built for a single prisoner but they were often used to house ten.

The HRCP said the prisoners were held in 81 jails across the country. Some prisoners had been held in these conditions for as long as ten years.

Rao Abid Hameed, from the HRCP's Vulnerable Prisoners Project, told IRIN News that people under sentence of death did not receive the same rights as other prisoners.

"They are very restricted in terms of time for exercise and access to other facilities available to other jail inmates," Hameed said.

Brutalised society
HRCP director IA Rehman told the BBC News website that the increase in hangings could be a result of government efforts to reduce overcrowding in prisons.

"The sad fact is that the increased number of executions have not really raised eyebrows or generated many public complaints," he said.

"Pakistan has become a brutalised society where people are exposed to killings on an almost daily basis."

Vendetta not justice
IA Rehman said many people had been executed as a result of "feudal vendettas" and not a fair justice system.

"The tragedy is that many people who have been hanged or are on death row have not received fair trials," he said.

"They are often the victims of feudal vendettas that take place in parts of Pakistan on a regular basis.

"Furthermore they are often convicted by courts or judicial tribunals which are not impartial and where police evidence is insufficient."

He said while some prisoners could wait as long as 15 years before they were hanged or had their sentence commuted, political cases were often finalised much sooner.

"In contrast people accused of terrorist offences - such as attempting to kill the president or a senior member of the establishment - can be sentenced and hanged within two years," he said.

International attention
The use of the death penalty in Pakistan has received international attention in recent months, with the planned execution of UK national Mirza Tahir Hussain.

Hussain, 36, was convicted of murder following what human rights groups have described as an unfair trial.

His execution has been delayed until after Ramadan, and President Pervez Musharraf has refused to intervene in the case.

HRCP figures indicate the following executions have been carried out in Pakistan in the past four years:

2003: 18 people
2004: 15 people
2005: 52 people
2006: 41 people (to late July)

Related stories:
Pakistan: Hanging delayed, but how long? -- 03 October, 2006
UK pressure over Pakistan hanging -- 01 October, 2006

Tuesday, 10 October 2006

New voice against Asia's executions

A new Asian coalition against the death penalty will be launched today in Seoul, South Korea, on the fourth World Day Against the Death Penalty.

Amnesty International (AI) announced that the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN) will be launched at events and activities across the region, including South Korea, where a parliamentary bill to abolish the death penalty is currently being considered.

The formation of ADPAN is a significant step in building a regional movement against the death penalty in Asia.

Asia is the world's leading region for executions and it is home to some of the most active death penalty systems, in countries like China, Viet Nam and Singapore.

Activists in Asia are also dealing with issues such as the secrecy of many death penalty systems around the region, the widespread use of unfair trials in capital cases and the growing use of the death penalty for drug-related offences.

An AI statement for the World Day said: "The network of activists, NGOs, civil society groups and lawyers from many countries across the region -- including India, Singapore and Japan -- aims to draw attention to the inequities and unfairness inherent in the administration of the death penalty by appealing on individual cases and campaigning to support national and regional initiatives to end capital punishment."

The organisation said the Asian region had "bucked the worldwide trend to abolish the death penalty", but it was working with ADPAN "to urge Asia Pacific countries to abolish the death penalty".

AI warned that "even periods without executions can quickly and apparently easily be ended – as seen in Indonesia where a state firing squad executed three men in September 2006 after fifteen months with no known executions".

"Asian countries that have taken a lead on the death penalty include the Philippines, which abolished the death penalty in June.

"ADPAN will campaign for other countries in Asia to make real their pronouncements to respect human rights, through the protection of the most fundamental right of all: the right to life," the AI statement said.

World Day events in Australia

Amnesty International Australia has organised events and individual activities for the World Day Against the Death Penalty, including:
  • Sydney - 5:30pm - "Australia and the death penalty" forum, speakers: Lex Lasry QC, Dr Michael Fullilove (The Lowy Institute for International Policy), Michael Walton (NSW Council of Civil Liberties)
  • Brisbane - 5:30pm - lantern procession through the city streets, ending at the Old Windmill on Wickham Terrace, where people were hanged in 1841
  • Melbourne - 6:00pm - 8:00pm - candle-lit vigil against the death penalty in Federation Square; participants are urged to dress in black and white and bring a candle
  • Cairns - 6:00pm - Cairns residents are screening the film ‘Too Flawed to Fix’ at James Cook University, Cairns Campus.
For further information, please see AI Australia's World Day pages.

World Day call for Australian leadership

Amnesty International Australia (AIA) said the World Day Against the Death Penalty would "turn the spotlight on the leadership role the Australian Government should play against the death penalty in the region"

With six members of the 'Bali 9' now facing the death penalty in Indonesia, and the execution of Australian citizen Van Tuong Nguyen in December 2005, the organisation restated its call for the Australian government to address the mixed messages it has been sending about the death penalty.

"The Australian Government must take a consistent and principled stance against the death penalty in all cases and regardless of the nationality of the people facing execution," AIA said in a statement.

"If Australia is to restore its credibility when it argues for its own citizens to be spared, it must be clear about its absolute opposition to the death penalty," it said.

Related stories:
UN: Australia should tackle drugs penalty – 29 September, 2006
Australia's double standards under pressure – 13 September, 2006
Call to action on 10 October -- 04 September, 2006

Global protest against failure of justice

Thousands of people around the world will today condemn the death penalty as a "failure of justice" at activities for the World Day Against the Death Penalty.

The World Coalition Against the Death Penalty (WCADP) said thousands of people will join activities on every continent to call for a world without executions.

Amnesty International (AI) said in its World Day statement that "the countries that use the death penalty do so in a manifestly unfair manner in violation of international laws and standards".

It said AI and the WCADP "want to bring attention to the appallingly low standards of justice used in the application of capital punishment in many countries".

"This is another compelling reason why the world must turn its back on state judicial killings," AI said.

The human rights organisation said "the death penalty is never acceptable and every execution constitutes an extreme violation of the right to life".

World Day activities will highlight five failures, in the judicial systems of China, Iran, Nigerian, Saudi Arabia and the USA:

  • China has executed people who were later proven to be innocent after the alleged murder victim reappeared alive and well.
  • Iran is one of only two countries which currently execute child offenders -- the other being Pakistan.
  • In Saudi Arabia foreign nationals face discrimination and disadvantage from the judicial system, often being tried in a language they do not understand.
  • The USA has sentenced individuals to death who clearly suffered from mental health disabilities.
    In Nigeria a woman was sentenced to death after a trial at which she had no legal representation.

AI said: "To take human life after such appallingly low standards of justice makes the case for the abolition of death penalty all the more compelling and urgent."

The WCADP has an activist kit, posters and graphics available from its website.

Related stories:
Call to action on 10 October -- 04 September, 2006

Wednesday, 4 October 2006

Iran world leader executing juveniles

Human rights groups have declared Iran the world's leader in executing child offenders, despite the last-minute repreive granted to two young men in late September.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) announced on 23 September that Iran had executed "more juvenile offenders in the last five years than any other nation".

It said 14 juvenile offenders were known to have been executed in Iran since 2001, including at least one in 2006 and eight in 2005. About 30 juvenile offenders remain on death row in the country.

Sina Paymard was scheduled to be hanged on 20 September, two weeks after he turned 18. "According to Paymard’s lawyer, the sentencing court did not properly consider evidence that Paymard suffered from a mental disorder," HRW said.

Nineteen year old Ali Alijan was also scheduled to be executed.

Both men were convicted of murders committed when they were under 18 years old. They were reportedly spared after the families of the victims exercised their right under Islamic law to seek blood money instead of the death penalty.

HRW said Paymard was granted a repreive "after he was granted a final request to play the ney, a Middle Eastern flute". Press reports said his playing affected the people present to witness his execution, including members of the victim's family.

Clarisa Bencomo, children’s rights researcher for HRW, said: "Although these two youths were spared by last-minute acts of mercy, Iran has earned the dubious distinction as the world leader in executing child offenders."

"The Iranian authorities should abolish this repugnant practice at once," she said.

Piers Bannister, coordinater of Amnesty International's death penalty team in London, told IPS News: "Iran is the only country which still executed minors in 2005."

"The international community has recognised that children are special and require special attention," he said. "The world is united on this matter."

Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have urged Iran's parliament to pass proposed legislation that would prohibit the use of the death penalty for crimes committed under the age of 18.

Iran has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, two key international human rights standards that prohibit the execution of child offenders -- people who were under 18 years old at the time of the crime.

HRW said only three other countries -- the United States, China, and Pakistan -- were known to have executed juvenile offenders since 2001. It said Pakistan had conducted two executions, including one this year, and China had executed two.

The United States executed five juvenile offenders between 2001 and March 2005, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the death penalty for juveniles.

Tuesday, 3 October 2006

Pakistan: Hanging delayed, but how long?

A UK citizen awaiting execution in Pakistan has received a repreive, but the country's President will not intervene to save him.

Mirza Tahir Hussain, 36, was convicted of murder in a Sharia court in 1998 and sentenced to death following a trial Amnesty International has denounced as unfair.

A stay of execution expired on 1 October, but the Associated Press quoted a Pakistani prison official as saying the execution had been delayed because of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
"We wrote today to the trial court judge to set a new date which will be after Eid," he was quoted as saying, referring to the Islamic holiday at the end of Ramadan.

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf said on Sunday that he could not overrule the court's judgement in the case.

Gen Musharraf said on the ITV television program The Sunday Edition: "I am not a dictator ... I cannot violate a court judgment, whether you like the court or not."

A correspondent writing in UK newspaper The Independent said: "This suggests he is ignorant of his country's constitution, article 45 of which states: "The President shall have power to grant pardon, reprieve and respite, and to remit, suspend or commute any sentence passed by any court, tribunal or other authority"."

Related stories:
UK pressure over Pakistan hanging -- 1 October 2006

Sunday, 1 October 2006

UK pressure over Pakistan hanging

Family members and activists in the UK have held protests against the planned execution of Mirza Tahir Hussain in Pakistan this weekend. (Another report online here.)

Mirza Tahir Hussain, a UK citizen, is due to be hanged for the alleged murder of a taxi driver during a trip to Pakistan in 1988.

In 1989 he was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. He was acquitted by the Lahore High Court, which cited discrepancies in the case, but his case was referred to the Federal Sharia Court and he was again convicted and sentenced to death.

Mirza's brother Amjad Hussain led a protest outside the Oxford Union on Friday, where President General Pervez Musharraf was delivering a speech about modern Pakistan.

According to the report in The Guardian, Gen Musharraf gave protesters the "thumbs up" sign and Mr Hussain later said: "This is an 11th hour protest for President Musharraf to step in and stop an innocent man going to the gallows. The world is watching. This is a chance for the president to show he is a progressive, modern leader. I'm sure he will not let us down."

Amnesty International (AI) believes Mirza was convicted after an unfair trial, and an AI briefing on the case notes that he has been granted "an unusual amount of remission and recognition of good conduct" during his 18 years in prison.

He has exhausted all avenues of appeal, and only President Musharraf can now commute his sentence. The Times Online reported that UK Prime Minister Tony Blair appealed for clemency in a meeting with President Musharraf on Thursday.

Pressure for moratorium
On 11 September, AI issued a statement encouraging European leaders and members of parliament to raise the death penalty in meetings with President Musharraf.

AI urged European Union (EU) leaders and members of the European Parliament to "call for an immediate moratorium on executions with view to abolishing the death penalty in Pakistan".

Dick Ooosting, Director of the human rights organisation's EU Office said: "Pakistan's rate of executions is one of the highest in the world. Given the EU's strong commitment to oppose the death penalty, President Musharraf should be pressed hard for a moratorium on all executions."

According to AI, "Pakistan applies the death penalty also against persons who were under 18 at the time of the crime, a practice which contravenes international law".

The organisation said defendents from from poorer backgrounds were also denied basic rights at all stages of the justice system, while many wealthier people escaped punishment under the "Qisas and Diyat Ordinance" that allowed families of murder victims to accept compensation and pardon the offender.

AI encouraged EU leaders to raise the cases of individuals who faced imminent execution if they were not granted a Presidential pardon, in particular highlighting Mirza Tahir Hussain's case.

Friday, 29 September 2006

UN: Australia should tackle drugs penalty

A United Nations (UN) human rights expert has criticised Australia's selective approach to the death penalty, and encouraged it to oppose the penalty for all drug trafficking offences.

Professor Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said Australia was pursuing the "worst possible strategy" of only speaking out against the execution of its own citizens.

He told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the Australian government "essentially has to bite the bullet".

"It either confronts the issue squarely, in which case there's a chance of some impact, or it takes a position which is almost certain not to yield any productive results."

Professor Alston's comments echo growing criticism of the Australian government's position in the light of news that six Australians were now facing execution in Indonesia for drug smuggling.

"I would've thought that the worst possible strategy is the one being pursued, and that is what we might call the Australian exceptionalism strategy, to say that we're not going to say anything generally about the fact that you apply the death penalty for, in relation to drug offences, but we are going to say that you shouldn't execute Australians," Professor Alston said.

He encouraged Australia to raise the issue of the death penalty for drug offences at the current meeting of the UN Human Rights Council.

"There's a lot of support in international law for the proposition that the death penalty should only be applied to the most serious offences, that those offences would normally be defined as including some lethal dimension.

"That's absent here [in drug cases], and therefore we should move, as a civilised world, beyond the practice of executing people who are carrying drugs," he said.

Tuesday, 26 September 2006

Executions in Indonesia since 1995

Indonesia has executed 13 people since 1995, with the execution of three men in Central Sulawesi last week. All executions were carried out by firing squad.

According to Amnesty International (AI), at least 90 people are now believed to be under sentence of death in Indonesia.

AI said the latest executions were the first it had recorded in Indonesia since May 2005. "This raises strong fears for the fate of all those who are currently awaiting execution," it said.

In the past 11 years, Indonesia has carried out the following known executions:

Name: Marinus Riwu, 49 (m)
Nationality: Indonesian
Executed: 22 September 2006
At: Palu, Sulawesi
Convicted of: Premeditated murder and inciting riots in the town of Poso in May 2000

Name: Dominggus da Silva, 43 (m)
Nationality: Indonesian
Executed: 22 September 2006
At: Palu, Sulawesi
Convicted of: Premeditated murder and inciting riots in the town of Poso in May 2000

Name: Fabianus Tibo, 61 (m)
Nationality: Indonesian
Executed: 22 September 2006
At: Palu, Sulawesi
Convicted of: Premeditated murder and inciting riots in the town of Poso in May 2000

Name: Turmudi bin Kasturi (m)
Nationality: Indonesian
Executed: May 2005
At: --
Convicted of: Murder

Name: Astini (f)
Nationality: Indonesian
Executed: March 2005
At: --
Convicted of: Murder

Name: Saelow Prasert (m)
Nationality: Thai
Executed: 1 October 2004
At: --
Convicted of: Drug trafficking (attempt to smuggle 12.19 kilograms of heroin into Indonesia)

Name: Namsong Sirilak (f)
Nationality: Thai
Executed: 1 October 2004
At: --
Convicted of: Drug trafficking (attempt to smuggle 12.19 kilograms of heroin into Indonesia)

Name: Ayodhya Prasad Chaubey (m)
Nationality: Indian
Executed: 5 August 2004
At: --
Convicted of: Drug trafficking (attempt to smuggle 12.19 kilograms of heroin into Indonesia)

De facto moratorium on executions

Name: Gerson Pandie (m)
Nationality: Indonesian
Executed: 2001
At: Kupang, Nusa Tenggara Timur Province
Convicted of: Murder

Name: Fredik Soru (m)
Nationality: Indonesian
Executed: 2001
At: Kupang, Nusa Tenggara Timur Province
Convicted of: Murder

De facto moratorium on executions

Name: Katjong Laranu (m)
Nationality: Indonesian
Executed: 1995
At: --
Convicted of: Murder

Name: Karta Tjahyadi (m)
Nationality: Indonesian
Executed: 1995
Convicted of: Murder

Name: Chan Ting Chong (Steven Chong) (m)
Nationality: Malaysian
Executed: 13 January 1995
At: --
Convicted of: Drug trafficking (first person known to have been executed for drug-related offences in Indonesia)