Saturday, 29 April 2006

Malaysia may execute water polluters

Amnesty International Malaysia has condemned the country's proposal to extend the death penalty to people found guilty of contaminating water sources.

In a statement issued on 20 April, AI Malaysia said the death penalty provisions in the government's proposed Water Industry Bill 2006 were "bucking" the worldwide trend towards abolition of the death penalty.

It said Malaysia was one of 74 countries which still imposes the death penalty. It is mandatory for crimes including murder, certain firearms offences and drug trafficking offences, and is a discretionary punishment for crimes linked to kidnapping, firearms and waging war. The majority of death sentences are carried out for drug trafficking.
Josef Roy Benedict, Executive Director of Amnesty International Malaysia, said however there were "encouraging signs of a renewal of debate on abolishing the death penalty in Malaysia" with the resolution passed by the Bar Council on 19 March calling for the death penalty to be abolished and for a moratorium on all executions.

Wednesday, 26 April 2006

Papua New Guinea: Ending its isolation?

Papua New Guinea's new Justice Minister is reportedly working towards the abolition of the death penalty, saying the police and justice departments could not provide evidence reliable enough to sentence someone to death.

According to a Post-Courier report quoted by Hawaii-based Pacific Magazine, Justice Minister Bire Kimisopa told a press conference in Port Moresby on 12 April that the country was not ready to impose the death penalty.

"Killing Papua New Guineans is out of my calendar, and I will work towards aborting the death penalty," Mr Kimisopa said.

Papua New Guinea has not executed anyone since it reintroduced the death penalty in 1991.

Unreliable evidence
The report said Papua New Guinea "was not in a position to impose the death penalty because the Police and Justice Departments cannot fully and clearly verify hard facts and evidences to support the death penalty against anyone on death row".

Mr Kimisopa said: "The police forensic (lab) does not have up-to-date equipment to prove a murder or rape, and finger print machines and other such machines to assist police in investigations are not that up-to-date to give accurate evidences to clearly and accurately prove someone guilty for a death penalty."

Mr Kimisopa said a submission on the death penalty from the constitutional law review committee was currently before Cabinet, although he did not say what the submission recommended.

Not importing the death penalty
Mr Kimisopa said he supported tougher action against serious crime, but it was not the right time for PNG to impose the death penalty.

"We cannot adopt the death penalty from other foreign countries given the cultural back grounds," Mr Kimisopa said.

In April 2004, Amnesty International reported that Papua New Guinea was studying the execution procedures used in Singapore -- the country believed to have the highest per capita execution rate in the world.

Amnesty International said in April 2004 that Papua New Guinea, the last independent South Pacific state contemplating executions, was "increasingly isolated" over the issue.

"Papua New Guinea stands alone in the Pacific in planning to enforce the death penalty," the organisation said. "All other states of the Pacific Islands Forum either no longer have laws providing for the death penalty or have stopped enforcing them, often decades ago.

"The application of the death penalty in Singapore is far from being a shining example worthy of emulation. Application of the death penalty in that country is shrouded in secrecy and execution rates are among the highest in the world. Papua New Guinea should focus instead on working with international donors towards a more effective system of fighting crime."

Amnesty International's April 2004 report "Papua New Guinea: The State as Killer?" is available here.

Bali 9 death sentence confirmed

The Denpasar High Court has rejected an appeal by Myuran Sukumaran, who was sentenced to death for organising the 'Bali 9' syndicate that attempted to smuggle 8.2 kilograms of heroin from Bali to Australia.

AAP reports that the court has also ordered a 'correction' in the case of co-accused Andrew Chan. It is not yet clear what the correction will mean in Chan's case, although AAP reports that Soedarto, a senior High Court judge who was one of the appeal judges for both cases, hinted it may only be a technical change in the judgement. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that legal sources say the death sentence is likely to stand.

Chan, 21, and Sukumaran, who turned 25 on 17 April, were sentenced to death in February by the Denpasar District Court.

They both appealed against their sentences, and six of the other seven members of the Bali 9 appealed against their life sentences.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports the appeal court decisions for Chan and Sukumaran would be formally handed down on Monday. The other six appeal decisions would be released later this week.

Following appeals to Bali's High Court, Sukumaran and Chan can appeal their sentences to Indonesia's Supreme Court in Jakarta.

Sunday, 23 April 2006

20,000 waiting to be killed

Amnesty International says that "over 20,000 people on death row across the world are waiting to be killed by their own governments".

While this is a staggering figure, the organisation's annual worldwide survey of the death penalty, released this week, showed that -- once again -- the largest proportion of all executions in 2005 took place in just four countries.

Some 94 percent of all known executions were in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the USA. About 80 percent took place in China alone.

Amnesty International reports at least 2,148 people were executed in 22 countries last year. At least 5,186 people were sentenced to death in 53 countries.

It warned the true figures were certainly much higher, given the secrecy surrounding the use of the death penalty in many countries. Governments like China, Singapore and Viet Nam refuse to release official statistics on who they kill, some even classifying statistics and reporting on the death penalty as a 'state secret'.

Based on available public reports, Amnesty International estimates that China executed at least 1,770 people in 2005, and sentenced at least 3,900 people to death.

In February, Chinese legal scholar Liu Renwen said the country executes as many as 8,000 people each year, an estimate based on information from local officials and judges.

Abolition trend continues
Despite the large number of people on death row around the world, Amnesty International said the trend towards abolition of the death penalty continues to grow.

In 2005 the number of countries retaining the death penalty dropped for the fourth consecutive year, with Liberia and Mexico abolishing it completely. Over the last twenty years, the number of countries with the death penalty has halved.

Amnesty International's Secretary General Irene Khan said: "The death penalty is not a unique deterrent against crime. Instead of relying on the illusion of control given by the death penalty, governments must focus on developing effective measures against crime.

"As the world continues to turn away from the use of the death penalty, it is a glaring anomaly that China, Saudi Arabia, Iran and the USA stand out for their extreme use of this form of punishment as the 'top' executors in the world," she said.

Across Asia
Amnesty International's 2005 figures for the Asian region:

1,770+ executions
3,900+ death sentences

94+ executions
21+ death sentences

31 executions
241 death sentences

Viet Nam
21+ executions
65+ death sentences

8 executions
27 death sentences

8 executions
1+ death sentences *

3 executions
218 death sentences

3 executions
17 death sentences

2+ executions
10 death sentences

North Korea
1+ executions *
1+ death sentences

1 execution
11 death sentences

Source: Amnesty International, The Death Penalty in 2005

* 1+ means there was at least one execution/death sentence in 2005, although the exact number is not known.

Tuesday, 18 April 2006

Philippines: 1,000 death sentences overturned

The President of the Philippines has commuted the death sentences of about 1,000 convicts to life imprisonment.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo announced on 15 April: "On the occasion of Easter, it is my honor to announce our policy to commute the death penalty to life imprisonment."

The move was welcomed by human rights activists and the Catholic Church, but it was criticised by anti-crime groups and political opponents who accused the embattled President of seeking the Church's approval. The Catholic Church, a vocal critic of President Arroyo, has been leading a campaign for the abolition of the death penalty.

'Not political'
A spokesman for the President said the decision was not based on political considerations.

Press Secretary Ignacio R. Bunye said in a statement on Monday: "The President is not seeking nor does she expect any political returns from her decision. In fact, she is taking the heavy flak for it."

"So let's leave politics out of this exercise of a lawful and legitimate exercise of presidential prerogative," he said.

"The President's decision came after deep contemplation and reflection in the field of Christian values. The people's power to forgive under both the Bible and the Constitution can change a nation for good, especially at these times that cry for compassion and reconciliation."

He said the administration understood the "deep hurt inflicted upon the families of the victims of heinous crimes, but the President believes that learning to forgive without compromising criminal justice would be a good start for the nation to move on".

Bunye said even hardened criminals should be given the chance to reform and transform themselves "even as we leave to Congress the final decision on whether or not the death penalty law should be abolished".

"In the meantime, we wish to assure the public that our anti-crime campaign will not relent to clean up the streets and ensure the peace and safety of all law-abiding citizens," he said.

Encouragement for abolition
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) "hailed" the President's announcement, but reiterated its call for the government to abolish the death penalty in legislation.

CBCP President, Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, acknowledged the country was facing rising crime rates but said: "We believe that we should find another way of defending society that will obviate the need for the death penalty, which only brings out the worst in us all."

The Manila Standard Today reports that the President will now certify as urgent a bill to repeal the death penalty, so that debates can begin soon in both chambers of Congress.

According to the newspaper, Presidential chief of staff Michael Defensor said on Monday that the certification for the bill would be issued in a week.

Victoria criticises Singapore death penalty

Victoria's Premier Steve Bracks raised the death penalty in a meeting with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last night.

The Age newspaper reports Steve Bracks spoke out "strongly" against the death penalty in the meeting, after Melbourne man Nguyen Tuong Van was hanged for heroin smuggling on 2 December last year.

Mr Nguyen was executed despite a widespread campaign in Australia appealing for clemency, and appeals from parliamentarians including Victoria's Attorney-General Rob Hulls.

Mr Bracks reportedly told the Prime Minister that Victoria still held the view that clemency should have been granted to Mr Nguyen.

"We still obviously and quite rightly … have the view that it was wrong to have the death penalty for Nguyen. There were other ways of looking at clemency … It's a strong view that's held — and we'd like that taken into consideration (by the Singapore Government) in the future," Mr Bracks was quoted as saying before the meeting.

Mr Bracks defended comments at the time by Mr Hulls that the execution was "barbaric", but indicated the hanging had not interfered in trade between the two countries.

"I think Rob Hulls was reflecting what our Government's position was, and that is, we do not believe that the punishment was commensurate with the crime," Mr Bracks said. "Notwithstanding that, I don't believe it's had an impact on trade or investment … I think there is enough maturity on all sides to understand that we have this different position."

Wednesday, 12 April 2006

Bali bombers closer to execution

Indonesia may soon execute the three men given death sentences for organising the October 2002 Bali bombings. The attacks on the Sari Club and Paddy's Bar in Kuta killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.

Officials from the Attorney-General's Office (AGO) have visited the families of the three men to ask if they intended to seek clemency on behalf of their relatives.

Imam Samudra, Amrozi and his older brother Ali Ghufron (also known as Mukhlas) were sentenced to death in 2003 for their roles in the plot.

The men have said they would not ask the President for clemency but would answer only to God.

Xinhua reports that a spokesman for the Attorney-General's Office, Masyhudi Ridwan, said one of the families was not going to lodge an appeal.

"The family of Imam Samudra has confirmed they would not lodge a final appeal. But we still need confirmation from the families of Amrozi and Ali Ghufron."

According to Melbourne newspaper The Herald Sun, Mashudi Ridwan said the Indonesian Attorney-General was waiting on a report from Bali prosecutors about their meetings.

"If there is already certainty that they do not want to apply for clemency we will begin the process of the execution," he was quoted as saying.

The newspaper said lawyers for the three men said there was no legal barrier to the executions going ahead, but it was usual to wait until all avenues of appeal were exhausted.

The men could also apply for a judicial review of their convictions, on the grounds that they were convicted under anti-terrorism laws passed after the crime was committed.

In October 2005 Balinese protesters called for quick executions for the three, outraged at three further suicide bombings on the tourist island.

Following protests outside Bali's Kerobokan Prison the three were moved from Bali to a prison in Central Java.

Monday, 10 April 2006

China: Death penalty cases will soon be reviewed

China's Supreme People's Court (SPC) has established three new criminal tribunals to review death sentences handed down by provincial courts.

Xinhua newsagency reports that the tribunals commenced work on 1 April. It said they will begin by reviewing cases and giving opinions.

Chen Guangzhong, a consultant to the Supreme People's Court, told Xinhua the tribunals "do not yet formally have the right to review and make final decisions on death sentence cases".

Tribunal staff have been selected from regional courts across China and they are receiving a month of training in Beijing.

The Xinhua report, published on, the Chinese government's official web portal, said the move by the SPC to review death penalty cases "appears to be a response to many Chinese media reports in recent years, which exposed wrongful death penalty sentences, sparking public debate".

The report said: "Putting together brilliant judges to review death sentences is believed to be effective in preventing wrong convictions to better protect human rights."

South Korea death penalty hearing

South Korea's National Assembly held its first public hearing on the death penalty last week (Tuesday 4 April).

The Korea Times reports the hearing was held as government and opposition parties agreed to debate a bill replacing the death penalty with a non-commutable sentence of life imprisonment.

Tuesday's hearing was addressed by academics, lawyers, religious leaders and human rights activists, and included opponents of the death penalty as well as those in favour of retaining it as a punishment for serious crime.

Leaders of South Korea's religious community issued a statement calling on the National Assembly to pass the bill abolishing the death penalty.

The Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) reports that the statement was issued by the Pan-Religion Union for the Abolition of the Death Penalty, signed by leaders from the Catholic, Protestant and Buddhist communities.

The coalition of religious leaders is made up of members of Buddhist, Catholic, Chondo-gyo, Confucian, Protestant, Won Buddhist and Korean folk religions.

UCA News quoted the statement as saying: "It is a well-known fact that the death penalty has no impact on deterring the outbreak of crimes. If the government sticks to the penalty, it means that it gives up its duty to correct criminals."

It said the statement argued in favour of the proposed alternative of life imprisonment. "The life-sentence system can punish the criminals and give them a chance for true atonement and revival of their conscience."

In December 2004, 175 members of the National Assembly sponsored the Special Bill on Abolishing the Death Penalty. The National Assembly consists of 299 members in total.

The abolition bill has previously been stalled in the National Assembly's Legislation and Judiciary Committee (LJC). The LJC has to vote in favour of the bill before it is sent to the National Assembly for a final vote.

In February, the Ministry of Justice announced it was reviewing the death penalty and considering replacing executions with life imprisonment. The ministry has previously opposed moves to abolish the death penalty.

Amnesty International reports that at least 900 people have been executed in South Korea since its independence in 1948. The last executions were in December 1997 when 23 people were hanged.

Wednesday, 5 April 2006

Japan: Lonely wait for the noose

About a quarter of Japan’s death row prisoners receive no visitors and most spend their days locked alone in a small cell, according to a recent survey reported by Japanese online newspaper Asahi Shimbun.

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations surveyed all 79 inmates on death row whose sentences had been finalised by 11 January. Some 58 inmates responded: 54 men, 3 women and 1 anonymous response.

The survey was conducted with the support of the Justice Ministry.

It found that about 25 percent of prisoners said they received no visitors. One inmate last received a visitor 17 years ago. Many who receive visitors only have contact with their relatives or their lawyers.

Most spend their days locked in solitary confinement in small cells, containing a toilet and a basin. They have no contact with other prisoners, they bath alone and most exercise alone two or three times a week.

Seventy percent said the windows in their cells were covered by smoked glass or metal, and forty percent said sunshine did not reach their cells.

A bill currently before the Japanese Diet (parliament) would ease restrictions on visits to death row prisoners.

A recent report by The Los Angeles Times (see the ADP post here) painted a picture of prisoners waiting in their cells - some for decades - for the guards to come and take them to be hanged.

Tuesday, 4 April 2006

Take action on Indonesia

Amnesty International Australia has launched a new letter-writing action on the death penalty in Indonesia. The action is available here.

The action is encouraging people to write to Indonesia's Attorney General and the Minister for Justice and Human Rights, raising concerns about the death penalty in Indonesia and encouraging it to move towards abolition. The concerns include the fact that people are sentenced to death by a justice system beset by problems of police and judicial corruption, and there are serious doubts about its ability to deliver fair trials.

Amnesty International knows of 85 people under sentence of death, and it fears that more may soon be executed.

For readers outside Australia, please copy your letters to Indonesia's diplomatic representatives in your country.

Australia China talks over murder case

Australia is continuing negotiations with China over the case of a man who faces the death penalty for a murder committed in Canberra.

Zhang Long is being held in China for the murder of his girlfriend, fellow student Zhang Hongjie (also known as Steffi Zhang), whose body was found in their Canberra apartment in January 2005. She was believed to have been lying in the Belconnen apartment for six months before neighbours complained to police about a foul smell.

Australia's Federal Justice Minister Chris Ellison said the government raised the case in talks with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who is currently visiting the country.

Australian police have refused to provide Chinese authorities with further information until China provides a guarantee that the death penalty will not be applied.

Chris Ellison said on 3 April: "I was not at the meeting today but I can tell you that the Attorney-General did raise the issue and I think that it's one which is progressing well, I'm satisfied with the level of progress."

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

In June 2005, the Australian government confirmed it was negotiating with China over the case.

The Australian newspaper at the time quoted a spokesman for Minister Chris Ellison saying Australia would do "whatever it can" to help bring the killer to justice. But he said "the assistance the Australian Government can provide is limited unless China is able to provide the undertaking that the death penalty won't be imposed or carried out".

The newspaper said China had not made such an undertaking although sensitive secret negotiations were continuing.

In contrast, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) provided information to the Indonesian Police that resulted in the arrest of nine Australians for attempting to traffic heroin to Australia. Two of the so-called Bali 9 were sentenced to death in February 2006. They are currently appealing their sentences.

Top 10 blogs on the death penalty

Tom Head, who writes on civil liberties for, has posted his list of the top 10 blogs on the death penalty. It's an interesting list -- and I don't just say that because he includes the Asia Death Penalty blog. He also links to some excellent sources of death penalty information on the web.

See the Top 10 list here.

Monday, 3 April 2006

Afghan Christian safe in Italy

Afghan man Abdul Rahman is now under protection at a secret location in Italy, after he was granted asylum last week by the Italian government.

He reportedly landed in Rome on Tuesday night last week, accompanied by Italian secret service agents.
Rahman, who was threatened with the death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity, told journalists he would have been killed if he had remained in Afghanistan.

Religious conservatives in Afghanistan condemned the decision to allow Rahman to leave, and accused other countries of plotting against Afghanistan and Islam.