Sunday, 28 May 2006

China to video death penalty appeals

China will video appeal hearings against death sentences from 1st July, Chief Justice Xiao Yang announced last week.

Xinhua News reports the Chief Justice made the announcement at a national working meeting on criminal trials on 23 May.

"Video recording of the entire proceedings will be gradually adopted in appeal hearings of death sentence in open court session so that justice of the process can be ensured," he said.
In February, Xiao Yang confirmed that all appeals against death sentences would be heard in an open court from 1st July, part of a series of reforms to China's justice system. The Supreme People's Court will also be reasserting its power to hear all appeals in death penalty cases.

Bangladesh: Death penalty to stay in terrorism law

A Bangladesh government committee is pressing ahead with plans to include the death penalty in new anti-terrorism legislation, according to The New Nation.

The news service reports that a Cabinet committee met on 16 May and agreed to study a draft Anti-Terrorism Act 2006 which includes a maximum sentence of the death penalty.

Cabinet agreed on 13 March to form the committee to examine the draft law in detail.

The New Nation reports that the Cabinet committee’s chair said the draft act would be finalised by 18 June.

It says the Chairman of the Cabinet Committee and Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Moudud Ahmed told journalists after the meeting that the act would then be submitted to Cabinet for final approval.

Moudud Ahmed said the Anti-Terrorism Act 2006 would be introduced into Parliament after the passage of the National Budget.

In recent years Bangladesh has come under pressure from the United States and the EU to take stronger action to combat terrorism.

The New Nation reports that the draft anti-terrorism act was prepared after research into similar legislation in effect in the UK, the United States, India, Pakistan and Indonesia.

Tuesday, 16 May 2006

Indonesia: Poso 3 facing imminent execution

[Please note: long post]

Three Indonesian Catholics may be days -- or hours -- away from execution following the rejection of their second appeal by the Supreme Court last week.

Fabianus Tibo, 60, Dominggus da Silva, 42, and Marinus Riwu, 48, were sentenced to death in April 2001 for premeditated murder and inciting riots in the town of Poso, Central Sulawesi. They were convicted of orchestrating sectarian violence in May 2000, in which hundreds of Muslims were killed.

About 2,000 people are estimated to have died in clashes between Christians and Muslims on the island of Sulawesi between 1998 and 2001.

Catholic newsagency reports the three men were last week placed in isolation in the Palu prison in Central Sulawesi, in preparation for their execution.

AsiaNews reports the panel of five Supreme Court judges unanimously rejected the second appeal on 10 May, saying that now "there were no more legal venues available to the [the three prisoners'] defence team".

"Others responsible"
The men have denied planning the attacks and, on 1 February 2006, their lawyers announced they had new evidence demonstrating that 16 other men had masterminded the violence.

Their lawyers said the three men were key witnesses in the case and called for a fresh investigation into the attacks.

The men's supporters have claimed that the attacks were organised or supported by well-connected officials from the government, military and intelligence services.

Divided responses
Muslim organisations were reportedly divided in their response to the men's conviction and death sentences.

In early April, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) and Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the country's largest Muslim organization, called for a stay of execution until the men’s claims of innocence could be fully examined.

NU leader Ulama Masdar Farid Mas'udi warned that the execution of the three could inflame religious and ethnic divisions and revive the conflict.

Former president and Muslim leader Abdurrahman Wahid made several appeals for clemency, including signing a joint letter asking for a stay of execution, along with leaders from the Protestant, Catholic, Hindu, and Buddhist communities. The letter was sent to President Yudhoyono on 7 April.

Other religious leaders and human rights organisations have called for the death sentences to be delayed or overturned completely.

In contrast, several Muslim student groups in Central Sulawesi have called for the quick execution of the three Christians.

Hundreds of Muslims reportedly held a rally outside the Central Sulawesi Prosecutor's Office on 21 April, demanding that the men be executed immediately for their role in the riots.

Trial questions
Amnesty International has expressed its concern at "reports indicating that the trial of the three men in Palu District Court did not meet international standards of fairness".

The organisation said "witness testimony provided as evidence by the defence may have been ignored by the Court when giving its verdict". It said armed demonstrators had also reportedly gathered outside the courthouse demanding the three men be convicted, and this "intimidation may have affected the outcome of the trial".

Appeals exhausted
The three were sentenced to death in the Palu District Court in Central Sulawesi, and their sentences were upheld by the Central Sulawesi High Court and the Indonesian Supreme Court later in 2001.

In February 2006, Indonesian authorities were reportedly preparing to carry out the death sentences. The Central Sulawesi Prosecutor’s office was reported to have ordered three coffins and begun final preparations to execute the men.

The men exhausted all avenues of appeal when President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono rejected their appeal for clemency on 10 November.

In April 2006, the Supreme Court agreed to conduct a second review of the case, but the Attorney General's Office said the review would not change the original death sentence. Spokesman Masyhudi Ridwan told The Jakarta Post that his office would not accept a new ruling by the Supreme Court, and it was "still preparing the execution, not delaying it".

Generating debate
The case has attracted widespread coverage in Indonesia, and generated an unprecedented level of discussion about the country's use of the death penalty.

For example, on 15 April The Jakarta Post published a column entitled "Death sentence not a solution but a problem", by Frans H. Winarta, a Jakarta-based human rights lawyer and member of the National Law Commission.

He wrote that "the concept of capital punishment as a deterrence must be eliminated if Indonesia wants to be considered a civilized society".

"Indonesia must not embrace the death penalty in its criminal justice system, not only because it is inhumane, but also because it runs counter to our Constitution. The right to life is guaranteed and protected by the Constitution, particularly as far as Article 28 is concerned. Therefore, the new Criminal Code should not adopt the death penalty."

In another high-profile capital case, Indonesian authorities are also preparing to execute three men convicted of organising the October 2002 Bali bombings.

Tuesday, 9 May 2006

Malaysia: Opposition to water pollution death sentences

Opponents of the death penalty in Malaysia have seriously questioned the practicality and effectiveness of government proposals to apply the death penalty for contaminating water.

The IPS newsagency reports that the death penalty provisions are part of a bill that "seeks to revamp the way water is managed in the country, transferring control of state water authorities and privatised firms to a single federal regulatory body".

IPS reports the new Water Services Industry Bill, which also provides for the death penalty for serious water contamination that results in loss of life, is due for a second reading in parliament this week.

It said the death penalty could apply to a person who contaminated the water supply with the intention of endangering lives or causing death, as well as to someone who contaminated the water supply with any substance that would be likely to endanger lives.

'Absurd' penalty
The IPS report said opponents of the law saw it as draconian, unworkable and ineffective in addressing the true causes of water pollution.

It quoted Charles Hector, a human rights lawyer and one of the coordinators of the campaign network Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (MADPET). Mr Hector said: "Most of the time, the real offenders are likely to be companies and you can't hang the companies.

"So who would face the death penalty then -- the chairman of the board? All the directors? The general manager? The administrative officer? It's absurd," he said.

Hector told IPS there were already provisions in the penal code that covered an intention to kill.
IPS reports that more than half of Malaysia's rivers are polluted by "raw or partially treated sewage as well as industrial effluents, agricultural run-offs, waste from animal husbandry and land development, and municipal rubbish".

Opposition Parliamentarian Teresa Kok said she thought that, when the government framed the bill, it had in mind terrorists who might deliberately contaminate water sources.

In April, Amnesty International Malaysia condemned the death penalty provisions in the bill, saying the move was "bucking" the worldwide trend towards abolition of the death penalty. (See the ADP report here.)