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.