Saturday, 22 December 2007

Australia: Ronald Ryan exhumed from prison grounds

The last man executed in Australia was yesterday exhumed from the grounds of the former Pentridge Prison.

Melbourne newspaper the Herald Sun reported a small group of workers exhumed the remains with former prison chaplain Father Peter Norden watching from the side.

It said the workers commenced digging at the eastern end of the former D Division building and found Ryan's coffin in "reasonable condition".

Daughter Wendy Ryan declined to comment saying it was "a very private thing".

The Herald Sun reported in October that Ryan's three daughters planned to bury their father with his wife Dorothy Pirois at a cemetery in Portland.

The report said the family would pay for the State Coroner's office to conduct DNA tests to confirm the remains are those of their father.

The last man
Ryan was hanged on 3 February, 1967 for the murder of prisoner officer George Hodson, who was shot during an escape from Pentridge the previous year.

He was buried the day of his execution in an unmarked grave in the prison grounds.

The site of the former prison is now being redeveloped for commercial and residential use.

Related stories:
Ryan hanging: Two groups of victims -- 2 March, 2007
'Ryan was innocent': lawyer - 13 February, 2007
Ronald Ryan forty years on -- 5 February, 2007

Picture: Ryan captured after 17 days on the run

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Japan finally names three executed

Japan lifted some of the secrecy surrounding its death penalty system when it released the names of three men hanged on Friday (7 December).

The Justice Ministry confirmed that Seiha Fujima, 47, and Hiroki Fukawa, 42, were hanged in Tokyo, and 75-year-old Noboru Ikemoto was hanged in Osaka. All three were hanged for murder.

In the past the government refused to confirm the details of executed prisoners, although they were often reported by Japanese newspapers and human rights organisations.

Newspaper Asahi Shimbun reported it was "the first disclosure [of executed prisoners' names] in the history of the nation's postwar judicial system".

It said the ministry distributed three sheets of paper to the media shortly after 11am, detailing the names and crimes of the three men, and where they were executed.

Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama also announced details of the executions that day at a meeting of the House of Representatives Judicial Affairs Committee.

"It was painful to sign the executions, because it meant I was taking lives by using the state authority," he told the committee.

But he said they would help restore public safety, "soothe victims' feelings and meet the public's expectations".

The newspaper reported there was confusion among members of the parliamentary committee after the details were announced.

It said Democratic Party of Japan member Ritsuo Hosokawa stopped questioning the minster about the death penalty after he made the announcement.

"It came as a shock," Hosokawa said.

Unprecedented openness
Asahi Shimbun said the information was released for a number of reasons stemming from changes to the nation's justice system, including "the trend toward greater information disclosure, and the approaching start of the lay judge system".

It said sources indicated the justice minister also saw a "need to give more consideration to bereaved families of crime victims".

Later that day, the minister told a press conference that disclosing the details would generate public support for the executions.

"Disclosing their names and details of their crimes is the way to obtain the public's consent," he said.

An unnamed senior ministry official was quoted as saying: "With the general progression in disclosure of government information, it has become difficult to cling to a hard stance only when it comes to executions."

Japan has now executed nine people this year, with three other men being hanged in April and three in August.

There are 104 prisoners still on death row.

More 'tranquil' minister
In October Hatoyama speculated about whether there was a more "tranquil" method of execution than hanging.

In September he sparked controversy when he announced the establishment of a group to study whether the justice minister could delegate the power to authorise executions, so there was an "automatic and objective" procedure for executing

He said at the time that "no one" wanted to sign an execution order.

Human rights condemnation
The United Nations (UN) top human rights official deplored the latest executions and encouraged Japan to reconsider its use of the death penalty.

"This practice is problematic under international law, and I call on Japan to reconsider its approach in this regard," said Louise Arbour, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The UN News Service reported her particular "dismay" at the execution of a prisoner over 75.

She said "it is difficult to see what legitimate purpose is served by carrying out such executions of the elderly, and at the very least on humanitarian grounds, I would urge Japan to refrain from such action".

Japan also executed elderly men on 25 December, 2006, when men aged 75 and 77 years old were among four prisoners hanged.

The UN news story noted reports that the executions were carried out suddenly with neither the prisoners nor their families being given advance warning.

The UN News Service said Arbour urged the Japanese Government to implement a moratorium on executions or ban the practice altogether, as a growing number of nations have.

Amnesty International strongly condemned the executions, which it said took place "despite the UN General Assembly's adoption of a resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions on 15 November".

"Executions in Japan are typically held in secret. Prisoners are only informed hours before their executions and carried out without prior notice to the prisoners or their family," the organisation noted in a statement.

Related stories:
Minister wants ‘tranquil’ killing: Japan -- 29 October, 2007
Japan: New minister will approve hangings -- 4 September, 2007
Japan executed mentally ill man -- 26 August, 2007
Japan: Lawyers condemn three more executions --24 August, 2007
Urgent move to stop executions in Japan -- 8 August, 2007
Long wait, sudden death in Japan -- 28 August, 2006

Thursday, 6 December 2007

North Korea: Shot for making phone calls

North Korea has executed a man in a crowded stadium for making international phone calls, part of what a South Korean aid agency described as a resumption of public executions.

According to the Associated Press, a report from South Korean aid agency Good Friends said a factory manager was shot in front of a crowd of 150,000 people in October. (Story also here.)

The head of a factory in South Pyongan province was reportedly executed by firing squad for making international calls on 13 phones he installed in a factory basement.

Good Friends said in late November that there had been an increase in public executions, particularly of officials accused of drug trafficking, embezzlement and other crimes.

It said there had been four similar public executions of regional officials and factory heads in recent months.

"It is aimed at educating [North Koreans] to control society and prevent crimes," Good Friends head Venerable Pomnyun said.

The Associated Press said public executions had declined in North Korea since 2000, in the face of international criticism of the country's record on human rights.

It said most North Koreans were banned from communicating with the outside world.

UN vote
On 20 November a United Nations committee passed a draft resolution critical of widespread human rights violations in North Korea, including public executions, systematic torture and punishment of people for trying to leave the country.

The Third Committee of the General Assembly debated the draft resolution, moved by Japan and Portugal, on behalf of the European Union, and co-sponsored by 50 countries.

The resolution, entitled Situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (document A/C.3/62/L.37/Rev.1), called on the country to take steps to address serious violations of human rights.

According to a UN report on the meeting, the representative of North Korea "said he categorically rejected the draft resolution, which was full of false information and was being pursued for a sinister political purpose".

He said the reolution "was a part of a plot ... to eliminate his country's ideas and system".

The Committee passed the resolution by a recorded vote of 97 in favour to 23 against, with 60 abstentions.

It will be presented to the next session of the General Assembly for a final vote.

Additional information
When Amnesty International (AI) released its annual statistical survey of the death penalty in April 2008, it highlighted the execution of a North Korean factory manager. It is likely the reports from AI and Good Friends are referring to the same case.

AI's media release said he was among the people executed for crimes that were "not commonly considered criminal, or after unfair procedures".

The release said: "A 75 year-old North Korean factory manager was shot by firing squad in October for failing to declare his family background, investing his own money in the factory, appointing his children as its managers and making international phone calls."

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Bali bombers may soon get their wish

The three men sentenced to death for killing 202 people in the October 2002 bombings in Bali have again said they are looking forward to their martyrdom at the hands of an Indonesian firing squad.

The penalty held out as a deterrent to serious crimes will soon be prepared for the men convicted of playing key roles in the plot to bomb the nightclub strip in the island's Kuta district.

Amrozi bin Nurhasyim, Imam Samudra and Mukhlas (also known as Ali Ghufron) have been waiting for the Government to finalise arrangements for their execution after the Supreme Court rejected their appeal in early October.

The three have reportely rejected the final avenue open to them, an appeal for clemency to President Yudhyono. Their lawyers have, however, suggested they would use every legal means available to delay the executions.

"We will not ask for a pardon," Mukhlas said recently.

"This is about heaven and hell. Asking for pardon is a big sin."

Achmad Michdan said: "They are all ready should their executions have to be carried out. They said they are even looking forward to their executions."

Family farewells
In late October their wives, mothers and children spent several hours with two of them in what journalists described as "an emotional final visit" to the prison on the southern Java island of Nusakambangan.

According to The Australian newspaper, the principal of the school where the men learnt their Islamist ideology described the meeting as "cheerful and happy".

A later report in the same newspaper said the women had brought lunch boxes packed with the mens' favourite foods and were accompanied by two journalists with a video camera.

The report said at the meeting with Amrozi and Imam Samudra, their lawyer had a reassuring message from the absent Mukhlas.

Achmad Michdan said: "Mukhlas said the family don't need to be saddened by the execution because what they have done is something they truly believe is right."

White cloth and angels
Imam Samudra described his wishes for after his execution.

"Nobody, neither family nor parents, nor wife or children, can cry out loud in front of my dead body." His corpse should be buried wrapped in white cloth.

"That way I will die, God willing, a martyr."

Amrozi, who has been dubbed 'the smiling bomber' by the Australian media, said: "People ask me, why am I smiling? I am happy because I will be united with 72 angels in heaven."

"In the past I have killed many with my bombs. I have been tested by spending time in this prison.

"But if you make infidels angry, you will be rewarded. And soon I will enjoy the fruit of my deeds, if I am executed, God willing."

One regret, no fears
Samudra reportedly
described how he thanked God when he heard the bombings had been carried out.

"I immediately prayed prostrate on the floor to give thanks to God, because of all the oppressed Muslims I had defended."

He said he only felt sadness for the Muslims he had killed: "I regretted it. I cried."

also said they were not afraid to die, although they would prefer to be beheaded.

"Absolutely we are not afraid," he said.

"That's what I've been waiting for ... firstly with execution we will go to heaven and then our wish to see God and the angels is far higher than the wish of the infidels for our death.

"Why would we be scared of death? Even now we are not scared to be executed.

"[US President] Bush and his allies, you all will go to hell but me and all my friends in the world will go to heaven.

"No, no, no there won't be any clemency because its not Islamic law - that is part of democracy and the law of democracy, and we are totally against democracy."

'Part of the struggle'
The Australian reported after the meeting that Ustad Hasyim Abdullah, principal of the al-Mukmin Islamic school in Solo, central Java, said the three were not willing to beg for presidential clemency as they did not believe they had done anything wrong.

He said their families had "no problem with the executions - they have accepted this, it is part of the struggle".

Related stories:
Bali: Execution closer for bombing leaders -- 09 October, 2007
Bali bombers lodge appeals -- 08 December, 2006
Execution delay for Bali bombers -- 21 August, 2006
Bali bombers closer to execution -- 11 April, 2006

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Indonesia: Right to life and execution

In a setback for human rights in Indonesia, a senior court has ruled the death penalty is not incompatible with the Constitution's guarantee of the right to life.

On Tuesday the Constitutional Court rejected a challenge by five people sentenced to death for drug trafficking.

Australians Andrew Chan, Myuran Sukumaran and Scott Rush were seeking a ruling against their sentence for an April 2005 attempted heroin smuggling operation. The three had been joined in their application by two Indonesian women, Edith Sianturi and Rani Andriani.

The court found 6-3 that the right to life was not absolute and had to be balanced against the rights of the victims of drugs.

Reports said the judges dealt extensively with the effects of drugs in their decision.

The judges' decision said death sentences were "not against the constitution, [and were] not violating international obligations".

Professor Tim Lindsey, an Australian expert on Indonesian law, said the court "stated that all existing death sentences should be carried out", a blow for the five making the application.

Amnesty International researchers believe there are over 90 prisoners currently under sentence of death in Indonesia.

Some hope for future cases
However Tim Lindsey said, according to initial reports, the judges had argued there should be a 10-year moratorium on further executions, even though the penalty was constitutional.

"During this 'trial period', they said, all new death sentences should be commuted automatically to life in jail," he wrote.

He described this as "a tentative step towards abolishing the death penalty in that country".

"The good news is for human rights in Indonesia and the beginnings of a move to bring Indonesia into line with the global trend towards abolition of the death penalty."

No challenge by foreigners
The judges opened their decision with a ruling that foreigners did not have standing to challenge the constitution, dismissing the appeal by the three Australians.

In part the application brought Australian and Indonesian cases together to neutralise this argument, ensuring the application would be considered in the event the foreign cases were thrown out.

A win in the Constitutional Court would not have overturned the death sentences already in place, but it would have strengthened their arguments in further appeals.

The three can now make a final appeal on points of law to the Supreme Court.

Three other Australians involved in the same smuggling attempt are awaiting the outcome of their Supreme Court appeal.

If Supreme Court appeals were unsuccessful, the six could appeal for clemency to President Yudhoyono, who has often said he would not overturn death sentences for drug offenders.

"Extreme penalty" out of step
Human rights organisation Amnesty International said the decision went against conclusions of a key United Nations' expert on the death penalty and "a worldwide trend towards restricting and abolishing the death penalty".

"It is particularly disappointing that this ultimate and extreme penalty is now being upheld," said Louise Vischer, Coordinator of Amnesty International's Asia Pacific Anti Death Penalty Regional Project.

"It is legitimate for the Indonesia government to take appropriate law-enforcement measures against drug offenders but there is no scientific evidence showing that the death penalty deters would-be traffickers more effectively than other punishments."

The organisation appealed for all death sentences in Indonesia to be commuted.

Professor Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions said in a report to the General Assembly that, where it is used, the death penalty should be restricted to the "most serious crimes".

He found the "most serious crimes" do not include drug offences.

Related stories:
Bali 9 challenge may win and fail -- 03 June, 2007
Drug penalty violates international law -- 06 May, 2007
Australians appeal Bali death sentences -- 02 May, 2007
Firing squad for six of Bali nine -- 10 September, 2006
Bali 9 death sentence confirmed -- 26 April, 2006

Monday, 29 October 2007

Minister wants ‘tranquil’ killing: Japan

Japan's justice minister has speculated about introducing a "more peaceful" or "tranquil" method of execution.

Kunio Hatoyama did not say what a better alternative might be, but the remarks suggest he may be considering a change to lethal injection.

Japan currently executes prisoners by hanging.

"I am fully aware that 'death by hanging' is written in the criminal code," Hatoyama said on Wednesday after a parliamentary committee meeting, according to a Reuters report.

"A square part of the floor opens up and they fall with a thud.

"I honestly wonder if there isn't a more tranquil way of doing this."

Lethal injection is under seige in the United States, with states reviewing the method following a number of botched executions and legal challenges claiming it is an intensely cruel and extremely painful means of killing a prisoner.

In March, Indonesia's Attorney-General said the country might replace execution by firing squad with lethal injection.

An increasing number of provinces in China have moved to lethal injection and Viet Nam is reportedly considering the move.

"No one" wants to sign the order
Last month Hatoyama sparked controversy when he suggested prisoners should be hanged automatically after their sentences were finalised, without the justice minister having to sign the order.

"The law should be abided by," he told a media conference in late September. "But no one wants to put his signature on an execution order.

"I wonder if there is any way not to delegate the responsibility solely to the justice minister."

He said there should be an "automatic and objective" procedure for executing prisoners without the minister's involvement.

He later said he wanted to set up a study group to examine the country's system for ordering executions.

Related stories:
Japan: New minister will approve hangings -- 4 September, 2007
Japan executed mentally ill man -- 26 August, 2007
Japan: Lawyers condemn three more executions --24 August, 2007
Urgent move to stop executions in Japan -- 8 August, 2007
Long wait, sudden death in Japan -- 28 August, 2006

Friday, 12 October 2007

South Korea: Renewed calls for abolition

Human rights groups, religious communities and the country's former president have called for South Korea to abolish the death penalty, backed by a newspaper urging the country's parliament to remove it "once and for all".

The Hankyoreh reported about 300 human rights activists and religious leaders took part in a ceremony in favour of abolishing the death penalty, held at Seoul's Korea Press Center on 10 October, the World Day Against the Death Penalty.

Former president Kim Dae-Jung and 2000 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate joined the call for abolition.

"The dignity of life is a natural right that nobody can infringe and demolish," he said.

No-one has been executed in South Korea since Kim was elected president in February 1998, although people continued to be sentenced to death.

The Korea Times reported in September that twenty organisations, including Amnesty International and Lawyers for a Democratic Society, were campaigning for the government to support a resolution for a moratorium on executions set to be debated at the 62nd session of the United Nations General Assembly.

"The adoption of such a resolution by the U.N.'s principal organ would be an important milestone toward the abolition of the death penalty," the Association for the Abolishment of the Death Penalty said.

The Association said it was holding a 100-day campaign to encourage the government to support the resolution.

Time to 'finish the job'
South Korean newspaper The Hankyoreh said in an editorial that although there were now 64 people on death row, the executive government had been "right" to not approve the sentences being carried out.

The newspaper said the previous two governments had "tried in their own ways to have it abolished" and the current government seemed unlikely to carry out any executions.

But it said half the members in the last National Assembly signed an abolition bill that was never dealt with and 175 legislators in the current assembly have proposed a similar bill.

"It is time the National Assembly finish[ed] the job by legislating it out of existence," The Hankyoreh said.

It said justice systems were imperfect and the death penalty was in irreversible punishment, once carried out.

"Ultimately the decisions of the judicial system are made by people, and decisions by human beings can never be perfect.

"If someone is executed for having been found guilty and sentenced to die, there is no way to reverse that decision once the action has been carried out."

The newspaper also said some people think the death penalty is a necessary response for "perpetrators of particularly heinous crimes".

"However, if you look at studies of societies where it has been abolished, capital punishment does not especially have the effect of preventing heinous criminal acts.

"You question whether taking someone’s life because that person is a criminal is something that can be justified.

"It is for reasons such as these that some 90 countries have already completely done away with it, and close to 60 have more have moratoriums of one sort or another."

Kim's call
In February 2006 Kim, himself a former death row inmate, issued a statement arguing for the abolition of the death penalty.

"Capital punishment goes against the foundation of democracy," he wrote.

"Democracy regards the life of a human being to be the most cherished in the world, and to end a person's life even in the name of law clearly runs counter to the basic principle of human rights."

His said justice systems were prone to error, the death penalty was abused by dictatorships and it did not lead to a reduction in crime.

Kim was sentenced to death on sedition charges in 1980 by South Korea's ruling military government.

His death sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment and he was allowed to leave the country.

Related stories:
South Korea: death penalty not on 'roadmap' -- 19 February, 2007
Call for South Korea to show 'leadership' -- 27 June , 2006
South Korea death penalty hearing -- 10 April, 2006
South Korea: Kim Dae-jung's call for abolition -- 06 March, 2006
South Korea – former president calls for abolition -- 27 February, 2006
Positive signs in the Philippines and South Korea -- 22 February, 2006

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Taiwan 'improving' but call for abolition

The Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty (TAEDP) this week said the country was "improving but not quite there" and urged its government to impose a moratorium on the death penalty.

On the eve of the World Day Against the Death Penalty, the organisation urged the government "to actively move towards abolition of the death penalty to demonstrate its commitment to join the rest of the world" in the trend against executions.

The organisation said in a statement that the death penalty situation in Taiwan had improved since president Chen Sui-Bian made a commitment in 2000 to move towards abolition.

Following the end of martial law in 1987, the country had reduced the number of crimes punishable by death to 52.

TAEDP said the number of executions had reduced from 38 in 1997 to 0 in 2006, although as of October 2007 there were still 28 inmates on death row.

The organisation said, although Taiwan was not a member of the United Nations, as "a constituent of the global village" it would benefit from "thorough public debate on the death penalty from the perspective of human rights".

"In view of the global movement to abolish the death penalty, Taiwan – in its pursuit for a UN membership -- should take this opportunity to re-examine its commitment to the universal values of human rights that are upheld by the UN," the TAEDP statement said.

"Taiwan has not had any execution for almost two years, since the end of 2005.

"This is an opportune time for Taiwan authority to announce a moratorium as a first step to a holistic approach to total abolition by refining relevant laws and devising supportive measures.

"Taiwan should not be absent from this global movement."

Against death, protecting victims
TAEDP made three appeals to Taiwanese authorities addressing the death penalty and victims of crime:

1. Before a total abolition de jure of the death penalty, President Chen should deliver on his previous commitment to end the death penalty by announcing a moratorium in Taiwan. For inmates currently on death row, the president should pardon them or commute their sentence to life imprisonment.

2. The Minister of Justice should refuse to sign execution orders and should proactively engage in the amendment of relevant laws.

3. A government cannot relinquish its duty to protect victims of crime. Cabinet should devise a comprehensive system to protect them in collaboration with government agencies as well as social service organizations.

Executions in Taiwan
1997 38
1998 32
1999 24
2000 17
2001 10
2002 9
2003 7
2004 3
2005 3
2006 0
Source: TAEDP press release, 9 September, 2007

Related stories:
Torment on Taiwan's death row -- 15 May, 2007
Taiwan limits mandatory penalties -- 29 January, 2007
Abolition debate for Taiwan in 2007 -- 12 January, 2007
Taiwan: Death penalty benefit an 'illusion' -- 14 December, 2006
Taiwan working towards abolition? -- 21 February, 2006

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Victims opposing the death penalty

Media coverage of crime and the death penalty often focuses on calls for execution from family members who have suffered terrible losses. But there is another response to these losses, one that emphasises hope and the defence of universal human rights.

The US-based organisation Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights (MVFHR) brings together victims of criminal murder, terrorist attacks and state killings to defend human rights and campaign against the death penalty.

On the World Day Against the Death Penalty, MVFHR has issued a powerful statement in support of the right to life and in favour of a moratorium on executions. The statement below was posted on their blog:

Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights is an organization of family members of homicide victims and family members of people who have been executed. As survivors with a direct stake in the death penalty debate, and as people who believe in the value of basic human rights principles, we join today in the call for a worldwide moratorium on executions.

The most basic of human rights, the right to life, is violated both by homicide and by execution. We call today for a consistent human rights ethic in response to violence: let us not respond to one human rights violation with another human rights violation. Let us recognize that justice for victims is not achieved by taking another life.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was inspired by victims, demanded by victims. It grew out of the suffering of millions of civilians murdered under the brutal regimes of the Second World War, and its adoption on December 10, 1948 was a way to honor the loss of those lives by asserting that such violations are neither moral nor permissible under any nation or regime.

Now, almost sixty years later, let us recognize that violations of human life in the form of the death penalty should not be permissible under any nation or regime. We call for a moratorium on the death penalty because the only way to uphold human rights is to uphold them in all cases, universally.

Today, on World Day Against the Death Penalty, the United Nations General Assembly is considering a resolution that will take us one step closer to fulfilling the aspiration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As victims, we urge the members of the General Assembly to adopt the UN resolution for a universal moratorium on executions.

No Australian government will oppose terrorist executions

[Please note: long post]

Australia's response to the death penalty in Asia became part of the unofficial election campaign yesterday, with both major parties competing to show how many conditions they could attach to their "opposition" to capital punishment.

The issue hit the headlines after a speech on Monday night by Robert McClelland, the Australian Labor Party's foreign affairs spokesman, committing a future Labor government to a consistent stance opposing the use of the death penalty and to "shrewd diplomatic activism" within the region.

The speech was criticised for its timing, coming four days before the anniversary of the 2002 Bali bombings, which killed 202 people, including 88 Australians. Three men in Indonesia currently face execution for organising the bombings after the final appeals against their death sentences were rejected in August and September.

The Australian Prime Minister and senior government ministers attacked the speech and claimed the Labor party proposed to use Australian diplomats to plead for the lives of the convicted Bali bombers.

On Tuesday opposition leader Kevin Rudd moved swiftly to distance himself from the speech and gave his spokesperson a humiliating public rebuke.

Mr Rudd said the speech was "insensitive" and a staff member in his office was being "counselled" for failing to raise concerns over a draft of the speech.

He said a future Labor government would not make diplomatic moves to argue for clemency in terrorist cases, but it would oppose the death penalty through multilateral channels at the United Nations.

Both the government and opposition said they would only intervene in individual cases involving Australian citizens facing execution.

McClelland's speech
Shadow foreign minister Robert McClelland addressed the Wentworth Human Rights Forum, giving a speech that had been cleared with the office of the opposition leader.

"Labor believes that supporting executions - even by a nation state - gives justification to all kinds of fanatical lunatics to take the lives of others in pursuit of their warped ideologies," Mr McClelland said.

"That is why, at the highest levels Australia's public comments about the death penalty must be consistent with policy. This is especially the case if we are going to tactfully and successfully drive a regional abolitionist movement."

Mr McClelland said a Labor government would launch a regional campaign against executions in the Asian region.

He criticised the Prime Minister for supporting "the executions of the perpetrators of the Bali bombings, Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein" while also claiming "Australia opposed capital punishment".

He also said Mr Howard's inconsistency in the cases exposed Australia to claims of hypocrisy and undermined diplomatic efforts to spare the life of Australian citizen Van Tuong Nguyen, who was hanged in Singapore in 2005.

He said a Labor government would be consistent in its public comments on the death penalty.

Government condemnation
Prime Minister John Howard said the speech was an "extraordinary call by the Labor Party for the executions of the Bali Bombers not to take place".

He said the Labor Party's opposition to the death penalty was "an insensitive policy", and he highlighted other occasions when Mr Rudd had opposed executions.

"The idea that we would plead for the deferral of executions of people who murdered 88 Australians is distasteful to the entire community and I remind you that earlier this year, Mr Rudd, when Saddam Hussein was executed, expressed his continuing opposition to the death penalty imposed by other countries," Mr Howard said.

"We do not support the death penalty in Australia and my Government has consistently argued when Australians have faced the death penalty overseas for that penalty not to be applied.

"But what other countries do is ultimately a matter for those other countries, and particularly when people are under sentence of death for murdering Australians.

"I find it impossible myself, as an Australian, as Prime Minister, as an individual, to argue that those executions should not take place when they have murdered my fellow countrymen and women."

The Australian government's policy in recent years has been to claim that in principle it is 'universally and consistently' opposed to the death penalty, but in practice to argue only that Australian citizens should be spared the punishment.

In 2003 the Prime Minister told an interviewer that "everybody" would welcome the execution of Osama Bin Laden. More recently he expressed his satisfaction at the hanging of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and said the Australian government has no objections to the execution of the three Bali bombers.

Labor leader's reaction
Mr Rudd quickly attempted to neutralise reaction to his spokesman's comments, saying he would not use Australian diplomats to argue for clemency for terrorists and criticising the timing of the speech.

"I believe that the speech delivered last night was insensitive in terms of its timing," Mr Rudd said.

"I've indicated that to Mr McClelland this morning and he concurs with that judgement.

"When it comes to the question of the death penalty, no diplomatic intervention will ever be made by any government that I lead in support of any individual terrorist life."

He said he would only intervene on behalf of Australians facing execution overseas.

"We have only indicated in the past, and will maintain a policy in the future, of intervening diplomatically in support of Australian nationals who face capital sentences abroad."

Any campaigning against the death penalty would only be undertaken at the international level.

"On the wider question of the death penalty, the Liberal Party's policy, like Labor's policy, is identical, and that is our global opposition to the death penalty.

"In terms of the prosecution of that matter, that is best done multilaterally through the United Nations."

He did, however, later suggest that in order to build up a consensus against the death penalty over time he would "seek to engage regional states and other states in support of that proposition".

Past calls
In August 2006, the Labor party's shadow Attorney-General Nicola Roxon MP said Australia should take stronger action against the death penalty.

She said in a statement that Australia should "advocate more strongly" for its neighbours and allies to abolish the death penalty, and any method of execution was "inhumane, no matter what the crime".

"Australia needs to use its position internationally and in the region to abolish the death penalty universally," Ms Roxon said.

On 3 December 2005, the day after Van Tuong Nguyen was hanged, then shadow foreign minister Mr Rudd said there was "a lot that Australia can do" to help abolish the death penalty worldwide.

He said Australia should "get behind" European efforts in the United Nations "to put in every effort to abolish this form of punishment, once and for all, throughout the world, and for all time".

He also called for consistent opposition to the death penalty.

"It is important that our policy is consistent. Labor policy, like the Liberal policy, worldwide, is opposed to the death penalty.

"And whether we are talking about individuals in Iraq or Indonesia or elsewhere, our policy has to be consistent."

Related stories:
Australia: Rudd would oppose death penalty -- 24 June, 2007
Australia 'should act against death penalty' -- 03 August, 2006

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Bali: Execution closer for bombing leaders

Three men on death row for organising the 2002 bombings in Bali are one step closer to death following the rejection of their final appeals, but their lawyers are preparing to delay the executions as long as possible.

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.

The men had apealed to the Supreme Court on the grounds that the anti-terrorism law under which they were convicted was only passed after the bombings took place. In August and September the Supreme Court rejected their appeals.

"The verdicts say that the judges rejected the judicial review by the appellants Mukhlas and Imam Samudra and upheld the decisions by the previous courts," Supreme Court spokesman Nurhadi said in late September. An earlier court decision rejected Amrozi's appeal.

According to a BBC report, a court official said the men had provided no new evidence to challenge their convictions.

Supreme Court judge Djoko Sarwoko said there were no more legal procedures to delay the Attorney-General from setting an execution date.

Delays ahead?
However, as with earlier stages of these cases, there is now likely to be a period of delays and confusion, with the men saying they would not make further appeals on religious grounds, their lawyers indicating they would prepare for an appeal and government officials saying they were preparing to carry out the executions.

In early October Achmad Michdan, head lawyer of the Islamic Defence Team, said he would drag the process out as long as he could.

"We will lodge another appeal and ask that a proper examination of it be conducted," he said.

The government has said it would not execute the three until they had waived their right to seek presidential clemency.

"There must be a request for clemency - and if there is not, there must be a written statement that they really don't want clemency. We don't have that yet," Attorney-General Hendarman Supandji said.

The Indonesian government and the men's lawyers will also be watching closely for tthe Constitutional Court's decision in the case of three Australian convicted drug traffickers. The three have mounted a challenge to their death sentences, arguing the death penalty violates the right to life enshrined in the country's constitution.

The court's decision is reportedly expected in late October.

Making martyrs
None of the trio has expressed remorse over the attacks and they have repeatedly told journalists they welcome their execution.

After his appeal was rejected Mukhlas reportedly told a local journalist he was looking forward to his execution.

"This is the most wonderful moment for us because soon we will become martyrs," Mukhlas said.

According to an AFP report, a lawyer for the men said earlier this month that they were ready to die after signing a last statement reportedly vowing their deaths would lead to "hell for infidels".

"If we are executed, then the jets and drops of our blood will, God willing, become a ray of light for Muslims and become hell for infidels and hypocrites," said an extract from their statement published in the Koran Tempo.

In 2003 Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty warned on ABC's Four Corners program that executing the men would turn them into martyrs and may further their cause.

"If you think about the motivation and the end gain for some of these terrorists, I mean by prosecuting them and giving them the death penalty might actually be serving them up exactly what they need to be, martyrs," Mr Keelty said.

Human rights appeal
Amnesty International has issued an urgent action appeal encouraging its supporters to write to the Indonesian government appealing for the sentences not to be carried out.

The appeal calls on the Indonesian government to immediately halt preparations for the executions and commute their sentences to life imprisonment.

It expresses "concern that the Law on Combating Criminal Acts of Terrorism, under which these men were sentenced to death, was applied retroactively to include all those involved in the Bali bombings, violating international criminal law and the Indonesian Constitution".

The appeal also calls on the government to commute the death sentences imposed on all of the estimated 99 people on the country's death row.

The human rights organisation said it "recognises the need to address serious crime, including murder, but is convinced that the death penalty does not provide a solution".

"There is no clear evidence that the death penalty deters crime any more effectively than other forms of punishment.

"Amnesty International opposes the death penalty unreservedly in all cases."

Related stories:
Bali bombers lodge appeals -- 08 December, 2006
Execution delay for Bali bombers -- 21 August, 2006
Bali bombers closer to execution -- 11 April, 2006

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Japan: New minister will approve hangings

Japan has a new justice minister and -- like his predecessor -- he has used his first interview in office to confirm he will approve further executions.

Kunio Hatoyama was appointed justice minister on 27 August, and The Japan Times reported today that his first news conference focused on the death penalty and alleged crime by foreigners.

Hatoyama, described by The Japan Times as "a conservative hawk who makes frequent visits to Yasukuni Shrine", is a political veteran from a prominent political family.

"The death penalty embodies preventive functions against crimes. I disagree with abolishing the system," he said.

He said the death row population, reported recently as either 103 or 104 people, was still "a large number".

Death row numbers were reduced on 23 August, when three men were hanged in Tokyo and Nagoya.

The hangings were approved by former justice minister Jinen Nagase, who said in his first press conference on 26 September last year that finalised death sentences should be carried out.

"It's about ending a person's life, so it must be given careful consideration," Nagase said, according to The Japan Times. "But rulings by the courts must not be ignored."

New minister Hatoyama used almost identical words last Friday: "One must be extra careful in approving death penalties because it is about ending human life," he said.

The Japan Times said he added that failure to authorise capital punishment runs against the nature of the legal system. "Executions should be carried out aptly" under the Constitution, he said.

Jinen Nagase approved a record ten hangings in his eleven months in office.

In contrast, the previous justice minister was Seiken Sugiura, a Buddhist who did not sign any execution orders in his eleven months in office.

Related stories:
Japan executed mentally ill man -- 26 August, 2007
Japan: Lawyers condemn three more executions --24 August, 2007
Urgent move to stop executions in Japan -- 8 August, 2007
Japan hangs three 'to keep numbers down' -- 29 April, 2007
Japan: Christmas hangings draw protest -- 3 January, 2007
Executions may resume in Japan -- 21 December, 2006
Long wait, sudden death in Japan -- 28 August, 2006
Japan: Lonely wait for the noose -- 5 April 2006
Japan's death row hell -- 3 March 2006

Monday, 3 September 2007

Sign the global petition against executions

The World Coalition Against the Death Penalty has launched a global petition as part of the campaign for an international moratorium on executions.

The petition calls on all governments to "work for a world free of executions" and to vote in favour of a proposed resolution to be presented to the UN General Assembly later this year.

The resolution will call for a suspension of executions as a step towards the abolition of the death penalty worldwide.

According to the World Coalition's website, the proposed moratorium "would save lives and give the population of retentionist states an opportunity to see for themselves that a pause in death sentences does not lead to higher crime rates".

"A resolution by the UN highest political body would be an important international milestone in the campaign to abolish the death penalty worldwide and would carry considerable moral weight."

The petition will build on the five million signatures collected on the 'Moratorium 2000' petition coordinated by the Community of Sant'Egidio and Amnesty International.

The World Coalition is encouraging activists and organisations to:

  • Sign the petition for a moratorium on executions

  • Lobby their governments to support the UN General Assembly resolution for a global moratorium

  • Organise events for the World Day against the Death Penalty on 10 October, 2007 - and inform the World Coalition about their plans.
This year's World Day against the Death Penalty, 10 October, 2007, will promote the proposed UN resolution.

The World Coalition has produced a poster, a public opinion leaflet, a government lobbying flyer, a facts and figures document and a website banner to support the campaign.

Text of the petition:

An appeal for a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty

We, the undersigned,

In recognition of the five million people who signed the ‘Moratorium 2000’ petition launched by the Community of Sant’Egidio and Amnesty International,

Renew the call for a worldwide moratorium on executions and an end to capital punishment in the belief that the death penalty:

- Violates the universally affirmed right to life ;

- Constitutes the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment ;

- Constantly risks the irreversible error of the execution of an innocent person ;

- Provides no added value to the deterrence of crime ;

- Brutalises those societies that employ state sanctioned judicial killing.

We welcome the strong progress already made towards a global end to capital punishment and acknowledge that 130 nations have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.

We invite all governments to work for a world free of executions as a contribution to the enhancement of human dignity and the progressive development of human rights. We call upon the member states of the UN General Assembly to overwhelmingly vote in favour of an international moratorium on executions.

Sunday, 26 August 2007

Japan executed mentally ill man

One of three Japanese men hanged last week had been diagnosed as suffering from mental illness, according to an update released by Amnesty International (AI).

The human rights organisation said that, at the time of his trial, doctors from both the prosecution and defence found Hifumi Takezawa was mentally ill.

"At his appeal, his lawyer argued that Takezawa had apparently suffered a significant personality change as a result of a stroke, which made him paranoid and aggressive, but the judge rejected the appeal," AI said.

"It is not known whether Takezawa had received any medical treatment for his mental illness during his nine years on death row."

Hifumi Takezawa, 69, Yoshio Iwamoto, 63, and Kozo Segawa, 60, were hanged on 23 August in Tokyo and Nagoya.

AI said the men were hanged when the Japanese Diet was in recess, similar to previous executions.

"Japan has a record of executing prisoners with mental disabilities," AI said.

"The harsh condition of death row – isolation cell, lack of human interaction, and mostly the stress from being under perpetual threat of execution, means that many prisoners develop mental illness while they are on death row."

It said the Government's refusal to name the men hanged demonstrated "the extreme secrecy surrounding the implementation of the death penalty in Japan".

"Families and lawyers are usually not informed until after the executions and prisoners are often hanged at very short notice."

104 people remain on death row in Japan.

Background - Takezawa
According to a report by The Asahi Shimbun on 23 August, Takezawa was convicted of strangling a company executive in 1990 in the city of Nikko (then called Imaichi), Tochigi Prefecture.

He reportedly put the body in a car and set it alight. He also killed an elderly couple and set fire to their home their home in 1993 in the same city.

Related stories:
Japan: Lawyers condemn three more executions -- 24 August, 2007
Urgent move to stop executions in Japan -- 8 August, 2007
Long wait, sudden death in Japan -- 28 August, 2006
Japan: Lonely wait for the noose -- 5 April 2006
Japan's death row hell -- 3 March 2006

Friday, 24 August 2007

Japan: Lawyers condemn three more executions

Japan's peak legal organisation has condemned the execution of three men yesterday, and called for reform of the country's justice system to prevent innocent people being sentenced to death.

The Asahi Shimbun reported that three men were hanged on Thursday morning in detention centers in Tokyo and Nagoya.

It said the three were Hifumi Takezawa, 69, and Yoshio Iwamoto, 63, who were executed at the Tokyo Detention House, and Kozo Segawa, 60, who was hanged at the Nagoya Detention House. Amnesty Internatinal said the three were convicted of murder between 1990 and 1999.

Agence France-Presse quoted a justice ministry spokeswoman as saying: "The justice ministry executed 3 criminals who had been sentenced to death." But in line with its usual practice the government refused to release any further details, including their names.

Record number
Japan's justice minister Jinen Nagase has now approved a record ten executions since he took office on 26 September 2006. Three other prisoners were executed in April 2007 and four in December 2006.

The Asahi Shimbun said this was the highest number of executions approved by any one justice minister since a moratorium on the death penalty was lifted in 1993.

His immediate predecessor refused to approve any death warrants during his eleven months in office.

Legal criticism
The Japan Federation of Bar Associations condemned the three latest hangings and called for deficiencies in the country's justice system to be addressed before any more executions were carried out.

It said these same deficiencies had led to innocent people being condemned to death in the past, including prisoners who were released from death row in the 1980s after having being found innocent.

The problems included a system of up to 23 days detention of suspects in police custody, which human rights organisations say has allowed ill-treatment and abuse by police, and encouraged forced confessions.

In a statement posted on its website (Japanese text available here) the organisation called for a national debate on the death penalty.

"The danger that mistaken death sentences will be handed down still exists,'' the statement said, according to a report by Bloomberg News.

"The operational and systemic defects that have led to erroneous death sentences haven't been fundamentally remedied.''

Public opinion 'distorted'
The Japanese government has justified the use of the death penalty by saying it is responding to public support for executions.

Bloomberg said the latest telephone survey by the Cabinet Office found 81 per cent of 2,048 registered voters supported the death penalty in "unavoidable circumstances",' while 6 per cent supported its abolition.

Bloomberg said the United Nations had described public support as misleading where death penalty cases were surrounded by secrecy.

"There is an obvious inconsistency when a state invokes public opinion on the one hand, while on the other hand deliberately withholding relevant information on the use of the death penalty from the public,'' the UN Commission on Human Rights said in a report in March 2006.

Related stories:
Urgent move to stop executions in Japan -- 08 August, 2007
Japan hangs three 'to keep numbers down' -- 29 April, 2007
Japan: Christmas hangings draw protest -- 03 January, 2007
Executions may resume in Japan -- 21 December, 2006
Long wait, sudden death in Japan -- 28 August, 2006
Japan: Lonely wait for the noose -- 5 April 2006
Japan's death row hell -- 3 March 2006

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Bali court: Australians deserve death

Bali's Denpasar District Court has recommended an appeal by three members of the Bali 9 should be rejected, saying international drug trafficking offences "deserved the death penalty".

The lower court's recommendation is not binding on the Supreme Court, which will decide the appeal. But for the appeal to succeed, the Supreme Court would have to overturn its earlier decision upgrading their sentences to death.

Fairfax journalist Mark Forbes reported in today's Sydney Morning Herald that the three judges who heard the appeal have prepared a report rejecting legal arguments used by convicted heroin traffickers Matthew Norman, Si Yi Chen and Tan Duc Thanh Nguyen.

The newspaper said it had seen a copy of the report, which stated: "In our opinion the judicial review request is DISMISSED."

The Denpasar judges reportedly found the Supreme Court had the right to impose the death penalty even though prosecutors had requested a maximum of life imprisonment.

They said the original penalties were not proportional to the crime and "therefore the panel of judges sees no errors have been made".

"Drug-related crimes are considered as an extraordinary anti-social act," the judges found.

They also said international drug trafficking was included in "the most serious crime and deserved the death penalty".

Erwin Siregar, one of the lawyers for the three men, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) that the the Supreme Court did not have to take the opinion into account.

The ABC reported he said it was not good news for his clients, but the Supreme Court was totally independent.

"The judges' court, when they make a decision, nobody can influence them," he said.

"They are free to make a decision."

In May 2007, Si Yi Chen, 22, Matthew Norman, 20 and Thanh Duc Tan Nguyen, 24, appeared in Bali's Denpasar District Court for hearings into their judicial review.
Written submissions lodged by their lawyers argued the Supreme Court did not consider the full facts of the cases when it changed their sentences from 20 years to death.

Related stories:
Bali 9 challenge may win and fail -- 03 June, 2007
Drug penalty violates international law -- 06 May, 2007
Australians appeal Bali death sentences -- 02 May, 2007
Firing squad for six of Bali nine -- 10 September, 2006
Bali 9 death sentence confirmed -- 26 April, 2006

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Urgent move to stop executions in Japan

Amnesty International has issued an urgent appeal to try to stop three men from the gallows in Japan tomorrow.

The organisation believes Takezawa Hifumi (born 1937), Segawa Kouzou (born 1947) and Iwamoto Yoshio (born 1945) may be hanged as soon as 9 August.

They are currently held on death row in Tokyo and Nagoya, convicted of murder between 1990 and 1999.

The appeal says Takezawa Hifumi has been diagnosed as suffering from mental illness.

Deliberate timing
Amnesty International believes the executions may be deliberately timed for the 62nd anniversary of the detonation of an atom bomb over Nagasaki during World War II.

Executions in Japan are often scheduled during parliamentary recesses or on holidays, to avoid public discussion of the death penalty.

Japan resumed executions on 25 December 2006 after a fifteen month break, when incoming Justice Minister Jinen Nagase approved the hanging of four men. Three more were executed on 27 April 2007.

His predecessor, Seiken Sugiura, had refused to sign execution orders during his term in office due to his devout Buddhist beliefs.

Amnesty International said the death penalty in Japan was "arbitrary and cruel".

"There are 107 prisoners facing the death penalty in Japan including a few who have spent over three decades on death row expecting to die at very short notice," it said.

Take action
Amnesty International has requested people send appeal letters to Japanese authorities calling for an immediate moratorium on executions and an end to the secrecy around the country's use of the death penalty.

Please send appeals to:

Prime Minister
ABE Shinzo
Prime Minister’s Office
2-3-1 Nagata-cho, Chiyoda-ku
Tokyo 100-0014, Japan

Fax: +81 3 3581 3883

Related stories:
Japan hangs three 'to keep numbers down' -- 29 April, 2007
Japan: Christmas hangings draw protest -- 03 January, 2007
Executions may resume in Japan -- 21 December, 2006
Long wait, sudden death in Japan -- 28 August, 2006
Japan: Lonely wait for the noose -- 5 April 2006
Japan's death row hell -- 3 March 2006

Saturday, 4 August 2007

Party claims economic penalty 'prudent'

China's ruling Communist Party has claimed it is "prudent" in using the death penalty for economic crimes, as it struggles to contain the threat of widespread corruption.

Gan Yisheng, spokesman for the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) of the party's Central Committee told a press conference the death penalty was applied to a "very small" number of people for serious economic crimes.

"We are very prudent in using the death penalty to execute perpetrators of economic crimes and the number of death penalties handed down to economic criminals is very small," Xinhua quoted him as saying.

"China has so far kept the death penalty system and the death penalty is applicable to serious economic crimes."

The death penalty has been politically useful for the Communist Party, which uses the execution of officials for corruption to answer mounting public concern and recent widely reported scandals.

On 10 July China executed Zheng Xiaoyu, former director of the State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA), for corruption and dereliction of duty after he was convicted of accepting 6.49 million yuan (US$850,000) in bribes from pharmaceutical companies.

"The reason for Zheng Xiaoyu's death sentence was that the bribes he took were huge and he committed serious crimes," Gan said.

He said China retained the death penalty because of its particular circumstances and its cultural background.

"Different countries have different circumstances and have different cultural backgrounds and views on the death penalty. They also have different legal regulations, which is very natural," he said.

"The fact that China keeps the death penalty is due to its national conditions and cultural background. There is nothing to be criticized."

He claimed there were "very strict controls on the death penalty" and all the death penalty decisions were reviewed by the Supreme People's Court.

Human rights groups report the death penalty is applied to a wide range of crimes in China, and political interference in the justice system is common.

Related stories:
China executes drug regulator -- 12 July, 2007
China call for cautious death penalty - again -- 8 April, 2007
China: Judges try to limit death penalty -- 14 November, 2006
China reforms good, but not enough -- 8 November, 2006
China: Supreme Court review from January -- 1 November, 2006
Political questions over China's new appeal judges -- 2 July, 2006
China to retain death penalty, with reforms -- 13 March 2006

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

China: Courts claim fewer executions

China's official media have reported a reduction in executions this year -- but once again the government refused to release meaningful statistics about the use of the death penalty.

China Daily reported that figures from Beijing No 1 and No 2 intermediate people's courts showed a 10 per cent drop in the first five months of this year compared with the same period last year.

Court spokesperson Ni Shouming said the situation was similar across the country, but he "declined to give details".

The newspaper said in an editorial that the "remarkable drop" showed the return to Supreme Court review had achieved its aim "to rein in irresponsible use of capital punishment" by local courts.

China Daily said the change came "after the Supreme People's Court recovered the right to review and approve all death sentences decided by local courts in the country".

From 1 January 2007, all death sentences handed down by provincial courts must be reviewed by the Supreme People's Court.

Official statistics quoted in the China Daily report showed nearly 890,000 people were convicted by all levels of courts across China, with nearly 154,000 receiving sentences longer than five years.

But these figures were useless for assessing the use of the death penalty, since they included custodial sentences over five years, life terms and executions.

'Trend towards leniency'
Criminal law expert Chen Weidong, from Renmin University of China, predicted death sentences would drop by 20 per cent over this year.

"Leniency and more judicious use of capital punishment is the trend of the time, a concept in line with international practice," he said.

Chen Zexian, deputy director of the Institute of Law of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told China Daily that China would ultimately abolish the death penalty, but "it has to start from strict limits on the use of death penalties".

"It takes a long time for society to accept the abolition of the death penalty," he said.

China Daily's editorial said the implementation of a new approach to criminal law incorporated "both leniency and severity - with the accent on leniency".

This was "a break from China's traditional emphasis on harshness in law enforcement".

"The general appeal for leniency in criminal justice and, more specifically, the call for prudent use of the death sentence are both indications of civilized law enforcement," the newspaper said.

"But a more direct cause for the decline in the number of death sentences in the past months could well be the new requirement that all such verdicts be scrutinized by the Supreme Court."

'Political interference remains'
Human Rights Watch said while there appeared to be a drop in executions in China, the country still executed between 7,000 and 15,000 people a year.

Nicholas Becquelin, a China researcher with the organisation, said police and political interference was still common in the courts.

He told VOA News that recent efforts to cut the number of executions were also motivated by a desire to clean up the country's image before the 2008 Olympics.

"The number of death penalty [cases] and the sort of callousness in which the Chinese government executes people is regularly one of the top black spots on China's image in the international community," he said.

"And, with the Olympic Games coming closer and closer, this is definitely something that the Chinese authorities want to be seen as acting over."

Related stories:
China call for cautious death penalty - again -- 8 April, 2007
China: Judges try to limit death penalty -- 14 November, 2006
China reforms good, but not enough -- 8 November, 2006
China: Supreme Court review from January -- 1 November, 2006
Political questions over China's new appeal judges -- 2 July, 2006
China to video death penalty appeals -- 28 May 2006
China to retain death penalty, with reforms -- 13 March 2006

Friday, 27 July 2007

China handed evidence for murder trial

Chinese officials spent this week in Canberra collecting evidence to prosecute a student for an alleged murder committed in the Australian capital in 2004.

Zhang Long is facing trial in China for the murder of his girlfriend, Zhang Hongjie (also known as Steffi Zhang). Her body was found in their Canberra apartment in January 2005, six months after she was believed to have been strangled.

Police in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) announced on Thursday that they had handed a brief of evidence and physical exhibits to a visiting delegation of seven police and public security officials.

The handover was the culmination of more than a year's careful negotiation with Chinese authorities.

The ACT government refused to hand over evidence in the case until China gave an undertaking the death penalty would not be imposed if he was convicted of murder. China refused to extradite Zhang to Australia to face trial.

In November 2006 The Canberra Times reported the breakthrough when China agreed to guarantee it would not execute the accused if he was found guilty.

AAP reported Zhang had been in custody in the Chinese city of Dalian since March 2005.

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

Related stories:
No execution for Canberra murder: Report -- 15 December, 2006
Australia China talks over murder case -- 04 April, 2006

Thursday, 12 July 2007

China executes drug regulator

The former head of China's drug regulator was executed last Tuesday (10 July) for receiving bribes and approving fake drugs, according to state-run Xinhua newsagency.

Zheng Xiaoyu, who was director of the State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA), was sentenced to death in Beijing on 29 May for corruption and dereliction of duty.

He had been convicted of accepting 6.49 million yuan (US$850,000) in bribes from pharmaceutical companies. Xinhua said Zheng, 63, accepted cash bribes and gifts directly, as well as through his wife and son.

During his time as head of the agency, he broke reporting and decision-making processes for approving medicines, allowing six fake drugs onto the market, and failed to adequately oversee drug production.

The Higher People's Court of Beijing rejected his first appeal on 22 June, rejecting Zheng's appeal that the penalty was "too severe" and his argument he had cooperated with the investigation.

"The evidence provided by Zheng was obtained by the prosecution team before his confession," said the court.

The Supreme People's Court (SPC) ratified the death sentence, clearing the way for Zheng's execution.

"The judgement made by the first and second [court] hearings was authentic, the evidence was complete and the death sentence was appropriate," the SPC said.

"Zheng"s dereliction of duty has undermined the efficiency of China's drug monitoring and supervision, endangered public life and health and has had a very negative social impact."

The Chinese government has acted in recent years to ease public concern about official corruption, with three other senior officials sentenced to death since 2000.

Cao Wenzhuang, the former head of the SFDA's drug registration department, was also given a suspended death sentence last week.

"The execution of Zheng demonstrated the resolve of the government to punish corrupt officials, and those with high positions and strong power are punished without mercy," said Zhao Bingzhi, director the Criminal Law Institute of the China Law Society.

The SFDA said it was introducing new procedures for approving drugs following the two convictions.

"We should seriously reflect and learn from these cases. We should fully protect public food and drug safety.

"The new drug registration regulation, which will come out soon, will ensure the transparency of the drug approval procedure," said SFDA spokeswoman Yan Jiangying.

Execution hampering return
China has been attempting to negotiate extradition treaties with a number of countries in order to bring back corrupt officials who have fled overseas.

But it has found its use of the death penalty for economic crimes posed a barrier in negotiations with countries that do not use the death penalty.

In March this year, China successfully concluded an extradition treaty with France, which, along with earlier treaties with Spain and Portugal, guarantees that suspects returned to face trial would not be given the death penalty.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Asian activists condemn drug executions

An Asian network of anti-death penalty activists has condemned the region's widespread use of the death penalty for drug offences, despite there being "no convincing evidence" the punishment provides a greater level of deterrence.

The Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN) released a statement on United Nations Anti-Drugs Day, 26 June, expressing its "growing concern that more people are sentenced to death for drug offences than for any other crime in a number of Asia Pacific countries".

"This is at a time when there is a worldwide trend towards restricting and abolishing the death penalty."

Sixteen Asia Pacific countries continued to apply the death penalty for drug trafficking and possession offences, said ADPAN.

The network recognised that governments should take "appropriate law-enforcement measures" against drug trafficking and crime, including meeting their obligations under international drug control treaties.

"However there is no convincing evidence that the death penalty deters would-be drug traffickers more than any other punishment," it said.

'Not deterring'
The statement said Amnesty International did not know of any evidence that the death penalty had lead to a drop in drug use or trafficking in any of the sixteen countries.

"In China for example, police data shows that the number of drug users grew 35 percent in the five years since 2000.

"In Viet Nam, the BBC quoted an official who said in 2005 the quantity of drugs seized by customs had increased 400 percent year-on-year, despite its use of the death penalty."

Secret, mandatory, guilty
It also condemned the secrecy, mandatory sentences and discrimination that exacerbate the use of the death penalty for drugs.

It was not possible to determine how many death senences were imposed for drug crimes in the region because "the death penalty is shrouded in secrecy in many Asian countries".

"However, reports have shown that in South East Asian countries, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, the majority of death penalty cases are for drug crimes."

ADPAN said the death penalty was mandatory for certain drug offences in Brunei, India, Laos, Thailand, North Korea, Singapore and Malaysia, which gave judges "no authority to take into account extenuating circumstances" in individual cases.

The network was also particularly concerned that countries including Malaysia, China and Singapore made a presumption of guilt for drug offences, reversing the international legal standard that an accused person should first be presumed innocent until proven guilty in a fair trial.

This reversal was even more worrying in capital cases because it "increases the risk that an innocent person may be executed".

The statement said there was evidence that the death penalty was disproportionately used on "the poorest, most vulnerable members of society", including in drug trafficking cases.

"In many cases, people have become involved in drug trafficking out of desperation or ignorance.

"Executing these people not only fails to deter others, but also fails to deal with the underlying issues that drive them to offend, such as poverty and lack of education, and obviously precludes the possibility of reform."

Steps to abolition
The ADPAN statement urged countries in the Asia Pacific to follow the lead of the Philippines and Nepal and move towards abolition of the death penalty.

It said countries should start by "ending the use of the death penalty for drugs offences and studying and implementing alternative treatment to break the cycle of drug abuse and crime".

ADPAN said the sixteen Asia Pacific countries that still had the death penalty for drug crimes were: Bangladesh, Brunei, China, India, Indonesia, North Korea, South Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, and Viet Nam.

ADPAN described itself as "is an independent informal network with over 34 members made up of individuals and organizations from 18 countries mainly from the Asia-Pacific region".

Related stories:
New voice against Asia's executions -- 10 October, 2006

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Australia: Rudd would oppose death penalty

The author of a new biography of Australia's Opposition Leader says Kevin Rudd would launch a campaign against the death penalty if he was elected Prime Minister.

Robert Macklin said Mr Rudd had not spoken widely about the issue before, but his authorised biography contained "a heck of a lot that is absolutely brand new".

"For example, I'm sure that no one has ever mentioned that if he gets to be prime minister one of his important foreign policy objectives will be to begin a campaign to rid the world of the death penalty," the ABC quoted him as saying.

As Opposition spokesman for foreign affairs, Kevin Rudd was active in his opposition to the execution of Australian citizen Van Tuong Nguyen in Singapore, making personal representations and public calls for the Australian Government to intervene in the case.

On 3 December 2005, the day after Van Tuong Nguyen was hanged, Mr Rudd told a media conference that Australia could do "a lot more" to abolish the death penalty.

"The Prime Minister has asked today whether there was anything more that Australia could now do to abolish the death penalty worldwide. The Prime Minister's response was that there was not much more that Australia could do," Mr Rudd said.

"I disagree with the Prime Minister, there is a lot that Australia can do. Australia must, with the Europeans, work through the United Nations to abolish the death penalty universally."

He said Australia could work against the death penalty through the United Nations and in cooperation with "the Europeans".

Australia had signed the Second Optional Protocol of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, along with 50 other countries.

"But [that] leaves about 150 other countries to go, around the world. And that is where Australia can team up with the Europeans, who have a similar attitude to Australia, to make sure that we put in every effort to abolish the death penalty universally and for all time," he said.

"It doesn't matter whether we are talking about the death penalty in the United States, the Islamic Republic of Iran, or in the Republic of Singapore, Australia should get behind the Europeans, through the United Nations, to put in every effort to abolish this form of punishment, once and for all, throughout the world, and for all time."

He also called for consistent opposition to the death penalty worldwide.

"It is important that our policy is consistent. Labor policy, like the Liberal policy, worldwide, is opposed to the death penalty. And whether we are talking about individuals in Iraq or Indonesia or elsewhere, our policy has to be consistent.

"When it comes to Australians, Australian citizens, who are convicted of the death penalty, then together with the Liberal Party, Labor's policy is to make representations to the government concerned to try and seek clemency."

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