Wednesday, 27 February 2008

China’s deadly world record under attack

With five months to go until the Beijing Olympic Games, anti-death penalty campaigners are ramping up the pressure on the Chinese government - and ultimately the Olympic movement - to deliver on promises of human rights reform.

The World Coalition against the Death Penalty (WCADP) and the Anti Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN) today issued an open letter to the upcoming National People's Congress, urging it to ensure it "takes concrete steps towards the abolition of the death penalty in China".

The World Coalition is also encouraging people to sign a petition calling for an end to the secrecy surrounding China's use of the death penalty, and an immediate moratorium on executions.

Activists point to estimates of up to 8,000 executions in China last year, with thousands more sentenced to death by a substantially flawed justice system. The death penalty is applied to 68 offences in China, including non-violent economic and drug-related crimes.

The hidden world record
The open letter welcomes last year's restoration of Supreme Court review of all death sentences in China, and notes official claims there has been a corresponding significant drop in the number of executions.

"However, full national statistics on the application of the death penalty remain classified as a state secret in China," it says.

"It will only be possible for Chinese scholars and other independent observers to assess the impact of this reform if China publishes these statistics in full."

The letter urges the National People's Congress to amend state secrets laws at this session to allow the release of death penalty related information. It says this is needed both to allow debate about the death penalty and to provide "procedural openness" in individual capital cases.

The secrecy surrounding individual cases, and problems for lawyers and families gaining access to suspects, is "of particular concern given the widespread use of torture or ill-treatment by police in China to obtain 'confessions' from suspects".

"As has been proven in China on several occasions in the past, hasty and unfair trials are likely to lead to miscarriages of justice, with innocent persons being executed for crimes they have not committed."

Flawed trials before death
Amnesty International reports in its campaign brochure, Legacy of the Beijing Olympics: Issues and facts, that China's justice system cannot guarantee a fair trial before a person is given the ultimate irreversible punishment of execution.

"No one who is sentenced to death in China receives a fair trial in accordance with international human rights standards," the brochure says.

"Failings include: lack of prompt access to lawyers, lack of presumption of innocence, political interference in the judiciary and failure to exclude evidence extracted under torture."

It says a number of cases recently reported in the Chinese press, including the case of Nie Shubin, "reveal that innocent people have been put to death in China due to such shortcomings in the system".

Amnesty International welcomes the restoration of Supreme Court review, but says "there is still concern that it would not expose serious human rights violations, such as torture to extract confessions, if evidence of such abuses had not been introduced during an earlier trial".

Race for money or dignity?
Human rights organisations have also continued their campaign for the government of China and the International Olympic Committee to show how they will meet their promises that awarding the games to Beijing will contribute to improvements in human rights.

In its brochure Legacy of the Beijing Olympics: China’s Choice, Amnesty International points out that in effect the Olympic movement claims to be a human rights movement.

"Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles." (Olympic Charter, Fundamental Principles of Olympism, paragraph 1)

Amnesty International says if "grave human rights violations are not being sufficiently addressed as part of the preparations for the Games, the International Olympic Committee is compelled to take action".

The brochure says Chinese authorities declared during their campaign to secure the games that "the human rights situation in China would improve if Beijing were chosen to host the games".

It quotes Wang Wei, Secretary General of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games Bid Committee, as saying: "We are confident that the Games coming to China not only promotes our economy but also enhances all social conditions, including education, health and human rights."

Similarly, Mayor of Beijing Liu Qi, said in 2001: "[The Olympic Games] will help promote all economic and social projects and will also benefit the further development of our human rights cause."

Chinese authorities now have "a unique opportunity to honour the pledges they made to advance human rights if awarded host nation of the 2008 Summer Olympics".

"China’s international human rights commitments, as well as the spirit of Olympism which assert that “the practice of sport is a human right”, and avow respect for “universal fundamental ethical principles”, suggest that respect for human rights lies at the heart of the Olympic movement," the brochure says.

The World Coalition against the Death Penalty said it "would like to believe that the reforms to which the Chinese Government is pledged are not just a pre-Olympics PR operation".

"A country like China, which steadfastly likes to think that it is on the road to modernity and says that it is committed to the rule of law, is duty-bound to apply these commitments throughout the country."

One world, different dream
China, which is promoting the games under the slogan of "One World One Dream", is seriously out of step with the worldwide trend towards limiting and abolishing the use of the death penalty.

The country executes more people each year than the rest of the world combined, and was among the minority of countries that voted against a resolution calling for a United Nations moratorium on executions, passed by the UN General Assembly on 18 December 2007.

The World Coalition open letter was co-signed by 74 organisations from Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the Americas.

The signed petition will be delivered to Chinese authorities before the Olympic Games begin.

Related stories:
AI condemns China's expanded lethal injection -- 5 January, 2008
Party claims economic penalty 'prudent' -- 4 August, 2007
China: Courts claim fewer executions -- 31 July, 2007
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

Monday, 25 February 2008

Bali executions will inspire martyrs: expert

A leading expert on Islamist terrorist networks said the execution of the Bali bombers will inspire the next generation of terrorist "martyrs" and help spread the extremist cause.

Rohan Guaratna called instead for a longer-term approach to containing and dismantling terrorist influence, one which combines a "strategic fight for peace" with an integrated strategy to counter the threat of ideologically inspired violence.

Amrozi bin Nurhasyim, Imam Samudra and Mukhlas (also known as Ali Ghufron) were sentenced to death for the October 2002 bombing on Bali, which killed 202 people and injured a further 200.

Despite repeated claims by the three that they won't appeal their convictions and they welcome martyrdom by firing squad, their lawyers last month successfully applied for a second judicial review of their cases.

The reviews, which began hearings in Denpasar District Court today, could delay their deaths by several months.

Repentance, jihad and conspiracies
Dr Gunaratna wrote on the website of Australia's ABC broadcaster in December 2007 that most of the 30 people convicted of a role in the bombing conspiracy had since "repented and expressed remorse".

But Amrozi, Imam Samudra and Mukhlas continued to defend their actions as a religious duty of Muslims to wage jihad.

"The executed bombers will be seen as martyrs or 'shahid' by some of the Islamists and most of the jihadists," he wrote.

"They will be congratulated by like minded individuals and groups. Instead of being angry, JI and other Jihadist groups will seek revenge."

He said most Indonesian jihadists believed the United States was driving the decision to execute the men.

"Most Indonesian jihadists believe in conspiracy theory that the US is guiding Indonesia's decision to execute them. They contend that even the Indonesian court system is under US pressure.

"Within the Jihadist and Islamist communities, such propaganda has generated sympathy and support for the Bali bombers. As such, the execution of Bali bombers could trigger more support for Muslim extremism and terrorism in Indonesia."

Their execution would "send an unequivocal message that terrorism will not be tolerated", and would deter "a segment of the Islamists and Jihadists".

But it would also "inspire [a] small segment of Islamists and Jihadists to become the next generation of martyrs," he said.

Isolation, not execution
Dr Gunaratna was critical of the conditions the condemned prisoners have been held in, which allowed them to radicalise fellow detainees and distribute jihadist propaganda beyond the prison walls.

But that did not mean they should therefore be executed.

"Ideally, the strategy for managing terrorists that have killed men, women and children is not to execute them. It is for government to seek life imprisonment and enlist their cooperation and collaboration to generate the intelligence required to dismantle the existing and emerging terrorist networks.

"If uncooperative, they must be held in isolation for 23 of the 24 hours of the day.

"The prison should never be allowed to serve as a venue for jihadists to educate each other, recruit and train criminals, and produce literature that justify and inspire others to kill.

"Like a school, every prison should become a centre to plant the seeds of peace in the minds of the misguided and the unfortunate."

Only "strategic vision" ends terrorism
Rather than executing unrepentant terrorists, Dr Gunaratna said a "long term, strategic, and a visionary approach" was now needed.

"It is only then that the real fight against extremism and its by-product terrorism will begin," he said.

"To end terrorism, the strategic fight for peace has not yet started."

Related stories:
Bali bombers may soon get their wish -- 10 November, 2007
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, 12 February 2008

Life Watch to save Taiwan's innocent from death

The Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty (TAEDP) has launched the "Life Watch" project in an effort to prevent the execution of innocent people, according to The Taipei Times.

The organisation has called on individuals and members of the public to join the project, which was inspired by the Innocence Project in the USA, to scrutinise the convictions of people sentenced to death.

TAEDP said if US research was applied in Taiwan, about 34 people could have been wrongly executed between 1955 and 1992.

US figures suggested the courts have reached an incorrect verdict in 7 per cent of cases where the death penalty was imposed.

Research published by Taiwan's Cabinet-level Research, Development and Evaluation Commission (RDEC) in 1994 showed a total of 482 Taiwanese prisoners were executed in 1955-1992.

The Taipei Times said the "RDEC publication shows that most of the 482 executed persons were drawn from the lower-ranks of society, being unemployed or low-income workers, poorly educated, or young, first-time offenders".

The Life Watch project is co-sponsored by human rights, legal reform and religious organisations.

Related stories:
Taiwan 'improving' but call for abolition -- 11 October, 2007
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, 6 February 2008

South Korea: 100 days for abolition

Amnesty International considers a country to have abolished the death penalty "in practice" if it has not executed anyone in the previous 10 years, and it is "believed to have a policy or established practice of not carrying out executions". The organisation also includes in this group those countries which have made an international commitment not to use the death penalty.

South Korea was declared abolitionist in practice on 30 December 2007, bringing to to 135 the number of countries that have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. Some 27 of these are from Asia and the Pacific.

To celebrate this milestone, Amnesty International South Korea joined a coalition of 20 human rights organisations in a series of events for the 100 Days Against the Death Penalty campaign, run from 22 September to 30 December.

The campaign was designed both to celebrate 10 years since the last executions were carried out in South Korea, and to reinvigorate the campaign to abolish the death penalty in law.

It included the Life is Precious film festival, a press conference for the World Day against the Death Penalty (10 October), presentation of a thank you letter to former president Kim Dae-Jung, and a concert and public statement for 30 December.

Kim Dae-Jung, himself a former death row inmate sentenced to die on trumped up political charges, began the country's practice of not carrying out executions when he took office in 1988. In February 2006, he issued a statement arguing for the abolition of the death penalty.

Presentation of a letter of thanks to former president Kim Dae-Jung (23 November, 2007):

AI Korea youth group performing at the press conference for the World Day Against the Death Penalty:

Petition of faces calling for the abolition of the death penalty in law:

Ceremony marking 10 years without executions. Following the ceremony in front of the National Assembly building, 64 roses were handed to passers-by and 64 doves were released - symbolising the 64 people then on death row:

A member of Amnesty International South Korea reported that the country's president decided at 10 o'clock that night to commute the death sentences of six death row prisoners, reducing the number of people under sentence of death to 58.

One brutal day, 10 years ago
The last executions in South Korea were on 30 December 1997, when 18 men and 5 women were executed in prisons across the country. They had no advance notice of their imminent executions. The mass hangings were the first executions in the country for two years.

Related stories:
South Korea: Renewed calls for abolition -- 12 October, 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 -- 6 March, 2006
South Korea – former president calls for abolition -- 27 February, 2006

Monday, 4 February 2008

Japan: Sixteen hanged in thirteen months

Japan hanged three men on Friday (1 February), bringing to 16 the number of people executed in the last 13 months.

Human rights organisations, members of parliament and lawyers condemned the execution of Masahiko Matsubara, 63, Takashi Mochida, 65, and Keishi Nago, 37. They were hanged in Osaka, Tokyo and Fukuoka.

For only the second time, the justice ministry confirmed the mens' names in a public statement.

Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama has approved a total of six hangings since he took office in August 2007. Three men, including a 75 year-old man, were hanged on 7 December after he signed their execution orders.

His predecessor, Jinen Nagase, approved ten hangings in his eleven months in office, the highest number of executions approved by any one justice minister since a moratorium on the death penalty was lifted in 1993.

Hatoyama, who has examined proposals to streamline executions, stressed the orderly nature of the country's death penalty system.

"We have considered a variety of factors so that we can carry out executions in a methodical manner, rather than thinking about the intervals and the timing," AFP quoted him as telling reporters.

"For the victims and their families, all the cases caused incomparable sorrow. I made the orders upon careful consideration," he said.

Amnesty International strongly condemned the executions, highlighting that Japan was "conspicuously the only country with a fully operational death penalty system" among major industrialized countries.

Planned executions in the US are currently blocked until the Supreme Court rules on whether they can be carried out by lethal injection.

"The Japanese government has shown its disregard for both the universal protection of human rights and the clear international trend to move away from using the death penalty," said Tim Parritt, Deputy Director of Amnesty International's Asia Pacific Programme.

According to Amnesty International, at least 23 cases carrying the death sentence were confirmed by the courts in Japan last year, the highest number since 1962.

Related stories:
Japan finally names three executed -- 9 December, 2007
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