Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Firing squad: Seven minutes to die

The Catholic priest who witnessed the execution of two drug traffickers in Indonesia in June has described how he sang hymns while the men took seven minutes to die.

Father Charlie Burrows was present when firing squads shot the two Nigerians in the middle of the night, in a forest clearing on Nusa Kambangan Island, Central Java.

Samuel Iwachekawu Okoye and Hansen Anthony Nwaoysa (or Antonious) were tied to crosses with their hands behind their backs and hoods over their heads, he told an Australian journalist.

The men prayed and sang hymns with the priest while they were shot, according to the report by Cindy Wockner.

"After they were shot they were hurting," Father Burrows said.

"They were moaning and it takes seven minutes to die, the blood was coming out. So then I tried singing a few hymns when they were dying. So you could say it's torture, shooting people. It's torture.

"It's torture. It's seven minutes to die so the heart is trying to pump the blood to the brain, the brain is still alive and as long as there's blood getting to the brain the brain is not going to die."

The report said the 65 year-old Irish priest, who has worked in Indonesia for 35 years, choked with tears when he recalled the execution and described the noises made by the dying men in those seven minutes.

It said officials and members of the two firing squads "stood stunned and uneasy" while they died.

'Take off my shoes'
Father Burrows said one of the prisoners requested a drink of water, and then asked the priest to take his final possessions for his wife.

"Antonious was thirsty so he asked for a drink of water ... and then for another and the prison guard was probably nervous and said you'll get a pain in your belly from the water and he said: 'The last thing I'm worried about is a pain in my belly, I'm going to be dead in a few minutes'," Father Burrows said.

"He had a handkerchief and a 100,000 Rupiah note and he asked me to take those out of his pocket and give them to his wife.

"Then he said, 'Father, are you still there, would you come forward and take off my shoes'. So I went forward and took off the shoes and he wanted his wife to get the shoes."

Related stories:
Indonesia: Seventh execution in six weeks -- 11 August, 2008
Indonesia: More to die for drugs -- 12 August, 2008
Indonesia: Record number executed in four weeks -- 20 July, 2008
Indonesia: Drug offenders executed, more to come -- 29 June, 2008
Executions in Indonesia since 1995 -- 26 September, 2006

Monday, 25 August 2008

Uncertain when Islamist bombers will die

Time is running out for the Indonesian government to execute three Islamist terrorists this week for the October 2002 Bali bombing.

Attorney-General Hendarman Supandji has reportedly said he wanted the men shot before the start of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting and forgiveness.

This year Ramadan is expected to begin at sunset on 31 August.

However it is not clear whether the attorney-general has signed the necessary orders, and whether there would be enough time for authorities to make the final preparations.

Indonesian media report the Bali police and prosecutors are working together to coordinate arrangements for the executions.

Death row prisoners in Indonesia are usually given 72 hours notice when a date is set.

Amrozi bin Nurhasyim, Ali Ghufron (also known as Mukhlas) and Imam Samudra were convicted of organising the bombing, in which 202 people died.

The men are being held in a prison on Nusakambangan Island, off the coast of Central Java.

In July 2008, two Bali prosecutors reportedly inspected a field on the island where the executions would be carried out.

If they are not executed this week, the government is expected to wait until after Ramadan, rather than risk a religious backlash.

The prisoners have said in the past that they welcomed their execution, although they would prefer to be beheaded, which they claimed was a more 'Islamic' form of execution.

Constitutional challenge underway
The three may be shot while the country's Constitutional Court is considering their challenge to the standard method of execution.

In mid-August, the court agreed to hear an application from the men's lawyers arguing execution by firing squad amounted to torture.

"The appellants have a constitutional right not to be tortured," the application said. They argued that a delay between the shots by a firing squad and their deaths would constitute torture.

The court asked them to expand on their submissions at the court's next hearing, set down for this week.

The bombers' lawyers also have sent a letter to the attorney-general requesting a delay until a Constitutional Court challenge is completed.

The application is widely seen as a further legal manoeuvre designed to delay the executions, but the government has said it would have no bearing on when the sentences were carried out.

"Preparations are continuing - we don't need to wait for a decision from the Constitutional Court. When we are ready, we will execute," a government spokesman said after the preliminary court hearing on 14 August.

Law and Human Rights Minister Andi Mattalatta said in early August that the constitutional challenge had no implication for the impending executions.

"Execution is one problem and the decision of the Constitutional Court is another," he said.

"There is no relationship."

'Foreign pressure' claim
The defence legal team also attempted to incite opposition to the executions by portraying the government as giving in to foreign pressure.

"The question now is why is the Attorney-General's office in a hurry to execute them?" lawyer Adnan Wirawan said.

"Are they under the pressure of the Australian community to execute the three bombers right away?"

'Security tightened'
The Antara newsagency has reported that security had been tightened around Nusakambangan Island in preparation for the executions.

According to the report, the head of Nusakambangan's Batu Correctional Institute, Sudijanto, issued a circular on 11 August prohibiting local fishermen from the waters around the island, citing security reasons.

Related stories:
Bali executions will inspire martyrs: expert -- 25 February 2008
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

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Australia defends selective appeals for life

The Australian government has again opened itself up to accusations of double standards over the death penalty, with the confirmation it would only consistently oppose the execution of Australian citizens.

Foreign affairs minister Stephen Smith said this week he would raise the cases of three Australians on death row in Indonesia but not the three convicted Bali bombers.

Australian newspapers reported that Cabinet recently discussed whether the government could argue more effectively -- and avoid accusations of hypocrisy in Asia -- if it opposed all executions (stories here and here).

"I'm not going to indicate what may or may not have been discussed at Cabinet, but our position is quite straightforward. We don't support the use of capital punishment," Smith reportedly told Australia's Nine Network.

"When an Australian overseas has been convicted and is subject to capital punishment as a sentence, we make representations on behalf of Australian citizens.

"When it comes to other individuals who aren't Australian citizens, we'll make a judgment on a case-by-case basis as to whether it's appropriate to make representations or to join in representations at a regional or multilateral level."

The report said Smith pointed to Australia's recent involvement in international appeals for Iran to stop executing children.

"But the Prime Minister and I have both made clear that we don't propose to make representations on behalf of terrorists who have been subject to the death penalty," he said.

"So I won't be making any individual representations so far as the Bali bombers are concerned."

New Zealand's Prime Minister Helen Clark said at a media conference on 21 July that her government did not support the execution of the bombers.

"The New Zealand Government does not support the death penalty under any circumstances," she said.

"Clearly these men are guilty of heinous crimes and those crimes, in any jurisdiction, would justify them [getting] very serious penalties available under law but the New Zealand Government will not and does not support the death penalty."

Government silence
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said last October, when he was opposition leader, that he would only speak out against the execution of Australians overseas.

Rudd humiliated his opposition colleague Robert McClelland, now commonwealth attorney-general, scolding him for public remarks that Australia should consistently oppose executions.

"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," Rudd said at the time.

Drawing a line -- against comment
The language used by Rudd in October 2007 and Smith this week refers to no "diplomatic resources" or "individual representations" being devoted to appeals in terrorist cases.

The policy appears to mean that ministers will not draw any public link between the government's policy of "opposition" to the death penalty and the execution of a non-Australian.

In practice, it is therefore likely that the Australian government will take no consistent public position on the execution of foreigners, apart from some exceptions determined on "a case-by-case basis".

Although there have been claims a Rudd government would push for abolition of the death penalty through multilateral forums, there has so far been no public sign that the new government is doing anything new at the international level.

Amnesty International Australia has argued over several years that the country undermined its credibility in opposing the death penalty if it only took a stand when Australian lives were at stake.

Principally hypocritical
The new Labor government's position on the death penalty is similar to the policy of the previous conservative government -- with one important difference.

Under former Prime Minister John Howard, the Liberal-National government claimed it opposed the death penalty "consistently" and "in principle", but it only made representations when Australian citizens faced death.

However this inconsistency was further undermined when Howard and senior government ministers repeatedly indicated their support for particular executions being carried out.

Related stories:
'Only Australians' should be spared execution -- 06 January, 2008
No Australian government will oppose terrorist executions -- 10 October, 2007
Australia: Rudd would oppose death penalty -- 24 June, 2007
Australia 'should act against death penalty' -- 03 August, 2006

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Asia death penalty in decline: Researcher

An expert in the use of the death penalty across Asia has said that "in the long run" it will probably disappear in the region, in line with trends in the rest of the world.

Professor David Johnson from the University of Hawai'i told the Associated Press there had been dramatic declines in the number of executions in Asia, and he expected a trend towards abolition as the death penalty became increasingly seen as a human rights issue.

"I think in the long run, probably the death penalty is going to disappear in Asia as it seems to be doing in many parts of the rest of the world," he said.

He pointed to reductions in the number of executions in China and Singapore, two leading executing states, and Pakistan's proposal to commute the death sentences of about 6,000 prisoners.

The death penalty was being viewed more as a human rights issue, rather than an issue of criminal justice, which tended to undermine public confidence in it as a form of punishment.

Professor Johnson said "the frame that regards the death penalty as a human rights issue has become more conspicuous and salient in Asia than it was in the past".

"And when you frame the death penalty as a human rights issue instead of a crime issue, you invite anxiety and concern and resistance to the death penalty because, after all, it's a state killing," he said.

While the death penalty was strongest in authoritarian states, even there its use was in decline.

"The most dramatic execution decreases occurred in the rapidly developing democracies of South Korea and Taiwan, but declines have also occurred in nations such as India and Malaysia," he said.

"When development and plural democracy take root in Asia, the decline of the death penalty usually comes sooner rather than later."

A book on the death penalty in Asia, co-written by Professor Johnson, will be published later this year.

He was visiting Australia this month to speak on the death penalty at Griffith University and the Australian National University.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Indonesia: More to die for drugs

Indonesian officials have again flagged a surge in drug executions, with comments suggesting up to 39 prisoners would be executed before the end of 2009.

The remarks raise concerns of an increase in executions generally, with seven shot for drugs and murder in the past six weeks, and preparations underway for execution of the three Bali bombers.

According to a report by Reuters, Bonaventura Daulat Nainggolan, a spokesman for the attorney general, said last week the executions would be carried out this year and in 2009.

"The president has rejected clemency for 39 people, so the next stage for them is execution," said head of the national police drugs unit Indradi Thanos.

The seven recent executions in Indonesia include two Nigerian men shot on 26 June for heroin trafficking.

Coordinating for death
Attorney-General Hendarman Supandji said in late July that his office would speed up the execution of the 57 drug offenders on death row.

The National Police Chief and Chairman of the National Anti-Narcotic Body (BNN) said at the time his agency was "coordinating closely with the Attorney General`s Office as the agency responsible for carrying out executions".

"To give them a lesson, drug traffickers must be executed immediately," General Sutanto told a function for the International Day against Drugs Abuse and Trafficking.

Related stories:

Indonesia: Seventh execution in six weeks -- 11 August, 2008
Indonesia: Record number executed in four weeks -- 20 July, 2008
Indonesia: Drug offenders executed, more to come -- 29 June, 2008
Executions in Indonesia since 1995 -- 26 September, 2006

Monday, 11 August 2008

Indonesia: Seventh execution in six weeks

The Indonesian Government has executed another convicted murderer, the seventh person shot by firing squad in about six weeks.

Rio Alek Bulo was shot dead by a 12-man firing squad shortly after midnight last Friday morning (8 August), according to an AFP report quoted by the Antara newsagency.

The report said the execution was confirmed by senior prosecutor Abdul Hakim Ritonga.

"His last request to meet his wife and children were fulfilled," Ritonga was quoted as saying.

Bulo had been dubbed "Hammer" by newspapers, after he killed four people with a hammer while stealing their cars.

He was convicted of the murders in 2001, and in 2005 he reportedly killed a fellow prisoner.

Five of the seven latest executions in Indonesia were for murder and two for drug trafficking.

Indonesia executed four convicted murderers on three nights in late July 2008.

Related stories:
Indonesia: Record number executed in four weeks -- 20 July, 2008
Indonesia: Drug offenders executed, more to come -- 29 June, 2008
Executions in Indonesia since 1995 -- 26 September, 2006

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Public executions in China's Olympic crackdown

China's security crackdown ahead of the Beijing Olympic Games included the public execution of three men last month in the western Xinjiang province.

The Washington Post reported that the local government took "several thousand" students and office workers by bus to a public square shortly after dawn on 9 July.

Three prisoners were brought out and shot dead by an execution squad, witnessed by the crowd lined up in front of a vocational school.

The three were part of a group of 17 convicted of being members of the separatist East Turkestan Islamic Movement, which has fought for independence for the region's Muslim Uighur people.

Officials reportedly announced during the execution that they were captured in January 2007 in a raid on a terrorist training camp, in which 18 other members of the group were killed.

The others captured in the raid received sentences from 10 years to life.

According to The Washington Post, the executions "went down poorly".

"It was not a good thing, what the Chinese did," said a Uighur witness on condition of anonymity.

The executions were a clear message of control in the region ahead of the Olympics, as well as a public demonstration of the harsh consequences for those with alleged links to terrorist groups.

Chinese authorities have claimed several times in recent months to have foiled terrorist plots aimed at disrupting the Olympics.

But apart from the photographs released showing this week's alleged attack in Xinjiang, the government has provided little evidence to back up the allegations of a series of planned attacks.

Related stories:
China’s deadly world record under attack -- 27 February, 2008