Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Japan may execute before year ends

There are fears Japan may carry out more executions after the current session of parliament is due to end on 25 December.

The country doesn't usually execute while parliament is in session, raising concerns of a spate of hangings each time the Japanese parliament (Diet) goes into recess.

Japan has executed fifteen people so far in 2008, the highest rate in more than thirty years.

The last executions were carried out in October, when two convicted murderers were sent to the gallows by new justice minister Eisuke Mori, who had only been in the job a matter of weeks.

Next in line?
Amnesty International (AI) is concerned Makino Tadashi may be among those hanged before the end of the year.

Makino Tadashi has been at serious risk of execution since 30 September, when his latest appeal for clemency was rejected.

He was sentenced to death in 1990 for murdering a woman and injuring two others, after previously serving 16 and a half years in prison for a murder and robbery committed when he was 19 years old.

According to AI appeals, his lawyers argued unsuccessfully during his trial in 1994 that "he lacked adequate mental capacity and could not be responsible for his crimes".

A series of appeals and legal challenges have all been rejected.

Increasing toll
There has been a rapid increase in executions in Japan since December 2006, with 28 people hanged in two years.

Japan executed four prisoners, including two men over seventy years of age, on 25 December 2006, Christmas Day.

Activists and lawyers had earlier expressed concern that the government would resume executions after the final parliamentary session for the year.

Executions in Japan are usually carried out in secret, and prisoners are only given a few hours notice they are about to die.

According to AI, "this means they must spend their entire time on death row fearing they could be taken for execution at any time".

The organisation said their families "typically receive no notice at all".

Urging action
AI is encouraging people to write letters of appeal to Minister of Justice Eisuke Mori urging him not to execute Tadashi Makino, and calling on him to end the secrecy surrounding the death penalty and order an immediate moratorium on the death penalty.

Appeal letters should be sent to:

MORI Eisuke
Minister of Justice
1-1-1 Kasumigaseki
Chiyoda-kuTokyo 100-8977, Japan
Fax: +81 3 3592 7088
+81 3 5511 7200 (via Public Information & Foreign Liaison Office)

Salutation: Dear Minister

Related stories:
Japan: Record toll with new hangings -- 28 October 2008
Japan: New minister faces next hanging -- 14 October 2008
Japan: New minister sends three to death -- 12 September 2008
Executions in Japan -- 2006 - 2008 -- 12 April 2008
Japan: Minister steps up rate of hangings -- 12 April 2008
Long wait, sudden death in Japan -- 28 August 2006

Friday, 12 December 2008

China: Executions to preserve order, control

[Please note: long post]

China concluded three prominent capital cases with the execution of four defendants in late November.

They included:
* Wo Weihan, a medical scientist convicted of spying and shot in Beijing on the morning of 28 November
* Yang Jia, who was executed on 26 November following his conviction for the murder of six police officers
* Wang Zhendong, who ran a financial scam involving non-existent ant farms, also executed on 26 November.

Scientist or spy?
Wo Weihan, 59, was convicted of spying for Taiwan in a trial condemned as unfair by his family and human rights groups.

His case attracted international attention after public appeals for his life from his daughters, the European Union and Austria. His wife and daughter were reportedly Austrian citizens.

Chinese media reported that his co-accused, 66 year-old missile expert Guo Wanjun, was executed on the same day. His case, however, did not generate international appeals.

Amnesty International (AI) issued several appeals urging Chinese authorities not to execute Wo Weihan and expressing concern he may not have received a fair trial, "particularly as he was not allowed prompt access to a lawyer".

In the days before the execution, AI said Wo Weihan should be pardoned rather than executed.

It said the charges against Wo Weihan included that he discussed the health of senior Chinese leaders, which was considered a state secret, and that he sent information from a "classified" magazine, which was actually available in the Chinese Academy of Sciences library.

"Available information suggests that Wo Weihan did not receive a fair trial according to international standards," said Sam Zarifi, the organisation's Asia Pacific Director.

"He was convicted of violating China's vaguely-defined state secrets law. China is entitled to prosecute people for spying but for him to be killed by the Chinese government is cruel and inhumane."

The organisation said his family claimed he confessed to the charges "in the absence of a lawyer and ... he later recanted his confession and claimed innocence, which raised doubts over his treatment in detention".

One of his daughters said her father did not receive a fair trial.

"The execution is not fair. The process was not transparent," she said.

"The evidence in the verdict was vague and circumstantial, and he was found guilty through a confession that was forced out of him and which he retracted later in court. We can only now appeal to stop any execution and keep my father alive."

His family was not officially informed of the execution and two of his daughters issued a statement afterwards saying they were "deeply shocked, saddened, disappointed and outraged".

"We, the family, were not allowed to say goodbye. We were also denied the most fundamental and universal right of information about what was happening with our father. Throughout these four years since our father's arrest, the family was kept in the dark."

Europeans condemn, Chinese defensive
Austrian foreign minister Ursula Plassnik condemned the "cold-hearted and inhuman approach taken by the Chinese judiciary” in the case, and extended her condolences to his family.

"The fact that the execution was abruptly carried out on the day of the human rights dialogue between the EU and China emphasizes the ruthlessness and coldness with which this case was handled," she said.

China was stung into defending the evidence against Wo and the conduct of his trial, issuing several statements in the week after the execution and publishing detailed allegations against him in state-run media.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Wo was convicted after a "just and fair trial" and Europen criticism was "a direct interference in China's judicial sovereignty".

According to Xinhua, Qin Gang said all citizens were equal before the law, and Wo could not be made an exception "simply because he has foreign relatives".

Mental illness claims over Yang Jia
Unemployed Shanghai man Yang Jia, 28, was executed on 26 November for killing six police officers with a knife in a 1 July attack on Shanghai's Zhabei district police station.

He was convicted of premeditated murder after a closed trial and sentenced to death on 1 September by Shanghai No. 2 Intermediate People's Court.

The Shanghai Higher People's Court rejected his appeal against the death sentence on 20 October.

The Supreme People's Court approved his death sentence on 21 November, five days before he was shot.

Some reports said he was taking revenge on police for beating him in custody in October 2007, after he was arrested for riding an unlicensed bicycle and accused of stealing it.

Chinese media reports referred to claims he had unsuccessfully sued police for "psychological distress" over his interrogation, but only international reports referred to the allegations of ill-treatment by police.

Yang's lawyers argued at his trial and appeal hearings that he was suffering from mental illness at the time of the attack, but the court ruled he was mentally competent at the time.

His case generated relatively widespread discussion within China, and conflicting reports from his father and local lawyers regarding his legal representation.

Ant scammer executed
Wang Zhendong, general manager of a fake scheme to breed ants, was executed for fraud on 26 November in Liaoning Province, northeast China.

Fifteen other company managers were jailed for between five and 10 years by the Yingkou Intermediate People's Court last February.

Xinhua reported that investors lost 3 billion yuan (417 million U.S. dollars) in the scam between 2002 and 2005.

The report said more than 10,000 joined the scheme to breed ants to make liquor, herbal remedies and aphrodisiacs, which Wang promised would earn returns of 35 to 60 per cent.

The AFP newsagency said some small investors lost their life savings in the racket.

"Fake investments and pyramid investment schemes have become common during China's transition from a planned economy to a free market," AFP said.

"Chinese leaders have tried to eradicate the scams, fearing widespread losses could add to already percolating social unrest."

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Pakistan's mixed signals on death penalty

Two human rights organisations have urged the government of Pakistan to suspend executions while it considers a proposal to commute all death sentences.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) asked the government to ensure no-one was executed while the constitutionality of the proposal was considered by the Supreme Court.

In an open letter to the prime minister of Pakistan, Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani, they "welcomed this initiative as a historical breakthrough in the fight against the death penalty" but expressed concern that prisoners could still be hanged while it was being examined.

On 21 June, the prime minister announced the government would recommend to president Pervez Musharraf that all current death sentences be commuted to life imprisonment.

The government tabled a written statement in the national assembly on 21 November confirming the Law Ministry was considering the proposal.

The government was also reportedly reviewing laws relating to various capital offences, including laws for anti-terrorism, rape and gang rape, to examine any amendments that could be made consistent with Islamic principles.

Amnesty International reported on 31 October that 15 people had been executed since the prime minister's June announcement.

Review, but expansion
Despite the June announcement and the review, the government of Pakistan has given mixed signals on the death penalty recently with the announcement that the scope of the death penalty would be expanded to include 'cyber-terrorism' offences.

President Asif Ali Zardari released a new ordinance on electronic crime in early November making 'cyber-terrorism' a capital offence.

According to an AFP report, the ordinance would provide that: "Whoever commits the offence of cyber-terrorism and causes death of any person shall be punishable with death or imprisonment for life."

The report said the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Ordinance, which had yet to be approved by parliament, covered crimes that used computers or other electronic devices to threaten national security.

It would apply to Pakistanis and foreigners living in the country and abroad.

The HRCP criticised the proposal, noting that "under customary international human rights law, the death penalty is accepted only in very rare circumstances -- including the most extreme nature of crime carried out with the use of lethal weapons".

It said the law would be seen as "an oppressive law unless the punishments are proportionate to the crime and do not involve the death penalty".

"The present legal system in Pakistan does not guarantee due process and therefore the imposition of the death would only add to the miscarriage of justice suffered by thousands of people executed by the State," the organisation said in a statement.

State of justice
The open letter, by HRCP chairperson Asma Jahangir and FIDH president Souhayr Belhassen said the Supreme Court had intervened to review the constitutionality of the proposal in light of the in light of the country's Qisas and Diyat Ordinance.

The organisations argued that the law relating to Qisas and Diyat in effect withdrew the state -- and therefore the rule of law -- from deciding the punishment for crimes such as manslaughter and murder.

Instead the victim’s heirs determined the punishment, including the consideration of any pardon or compensation.

"FIDH and HRCP have repeatedly asked for a profound reform of the Qisas and Diyat Law because it de facto amounts to a privatisation of justice, as the offences of physical injury, manslaughter and murder are no longer offences to the state, but are considered a dealing between two private parties," the letter said.

"The State withdraws from one of its main responsibilities, as it no longer is the guardian of the rule of law through the exercise of justice.

"In addition, under this law, pardoning a condemned prisoner in case of murder rests solely with the heirs of the victim, rather than with the President, contrary to Article 45 of the Constitution.

"Indeed, under this ordinance, passed as a law in 1997, the aggrieved party is given precedence to choose the penalty for the culprit. Under Islamic law, the punishment can either be in the form of qisas (equal or similar punishment for the crime committed) or diyat (compensation payable to the victim's legal heirs)."

Pakistan has one of the largest death row populations in the world, with about 7,000 people believed to be living under sentence of death.

World Day appeal
The HRCP issued a statement on the World Day Against Death Penalty (10 October) noting "that the systematic and generalized application of death penalty had not led to an improvement of the law and order in the country".

"It is ironic that while Pakistan has one of the highest rates of conviction to capital punishment in the world with around 7,000 convicts on the death row in Pakistan today, yet its law and order is alarmingly dismal," the organisation said.

On the contrary, "[t]he massive application of death penalty has not strengthened the situation of law and order in the country".

"The HRCP argued that the death penalty was discriminatory, unfair and utterly inefficient and must be abandoned in accordance with the international human rights law."

Related stories:
Will Pakistan's death row be emptied? -- 24 June 2008
Call for abolition: Pakistan columnist -- 17 October 2006
Pakistan: Thousands in "brutal" system -- 12 October 2006