Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Thailand warns citizens not to visit Myanmar amid protests over death sentence on 2 migrants

Source: Straits Times (27 December 2015)

The authorities in the areas bordering Thailand and Myanmar on Saturday (Dec 26) warned Thai nationals not to visit Myanmar at this time, as thousands of people held protests across the border after a Thai court's death sentence verdict against two Myanmar migrants last week.

Peaceful protests were held in the Tachilek and Taungoo border towns in Myanmar on Saturday. And some 60 people continued with their protests for a third day outside the Thai Embassy in Yangon on the same day.

In Tachilek town, across Chiang Rai's Mae Sai district, some 2,000 people gathered at a local stadium about 2km from the border area.

They protested against the Samui Provincial Court's ruling last Thursday that handed down death penalties on Myanmar men Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun for the 2014 murders of British tourists David Miller and Hannah Witheridge.

Protest leaders submitted a letter to the Thai border authorities, who accepted it on behalf of the Thai government. The letter called for a fair and just trial.

Thai authorities temporarily closed the border checkpoint for safety reasons. The protesters dispersed peacefully later yesterday. The border checkpoint was reopened shortly afterwards.

At Taungoo town, about 400 Myanmar people protested against the court ruling. Some of the protesters were Myanmar migrant workers from the Thai side of the border.

The protest was peaceful, and they dispersed at about 4pm.

The local authorities in Kanchanaburi's Sangkhla Buri district, which is across the border from the Myanmar town, urged Thai tourists in Myanmar to return home urgently and advised those about to cross the border to delay their visit.

About 60 protesters gathered yesterday outside the Thai Embassy in Yangon, which was closed for the weekend. The demonstration was peaceful and security officials were sent to monitor the situation, according to Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Sek Wannamethee.

Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai said yesterday that he did not think the protests in Myanmar would worsen and sour ties between the two countries.

He said the Thai government was aware of the protesters' demands. "But we have to let the justice process to take its course anyway. That's an international standard of practice. The Thai court system is acceptable," he said.

The two Myanmar convicts were yesterday transferred from a jail on Koh Samui to the Nakhon Si Thammarat prison. They were moved early on Saturday morning to a maximum-security prison that is intended for convicts sentenced to life imprisonment or the death penalty.

Meanwhile, the Thai Journalists' Association (TJA) yesterday issued a statement in response to an earlier statement by the Myanmar Journalists' Association about the court verdict.

The TJA said it agreed with the MJA that as journalists, "our responsibility is to seek truth and justice".

The statement said: "We see the utmost importance of seeking truth and justice, especially in such a controversial case like the tragedy on Koh Tao. The Thai media has already engaged in investigative reporting on this case throughout the judicial process."

Pressure from Myanmar has also come from the National League for Democracy (NLD), which won the recent general elections.

The party issued a statement urging the Myanmar government to give necessary assistance in filing an appeal on behalf of the Koh Tao convicts.

The NLD also welcomed the protest against the court decision outside the Thai Embassy in a way that would not tarnish the country's dignity, Eleven Myanmar reported on Saturday.

Monday, 21 December 2015

HRW urges Pak to restore death penalty moratorium

Source: The Siasat Daily (17 December 2015)

New York: Pakistan's government should immediately halt executions, reinstate the moratorium on the death penalty, and move toward abolition, Human Rights Watch said today in a joint letter with Amnesty International to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

In the year since the country's six-year moratorium on executions was lifted, Pakistan has carried out more than 300 executions. Those executed include child offenders, defendants who received blatantly unfair trials, and, most recently, individuals tried in secret by military courts with no civilian oversight.

"Over the past year with the moratorium lifted, the Pakistani government has sent hundreds to the gallows with cruel disregard for the rights of those put to death," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

"The government urgently needs to find a better way to address militancy and common crime since the death penalty has long shown to be ineffective in tackling these challenges," he added.

On December 17, 2014, Sharif rescinded an unofficial moratorium on capital punishment following a militant attack on a school in Peshawar the previous day that killed at least 149 people, including 132 children. The authorities should bring the perpetrators of this horrific attack to justice in fair trials, but without resorting to the death penalty.

Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as an inherently cruel punishment. (ANI)

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Japan executes first man convicted by citizen judges

Source: The Guardian (18 December 2015)

Japan on Friday carried out the first execution of a man who had been convicted by lay judges, as part of a pair of hangings that were condemned by human rights groups.

The two executions bring to 14 the total number of death sentences carried out since Shinzo Abe became prime minister three years ago.

Japanese media quoted a justice ministry official as saying that Sumitoshi Tsuda had been hanged for killing three people in May 2009. Tsuda, 63, was the first inmate to be executed following a conviction by a new system introduced in 2009to give citizen jurors a role in sentencing, along with a panel of judges.

Campaigners described the executions as “a cruel form of punishment”.

Roseann Rife, East Asia research director at Amnesty International, said: “The Japanese authorities’ willingness to put people to death is chilling and must end now before more lives are lost. The death penalty is not justice or an answer to tackling crime, it is a cruel form of punishment that flies in the face of respect for life.

“Japan should immediately introduce an official moratorium on executions as a first step towards abolition of the death penalty.”

Some campaigners hoped lay judges would be more reluctant to convict defendants accused of crimes that carry the death penalty - particularly those who claim they were forced to confess - but the number of accused to have been sentenced to death under the system now stands at 26.

The justice minister, Mitsuhide Iwaki, told reporters that the lay judges had arrived at a “very grave” judgement after lengthy deliberations.

The second hanged man, Kazuyuki Wakabayashi, 39, had been convicted of the murder of a 52-year-old woman and her daughter in 2006. He was sentenced to death by judges.

Japan has resisted international pressure to abolish the death penalty, notably from the UN and the European Union. Public support for capital punishment has remained strong since Aum Supreme Truth, a doomsday cult, killed 13 people and injured thousands of others in a sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995.

Japan and the US are the only two advanced industrial nations that retain the death penalty. Last year, only 22 countries carried out executions, and as of November this year, 140 countries had abolished capital punishment in law or in practice, according to Amnesty.

“Japan’s continued use of the death penalty makes it stand out for all the wrong reasons – across the world, and increasingly also in the East Asia region,” Rife said.

Japan’s “secret” executions have been condemned as particularly cruel. Typically, prisoners are kept in solitary confinement for years and given only a few hours’ notice before being led to the gallows. Their families and lawyers are usually notified about the execution only after it has taken place.

Amnesty said that several prisoners with mental and intellectual disabilities are known to have been executed or remain on death row.

Doubts have also been raised over the safety of death penalty convictions in Japan. Iwao Hakamada, who had spent more than 45 years on death row, was freed last year after a court ordered a retrial in his murder case, amid suggestions that police investigators fabricated evidence against him.

Before Friday’s executions Japan had 128 inmates on death row, local media said.

Monday, 14 December 2015

The inevitability of error

Source: Malay Mail Online (12 December 2015)

OPINION, Dec 12 — Many have forgotten the wrongful conviction of S. Karthigesu who was charged, tried and convicted for the murder of Jean Perera Sinnappa which took place in 1979. Karthigesu was the only suspect.

The murder trial took 38 days. The main prosecution witness was Bhandulananda Jayatilake. He testified that he witnessed Karthigesu exclaimed that Jean “did not deserve to live”. The trial Judge regarded these words as an incriminating outburst. No evidence was ever found to directly identify the killer. The murder weapon was also never discovered despite the police best efforts.

Karthigesu was given a mandatory death sentence by the trial Judge. He appealed to the Federal Court against his conviction and death sentence. Four days after Karthigesu’s conviction, Jayatilake who was the main prosecution witness came forward. He confessed that he had lied. He did not witness the alleged incriminating outburst implicating Karthigesu.

According to the judgment of the Court, he had been asked to lie in order to secure Karthigesu’s conviction.

The Federal Court set aside Karthigesu’s conviction and mandatory death sentence. Jayatilake was then convicted of perjury and was sent to prison for 10 years.

After having been on the death row for more than two years, Karthigesu was freed. He was indeed very lucky. Many others before and after him may have not been so lucky. Karthigesu was a victim of a miscarriage of justice.

The critical lesson from Jean’s case is that the legal system was unable to uncover the witness’ dishonesty. The trial Judge believed the perjured evidence given by Jayatilake.

Our criminal justice system is clearly not perfect and is susceptible to errors. Errors can be deliberate as well as unintentional. Even an honest witness can be mistaken.

Capital punishment has no place in a society that values and respects human lives. Article 5(1) of our Federal Constitution specifically mandates the Government to protect the citizens’ right to life.

The recent announcement by the government through its de facto law minister, Honourable Nancy Shukri that the government will be tabling an amendment to the law to abolish mandatory death sentence in relation to drugs offences is a move in the right direction.

The decision by the government to abolish the mandatory death sentence for drugs offences is a clear recognition that the mandatory death regime does not act as a deterrent.

A startling revelation was made by Tun Hanif Omar, the former Inspector-General of Police, about the introduction of the mandatory death sentence for drugs offences at a recent seminar on 17 November 2015 which was attended by Members of Parliament from both sides of the political divide.

According to Tun Hanif, the government’s decision in 1983 to impose the mandatory death sentence for drugs offences was made after a conversation between former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and the then Attorney-General Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman regarding the disparity in the imposition of the death sentence for drug offences.

Tun Mahathir was told that two High Court judges had openly declared that they would not impose the death sentence for drug related offences.

The government then decided to standardise the inconsistent punishments and “experimented” with the introduction of the mandatory death sentence regime for drug offences.

If this is the case, the mandatory death sentence appears to have been introduced arbitrarily and without any empirical evidence that would support the belief that it would reduce the commission of drug offences.

This “experiment” failed miserably. In March 2012, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, who was then the home minister, admitted in Parliament that the introduction of the mandatory death sentence in 1983 had not reduced drug-related offences.

He said that the drug trafficking arrests had in fact increased. He revealed that there were 2,999 arrests for drug trafficking offences in 2009 and these arrests went up to 3,845 in 2011. This failed “experiment” clearly points to one conclusion — a mandatory death sentence is not an effective deterrent for drug offences.

Malaysia is one of 13 countries in the world that still retains the mandatory death sentence. We currently have 10 offences with mandatory death sentences in force. The effect of a mandatory death sentence is that upon a guilty verdict, the only punishment available to be meted out is death.

The problem with a mandatory death sentence is that the Judge does not have any discretion to take into account the individual circumstances of the convicted person.

The judge is prevented from taking into account any aggravating and/or mitigating factors available to the convicted person when deciding on the suitable punishment to be meted out against the convicted person.

This limitation means that the sentence of death is arbitrary since it does not take into account the varying degrees or types of culpability.

International law states that the mandatory death sentence is contrary to the right to life of each individual as it is arbitrary and has also been deemed to be disproportionate thus violating the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

The government has a positive obligation to protect life as mandated by our Federal Constitution.

Under international law a judge should be given the discretion to mete out the appropriate sentence in capital punishment cases.

Many courts in the Commonwealth including, India, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Uganda have declared the mandatory death penalty as unconstitutional.

The often quoted reason for not abolishing the mandatory death sentence is the notion that the public demands such a harsh punishment.

A public opinion survey was carried out in Malaysia in 2013 by Roger Hood, Professor Emeritus of Criminology at the University of Oxford.

The survey results showed that there was very little public support for the law which requires that a mandatory death penalty should be imposed on all persons convicted for murder, trafficking of drugs and for certain non-fatal firearms offences.

We are in fact ready for change. With the support of the Malaysian public, the Government must now act to abolish the mandatory death sentence for all crimes.

Ultimately, the government should work towards progressively abolishing capital punishment for all offences.

We should not wait to admit to the imperfection of our criminal justice system. There is always a risk that we may become the victim of a miscarriage of justice ourselves.

By then, it would be too late. The truth is that you can only protect your own life in this world by protecting the lives of others.

*Abdul Rashid Ismail is the immediate past president of the National Human Rights Society (HAKAM).

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Mongolia praised by UN for abolishing death penalty

Source:  The China Post (10 December 2015)

ULAN BATOR, Mongolia -- The United Nations' top human rights official praised Mongolia Wednesday for abolishing the death penalty, after the sparsely populated Asian country approved a new criminal code eliminating executions.

The measure was passed by the State Great Hural, Mongolia's parliament, last week, after extended debate.

Justice Minister Khishigdemberel Temuujin told the official news agency Montsame that the law was "long anticipated," adding: "There is no significant increase of crimes where countries have no death penalty."

Mongolia's President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj is an abolitionist and halted executions after he came to power in 2010, using his presidential authority to commute condemned prisoners' sentences.

"This development is very encouraging and a clear example of positive progress in the fight for human rights for all ― including people convicted of terrible crimes," U.N. rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said in a statement welcoming the abolition.

"We must not allow even the most atrocious acts to strip us of our fundamental humanity," he added.
The move made Mongolia the 105th country to abolish the death penalty in law, the statement said. Another 60 states either have moratoriums in place or have not executed anyone in the last 10 years.

Mongolia has not carried out an execution since 2008, according to rights group Amnesty International, whose East Asia research director Roseann Rife said: "The death penalty is becoming a thing of the past across the world."

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Vietnam passes law abolishing death penalty for 7 crimes

Source: Herald & Review (27 Nov 2015)

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) ― Death sentences imposed on corrupt Vietnamese officials will now be commuted to life in prison if they pay back at least 75 percent of the illegal money they made.

The online newspaper VnExpress said the new regulation was part of the revised Penal Code that an overwhelmingly majority passed in the National Assembly on Friday.

Under the revision, which takes effect July 1, 2016, the country also will abolish the death penalty for seven crimes: surrendering to the enemy, opposing order, destruction of projects of national security importance, robbery, drug possession, drug appropriation, and the production and trade of fake food.

The revised law will also spare the lives of those who are 75 years old or older.

The ruling Communist Party has made fighting corruption one of its top priorities.

However, some lawmakers had voiced opposition to the changes when they were debated in the assembly in June, arguing that they would weaken the fight against corruption.

"This would create a loophole for corrupt officials to use money to trade for their life," state media quoted deputy Do Ngoc Nien as saying at the time.

International human rights groups and some Western countries have been urging Vietnam to abolish its death penalty.

受 Avast 保护的无病毒计算机已发送该电子邮件。

Mongolia: Historic vote abolishes death penalty

Source: Amnesty International (4 December 2015)

Mongolia's parliament became the latest to consign the death penalty to the history books, in a major victory for human rights in the country, said Amnesty International today.

On Thursday, lawmakers voted in favour of a new Criminal Code that abolishes the death penalty for all crimes. The new Criminal Code will take effect from September 2016, and would bring the total number of countries to have completely abandoned this ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment to 102.

"Mongolia's historic decision to abolish the death penalty is a great victory for human rights. The death penalty is becoming a thing of the past across the world," said Roseann Rife, East Asia Research Director at Amnesty International.

"Mongolia has set an example which we hope will quickly ripple across Asia. The countries that continue to execute have been shown a clear path to follow to end this cruel and inhumane punishment."

Three countries - Fiji, Madagascar and Suriname - have already abolished the death penalty this year.

The last execution in Mongolia was in 2008 and the death penalty remained classified as a state secret. Since then, the country has taken a series of steps towards abolition culminating in yesterday's historic parliamentary vote.

In 2010, the country's President, Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, commuted all death sentences and announced a moratorium on all executions. In 2012, Mongolia ratified an international treaty committing the country to the abolition of the death penalty.

President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj has repeatedly said Mongolia must turn its back on the death penalty in order to fully respect the right to life. He argued that the threat of executions does not have a deterrent effect and the risk of a miscarriage of justice is inherent in any system of justice.

"President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj exposed the fallacy of the death penalty. The political leadership shown in abolishing the death penalty in Mongolia needs to be repeated elsewhere in Asia. Countries that continue to execute are on the wrong side of history," said Roseann Rife.

A minority of countries continue to use the death penalty, in ways that are completely contrary to international law and standards. Earlier this year, Indonesia resumed executions amidst worldwide criticism, while Pakistan has executed at least 300 people since it lifted a moratorium on executions in December 2014. In East Asia, China, Japan, North Korea, and Taiwan have all carried out executions in 2015.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime; guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the individual; or the method used by the state to carry out the execution.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Rights Groups Fight for Singapore Murder Reversal

Source: Asia Sentinel (24 Nov 2015)

Human rights organizations in Singapore are working feverishly to try to save the life of a convicted murderer who was given a rare stay of execution only to have the prosecution appeal the decision and demand that the death penalty be reinstated.

In 2009, Kho Jabing, a 31-year-old Malaysian national from Sarawak, and a co-defendant were charged with murder after they beat a Chinese construction worker to death with a tree branch in a robbery. Soon arrested, they were convicted of murder, then punishable by hanging under Singapore's mandatory death penalty law.

The case is unique not only because stays of execution are rare in Singapore but because the stay appears to have been reversed – so far. But the city-state has been cutting back on executions since the decade of the 1990s, when it was determined by the United Nations to maintain the second highest execution rate in the world after Turkmenistan, estimated at 13.83 executions annually per 100,000 of population. Turkmenistan has since abolished capital punishment, along with 140 other nations.

However, Singapore staged only one execution in 2014 and two so far this year. The last execution was in April, for intentional murder.

After Singapore reviewed its laws in 2012 and allowed judges discretion in sentencing for unintentional murder, the High Court resentenced Kho to life in prison and 24 strokes of the cane, a horrifyingly brutal punishment in itself. However, the prosecution appealed. (Unlike many western nations, Singapore gives the prosecution the right to appeal a court decision.)

At Kho's resentencing, the five-judge Court of Appeal unanimously established that the death penalty should be imposed if the murder he committed exhibited "…viciousness or a blatant disregard for human life."

However, according to an analysis of the case by Amnesty International, "although all five Supreme Court judges agreed that there was not enough evidence available in Kho's case to allow for a precise reconstruction of the murder, they failed to agree whether it was possible to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the murder was particularly vicious."

Disabled Pakistani man's execution delayed for fourth time

Source: Gulf News (25 Nov 2015)

Islamabad: A disabled Pakistani murder convict was given a fourth stay of execution late Tuesday just hours before he was due to be hanged, as rights activists slammed Islamabad for a executions spree on track to see 300 deaths in under a year.

Abdul Basit, a paraplegic who was convicted of murder in 2009, was scheduled to be hung early Wednesday. His execution has already been harrowingly postponed several times after rights groups raised concerns about how a wheelchair-bound man would mount the scaffold.

The presidency issued a statement late Tuesday saying the execution had been delayed for two months while President Mamnoon Hussain ordered an inquiry into Abdul Basit's medical condition.

The statement said the president had vowed that "human rights will be upheld".

"We are very happy to hear the TV news that (the) president of Pakistan has stayed the execution," Abdul Basit's mother Nusrat Parveen said in response to the last minute delay.

"We also got confirmation from a jail staff," she said, adding that the family hoped the stay would be extended beyond two months.

Earlier, Abdul Basit's sister Asma Mazhar had issued a plea to the president to spare her brother. She said she had gone with her mother to see him on Tuesday for what they had believed was the last time, and found him "helpless and quiet".

She said he told them that authorities had come to measure his body and that it was an "awful moment".

Pakistan has executed 299 people since the death penalty was controversially reinstated following a Taliban mass killing at a school in Peshawar last December, according to Amnesty International.

"Pakistan will imminently have executed 300 people since it lifted a moratorium on executions, shamefully sealing its place among the world's worst executioners," it said in a statement.

Forty-five people were executed in October alone, Amnesty said, making it the deadliest month since the moratorium was lifted.

No official figures are available. The rights group Reprieve said on Tuesday that by its tally the number of executions has just passed 300, while other local activists said the figure was below 260.

"Pakistan's ongoing zeal for executions is an affront to human rights and the global trend against the death penalty," David Griffiths, Amnesty's South Asia research director, said in a statement.

"Even if the authorities stay the execution of Abdul Basit, a man with paraplegia, Pakistan is still executing people at a rate of almost one a day."

Pakistan ended a six-year moratorium on the death penalty last year as part of a terror crackdown after Taliban militants gunned down more than 150 people, most of them children, at an army-run school in the restive northwest.

The massacre shocked and outraged a country already scarred by nearly a decade of extremist attacks. Hangings were initially reinstated only for those convicted of terrorism, but in March they were extended to all capital offences.

Supporters argue that executions are the only effective way to deal with the scourge of militancy in the country.

But critics say the legal system is unjust, with rampant police torture and poor representation for victims during unfair trials, while the majority of those who are hanged are not convicted of terror charges.

There is no evidence the "relentless" executions have done anything to counter extremism in the country, Griffiths said in the Amnesty statement.

Recent research by the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies also suggests that death is no deterrent for militants who are "committed to dying for their cause".

The Amnesty figures suggest Pakistan is on track to become one of the world's top executioners in 2015.

In 2014 607 people were put to death in 22 countries, according to Amnesty, though that figure does not include China, where the number of executions is believed to be in the hundreds but is considered by authorities to be a state secret.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Jakarta won't execute convicts - for now

Source: The Strait Times (21 Nov 2015)

The Indonesian government has suspended the executions of convicts on death row to focus on improving economic growth, a senior government aide said.

Growth was 4.73 per cent in the third quarter of this year, far below the level that President Joko Widodo says is needed to boost job growth and investment.

"The priority is on economic development. Executions are not a priority," said Mr Atmadji Sumarkidjo, an aide and spokesman for top security minister Luhut Pandjaitan.

"The brouhaha from death executions would distract the government, which wants to focus on the economy," he told The Straits Times on Thursday.

"Although it is the right of every nation to carry out death penalties, responding to the brouhaha would be tiring."

Separately, Mr Luhut said the death penalty issue was raised when he met Australian government representatives in Sydney earlier this week, The Jakarta Post reported on Thursday.

Australia had promised not to interfere in Indonesia's stance on the death penalty, he added.

"I have told them that we are concentrating on the economy. We will have further discussions if something comes up," he said.

Foreign countries and human rights groups have criticised Indonesia for carrying out the death penalty. The Indonesian administration executed two groups of death row convicts, totalling 14 people, in January and April.

Australian drug smugglers Andrew Chan and Myuran Su-kumaran were executed in April, causing tension between the two countries.

The Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, a Jakarta-based human rights group, said it appreciated the decision to suspend executions and urged the government to grant clemency for people on death row.

Bill to abolish death penalty for drug offences on the cards, says law minister

Source: The Malaysian Insider (17 November 2015)

Putrajaya plans to table a bill in March next year to abolish the mandatory death penalty in drug-related offences, de facto law minister Nancy Shukri said today.

She said this would allow judges to use their discretion to choose between sentencing a person to jail and the gallows in non-criminal cases, such as drug-related offences.

"What we are looking at is the abolishment of the mandatory death sentence. It is not easy to amend and we are working on it," she told a press conference after a roundtable discussion on the abolishment of the mandatory death penalty in Parliament today.

"We can get rid of the word 'mandatory' to allow judges to use their discretion in drug-related offences."

She said Attorney-General Tan Sri Mohamed Apandi Ali was supportive of the move, adding the latter's interview with The Malaysian Insider, in which he had thrown support for the abolishment of the mandatory death sentence.

Apandi said, in the report published last Friday, that he would propose to the Cabinet that the mandatory death penalty be scrapped, adding that it was a "paradox", as it robbed judges of their discretion to impose sentences on convicted criminals.

"If I had my way, I would introduce the option for the judge in cases where it involves capital punishment. Give the option to the judge either to hang him or send him to prison.

"Then we're working towards a good administration of criminal justice," Apandi told The Malaysian Insider.

He said that this would be in line with the "universal thinking" of capital punishment, although he denied calling for the death penalty to be abolished altogether.

"Not to say that I am for absolute abolition of capital punishment, but at least we go in stages. We take step by step."

A mandatory death sentence is imposed in Malaysia in cases involving murder, certain firearm offences, drug-trafficking and treason.

Statistics from the Prisons Department showed 1.022 prisoners on death row as of October 6 and from 1998 until now, 33 convicts had been executed and 127 have had their death sentences reversed to lighter punishments. – November 17, 2015.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Indonesia suspends executions of death row convicts

Source: Jakarta Post (19 November 2015)

The government has suspended executions of convicts on death row amid the current economic slowdown, Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut Panjaitan said on Thursday.

He said the government was focusing on improving economic growth, which accelerated at a slow pace of 4.73 percent in the third quarter of this year.

“We are not thinking about carrying out death sentences as long as our economy is still like this,” he said as quoted by

Luhut said the issue of the death penalty in Indonesia was raised when he met with Australian government representatives in Sydney earlier this week.

Australia had promised not to interfere in Indonesia’s stance on the death penalty, he added.

“I have told them that we [Indonesia] are concentrating on the economy. We will have further discussions if something comes up,” he said.

Foreign countries and human rights groups have slammed Indonesia for implementing the death sentence against convicts, as stipulated in the Criminal Code (KUHP).

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s administration executed two groups of death row convicts, totaling 14 people, in January and April.

Two of the convicts were Australian drug smugglers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, who were executed in April, causing tension between the two countries and leading to Australia recalling its ambassador from Indonesia.

Jakarta-based human rights group the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR) said it appreciated the move and urged the government to grant clemency for people on death row so their fate would be clear.

“Clemency for convicts on death row would prevent them having the death row phenomenon that often happens during a postponement of [carrying out] death sentences, which is usually evident in a mentally disturbed state,” ICJR senior researcher Anggara said on Thursday.

He also said a moratorium on the death penalty must be followed by real action, such as the Attorney General’s Office refraining from demanding the death penalty for defendants. (rin)

Monday, 16 November 2015

Abolishing the mandatory death penalty a welcome step

Source: Malaysiakini (16 November 2015)

Amnesty International Malaysia welcomes attorney-general Apandi Ali’s intended proposal to the cabinet to scrap the mandatory death penalty as it signals progress in one area of human rights in the country - the right to life.

“In light of this development, we call on the Malaysian government to impose an immediate official moratorium on the use of the death penalty until Cabinet reviews this proposal and laws which carry the death sentence can be reviewed and changed,” AI Malaysia executive director Shamini Darshni said in a statement.

“Half of over 1,000 people on death row in Malaysian prisons are awaiting results of appeals or clemency, thus as the government studies the AG’s proposal, these individuals need to know that they will not yet meet the noose. So it goes for any new case which carries the death penalty,” she added.

However, abolishing the mandatory death penalty, though welcomed, must be considered a first step towards total abolition, she said.

“Through our work globally, we have seen the death penalty - mandatory or discretionary - imposed on those below 18, people with mental health issues, the poor and minority groups. There is also a sore lack of proof that the death penalty is able to reduce crime rates or prevent new criminals from emerging.”

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty at all times, regardless of who is accused, the crime, guilt or innocence or method of execution. Most countries which practice executions have unfair legal systems and commonly justify its use as a crime-control measure. The application of the death penalty is discriminatory and in some countries used as a tool to punish political opponents.

Amnesty International has been working to end executions since 1977, when only 16 countries had abolished the death penalty in law or practice. Today, the number has risen to 140 - almost two-thirds of countries around the world.

“In many countries, including Malaysia, people on death row are imprisoned for many years in solitary confinement before an execution, causing severe mental torture not just to an inmate, but to their families who are innocent of any crime,” she said.

“For almost 40 years, Amnesty International has worked to see this cruel and inhumane punishment abolished worldwide. As the years pass, anti-death penalty advocates have become more successful. Now, there are only some 30 countries that retain the death penalty in their law books, including Malaysia.”

Malaysia uses the mandatory death penalty for drug offences, murder, treason and certain firearms offences.

In May, Prisons Department director-general Zulkifli Omar reported some 1,043 prisoners are on death row and that 46 percent of those awaiting their execution were convicted for drug offences.

Not meeting ‘most serious crimes’ threshold

Hundreds of executions are carried out worldwide annually for drug-related offences despite the fact that such offences do not meet the threshold of the ‘most serious crimes’ to which the use of the death penalty must be restricted under international law.

“The death penalty is a blatant denial of human rights. Sentencing someone to death denies them the right to life as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is irreversible and mistakes have happened. As long as the death penalty remains, the risk of executing an innocent person will never be eliminated,” she said.

AI Malaysia is currently running campaigns on Kho Jabing, a Malaysian on death row in Singapore; and Shahrul Izani Suparman, local man who has maintained his innocence of a drug trafficking charge for 12 years.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Pakistan moves towards death penalty for child sex abuse

Source: Asiaone (4 November 2015)

Islamabad - Pakistan has taken a step towards punishing the sexual abuse of girls with life imprisonment or even death after an influential parliamentary committee voted to amend current laws.

The National Assembly's standing committee approved the proposal by lawmaker Shaista Perveiz Malik on Tuesday, according to a statement on parliament's website.

"After detailed discussions, the committee unanimously passed the bill," it said.

The amendment only appears to address the sexual abuse of girls aged under 14, not boys.

Under the existing penal code, the punishment for rape ranges from a minimum of ten years' incarceration to the death penalty, but it does not specify the victim's age or gender.

The bill will now come before lawmakers in both parliamentary chambers, who are set to pass it into law.

Malik told the committee the state should protect vulnerable women and children.

In a report, independent child rights watchdog Sahil said that last year almost 10 children were sexually abused in Pakistan every day on average.

Parliamentary records show that some 14,583 rape cases were registered in Pakistan between 2009-2014, while only 1,041 offenders were convicted.

Pakistan ended a six-year moratorium on the death penalty last year, at first just for terror-related charges but later for offences including murder, drug smuggling, blasphemy and treason.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

A little light administrative duty for Sri Lanka's new hangmen

Source: Straits Times (14 October 2015)

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka said on Wednesday (Oct 14) it has hired two new executioners to replace the previous hangman, who quit soon after seeing the gallows for the first time, even though capital punishment has not been carried out there for almost 40 years.

No one has been executed in the tropical South Asian nation since 1976 and the role of executioner is described as "light administrative work only", even though there are 1,116 convicts on death row.

"It doesn't matter whether the government wants to execute or not," said Prisons Commissioner General Rohana Pushpakumara. "In the event the government wants to carry out executions, we should be prepared," he told Reuters.

Death sentences have been routinely commuted to life in jail since 1976, even though Sri Lanka only officially acknowledged last month it was no longer carrying out capital punishment.

More than half of those who are on death row have lodged appeals against their sentences, Pushpakumara said.

The predominantly Buddhist Indian Ocean nation has witnessed a sharp rise in child abuse, rape, murder and drug trafficking since the end of a 26-year civil war with Tamil Tiger separatists in 2009, political analysts have said.

That has prompted some lawyers and politicians to call for the reinstatement of the death penalty.

The position of executioner fell vacant in March 2014 when the previous hangman quit weeks after he was hired, citing stress, soon after he saw the gallows in the capital, Colombo, for the first time.

Two other hangmen hired in 2013 failed to show up for work.

Indonesia: Report reveals endemic judicial flaws in death penalty cases

Source: Amnesty International (15 October 2015)

Death row prisoners in Indonesia are routinely denied access to lawyers and are coerced into “confessions” through severe beatings, while foreign nationals facing the death penalty had to deal with a judicial system they hardly understand, Amnesty International said in a new report today.

Flawed Justice exposes how the government under President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has made a mockery of international law by carrying out 14 executions since taking office, while the lives of scores more prisoners now on death row could be at risk.

“Indonesia’s callous U-turn on executions has already led to the death of 14 people, despite clear evidence of flagrant fair trial violations. The government might claim to be following international law to the letter, but our investigation shows the reality on the ground is very different with endemic flaws in the justice system,” said Josef Benedict, Amnesty International’s South East Asia Campaigns Director.

“The death penalty is always a human rights violation, but the numerous and serious issues with regards to how it is being applied in Indonesia makes its use all the more tragic. Authorities must end this senseless killing once and for all and immediately review all death penalty cases with a view to their commutation.”

Despite strong signs that Indonesia had moved away from the death penalty in recent years, the government of President Widodo - which took office in October 2014 - has scaled up executions significantly.

Of the 14 people who have been sent before the firing squad in 2015, 12 were foreigners and all were convicted on drugs charges. The government has vowed to use the death penalty to tackle a national “drugs emergency”, despite there being no evidence that the threat of execution can work as more of a deterrent to crime than a prison sentence. President Widodo has also said he will reject all clemency petitions of death row prisoners on drug charges.

Amnesty International’s investigation into 12 individual death row cases reveals emblematic flaws in the Indonesian justice system, which raises serious questions about the country’s use of the death penalty.

Forced confession

In half of the cases, death row prisoners claimed that they had been coerced into “confessing” to their crimes, including through severe beatings at the hands of police officers in detention. Many claim to have been tortured or ill-treated, yet Indonesian authorities have never followed up to investigate these allegations.

A Pakistani national, Zulfiqar Ali. claims that police kept him in a house for three days after his arrest, where he was kicked, punched and threatened with death until he eventually signed a “confession”. The beating left him in such a bad state that he had to go through kidney and stomach surgery.

Despite Zulfiqar Ali detailing the torture he had endured during his trial, the judge allowed his “confession” to be used as evidence and there was no independent investigation conducted into his allegations.

The findings in Flawed Justice echo those of other national and international human rights organizations, who have found evidence of systematic and widespread torture or other ill-treatment by the Indonesian police with impunity.

Denied access to lawyer

Indonesian death row prisoners are routinely denied access to lawyers, despite this right being guaranteed in both Indonesian and international law.

Many of the prisoners mentioned in the report and charged with capital crimes are forced to wait several weeks or even months before seeing a lawyer, seriously undermining their ability to make their case in court.

There are also serious doubts about the quality of legal representation afforded to those facing drugs charges. In one recent case, the only advice a defendant received from his lawyer was to answer “Yes” to any questions from the investigator. In another case a death sentence was handed down due to a request by defendant’s own lawyer to the judges.

In none of the 12 cases examined in Flawed Justice were prisoners brought before a judge immediately after arrest as required by international law and standards – most had to wait several months before this happened.

Foreign nationals

Twelve out of the 14 people executed in Indonesian in 2015 were foreign nationals, and at least 35 other foreigners are currently on death row in the country.

But Amnesty International’s findings show that in numerous instances Indonesia violates the rights of foreign death row prisoners by denying them interpretation during or before trial, making them sign documents in a language they don’t understand, or refusing access to consular services.

Additionally in 2015, Indonesia put to death one man suffering from a severe mental disability in violation of international law. Brazilian Rodrigo Gularte had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.


Given the serious flaws in Indonesia’s justice system, Amnesty International urges authorities to immediately establish an independent body to review all cases where people have been sentenced to death, with a view to commuting the death sentences.

Indonesia must also reform its Criminal Code to match international standards and ensure that all prisoners’ right to a fair trial is respected.

“President Joko Widodo has promised to improve human rights in Indonesia, but putting more than a dozen people before a firing squad shows how hollow these commitments are,” said Josef Benedict.

“Indonesia should set an example on human rights regionally. It is time to take this responsibility seriously - a first step must be to impose a moratorium on executions.”


Twenty-seven people were executed between 1999 and 2014, under Indonesia's first four democratic-era presidents. No executions were carried out between 2009 and 2012.

According to figures obtained from the Law and Human Rights Ministry on 30 April 2015, there were at least 121 people death row. These include 54 people convicted of drug-related crimes, two convicted on terrorism charges and 65 convicted of murder.

As of today, 140 countries are abolitionist in law or practice. Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases and under any circumstances, regardless of the nature of the crime, the characteristics of the offender, or the method used by the state to carry out the execution. The organization considers the death penalty a violation of the right to life as recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Death row inmates treated cruelly: AI

Source: The Jakarta Post (16 October 2015)

Prior to being executed, death row inmates in Indonesia often receive inhumane treatment as they are routinely denied access to lawyers and are coerced into "confessions" through severe beatings, a new report by Amnesty International has found. 

The report, launched on Thursday in Jakarta, painted a disturbing picture of what death row convicts go through before being executed as the government has scaled up executions significantly.

"It is not a report we wanted to issue but developments in Indonesia this year forced our hand. President Joko ["Jokowi"] Widodo took office on the back of promises to prioritize human rights. But what we have seen is the government taking a hugely regressive step back on the death penalty," said Amnesty International Southeast Asia campaigns director Josef Benedict.

Benedict said the Indonesian government had made a mockery of international law by carrying out 14 executions since Jokowi took office.

"The death penalty is always a human rights violation, but the numerous and serious issues with regard to how it is being applied in Indonesia makes its use all the more tragic," Benedict said. 

The report looked into 12 individual death-row cases (out of a total of 131 as of December 2014).

"In half of the cases, prisoners claimed that they had been, in some form or another, forced into signing so-called confessions by the authorities while in detention. These often involve violence and claims of torture," said Benedict. 

However, the Indonesian authorities have never followed up or investigated these allegations, according to him. "For example, a Pakistani national, who was highlighted in the report, claimed he was badly beaten by police for three days straight, until he was forced to confess. He had to go through stomach and kidney surgery after the beating," he said. 

Despite this his confession was used in court and his claims of torture were never investigated. 

"In some cases, prisoners have been denied access to lawyers, some for a few days, others for several months. Even when provided with lawyers, there is serious doubt about the quality [of the lawyers provided]. In one extreme case, one defense lawyer even argued for the death penalty to be imposed on his client, even though the prosecution was calling for life imprisonment," said Benedict. 

He was referring to the case of Yusman Telaumbanua from Riau, who was arrested together with another man in 2012 for the murder of three men. Based on their lawyers' request, the North Nias district court in North Sumatra eventually sentenced them to death.

Yusman did not appeal the sentence as he was not told by his lawyer that he had the right to do so. 

Many of the prisoners mentioned in the report and charged with capital crimes have also been forced to wait several weeks or even months before seeing a lawyer, seriously undermining their ability to make their case in court.

Amnesty International's findings show that in numerous instances Indonesia has violated the rights of foreign death-row prisoners by denying them access to interpreters during or before trial, leading to them sign documents in a language they did not understand, or being refused access to consular services.

"For instance there is Brazilian Rodrigo Gularte. When he was arrested in 2005, he could only speak limited English. He only speaks Portuguese. Therefore, his interpreter was not capable of making Rodrigo understand the questions asked of him," Gularte's lawyer, Putri Kanesia, said on Thursday. 

Furthermore, the court decided to ignore the fact that Rodrigo had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, which under international law should have spared him from the death penalty. Rodrigo, along with seven other convicts, was executed by a firing squad on Nusakambangan prison island near Cilacap in Central Java in April this year. 

Despite more than 100 people still on death row, the Attorney General's Office (AGO), in charge of putting people to death, has shown no signs of preparing for a new round of executions. 

"We hope that there is some rethinking going on in the government," Benedict said. 

UN experts slam execution of minors in Iran

Source: (16 October 2015)

United Nations human rights experts expressed "outrage and profound sadness" Friday at Iran's execution of two juvenile offenders, urging the country to "stop killing children."

Fatemeh Salbehi was hanged on Tuesday after being found guilty for killing a man she had been forced to marry when she was just 16, becoming the 11th woman to be executed in Iran this year, along with around 700 men.

The UN experts pointed to reported flaws in her trial and appeals process, and warned her execution was a clear breach of international law banning condemning juvenile offenders to death.

They also decried the execution a week earlier of Samad Zahabi, who was sentenced to death in March 2013 for killing a fellow shepherd when he was just 17.

"No notice was provided to Mr. Zahabi's family, nor was the required 48-hour notice provided to his lawyer," the experts said in a statement.

Ahmed Shaheed, the UN's top expert on the rights situation in Iran, said the two executions were "disturbing examples of surging execution rates and questionable fair trial standards in the Islamic Republic of Iran."

The UN expert on summary executions, Christof Heyns, meanwhile slammed the executions as "unlawful killings committed by the State, the equivalent of murders performed by individuals."

"These are profound tragedies that demean the value of human life and sully the reputation of the country," he said, pointing out that "executing a juvenile offender, especially after a questionable trial, directly contravenes the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child." "Iran must immediately stop killing children," he insisted.

Dubravka Simonovic, the expert UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, highlighted the court's lack of consideration for the circumstances surrounding Salbehi's crime, which she said were "emblematic of the struggles victims of domestic abuse face in the judicial system."

"We cannot ignore the serious consequences of psychological, sexual and physical violence in the home on a woman's physical and psychological health," she said.

Highlighting Salbehi's young age at the time of her marriage and her lack of consent, Simonovic voiced concern over the high numbers of early and forced marriages in Iran.

The three experts called on Tehran to immediately establish a moratorium on executions and work towards abolishing the death penalty all together.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

The Final Firing Squad in Southeast Asia

Source: (2 October 2015)

In her seven years as an anti-death penalty activist, Rachel Zeng had never seen a judge sentence a prisoner to death, and when it finally happened, last April in Singapore, she felt like her heart might break. "You shall be hanged by the neck until you are dead," the judge told the 26-year-old murder convict. Zeng couldn't sleep for days, seeing the "noose already halfway on his neck."

It might sound like business as usual in Southeast Asia, a region with a sorry track record in human rights, and Zeng might come off as a quixotic figure, trying to dismantle the gallows in a country that still bans chewing gum. But it turns out, perhaps surprisingly, that the tiny Asian tigers are now strong contenders in quashing the eye-for-an-eye doctrine for good. Over the past decade, Cambodia, East Timor and the Philippines have all scrapped their firing squads from their statutes. Brunei, Myanmar and Laos have discarded their electric chairs and are de facto abolitionists — no known executions have occurred in those countries for more than two decades. Thailand has an unofficial moratorium in place and hasn't carried out an execution since 2009. All told, just 119 people have been executed across Southeast Asia over the past eight years, according to an OZY analysis of data from Cornell Law School, compared to hundreds more in previous decades.

Now, only Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia remain the last battlegrounds in nixing the death penalty altogether in the region — and already, abolitionists have made inroads. In particular, the tide is turning in Vietnam, where, last month, lawmakers cut back on handing out death penalty sentences for several offenses, including robbery and war crimes, and the longtime practice of death by firing squad was switched to the "more humane" lethal injection method. Singapore and Malaysia have also adopted reductionist policies to shrink their number of executions, especially for drug trafficking. All of this is "unexpectedly promising" for the region as a whole, says Andrew Novak, an adjunct professor of criminology, law, and society at George Mason University. The justice ministries in Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia did not respond to OZY's requests for interviews or comment.

The trend is not without its detractors, of course. There remains strong support for capital punishment in the region, including for crimes other than murder. Last year, a director of the Vietnam Development Bank was sentenced to death for approving counterfeit loans. The maximum punishment for drug possession in Malaysia is death, as inbound passengers are helpfully reminded on their descent into Kuala Lumpur. And the ravages that drug trafficking, a $16.3 billion business, has inflicted on families throughout the Golden Triangle have buttressed support for the death penalty. "My cousin died for nothing, for a bag of yaba [methamphetamines], for addicts who'll never know the consequences of their addiction," says Terrapon H., a Bangkok university student who says his cousin died in a drive-by shooting. He requested his last name be withheld.

Yet a global shift away from capital punishment has made a regional impression, says Matilda Bogner from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in Bangkok. According to Amnesty International, 2014 saw 22 percent fewer executions than 2013, and more than half of all countries have abolished the death penalty. And back in April, Indonesia's eight high-profile executions put Southeast Asia back on the radar for anti-death penalty advocates and human rights lawyers worldwide. So despite hard-liner Jakarta, the abolitionist movement didn't fail. Rather, it "reenergized" and "inflamed" the campaign, says Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division.

However, some activists say they still have a long trail ahead. Indonesia and Singapore are especially hard nuts to crack, says Priscilla Chia, the 23-year-old director of youth-led Second Chances in Southeast Asia. There's a "lacuna of information available" from these countries about the legal process, the application of the death sentence and the exact means in which the execution is carried out. In Singapore, she explains, the only people allowed at each execution are the warden, the executioner and the doctor. Who knows what goes on behind those closed curtains?

Justice denied: Japanese prisoner dies after 46 years on death row

Source: Amnesty International (4 October 2015)

The death in prison of a Japanese man who spent more than 46 years facing execution, after a conviction based on a forced "confession", underlines the urgent need for a review of all similar cases, Amnesty International said today.

Okunishi Masaru passed away at Hachioji Medical Prison on Sunday, aged 89. He maintained his innocence and was determined to seek a retrial. Eight previous requests for a retrial were rejected. He was moved to the medical prison from Nagoya Detention Centre in 2012 after his health deteriorated.

"Okunishi Masaru may not have gone to the gallows, but Japan's justice system totally failed him. It is outrageous he was denied the retrial his case unquestionably merited and instead was left to languish on death row for more than 46 years," said Hiroka Shoji, East Asia Researcher at Amnesty International.

"It is too late for Okunishi Masaru but others remain on death row convicted primarily on the basis of forced "confessions". The Japanese authorities must urgently review their cases to ensure that time does not run out for them to see justice."

Okunishi Masaru had been on death row since 1969, after being convicted of the murders of five women. He "confessed" to the crime after being interrogated by police for many hours over five days and with no lawyer present.

During his first trial he retracted his "confession" and was acquitted due to lack of evidence. However, a higher court reversed the verdict and sentenced him to death.

For more than four decades, he lived in constant fear that each day could be his last. Death row inmates in Japan are only informed hours ahead of their execution, which takes place in secret. Like most prisoners facing execution, he spent nearly all his time locked up in solitary confinement.

One of the most pressing cases that demands a retrial is that of Hakamada Iwao, 79, who also spent more than four decades on death row. In March 2014, a court ordered his immediate release and a retrial. However, prosecutors immediately appealed the court decision to grant a retrial and a decision is pending.

"Prosecutors should allow Hakamada's retrial to proceed before it is too late. By further delaying his quest for justice, prosecutors are only adding to the decades of psychological torture Hakamada and his family have endured," said Hiroka Shoji.

Following an unfair trial, Hakamada was convicted of the murder of his boss, his boss's wife and their two children. Hakamada "confessed" after 20 days of interrogation by police. He retracted the "confession" during the trial and told the court that the police had beaten and threatened him.

According to Hakamada' s lawyers, recent forensic tests results show no match between Hakamada's DNA and samples taken from clothing the prosecution alleges were worn by the murderer. One of the three judges who convicted Hakamada in 1966 has publicly stated he believes him to be innocent.

Hakamada developed a mental disability as a result of the decades he has spent in isolation.

The Japanese justice system continues to rely heavily on "confessions" obtained through torture or other ill-treatment. There are no clear limits on the length of interrogations, which are not fully recorded and which lawyers are not permitted to attend.

Twelve people have been executed since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office in December 2012. The number of death row inmates, at 128, is at one of the highest levels in Japan in over half a century. Amnesty International has called on the Japanese government to introduce a moratorium on executions as a first step towards abolition of the death penalty, and for reforms of Japan's justice system in line with international standards.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime, guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the individual or the method used by the state to carry out the execution. The death penalty violates the right to life and is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

China prisoners on death row to get free legal aid

Source: Asia One (16 September 2015)

Convicted criminals on death row will be entitled to free legal representation under a new rule drafted by the Ministry of Justice, a ministry source told China Daily.

The ministry will assign lawyers to condemned prisoners who cannot afford one during the review of their sentences to ensure equal access to justice, according to the source.

The source said officials from the ministry and the high court are "finalizing some detailed implementation measures and the rule will be released in the next few months".

The source asked not to be identified because she was not authorised to discuss the draft plan with the media.

Under Chinese law, all death sentences must be reviewed by the Supreme People's Court before defendants can be executed. Currently, defendants who cannot afford to hire lawyers are not guaranteed representation during a death penalty review.

Che Xingyi, a lawyer at Beijing's Yingke Law Firm, which specializes in representing clients in death penalty cases, said the top court conducts reviews based on files from local courts and lawyers' previous defence statements.

This method has limitations and is not sufficient to ensure justice, Che said.

It is "more than necessary" to offer legal aid during a review of a death sentence, he said. "If the lawyers discover flaws in sentencing criteria or new evidence, they will fully defend the suspects and communicate with the judges quickly to stop imminent execution."

China does not reveal the number of prisoners on death row.

However, last year, Chinese lawyers provided free legal aid to nearly 40,000 suspects facing life imprisonment or the death penalty, a year-on-year increase of 7 per cent, according to the ministry.

The new rule follows a recent meeting of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, which stressed the importance of legal aid and was attended by the country's top leaders.

Paul Dalton, team leader for the China-EU Access to Justice Program, which was created to strengthen equality of justice in China especially among disadvantaged groups, recommended that Chinese judicial authorities be cautious when imposing the death penalty.

The top court would better protect prisoners' rights by holding public hearings during a death penalty review, Dalton said.

This would enable judges to listen to defence arguments by defendants and their lawyers instead of just reading the files.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Death Penalty or Right To Life?

Source: The Sunday Leader (27 September 2015)

With the increasing number of murders, sexual offences and drug smuggling in the nation, President Maithripala Sirisena recently spoke of re-introducing the capital punishment with the approval of parliament in a bid to eradicate these crimes.

Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe said the government was willing to implement the death penalty if it was necessary to avert the increasing trend in serious crimes in the nation and stressed the need to expedite investigations and punish offenders.

"We will try our best to prevent the increasing trend in crime and we will take steps to combat it also by implementing capital punishment," he said.

At present, there are over 1,115 inmates sentenced to death for murders and drugs smuggling detained at the Bogambara, Mahara and Welikada Prisons in Sri Lanka. The Department of Prisons confirmed that the prisoner who was sentenced to death recently was imprisoned about a month back.

He also said that most of the prisoners who were sentenced to death were murderers, adding that there are 40,000 high court cases, and therefore it is hard to keep a count on how many of them are given death sentences as sometimes it seems that almost every day the judges around the country give the verdict of death for serious crimes if the suspect is proven guilty with strong evidence. There was one even last week, he added.

However, the oldest inmate who was sentenced to death due to the commitment of murder is 84-year-old while the first prisoner on the death row has been there for the last 18 years since 1997, with the government spending Rs. 300 every day including food and clothing for the inmates.

However, the expenses of water and electricity used by them were not included in the said Rs. 300, claimed the Commissioner of Prisons (Operations) H. M. N. C.  Dhanasinghe.

There are around 600 inmates on whom the re-appealing of the cases has been cancelled due to the nature of their crimes and 400 prisoners have re-appealed against their verdicts. In the meantime, the hearings of the re-appealed cases in courts are pending and the final verdict will decide on whether to reduce the period of life in prison or to cancel the appeal depending on the judge's decision.

Commissioner of Prisons (Operations) confirmed that approximately five female and over 1,000 male inmates were sentenced to death in Sri Lanka, adding that the department awaits the President's decision to carry out the executions.

If an individual is arrested with more than four grams of drugs in his or her possession and if proven guilty, that person will be sentenced to death depending on the strong evidences.

Meanwhile, the department had already received around 15 applications for the post of hangman and the interviews of the applications will be held within three weeks.

However, responding to the questions by The Sunday Leader, the Commissioner of Prisons said that the death penalty does not apply to the criminals who commit sexual offences unless they commit murder following the abuse, but will be sentenced for 10-20 years in prison.

Meanwhile, the Director for Human Rights Watch's South Asia Meenakshi Ganguly said, "Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty because it is inherently inhumane," adding that the death sentence as a punishment should be totally abolished.

She went on to say that Sri Lanka should not engage in what might appear to be a populist idea in the country. "Surely, the government knows that there is no clear evidence that the capital punishment serves as an effective deterrence for serious crimes. Therefore the criminal justice system should be strengthened which will be more effective to prevent serious crimes in the country," she said.

She further noted that the death penalty is incompatible with human rights and human dignity.

The death penalty violates the right to life which happens to be the most basic of all human rights. It also violates the right not to be subjected to torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment. Furthermore, the death penalty emasculates human dignity which is natural to every human being.

In the meantime, many human rights activists claim that there is a risk of executing innocent people in the justice system. There have been several, and always will be, cases of executions of innocent people. "Even we have experienced one in the recent past. No matter how developed a justice system is, it will always remain vulnerable to human failure. Unlike prison sentences, the death penalty is irreversible and irreparable," they said.

They also claimed that the death penalty can be used in a disproportional manner against the poor, minorities and members of racial, ethnic, political and religious groups.

As the General Assembly of the United Nations recently stated that there is no conclusive evidence of the deterrent value of the death penalty (UNGA Resolution 65/206), it is significant to note that the implementation of the capital punishment in order to eradicate serious crimes in many countries is at stake as the increasing number of crimes are still on the rise.

Just because the public request the government to take away the life of a human being does not mean that it is always the right way of eradicating the crimes in future whereas it is the duty of the justice system and the judiciary officers to emphasize the unsuitability of capital punishment with human rights and human dignity, claims the human rights activists adding that it should be abolished.

Nimalka Fernando, a lawyer and a human rights activist in Sri Lanka, says that she is alarmed that our leaders are taking decisions of this nature with scant disregard to the international standards and human rights law.

"At least I expected the Yahapalanaya (Good Governance) leaders to have a better sense and wisdom when taking decisions" she added.

She went on to say that she is concerned that the President is not receiving proper guidance from the advisors and hopes the international experts around him will tell him that introducing death penalty is a violation of basic fundamental human rights. "You cannot remove the life of a person to bring justice to another. The present norm is life imprisonment and not death penalty," she said.

"It looks as if the Sri Lankan experts have to be exposed to the international standards. They have remained under Mahinda Rajapaksa so much that they cannot think straight now", she further said.

It is noteworthy, that the request from the public for the capital punishment in the country indicates the desire to be free from crime. Nevertheless, there exist more effective ways to prevent crimes, claim the Human Rights activists.