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.