Thursday, 28 May 2015

Pakistan court dismisses plea seeking death penalty abolition

Source: Webindia123 (27 May 2015)

Pakistan's Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed a petition seeking the abolition of death penalty, maintaining that life and liberty are not absolute under the constitution.

The petitioner, Barrister Zafarullah, had filed the petition seeking the abolition of the death penalty, arguing that the punishment was against fundamental rights in a country where the criminal justice system was ineffective, Dawn online reported.

A three-member bench of the apex court headed by Justice Saqib Nisar dismissed the petition, stating that right to life and liberty were not absolute in nature.

The court stated that the death penalty was provided for in the law, and the life of a person may be taken if done under provision of law.

The court dismissed the petition and recommended that the proper forum to seek a change in laws was the parliament of Pakistan.

There were no civilian hangings in Pakistan since 2008.

Only one person was executed during that time -- a soldier convicted by a court martial and hanged in November 2012.

The moratorium on the death penalty was lifted for those convicted of terrorism offences after the December 16 Taliban attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar that claimed the lives of over 140 students and staff.

In March early this year, the lifting of the moratorium was extended to cover all capital offences. Over 8,000 prisoners await execution in different jails across the country.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

The politics of china’s death penalty reform in the context of global abolitionism (Journal Article)

Author: Michelle Miao

British Journal of Criminology (2013) 53(3) 500-519


This paper explores the influences of worldwide anti-death penalty campaigns in the local institutional environment in China and its implications for China's capital punishment reforms in recent years. It found a 'concentric pattern' of the dissemination of human rights values and anti-death penalty activisms may explain the varying attitudes towards human rights and international activism among different social groups across the Chinese society. Divergent interests of and perceptions held by national-level and lower-level legal elites are likely to be one of the causes for China to adopt an incremental reformist stance. Further, this study shows that the Chinese legal elites were poorly informed of the current status of public opinion on capital punishment. A populist-sentiment driven administration of capital punishment is closely tied to reliance on capital punishment.

Is China Rethinking the Death Penalty? Proposed reforms could continue the trend of decreasing executions in China

Source: The Diplomat (26 Nov 2014)

In October, the long-awaited Fourth Plenum in China dedicated itself to fostering the "rule of law." Since then, there's been a wealth of analysis on the topic, including here at The Diplomat. But one area for potential reform went largely overlooked. Signs at the Fourth Plenum (and since) indicate that Chinese leaders are serious about combating something human rights activists have long decried: heavy use of the death penalty. 

According to the Dui Hua Foundation, China executed 2,400 people in 2013 – more than the rest of the world combined. However, according to Dui Hua's estimates, that figure also represents a 20 percent decline in executions since 2012 and a 75 percent drop since 2002. The Chinese government does not issue official statistics on the number of executions, so ironically the massive drop-off in execution rates has been kept fairly quiet. 

China reserves the death penalty for "extremely serious crimes," but as Gady Epstein of The Economist notes, China has historically had a fairly broad interpretation of what this means. Drug trafficking, financial crimes, and corruption can all be subject to capital punishment, particularly if the central government is encouraging a crackdown on crime. This led to massive amounts of executions through the 1980s and 1990s, with roughly 15,000 executions per year in the '90s. 

Epstein notes that the trend began reversing under the leadership of Xiao Yang, president of the Supreme People's Court (SPC) from 1998 to 2008. Xiao recognized that China's unbridled use of the death penalty was a black mark on the country's international reputation. He began a quiet campaign to cut down on the number of executions, championing an attitude of "kill fewer, kill cautiously." 

It was under Xiao that the SPC gained the power to review all death sentences. Dui Hua attributes a large part of the recent decline in executions to this change; according to their estimate, 39 percent of death sentences are sent back to lower courts for reinvestigation and resentencing. The SPC's power to review death penalty cases provides a rare check on the authority of lower courts and helps prevent egregious abuses of capital sentencing. 

But there's always more to be done, and Chinese leaders are still working on reforming the death penalty review system. An October 2014 Southern Weekend report revealed that the SPC may institutionalize legal representation in its review of death penalty cases. Analysis by Susan Finder of the Supreme People's Court Monitor says the idea is related to the general legal reforms mentioned at the Fourth Plenum, including the promise to "complete effective guards against unjust, false, and wrongfully decided cases." Currently, Finder notes, the death penalty review process is administrative; the proposed reforms would make such reviews a "hearing-centered procedure" where defense lawyers review cases and argue on behalf of their clients. The reforms even include some movement to provide legal aid to those who do not have their own defense lawyer, a crucial change as many people sentenced to be executed cannot afford legal representation. 

Changing the review process is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to death penalty reform. The Supreme People's Court Monitor also noted the China's death penalty came under discussion at a recent conference hosted by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and attended by SPC officials. Hu Yunteng, head of the SPC Research Office, said that reform is needed to the number of capital crimes as well as reducing judicial use of the death penalty. At the Third Plenum in 2013, the CCP promised to reduce the number of capital crimes "step by step." Currently the government is considering removing the death penalty as an option for nine crimes, including counterfeiting, certain kinds of smuggling, and "fraudulent fund-raising."

As noted above, one factor driving these reforms may be China's desire to remove a black mark from its international reputation. However, domestic opposition to the death penalty has also grown increasingly vocal. In April 2012, the SPC overturned the death sentence of Wu Ying, who had been convicted of fraud, after her sentence sparked outrage on Chinese social media outlets. Netizens were particularly upset about the harsh verdict against Wu given the perceived leniency shown to politically well-connected defendants accused of financial crimes. It should be noted, however, that Chinese netizens can be equally vocal about certain criminals not being sentenced to death, particularly when the accused are rich and politically well-connected. 

Another source for popular outrage are stories of cases where the falsely accused were executed after questionable investigations. In a sign of progress on this front, Caixin reports that a 1996 murder case in Inner Mongolia will be reheard. The case in question ended in the conviction and execution of an 18-year-old man named Qoysiletu for rape and murder. In 2005, however, another man confessed to a series of rapes and murder, including the 1996 case. Official reviews suggested that the original trial of Qoysiletu was based on sparse evidence, with most of the evidence centering on a transcribed confession that may have been doctored. After nearly a decade of pleading from Qoysiletu's family, a new trial will be held. The court is expected to officially overturn the guilty verdict against Qoysiletu – cold comfort to a family who lost their son. 

Given the finality of the death penalty, it's of the utmost importance that China institute reforms to ensure all convictions are solid and all sentences are justified. The use of capital punishment in China isn't going anywhere (in fact, it's being put to new purpose to punish convicted terrorists), making it all the more crucial for China's justice system to reform how the death penalty is applied and reviewed.

China Rethinks the Death Penalty

Source: The New York Times (8 July 2014)

Last month, China's Supreme People's Court overturned the death sentence of a woman who brutally killed and dismembered her husband. The landmark decision to send the high-profile case back to a provincial court was yet another sign that the country's embrace of the death penalty is loosening.

China is believed to execute more people each year than the rest of the world combined, and 43-year-old Li Yan initially seemed a likely candidate for death row. In 2010, she beat her husband to death with an air gun, chopped him into pieces and boiled his body parts. But police photos and a medical report backed up Ms. Li's claims that her husband had abused her — stubbing out cigarettes on her body, banging her head against the wall and threatening her with the air gun. The Supreme Court determined, rightly, that these circumstances justified a retrial. 

China is putting the brakes on the death penalty. According to Liu Renwen, a legal scholar at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, between 2007 and 2011 the annual number of executions in China fell by half. Many violent offenders are now given so-called suspended death sentences, which are invariably downgraded later to life in prison. Such restraint has drawn broad public support.

How does a country that harvests and allegedly sells the organs of executed prisoners begin to lean toward more humane alternatives to the death penalty?

Like most of the world, China allowed the death penalty for much of its history, along with an array of other harsh punishments that included at various times servitude, tattooing and castration. But beginning in the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.), Confucian scholars emphasized a humanitarian approach to justice. The purpose of punishment, they argued, was to morally rehabilitate offenders and restore social harmony, not to secure revenge.

One crucial precept was chuli ruxing — that only when gentler means fail should punishment be used. While brutal executions certainly occurred, for centuries emperors regularly intervened to issue acts of da she, or great mercy, by pardoning offenders entirely. Some went further. In the 8th century, Emperor Xuanzong briefly abolished the death penalty, making China one of the few feudal countries to do so.

By late imperial times, Chinese execution practices were moderate compared with those in Europe. During the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), imperial edicts suggest that China largely avoided the carnival-like killings then common in France, Germany and Britain. Public executions were solemn, orderly events, with guards discouraging rowdy spectators.

That changed drastically when Mao Zedong came to power in 1949. Using the death penalty as a political tool, he introduced bloody punitive campaigns in which suspects were rounded up en masse and summarily killed. From 1950 to 1953, during the campaign to suppress counterrevolutionaries, the regime executed more than 710,000 political foes. State-condoned killings spiked again during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), and later during the "strike hard" campaigns initiated under Deng Xiaoping.

Rather than turn away onlookers, Mao encouraged them. Ignoring the humanitarian threads in Chinese culture, he avowed in 1951 that executions often "assuage the people's anger." Leaders who followed him made similar arguments.

Today, executions in China more often stoke anger than quell it. A 2007-2008 survey of nearly 4,500 people in three provinces funded by the European Commission found that only 58 percent supported the death penalty — compared with nearly 60 percent in the United States. Perhaps most revealing, respondents to the survey were aware of the death penalty's uneven implementation. Sixty-nine percent believed, accurately, that poor offenders were more likely to be put to death than wealthy ones, while 60 percent thought that innocent people might be wrongfully convicted. Indeed, the Chinese press has been trumpeting wrongful convictions — such as that of a Henan Province man convicted of murder whose supposed victim turned up alive in 2010.

Other surveys suggest that support for the death penalty is higher among Chinese legal and political elites than the general public. Still, these groups have heeded calls from the people for change. Outcry over wrongful convictions has challenged the legitimacy of China's judiciary at the very moment that the country has been trying to project an image of having a more modern and just legal system.

Interviews conducted by criminologists suggest that international criticism has had an impact as well. In 1977, a mere 16 countries had abolished the death penalty; today 140 countries — over two-thirds of the world's nations — have done so in law or practice. Chinese legal scholars and judges are fully aware of their country's role as the outlier.

In 2006 a group of reform-minded justices began formally advocating moderation in punishment. Led by Xiao Yang, then the Supreme People's Court chief justice, they pushed the maxim "kill fewer, kill cautiously." The following year, the high court began reviewing all capital cases, creating a strong disincentive for lower courts to hand out death sentences. The substitution in many cases of suspended death sentences — which in practice means offenders spend about 25 years in prison — was the result.

The shift met resistance from hard-liners who warned of a spike in crime. But pandemonium did not ensue. Some criminologists now argue that the harsh campaigns of the past in fact sparked violent crime, by making criminals reluctant to leave witnesses behind.

Chinese police continue to carry out punitive campaigns. But arrests made during such operations no longer automatically mean death. Even Chen Jun, a migrant worker convicted in a prominent 2008 case of stabbing the Canadian model Diana O'Brien more than 20 times, was given a suspended death sentence. The stabbing happened a mere month before the Beijing Olympics, as the police were cracking down on crimes big and small. Interviews I conducted over the past year with former police investigators, Mr. Chen's family and Ms. O'Brien's mother reveal that, in his case, the authorities were eager to show restraint. Instead of retributive justice, his trial suggested an emphasis on reparation and societal harmony.

China's penal practices are far from enlightened. Even if Mr. Liu's assertion of halving executions is true, China still executes about 3,000 people a year, according to the Dui Hua Foundation, compared with 39 in the United States in 2013.

But even a preliminary drop in executions is encouraging, allowing people like Li Yan a real shot at justice. Chinese judges and policy makers should continue to heed public calls for restraint. Perhaps, with time, they might even return to China's benevolent roots. 

Mara Hvistendahl is a founding member of the writers' cooperative Deca and the author of "And The City Swallowed Them."

Australia: Adopt New Strategy to End Death Penalty Abroad

Source: Human Rights Watch (20 May 2015)

Following the executions of Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran in Indonesia, the Australian government should redouble efforts to end the death penalty around the world, and overhaul the way it campaigns for global abolition, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Human Rights Law Centre, Reprieve Australia, Australians Detained Abroad, NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Civil Liberties Australia, and Uniting Justice Australia have joined forces to launch a new Australian blueprint to end the death penalty.

The Australian government has condemned executions in Indonesia, but it could play a larger role opposing the death penalty globally. Australia abolished the death penalty in 2010, although the last execution took place in 1967.

"The time is ripe for Australia's foreign ministry to make public a new comprehensive policy to end the death penalty worldwide, with specific and achievable goals for individual countries," said Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch. "The strategy should include consistent public and private diplomatic pressure to end this cruel practice, showing how the death penalty has failed to deter crime and been unjustly applied."

The groups' blueprint for change, "Australian Government and the Death Penalty: A Way Forward" details four steps the government should take to build on the current momentum to end the death penalty:

1.       Develop a new Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade public strategy document aimed at ending the death penalty, everywhere;

2.       Use Australia's aid program to support civil society organizations campaigning for abolition in countries which retain the death penalty;

3.       Join forces with other nations to push for universal adoption of a global moratorium on the death penalty; and

4.       Put in place stronger legislation so the Australian Federal Police (AFP) is required by law not to share information with other law enforcement agencies that would potentially result in suspected perpetrators facing the death penalty.

The blueprint urges the Australian government to consult widely, including with the UK government, which already has a global strategy against the death penalty, as well as with advocacy groups in countries retaining the death penalty.

The organizations said if Australia wants its opposition to the death penalty globally to be credible, it is important that Australian laws consistently reflect that opposition. Following the arrests of the so-called Bali 9 in 2005, it emerged that the Australian Federal Police (AFP) passed on detailed information about the alleged plan to smuggle heroin from Bali, without seeking guarantees that the information would not be used by the authorities to eventually seek the death penalty against the perpetrators.

Emily Howie, director of advocacy and research at the Human Rights Law Centre, said: "If the Bali 9 case happened again tomorrow, nothing would prevent the AFP from acting in the same way. Parliament should amend the AFP Act to include sufficient safeguards to prevent police sharing information which could lead to the death penalty."

"Momentum is building globally for the abolition of the death penalty. In recent months, Australian people and the government have spoken out powerfully against executions," said Ursula Noye, vice president of Reprieve Australia. "The time is right for us to take a lead role, and build a regional coalition for abolition. We should make future generations proud."

"The recent executions of eight men in Indonesia, including Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, was an inhuman and unjust punishment and represents exactly why the Australian government must continue to speak out against the death penalty whenever it occurs," said Claire Mallinson, national director at Amnesty International Australia. "We must now ensure Australia's stance against the recent executions is reflected in all government policy. We are asking for change across the Australian Government – through diplomacy, our aid program, our federal law enforcement agencies." 

Comparative Executive Clemency The Prerogative of Mercy in the Commonwealth (New Book)

Author: Andrew Novak

Publisher: Routledge

Publication date: September 15th 2015


This book provides a comparative constitutional analysis of executive clemency, with a focus on death penalty cases.

In the Commonwealth today, legal frameworks and clemency proceedings differ markedly. In some countries, the decision is one for the executive alone, while others have delegated this power to an advisory committee. The role of legislatures varies as well: in some countries, legislative assemblies can appoint or approve members of a clemency or pardon board. Today, international tribunals recognize a human right to seek clemency, reprieve, or pardon, and forbid such executions while such a request is pending. In general, the trend is toward rationalization of the clemency process, involving more actors in decision-making and diluting the unchecked discretion of a single individual.

Focusing specifically on death penalty cases, as these are the most urgent, this book argues that improving the rationality and transparency of the clemency process will not only benefit executive decision-making, but will contribute to death penalty abolition in the long-term by increasing the structural costs of executions, a process well underway in India and the Caribbean. Comparative executive clemency has never been the subject of a full-length comparative constitutional analysis, and the breadth of jurisdictions contained in this book— encompassing the entire English-speaking world—provides a full range of cultural and political variations in the level of deference given to executive decision-making.

This book will be of great interest to scholars of international and comparative criminal justice and international human rights law.

Thinking Beyond Death Penalty Abolitionist Reform - Lessons from abroad and the options for China (Journal Article)

Author: Carolyn Hoyle & Michelle Miao

Source: China Legal Science (Zhongguo Faxue) 2014 March (2) 121-140


Since 2007, reforms to the administration of China's death penalty and cautious efforts towards restricting its application have inevitably reduced the number of death sentences and executions, though the numbers remain a state secret. Progressive restriction of capital punishment in China, as elsewhere within Asia, will inevitably result in increased use of imprisonment for life. This article examines the experiences of Western liberal democracies that have abolished or progressively restricted the death penalty in choosing alternatives to death. It focuses on two examples; the judicial evolution of whole life orders in the United Kingdom and the increasing recourse to life sentences without the possibility of parole (LWOP) in the United States. In drawing on these jurisdictions, as well as brief consideration of alternative penal structures and practices across Europe and South America, it poses and seeks to answer two questions: Is LWOP or whole life orders a fair and viable substitute for capital punishment in China? If not, what would be a socially, morally, and economically sustainable alternative to the death penalty?

At least 17 Australians jailed around the world could face death penalty

Source: The Guardian (30 April 2015)

As Australia reacts to Indonesia's execution of two citizens, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, there are at least 17 other Australians in danger of receiving the death penalty around the world.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed the number to Guardian Australia, but would not disclose the names or locations.

More than half of them are thought to have been detained in China; four known cases involve smuggling methamphetamine, commonly known in Australia as ice. In 2014, China Daily reported that of 63 foreign drug-smuggling suspects detained by officials in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, 11 were Australian.

Rao Jiyong, a deputy director at the city's anti-smuggling customs bureau, told the newspaper that drug-smuggling cases involving Australian suspects had rapidly increased over the past two years and cooperation had been strengthened with Australian federal police and customs officials.

In 2013-14, more than a third of Australians in prison overseas were there because of drug offences. Countries which apply the death penalty on those convicted of using, dealing or trafficking drugs include Indonesia, Thailand, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and the United Arab Emirates.

Peter Gardner, 25 (China)
A dual New Zealand/Australian citizen, Gardner was arrested at Guangzhou airport, China, on 8 November 2014 after customs officials allegedly found 30kg of methamphetamine in his bags. Gardner's lawyer, Craig Tuck, confirmed with Guardian Australia his trial would begin on 7 May in Guangzhou's municipal intermediate court. "This is considerably earlier than expected," Tuck said. It is expected to last no more than two days.

Bengali Sherrif and Ibrahim Jalloh (China)
Sherrif and Jalloh were arrested by Chinese authorities at Guangzhou airport in June 2014, the ABC reported. Sherrif was sentenced to a suspended death penalty for attempting to smuggle methamphetamine from China to Australia, which could be commuted to life in prison after two years of good behaviour. Jalloh is awaiting trial.

Anthony Roger Bannister, 43 (China)
Australian jockey Bannister was arrested for drug smuggling in Guangzhou on 11 March 2014, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. More than 3kg of crystal methamphetamine were found in envelopes stuffed into eight handbags in his luggage. "I do believe that I have been set up ... in this drug-smuggling scheme," Bannister told the court at his October trial. "They've used me as a mule."

Henry Chhin (China)
Chhin, then 35 from Sydney, was detained by police in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen on 10 May 2004 for attempting to mail 270g of methamphetamine to Australia, the Shenzhen Daily reported. The box, which allegedly contained the drugs and computer software, was intercepted by Shanghai police two days before. Local police said another 700g of the same drug was found in kitchen cabinets and the sitting room of Chhin's residence. He was given the death penalty with a two-year suspension in March 2005.

A small group of foreign nationals have been executed in China, but none have been Australian. According to these include five Japanese, four South Koreans and a Pakistani-British businessman.

Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto, 52 (Malaysia)
Exposto, from Melbourne, was arrested on 7 December 2014 after arriving at Kuala Lumpur airport, en route from Shanghai to Melbourne, with a bag authorities said contained 1.5kg of crystal methamphetamine. Exposto's lawyer, Tania Scivetti, confirmed to Guardian Australia that a chemical analysis of the substance would be submitted to court on Thursday, after which the case would probably move to the high court for a May hearing.

Malaysian law carries a mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking. Three Australian nationals have been executed by the state: Michael McAuliffe in 1993, and Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers in 1986.

Pham Trung Dung, 37 (Vietnam)
Dung was arrested in May 2013, when custom officials reportedly found heroin in his luggage as he boarded a flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Australia, the Associated Press reported. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said, "We understand that he has the right of appeal. Whether he decides to do so is a matter for the man and his lawyers."

Under the Vietnamese penal code, a person caught in possession of heroin can be sentenced to death. The five Australians who have received death penalties for heroin trafficking in Vietnam have had their sentences commuted to life in prison, reported the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties.

Monday, 18 May 2015

PNG says death penalty 'under review' after Indonesia fallout

Source: Bangkok post (11 May 2015)

Prime Minister Peter O'Neill said the death penalty is "under review" in Papua New Guinea after recent global outcry over the execution of foreign drug convicts in neighbouring Indonesia.

The Pacific island nation revived capital punishment two years ago to reduce rampant crime, prompted in part by the burning alive of a 20-year-old woman by a crowd for sorcery.

While the law allows for execution by lethal injection, hanging and firing squad, no death row convicts have been killed since then due to a lack of infrastructure.

"As I have indicated publicly, that (death penalty) is under review," O'Neill told reporters in comments published by the Post-Courier on Monday, after being asked whether PNG would think again following the Indonesian fallout.

"Our agencies of government are reviewing all aspects of the death penalty in our country and we will debate this issue on the floor of parliament when parliament resumes."

O'Neill's comments came on the eve of a two-day visit by Indonesian President Joko Widodo, under whose brief leadership 14 drug convicts have been executed, 12 of them foreigners.

Jakarta put to death two Australians, a Brazilian, and four Nigerians on a prison island, along with one Indonesian, last month despite worldwide calls for them to be spared and heartrending pleas from their families.

Widodo was unmoved, arguing that Indonesia is facing an emergency due to rising narcotics use.

In response, Australia, a close friend of Papua New Guinea, recalled its ambassador from Indonesia for what it called the "cruel and unnecessary" executions while the United Nations expressed deep regret.

PNG has also faced national and international opposition to the reintroduction of the death penalty in a country where an execution has not been carried out since 1954.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Fear and control: The message behind brutal executions

Source: BBC News (13 May 2015)

Amid reports of Hyon Yong-chol's death by anti-aircraft gunfire, analysts say North Korea clearly wanted to send one clear message - that no one person can be more important than the state.
Paul French, who has written on North Korean state control, told BBC World News that Hyon's execution was about the "total obliteration of someone, and of any opposition, and therefore having total control".
The idea "is to render a person a non-person... so there isn't even a corpse left to give to the family for burial," said Alexander Neill, a senior fellow with think tank II-SS.
"What underlies all this is the psychology of the identity of an individual in a regime, and once they are disloyal they are effectively a non-entity."
North Korea is not alone in conducting brutal executions.
When Argentina's last military government was in power from 1976 to 1983, it executed people by throwing them out of planes into the ocean, in a practice known as "death flights".
Other countries have a history of abusing a prisoner's corpse after execution.
In Sudan and Saudi Arabia, prisoners can be crucified as punishment but it is usually done after he or she is killed by a more conventional method such as hanging or decapitation.
Ugandan despot Idi Amin reportedly fed the bodies of dead prisoners to crocodiles.
Brutally executing someone in the public eye is designed as "humiliation of the highest order", said Mr Neill.
In a similar vein, China has held mass show trials of prisoners accused of terrorism in Xinjiang.
These involved prisoners paraded in trucks in sports stadiums and physically restrained so that they are forced to bow.
These "reinforce that the collective is more important than the individual, and it's about controlling thoughts rather than behaviour," said Mr Neill.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Iran hardliners cling to death penalty

Source: BBC News (12 May 2015)

The jailing of a well-known campaigner against the death penalty and a sharp rise in executions has once again put Iran's poor human rights record in the spotlight.
Why has President Hassan Rouhani and his team failed to meet hopes for reform at home despite making gains on the international stage?
"They took my mummy to Evin prison again," says eight-year-old Kiana.
In their short lives, Kiana and her twin brother, Ali, have seen many arrests and raids on their home.
Their mother is Narges Mohammadi, a well-known human rights lawyer and campaigner, who has been in and out of jail on charges related to her work, for much of the past five years.
In 2012, after suffering severe ill-health, Ms Mohammadi was granted leave to serve the remainder of a six-year prison sentence at home.
But last week while the children were at school, intelligence officials came to the house, with no warning or explanation, and took her back to jail.
One of the charges levelled against Ms Mohammadi was that she was running an "illegal group" campaigning against the death penalty.
It is a tough cause to fight in a country that has the second highest rate of executions in the world, after China.
When President Rouhani swept to power in 2013, there were hopes his more moderate stance would mean improvements in human rights.
But since he took office, the number of executions carried out in Iran has actually risen.
The Oslo-based Iran Human Rights organisation says Iran executed 735 people in 2014 - a 10% increase on the previous year.
In April the group said it had documented 43 judicial killings in Iran in just three days.
It is impossible to independently verify these numbers, but most human right observers say they are credible.
The majority of executions carried out in Iran are for drugs-related offences And in a country with a serious addiction problem, they elicit little public sympathy.
But in the past two years, there have been a number of high-profile death row cases - mainly involving juvenile offenders or women - which have struck a chord with the public, prompting appeals for clemency.
But President Rouhani has so far kept silent about the death penalty.
The main reason is that constitutionally he has very little room to act.
Although he is the elected president, Iran's complex power structure means Mr Rouhani has no power over the judiciary, which answers instead to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Internal suspicion

The judiciary is dominated by hardliners deeply suspicious of the overtures Mr Rouhani has been making to old adversaries such as the US.
The more ground the president gains on the international stage, the more resistance the hardliners will put up to any change to the status quo at home.

Executions in Iran:

In the 18 months since the election of President Rouhani in June 2013, Iranian authorities executed more than 1,193 people. This is an average of more than two executions every day.
The number of executions in that period was 31% higher than the number in the 18 months before President Rouhani assumed power.
The number of juvenile offenders executed in 2014 was the highest since 1990.
Source: Iran Human Rights (March 2015)
"There is an internal conflict going on now between the hard-line judiciary and Rouhani's moderate administration," says Iranian human rights campaigner Taghi Rahmani.
"And it's the activists who are paying the price."
Mr Rahmani is married to Narges Mohammadi, and like his wife a veteran of the Iranian prison system. He has spent 14 years in jail for his political activities.
Ms Mohammadi is not the only campaigner to make the headlines.
In recent weeks, there has been outcry on Iranian opposition social-media sites over the judiciary's treatment of a number of well-known activists.
Ahmad Hashemi is a respected former government official in his 60s who was jailed for supporting the opposition protests in 2009.
In early May, he was allowed out of prison to visit his terminally ill wife only to discover that she had already died and he was in fact going to her funeral.
At the same time Majid Tavakoli, a charismatic student activist, was also given leave towards the end of a four-year prison sentence.
But after just three days at home with his mother, he was suddenly recalled to serve out the remaining two weeks of his sentence.
As Iran prepares to hold a general election in February 2016, the stand-off between moderates and hardliners is expected to intensify, and there are fears that this will lead to a further crackdown on opposition activists, journalists and campaigners.
Taghi Rahmani told the BBC his wife's detention was a warning shot.
"By arresting her, they are trying to send a signal to others to stay quiet," he said.
With international talks over Iran's nuclear programme now approaching a crucial June deadline, President Rouhani is focusing all his efforts on reaching a final agreement.
To clinch a deal, he needs the support of the country's supreme leader. And observers say this means that right now he has neither the time nor the will to address human rights reform or the death penalty.
Mr Rahmani says whatever happens, he and his wife are not planning to give up their political activities.
But it is clear they and their family are paying a heavy price.
Mr Rahmani now lives in self-imposed exile in France and has only seen his children once in the past three years.
With his wife back in jail, Kiana and Ali are now living with their grandmother.
"The one thing I really worry about," he told the BBC.
"Is that one day, my kids might question our decision to take a stand."

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

The Death Penalty in Iran – No Improvement and Broken Promises

Source: Death Penalty Worldwide Blog (16 April 2014)

Despite a change in leadership and the introduction of an amended penal code, Iran’s aggressive use of the death penalty continues unabated. Our recent assessment of Iran (which you can read here) confirms that hundreds of people are regularly executed every year.  Furthermore, Iran has resumed secretly executing large groups of people, after temporarily halting the practice in 2011 due to international criticism.  The number of people executed in one occasion has been as high as 50.
Amendments to the Islamic Penal Code in 2013 did not limit the application of the death penalty.  On the contrary, the Penal Code retained the death penalty for most crimes that were previously death-eligible and added a few more.  It expanded upon the category of national security crimes, including vaguely worded crimes like “sowing corruption” and “armed rebellion,” which further criminalize political dissent.   The Penal Code also continues to treat some “crimes” as capital offences even though they do not meet the “most serious” standard under international law, which requires that capital offenses result in the death of a person.  Particularly troubling, the amended Penal Code retains stoning as a possible method of execution for individuals convicted of adultery and apostasy.
Iran continues to be the world’s biggest executioner of child offenders, despite requests from the former head of judiciary in 2003 and 2008 that judges not issue execution verdicts for children under eighteen. Based on reports by non-governmental organizations, we estimate that nineteen juveniles have been executed in the past five years. Although the Iranian government has stated that the amended Penal Code abolishes the execution of children, it only prohibits the execution of children for drug offenses and other “discretionary crimes.”  Article 91 of the amended Islamic Penal Code permits the execution of juveniles for other offenses, such as crimes under shariah, if judges deem that the juvenile is mature enough to understand the nature and consequences of the offense. Iran Human Rights has reported that just last month, one person was executed for a murder allegedly committed when he was 17.[1]
The new Islamic Penal Code amendments do nothing to improve the administration of the death penalty in Iran.  Individuals can be executed for a great number of crimes with minimal due process protections.  Iran, regrettably, continues to steer further and further away from compliance with its international human rights obligations.

-- Shubra Ohri

[1] Iran Human Rights, Execution of a minor offender in Iran,, Mar. 7, 2014. 

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

There is no evidence that the death penalty acts as a deterrent

Source: The Conversation (25 April 2015)

Australia has executed no-one for half a century. Following the abolition of the death penalty by various states, the federal government abolished capital punishment in 1973.
Nevertheless, Australian citizens – like all of those from abolitionist jurisdictions – face the death penalty when they commit serious crimes in countries that retain it. Bali Nine pair Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran are facing execution in Indonesia following their convictions on drug trafficking charges almost ten years ago. On Saturday, they and seven others were given official notice that they will be killed by firing squad on the prison island of Nusakambangan. Under Indonesian law, the minimum period between receiving notice and execution is 72 hours.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, has insisted all along that he will reject clemency petitions for drug traffickers on death row. In January, six were executed – five of them foreigners – straining Indonesia’s diplomatic relations with Brazil and the Netherlands. These countries abolished the death penalty in the 19th century.
Jokowi claims that Indonesia is in the grip of a national drug “emergency”. He argues that it needs to execute drug offenders to deter others and thereby reduce the rate of deaths following illicit or illegal drug use. However, he, like others who support the death penalty, can produce no evidence to support this claim.
Because it would be morally repugnant to conduct random experiments in the use of capital punishment, it remains difficult – if not impossible – to find empirical data on the deterrent effects of the threat of capital punishment that would persuade a committed proponent of the death penalty to change their mind.
As far as some crimes punishable by death in several countries are concerned – such as importing or trading in illegal drugs, economic crimes, or politically motivated violence – there is no reliable evidence of the deterrent effects of executions. What evidence there is – which is mostly from the US – should lead any dispassionate analyst to conclude that it is not prudent to accept the hypothesis that capital punishment deters murder to a marginally greater extent than does the supposedly lesser punishment of life imprisonment.
One rather unsophisticated way of considering deterrence is to analyse homicide rates before and after the death penalty is abolished. This at least can show whether countries that abolish capital punishment inevitably experience more murders, as those who support the deterrent argument claim.
In Australia, where the last executions occurred in the mid-1960s, the reported murder rate has, a few fluctuations aside, fallen.
Prior to the abolition of the death penalty in Canada in 1976, the reported homicide rate had been rising. But in 2003, 27 years after abolition, the rate was 43% lower than it was in 1975, the year before abolition.
Likewise, the homicide rate in countries of Central and Eastern Europe declined by about 60% after abolition in the 1990s. In most countries, abolition, and a strengthening of the rule of law, results in a decline in the homicide rate.
While recent studies on deterrence in the US are inconclusive as a whole, and many suffer from methodological problems, they do not produce credible evidence on deterrence as a behavioural mechanism.
Therefore, the issue is not whether the death penalty deters some – if only a few – people where the threat of a lesser punishment would not. Instead, it is whether, when all the circumstances surrounding its use are taken into account, the death penalty is associated with a marginally lower rate of the death penalty-eligible crimes than the next most severe penalty, life imprisonment. There is no evidence that it is.
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As far as Indonesia’s claims for a deterrent effect are concerned, Oxford scholar Claudia Stoicescu has shown that this claim is based on inaccurate statistics on the number of drug users that need rehabilitation and the number of young people that die each day as a result of drug use.
Quite simply, rigorous analysis of the available data does not support the claims made for the need to retain the death penalty to reduce social harms.
About half of the people on death row in Indonesia have been convicted of drug-related offences. Many are foreigners.
Secrecy surrounds the administration of the death penalty in Indonesia. Prisoners learn about the exact time of their execution only 72 hours in advance.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop have not been able to persuade Jokowi that his belief in deterrence is misguided. However, they could perhaps remind him that his apparent approach to clemency is in breach of Indonesia’s binding obligations under Article 6(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Indonesia became a party to this in 2006.
Clemency should always be considered on a case-by-case basis for each and every prisoner. Jokowi’s statement that he will reject clemency for all prisoners sentenced to death for drug offences is in clear contradiction of that principle.

Executed away from home: Africans on drugs crimes find little mercy from Asia, its new trade partner

Source: Mail Guardian Africa (30 April 2015)

FOUR African men were among eight drug offenders executed by firing squad in Indonesia on Wednesday in a case that attracted huge international attention.

Nigerians Raheem Agbaje Salami (also known as Jamiu Owolabi Abashin), Silvester Obiekwe Nwolise, Martin Anderson and Okwuduli Oyatanze were killed at 12:30am, local time, on the Indonesian prison island of Nusa Kambangan.

"The executions have been successfully implemented, perfectly," Attorney General Muhammad Prasetyo said of the controversial deaths. "All worked, no misses."

Nigeria only responded late Wednesday, expressing "deep disappointment" at the execution by firing squad of four of its citizens.

Abuja said President Goodluck Jonathan and Foreign Minister Aminu Wali had made "spirited appeals for clemency", most recently at an Asian-African summit in the Indonesian capital Jakarta last week.

Brazil and Australia both recalled their ambassadors to Jakarta for "consultation"—diplomatic speak for expressing great displeasure. Australia had made more than 50 appeals for clemency.

Indonesian president Joko Widodo who has announced his intention to clear the country's death row of drug traffickers, insisted that narcotics are "a national emergency" that require an unforgiving response. Analysts say he is looking to convey the image of a decisive leader to Indonesians.

The country, which has some of the toughest drug laws in the world,  in December said it would put to death 64 convicts, including foreigners. It is also reportedly working hard to save over 200 Indonesians on death row in foreign countries, largely on drug and murder charges.

The deaths of the four Nigerians would add to a trend where Africans have been jailed or killed for drug related offences in foreign countries, many in Asian countries which have the death sentence.

When president Widodo reactivated the death penalty for drug crimes after a five-year pause, the first victim was Adami Wilson, a 48-year-old Malawian sentenced to death in 2005. He was executed also by firing squad in 2013.

Two other Nigerians were executed in January in the same country.

In the same month, 28-year-old South African Deon Cornelius was sentenced to death in Malaysia for smuggling an illegal drug, having been arrested in 2013.

1,500 South Africans in prisons abroad

According to data from Locked Up, a South African organisation that assists nationals arrested abroad, some 1,300 South African citizens are serving prison sentences in foreign countries, mostly on drug related charges. The majority are held in Brazil and Asia.

China, Africa's biggest trading partner, regularly executes drug smugglers, though it does not make available statistics, adding to the problem of undocumented travel that makes it difficult to accurately map the magnitude of the problem for Africa.

Last year two Ugandans were executed in China for drug trafficking, despite the appeals of the Ugandan embassy. In a statement, the East African country said that 23 other Ugandans were on death row in China, 24 on life sentences and 28 on trial.

China had refused to compromise on the matter, Uganda's foreign ministry added, Beijing insisting it could not overturn a court verdict. Kampala said its investigations showed most of those arrested were job seekers recruited as mules (carriers), a common defence in many drug arrests.

In one five-week period between April and May 2010, China executed a Nigerian and sentenced a Zambian and five Kenyans to death for drug trafficking. It is unclear if they were carried out or commuted to life terms.

Hong Kong, which does not have the capital punishment sentence for drug-related crimes, has increasingly reported drug-related arrests involving Africans.

Tougher line on drugs

China's fight against drugs has received strong support from the top, with president Xi Jinping last year calling for "forceful measures to wipe drugs out." Drug-related arrests have since gone up by up to a third on the year before, many leading to death sentences.

In June, while the vast cases involved locals, Chinese officials said they had handled 1,491 drug-related crimes involving foreigners, a 15% increase on 2013, with 1,963 foreign drug suspects arrested. Most were Africans, Liu Yuejin, director of the ministry's narcotics control bureau said.

Meanwhile in November last year a Kenyan court ordered police to extradite four suspected drug traffickers—two Kenyans, an Indian and a Pakistani, to the United States, highlighting differing treatments.
Pakistan earlier this year ended a freeze on executions, and drug crimes are expected to be among those punished, according to human rights groups.

This came months after British and Australian navies seized the largest ever haul of heroin at sea, weighing 1,032 kilogrammes and valued at $235 million, off its coast.

The continued arrest and execution of Africans in foreign countries cast a spotlight on their governments' inability, or unwillingness, to extract prisoners' concessions from Asian countries, when those countries often successfully save their own in Africa.

More than 20 of the 32 countries that prescribe capital punishment for drug trafficking are in Asia, with just three in sub-Saharan Africa.

Earlier this month African governments attended the Asia-Africa conference in Bandung, Indonesia which commemorates the 1955 conference that laid the foundations for the Cold War-era Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).

It was meant to strengthen South-South cooperation, organisers said, but analysts argue the conference is more about big countries seeking to unilaterally extend their influence with other participants, often at the expense of African countries.

Lack of African clout

The lack of African countries in rescuing their citizens from foreign jurisdictions by legal means essentially is a result of their failure to use such leverage along with burgeoning trade links to their advantage.

Another major hurdle for African countries is the lack of interest in prisoner exchange agreements. International law has generally pushed for foreign sentenced offenders to serve out their terms in their home countries, largely for rehabilitation and humanitarian reasons, but also for law enforcement purposes.

For long, the objection towards this centred on the infringing of sovereignty and exclusive territoriality, but this has since been weakened in the face of the benefit to international relations between the involved countries that such deals give.

Few African countries have even simple bilateral deals, which are perceived as time and resource consuming, or are members of the multilateral agreements that would govern offender exchanges, despite giving the nod to the UN's Model Agreement on transfers.

The European Convention is one of the more prominent ones, but Mauritius is the only African country that is a member, despite 18 of the 64 member states being non-European.

Of the 53 member states in the Commonwealth, just 15 have enacted the club's rules for transferring prisoners, including Malawi and Nigeria, but not countries such as South Africa, which prides itself on its human rights laws.

No African country has signed on to the Inter-American Convention on Serving Criminal Sentences Abroad either.

Unless the continent takes up the issue and uses its links with Asia, Africans will continue to be pawns and makeweights in regional geopolitical battles.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Death sentence commuted for Chinese woman who killed violent husband

Source: South China Morning Post (24 April 2015)

A court in Sichuan province yesterday commuted the death sentence of a woman who killed and cut up her abusive husband, state media reported.
The Ziyang Intermediate People's Court gave Li Yan, 44, a two-year reprieve and stripped her of her political rights, the Sichuan Daily reported.
The death sentence is likely to be commuted to a prison term after two years of good behaviour. Phone calls to the court went unanswered.
Li was sentenced to death in 2011 for killing her husband, Tan Yong. The Supreme People's Court in Beijing approved her death sentence in 2013, but following a strong public outcry, it overturned the sentence and ordered a retrial in June last year. The Ziyang Intermediate People's Court upheld the murder verdict but decided to commute the death sentence, having considered that Li's husband was also at fault and that Li been honest during the investigation, the Sichuan Daily said.
In March, the Supreme People's Court and government issued new guidelines on domestic violence cases, including recommendations on sentencing for victims who commit crimes against their abusers.
In a letter to a top judge appealing against her death sentence in 2012, Li described how she endured her husband's violence before she killed him - and how her repeated calls for help were ignored.
Tan frequently beat her, pulled her hair, banged her head against the wall, stubbed cigarettes out on her face and even hacked off one of her fingers.
After an argument on the night of November 3, 2010, her drunken husband threatened to shoot her, then he beat and kicked her. She fatally struck him over the head with a gun barrel, although she said that she did not intend to kill him. She dismembered his body and boiled some of the parts, before asking a friend to report the killing to the police.
According to a 2011 survey by the official All-China Women's Federation, one in four women on the mainland have experienced abuse in their marriage.
"The reprieve for Li Yan could prove to be a landmark verdict for future cases where domestic violence is a mitigating factor," said William Nee, China researcher at Amnesty International. "The highest court in China has sent a clear message that judges must not ignore domestic violence."