Thursday, 30 July 2015

Death Penalty: An effective deterrent to prevent violent crimes or just a murder by the State?

Source: Merinews (24 Jul 2015)

Lone death row convict in the 1993 Mumbai serial blastscase Yakub Memon moved the Supreme Court on Thursday, challenging the validity of the death warrant issued against him by a TADA court for execution on July 30, a move that has reignited the debate about whether the state has the right take the life of any one, no matter what the provocation and whether capital punishment is truly a deterrent of any sort.

It is a knotty issue. In Europe the death penalty is abolished in all countries except Belarus for peace time crimes and in all countries except Kazakhstan and Belarus for war time crimes. The maximum penalty is life imprisonment in practically all of Europe, and yet Europe remains a relatively crime free zone.

Now look at the United States. 31 of the 50 states permit death penalty, in the exercise of which 35 were executed last year while 3002 inmates remained on death row. And yet according to the office of the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime which tracks crime statistics, the United States had a murder and homicide rate of 16.1, much higher than Europe.

In Asia, according to the Amnesty International report for 2014-15, titled The State of the World's Human Rights, showed the death penalty has been maintained, and even re-emerged, in law and practice across the Asia-Pacific. In 2014, China continued its extensive, and often undocumented, use of the death penalty and executions were carried out in Japan and Vietnam, including for economic offences.

India had no executions though the law remains on the books and the most recent executions including the matter of Yakub Menon looming on the horizon have been executions where the crime has had political overtones.

Is the death penalty an effective deterrent for preventing violent crimes as claimed by those would like to keep it on the books? A 2009 survey of criminologists revealed that over 88 per cent believed the death penalty was not a deterrent to murder. The murder rate in non-death penalty states has remained consistently lower than the rate in States with the death penalty.

While the country is beset with terrorism and insurgency, it will not be politically expedient to remove the death penalty from the statute books and any movement in that direction is unlikely in the country.

However some debate is required to specifically define "the rarest of rare" instances when the death penalty is to be awarded as per the directions of the Supreme Court as "rarest of the rare" is a term as subjective as it can get and because it is so ill defined, appeals and mercy petitions galore delay the whole process as each person involved in the appeals and mercy hearing process has to subjectively apply their mind to answer the question as to whether a particular incident can be classified as rarest of the rare.

That day is still too far away, when we will go Europe's way and completely abolish the death penalty, but the least the government and courts can do is to bring more clarity and sharpness on what is currently an essentially very subjective and therefore politically driven mechanism and minimise its misuse.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Capital punishment: On the way out—with grisly exceptions

Source: The Economist (4 July 2015)

DEPENDING on where you are, the death penalty may look as if it is in rude health. On June 29th America’s Supreme Court upheld Oklahoma’s use of midazolam, a sedative, in executions—despite evidence that it can fail to cause unconsciousness, leaving those being killed in agony from the lethal drugs with which it is combined. Meanwhile some countries in the Muslim world, notably Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, are executing people with increasing enthusiasm. Several others, including Nigeria and Egypt, are sentencing large numbers to death, though most of those sentences are unlikely to be carried out.

Indonesia has executed at least 14 people this year for drug crimes, most of them foreigners. Between 1994 and 2014 it executed at most 30. Using figures from official and human-rights sources, Amnesty International, a watchdog, counts 352 executions in the first four months of this year in Iran, which for its size probably executes more people than anywhere else. The true figure may be much higher. Since ending a moratorium in December, Pakistan has hanged or shot at least 150 people. Saudi Arabia has beheaded or shot 100 already this year, more than in the whole of 2014. In May it advertised for eight new executioners (no experience required).

In Nigeria, which has not carried out an execution since 2013, 54 soldiers have been on death row since December for mutinying. They say they refused to fight against the jihadists of Boko Haram because they had not been adequately armed. Amnesty International says that 589 civilians were sentenced to death last year in Nigeria; 1,500-plus are on death row. Last week another nine joined them after being convicted of blasphemy by a sharia court in the northern city of Kano.

But despite these punitive hot spots, the global total of executions continues to fall—and the trend is towards abolition, whether de jure or de facto. Since December Fiji, Madagascar and Suriname have joined the countries without the death penalty, pushing the total over 100. Another 40 or so still have it, but do not apply it. In December a record 117 countries voted for a moratorium at the UN General Assembly; 37 voted against and 34 abstained. The number voting yes was notably higher than in 2007.

The Western world’s chief executioner, America, is putting fewer people to death, too. Last year it executed 35; even if every execution scheduled for this year were to be carried out, which is unlikely, the total would be no more than 33. Of the 31 states that still have the death penalty, half have executed no one since 2010. In May Nebraska passed a law repealing it, the 19th state to do so—and the first conservative one for many years.

In 1994 80% of Americans said they endorsed the death penalty in principle. The Pew Research Centre reckons that fewer than 60% do so today—and notes that young Americans are less keen than their elders. Blacks are solidly against, as are a small majority of Hispanics. Even the Supreme Court’s recent pro-death-penalty ruling gave comfort to abolitionists by providing a chance to rehearse their case. The death penalty, argued one of the four dissenting judges, Stephen Breyer, is “highly likely” to violate the constitution. Evidence suggested that innocent people, he wrote, had been executed. People on death row had frequently been exonerated. The system was blighted by racial discrimination. Delays between sentencing and executions may violate the eighth amendment, which bars cruel and unusual punishment. And he noted that it is not proven, anyway, to deter crime.

Even China, the global leader, is cooling on executions. The number is a state secret but the Dui Hua Foundation, an American NGO, reckons there were about 2,400 in 2013, the last year it has been able to track. Campaigns against corruption and terrorism mean the fall may not have continued last year. But the long-term trend is steeply down. In 1983 24,000 people are thought to have been executed. In 2012, when Dui Hua put the tally at 12,000, a deputy health minister said the fall had contributed to a shortage of organs for transplant.

One reason is that the president of the Supreme People’s Court, Xiao Yang, has sought to create a more professional and accountable judiciary. Another is that some modernisers are embarrassed by China’s position at the top of this ugly league table. And though most Chinese are still thought to approve of capital punishment for murder, revulsion has grown as the media expose wrongful convictions.

Introducing the latest edition of “The Death Penalty: A Worldwide Perspective”, Roger Hood and Carolyn Hoyle, two experts at Oxford University, cite a Chinese professor, Zhao Bingzhi, recently conceding that “abolition is an inevitable international tide and trend, as well as a signal showing the broad-mindedness of civilised countries.” It was now, he added, “an international obligation”.

Mumbai bomber Yakub Menon's mercy plea rejected

Source: BBC News (21 July 2015)

India's Supreme Court has rejected a final mercy plea of a man found guilty of financing the 1993 serial bombings in the western city of Mumbai.

Yakub Memon will be the first person to be executed in India since a Kashmiri man, Afzal Guru, was hanged in 2013 for the 2001 attack on India's parliament.

The blasts in India's financial capital killed 257 people and wounded 713.

The attacks were allegedly organised to avenge the killings of Muslims in riots a few months earlier.

Memon is scheduled to be executed later this month. Before the Supreme Court hearing, the Maharashtra state government announced plans to hang him on 30 July.

In 2007, a special court in Mumbai handed out the death penalty to Memon, a chartered accountant, for playing a key role in the bombing conspiracy.

He is now lodged in a prison in the western city of Nagpur.

A total of eight members of the Memon family were initially accused of masterminding the bombings and dispersing funds for the attacks.

The eldest brother fled the country, and three other family members were acquitted for lack of evidence.

The alleged masterminds of the blasts, Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon, have been on the run since 1993.

Executions are rarely carried out in India, but in the last four years there have been two hangings in the country.

Mohammed Ajmal Qasab, the sole surviving gunman from the 2008 Mumbai attacks, was executed in November 2012.

Monday, 20 July 2015

New Thai Anti-Graft Law Extends Death Penalty to Foreigners

Source: The New York Times (14 Jul 2015)

Thailand has enacted a new anti-corruption law that extends a maximum penalty of capital punishment to foreigners.

Previous legislation provided various punishments, including a possible death penalty, for Thai officials convicted of bribery, though apparently no one was ever executed for the crime. The new statutes, which took effect July 9 and are part of a separate anti-corruption law, extend those punishments to non-Thais working for foreign governments and international organizations.

The military government that took power following the ouster of an elected civilian government last year has said countering corruption is one of its major goals.

Although such action is touted as part of a reform movement to clean up Thai politics, it is widely seen as targeting former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled by a previous military coup in 2006. Thaksin was accused of corruption, but also built a powerful, populist political machine that challenged the privileges of the country's traditional elite, associated with the military and the royal palace.

Another provision of the new anti-corruption law states that a statute of limitations of 20 years no longer applies if the convicted person flees the country. Thaksin was convicted in 2008 of a corruption-related charge but fled abroad. The old statute of limitations would have allowed him to return in 10 years.

Several corruption-related charges are also pending against Thaksin's sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, who was prime minister until shortly before the army ousted her government last year.

The secretary-general of the National Anti-Corruption Commission, Sansern Poljieak, has been quoted by Thai media as saying that the punishments under the new law are appropriate because graft involving public servants is a severe offense.

However, the new law also has critics.

"This is a huge step in the wrong direction," Amnesty International spokesman Olof Blomqvist said in an email. "Thailand should be working to remove the death penalty from the legal books, not expanding its scope."

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Experts applaud growing debate on death penalty

Source: China Daily (9 July 2015)

Zhou Lei has followed the heated debate on WeChat on whether anyone involved in child trafficking should get the death penalty.

Zhou, a legal scholar, has not found the argument on the popular instant messaging tool annoying. Indeed, he spoke highly of it.

"It's progress that more Chinese have paid attention to the application of the death penalty, even though the subject of how to apply it still has a long way to go," said Zhou, a legal researcher from the Difficult Case Research Center at China University of Political Science and Law.

In his view, the death penalty has been controversial among the public, and the recent debate should be applauded "because some people have realized the extreme penalty cannot reduce crimes and would like to explain that to those with opposing views", he said.

In mid-June, a WeChat post with pictures and stories of abducted children called for child traffickers to get the death penalty. The message was reposted more than 540,000 times and stirred up public debate, pushing the death-penalty issue to the forefront.

Ruan Chuansheng, a criminal lawyer from Shanghai, said: "The most valuable thing is the debate itself, not figuring out an answer. It's good to see that more ordinary people consider the issue important."

The minimum penalty for traffickers of children under current Criminal Law is five years in prison, but in the most serious cases, including the abuse or killing of children, offenders can be put to death.

"It's good to see some people in the debate researched the law before they voiced opinions online. Further discussion of the issue and advice based on what is learned is more helpful to legislators who want to improve the law," Ruan said.

Since 2007, when China's top court began automatically hearing second appeals of death-penalty sentences, a major task of Chinese judicial bodies has been reducing death-penalty cases and helping guide the public's thinking on the issue, Ruan said.

Until about 10 years ago, grassroots courts could sentence someone to death and execute him or her, "which caused some unnecessary wrongful verdicts and did not protect human rights", he said. "But since the Supreme People's Court assumed the power to review such cases, every death sentence must be reviewed twice, reflecting the nation's cautious approach to the penalty."

Meanwhile, the number of crimes for which one can be put to death has gone down in recent years. Under current law, 55 crimes are subject to the death penalty, a reduction from the 68 on the statute books before a 2011 amendment cut the number.

In addition, a recent session of the National People's Congress, the country's top legislature, discussed abolishing the death penalty for an additional nine crimes.

The number of death-penalty cases "shows that our justices have realized that the extreme penalty cannot root out some socially complicated disputes, and sometimes it may accelerate the conflicts", said Deng Yong, a law expert at China University of Political Science and Law.

"The death penalty cannot keep some people from committing crimes, and the simple and violent punishment has not been the best solution to prevent offenses," Deng said.

"The country needs more sensible ways with wisdom to keep the public abiding by laws, such as imposing a higher cost for breaching rules."

However, it is not practical to eliminate the death penalty in today's China because a few criminals, including terrorists who inflict great harm on the public, still need to be regulated through harsher punishments, he said.

Justices must work hard in the long term to educate people seriously influenced by Chinese history, culture and tradition relating to revenge, "because the thought of 'a life for a life' has been ingrained in a number of residents' minds and cannot be transferred as quickly and easily as one would expect", he added.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Iran executes hundreds in brutal crane hangings at mega-prison outside Tehran

Source: International Business Times (2 July 2015)

Almost 400 people were executed for drug-related charges and about 108 for murder. IHR also said at least seven prisoners, all of whom were Kurdish, were killed for their political or ideological affiliations, amid allegations of unfair trials.

The remaining 70 inmates were killed for sexual crimes, mainly rape, and for "waging war against God" and "corruption on heart".

Nearly 40% of the executions were announced by official Iranian media and 34 people were executed in public spaces.

Hanging is a 'slow torture' in Iran

All the executions were carried out by hanging. IHR spokesperson Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam told IBTimes UK that there are different ways of hanging inmates. In Iran, prisoners are usually pulled up by their necks with the use of cranes.

"It takes them many minutes to die, it's a way of torturing them along with the execution," Amiry-Moghaddam said. "Two years ago, a man had survived 14 minutes of hanging before dying. So hanging is not intended as the standard way of momentary pain. It's not that they just die, it is a slow strangulation."

IHR urged the international community to put pressure on Iran to halt pending executions and reduce its rate of use of the death penalty.

"We are talking about the worst execution surge in more than 20 years in Iran and this is happening while the relations between Iran and the European countries have not been better in many years," Amiry-Moghaddam said.

"The government of Mr Rouhani have defended the executions and in some cases members of his cabinet have asked for more. Besides the large number of executions, unfair trials and widespread use of torture to get confessions are major issues of concern."Saman Naseem was sentenced to death at the age of 17 following a gun battle in Sardasht between the Revolutionary Guards and Kurdish militant organisation PJAK(Amnesty)

Execution of juvenile offenders

The NGO also warned the Islamic republic executed at least one juvenile offender in 2015. Javad Saberi was hanged at the Rajaishahr prison of Karaj after being convicted of murder, despite the fact he suffered from mental illness.

The execution of juvenile offenders is in breach of both domestic and international laws. Iran allows capital punishment for juveniles in case of "qesas" (retribution-in-kind) and "hodoud" (offences and punishments for which there are fixed penalties under Islamic law).

However, article 91 of the Islamic Penal Code excludes the death penalty if the juvenile offender did not understand the nature of the crime or its consequences, or if there are doubts about their mental capacity.

The high-profile case of Saman Naseem, a 24-year-old man sentenced to death at the age of 17 and whose whereabouts are unknown today, prompted the international community to criticise Iran after it announced Naseem's execution.

Following pressure by several NGOs, Naseem has gone missing from his prison cell and his family do not know whether he is dead or alive.

Naseem was sentenced to death after being charged with "enmity against God" and "corruption on Earth", following a gun battle in Sardasht between the Revolutionary Guards and Kurdish militant organisation PJAK, of which he is believed to be a member.