Thursday, 22 October 2015

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

Source: Straits Times (14 October 2015)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indonesia: Report reveals endemic judicial flaws in death penalty cases

Source: Amnesty International (15 October 2015)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forced confession

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

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

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

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

Denied access to lawyer

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

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

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

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

Foreign nationals

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Death row inmates treated cruelly: AI

Source: The Jakarta Post (16 October 2015)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UN experts slam execution of minors in Iran

Source: (16 October 2015)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

The Final Firing Squad in Southeast Asia

Source: (2 October 2015)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Amnesty International (4 October 2015)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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