Wednesday, 30 December 2015

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

Source: Straits Times (27 December 2015)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 21 December 2015

HRW urges Pak to restore death penalty moratorium

Source: The Siasat Daily (17 December 2015)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Japan executes first man convicted by citizen judges

Source: The Guardian (18 December 2015)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 14 December 2015

The inevitability of error

Source: Malay Mail Online (12 December 2015)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Mongolia praised by UN for abolishing death penalty

Source:  The China Post (10 December 2015)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Vietnam passes law abolishing death penalty for 7 crimes

Source: Herald & Review (27 Nov 2015)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

受 Avast 保护的无病毒计算机已发送该电子邮件。

Mongolia: Historic vote abolishes death penalty

Source: Amnesty International (4 December 2015)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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