Monday, 28 March 2016

Malaysia hangs three men for murder in 'secretive' execution

Source: The Guardian (25 March 2016)

Malaysia has executed three men for murder, their lawyer said, in what rights groups called a “secretive” hanging in which the men’s families were given only two days notice.

“The execution was done between 4:30 and 5:30 this morning,” lawyer Palaya Rengaiah told the Guardian. “They were hanged to death.”

Rengaiah said the families received a letter two days before the execution, advising them to make a last visit to the men and funeral arrangements. He said the men were told on Thursday that they would be hanged on Friday.

Gunasegar Pitchaymuthu, 35, Ramesh Jayakumar, 34, and his brother Sasivarnam Jayakumar, 37, were sentenced to the gallows after they were found guilty by the high court of murdering a 25-year-old man in a playground in 2005.

The trio claimed during court sessions that they were acting in self-defence after being attacked by a group that included the victim.

The Malaysian prison’s department said there were currently more than 1,000 inmates awaiting execution, although none had been killed since 2013, according to Death Penalty Worldwide.

Amnesty International has condemned what it called a “last-minute” execution of the men accused of murder, an offence that carries a mandatory death sentence.

In Malaysia, information on scheduled hangings are not made public before, or sometimes after, they are carried out – a practice Amnesty said was “secretive” and contrary to international standards on the use of the death penalty.

Several high-level officials have spoken against mandatory death sentences in Malaysia, a decades-old law that is also imposed on serious drug, treason and firearms offences.

These voices include the attorney-general, Apandi Ali, who said in November that he would propose to the cabinet that the penalty be scrapped, calling it a “paradox” as it robbed judges of their discretion to impose sentences on convicted criminals.

“If I had my way, I would introduce the option for the judge in cases where it involves capital punishment. Give the option to the judge either to hang him or send him to prison,” he said.

Days after, government minister Nancy Shukri, said she hoped to amend the penal code to abolish the death sentence.

“It is not easy to amend, but we are working on it. I hope to table it next year in March,” Shukri told reporters, adding that the punishment had done little to reduce the number of crimes committed. The motion has not been put to parliament.

Charles Hector, coordinator for Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture, on Thursday called for the Sultan of Kedah and the Sultan of Perak, state royalty in the two regions where the men were on death row, to use their power to stop the hangings.

He also urged Skukri, who is the de facto law minister, and the attorney-general, to obtain a stay of execution.

The Guardian was unable immediately to reach the government for comment.

Josef Benedict, Amnesty International’s deputy campaign director for south-east Asia and the Pacific, said ahead of the execution that “as discussions on abolishing the mandatory death penalty in Malaysia continue, the Malaysian government must immediately put in place a moratorium on all executions as a first step towards full abolition of the death penalty”.

Bangladesh tycoon's death penalty upheld

Source: The Straits Times (9 March 2016)

Bangladesh's Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence of Jamaat-e-Islami's chief financier, imposed for war crimes, in a major blow to the country's biggest Islamist party.

Mir Quasem Ali, a shipping and real estate tycoon, was convicted in 2014 of abducting and murdering a young fighter during Bangladesh's 1971 war of independence against Pakistan. Three senior Jamaat officials and a leader of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) have been executed since December 2013 for war crimes, despite global criticism of their trials by a controversial tribunal.

The trials have divided the country and sparked deadly protests, with supporters of Jamaat and the BNP branding them a sham aimed at eliminating their leaders.

"The court upheld his death sentence for the abduction and murder of a young freedom fighter whose body was dumped in a river," Attorney-General Mahbubey Alam said yesterday.

The 63-year-old senior party leader faces the gallows within months unless his case is reviewed by the same court or he is granted clemency by the Bangladeshi president.

Dr Abdur Rob, professor of political science at the North South University in Dhaka, said the ruling was a big setback for Jamaat. "He was the main financier of the party," he said. "He also ran Jamaat's social and business enterprises and had very good connections across the world, especially in the Middle East."

The executions and convictions of Jamaat officials plunged the country into one of its worst crises in 2013 when tens of thousands of Islamist activists clashed with police in nationwide protests that left some 500 people dead.

The latest verdict is expected to widen the divide between secular groups and Islamic hardliners in the Muslim-majority nation, which has seen recent killings of secular bloggers, religious minorities and foreigners.

Opposition parties say the trials are politically motivated, aimed at weakening rivals to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's secular government. The government maintains the trials are needed to heal the wounds of the conflict, which it says left three million people dead.

Jamaat called for a nationwide strike today to protest against the verdict. The party opposed the wartime struggle for independence, and sided with the military regime in Islamabad. Independent researchers estimate that between 300,000 and 500,000 people died in the 1971 conflict.


Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Four on death row in Saudi Arabia for terrorism

Source: Channel NewsAsia (12 March 2016)

Death sentences against four Saudi men convicted of terrorism have been confirmed by 13 judges, a Saudi newspaper reported, raising the possibility of a new round of executions two months after 47 people including a prominent Shi'ite cleric were put to death.

International rights groups said the families of three young Shi'ite Muslim men feared their sons, arrested for involvement in anti-government protests while under the age of 18, were among those facing the death penalty. One is a nephew of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, the cleric whose execution in January led to a rupture of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Officials from the Saudi justice ministry and the interior ministry were not immediately available to comment.

Saudi newspaper Okaz said: "The four terrorists awaiting the implementation of the death sentences complement the first group of 47." It said a total of 13 judges had considered the cases in three levels of hearings, but did not identify the four men.

Rights group Reprieve, which campaigns against the death penalty, said: "While details of the four in line for execution remain unclear, the reports will raise fears for three juveniles who are awaiting execution after their sentences ... were upheld in the SCC (Specialised Criminal Court) last year."

The three are Dawoud al-Marhoon, arrested in 2012; Abdullah Hassan al-Zaher, who was 15 when he was arrested in 2011; and Ali al-Nimr, aged 17 when he was detained in 2012. France has called on Saudi Arabia not to execute Nimr, arguing he was a minor at the time.

Amnesty International said: "If these executions go ahead, Saudi Arabia will demonstrate its utter disdain for international law, which prohibits executions of people for crimes committed under the age of 18."

In November last year, two Saudi newspapers reported that Saudi Arabia was planning to execute more than 50 people for "terrorist crimes" that killed more than 100 civilians and 71 security personnel.

The 47 executed on Jan. 2 were mostly Sunnis convicted of al Qaeda attacks in the kingdom a decade ago. Four, including the older Nimr, were members of the Shi'ite minority who were accused of involvement in shooting policemen.

Nimr's execution sparked demonstrations in eastern Saudi Arabia and in Shi'ite Iran, where angry crowds ransacked the Saudi embassy in Tehran, prompting Riyadh to break off ties with Iran.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Hanging revives Pakistan capital punishment debate

Source: MWC News (1 March 2016)

Execution of Mumtaz Qadri, who killed Punjab governor Salman Taseer in 2011, prompts muted celebration and protests.

The execution of a man who killed the head of government of Punjab province over his call to reform strict blasphemy laws has revived the question of capital punishment in Pakistan.

Mumtaz Qadri was a bodyguard for Salman Taseer when he shot the Punjab governor dead in Islamabad in 2011.

After his arrest, he told police he had assassinated Taseer because he championed the cause of a Christian woman sentenced to death in a blasphemy case that arose out of a personal dispute.

Taseer had said the law was being misused and should be reformed.

Considering him a hero for defending Islam, Qadri's supporters took to the streets of Islamabad, Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta and Karachi following his hanging early on Monday morning.

While there were protests in big numbers - and equal amount of muted celebration - the hanging prompted outcry from various quarters that called for a moratorium on executions "as a first step towards abolition of the death penalty".

Champa Patel, director of Amnesty International's South Asia Regional Office, said: "Taseer was a brave voice for religious tolerance in Pakistan and his murderer should be brought to justice, but carrying out more killings is a deplorable way to honour Taseer's life and message.

"The death penalty is always a human rights violation, regardless of the circumstances or nature of the crime.

"While it is positive that the government is committed to tackling religious extremism and is taking proactive steps to ensure perpetrators of violence are brought to justice, carrying out yet more killings only continues the cycle of violence."

Earlier, Qadri 's attorney said his client told him he had no regrets for killing Taseer.

"I have met him twice in jail. He said that even if God gave me 50 million lives, I would still sacrifice all of them," lawyer Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry said.

Protesters briefly blocked the main road between Rawalpindi and Islamabad on Monday after news of the hanging broke.

Police later dispersed them and closed off the road to prevent more demonstrations.

Chaudhry predicted larger demonstrations as a nationwide strike on Tuesday has been called by Qadri's supporters to protest against the hanging.

Late in 2011, an anti-terrorism court handed down a double death sentence to Qadri for murder and terrorism. The sentence was appealed and upheld by the Supreme Court late last year.

Jibran Nasir, a Pakistan lawyer and activist, says the country needs to unite on the issue of blasphemy laws instead of it becoming a war between Qadri's fans and Taseer's fans.

"I won't call anybody's death good news but the hanging has made a claim that when the state is challenged, it would enforce its laws," Nasir said from Karachi.

"Qadri's was a terrorist act and the Supreme Court upheld that. But when we see people celebrating or protesting, those are fringe elements. We're not talking about the liberals, moderates or even progressives here.

"What we need to remember is that Qadri was made this glorified poster boy of this huge problem. He was just the trigger, a foot soldier and the ones he was influenced by and looked up to are still roaming around freely."

National media played down news of the execution and the protests on orders of the government, two senior TV news anchors told AFP news agency.

There was no coverage of crowds of angry Qadri supporters who flocked to pay their respects at his family's house in Rawalpindi where his body was laid out on a bed, his head surrounded by roses.

The funeral is expected to be held on Tuesday.

"I have no regrets," Qadri's brother Malik Abid told AFP, tears rolling down his cheeks, while women chanted nearby.

He said the family had been called to the prison on Sunday evening by officials who said Qadri was unwell.

But when they arrived, Qadri greeted them with the news that authorities had deceived them and that his execution was imminent.

"I am proud of the martyrdom of my son," Qadri's father Bashir Awan told AFP, adding he was ready to sacrifice all five of his other sons "for the honour of the prophet".

Nasir, the lawyer, cautioned against making Qadri a hero in death, saying that by the show of affection on the streets, the common man is likely to be impressed by his actions.

"Qadri was showered with petals, sent cards on Valentine's Day, called a warrior before his death and a martyr after his hanging," he said.

"We should not make him a celebratory and not give him unnecessary coverage."

More than 100 people are charged with blasphemy each year in predominantly Muslim Pakistan, many of them Christians and other minorities.

Conviction of blasphemy carries a death sentence. No one has yet been hanged, but those convicted languish in prison.