Saturday, 30 April 2016

Bali Nine duo families one year on from executions

Source: (29 April 2016)

IT’S been one year today since Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan were executed by firing squad just after midnight on the island of Nusakambangan — 10 years after being found guilty of smuggling 8.3kg of heroin out of Indonesia.

The two Australians were among 14 drug traffickers executed in Indonesia last year, amid intensifying condemnation from human rights activists and international governments.

The outrage over their deaths prompted the Indonesian government to hold off on further executions between then and now.

But one year on, Security Minister Luhut Panjaitan and Attorney General Muhammad Prasetyo have flagged executions are likely to resume this year.

Head of Central Java’s Corrections Division Molyanto said they were currently building more isolation cells — where those awaiting execution are kept — at Nusakambangan prison.

But he denied reports that the “execution field” is being extended.

Sukumaran and Chan’s Australian barrister Julian McMahon said it was “surprising” that executions were back on Indonesia’s agenda.

“The fact is after the international dismay in April 2015 executions have now stopped for 12 months,” he said.

“The reason has not been publicly identified, except by reference to economic priorities. But most commentators think that international reaction would be very relevant.”

Mr McMahon said “this week was proving very difficult for the families as they come to grips with their own grief and the loss of Andrew and Myuran.” In their last few years, he said the pair had “uplifted, educated and improved many prisoners.” “If they had lived that example would have so easily multiplied out for the benefit of more and more prisoners.”

Indonesian lawyer Dr Todung Mulya Lubis — who tweeted “I failed. I lost” after his clients’ executions last year — has been campaigning against capital punishment in the country since 1979. Since then he feels they have made “small progress”.

“We have made people aware of the death penalty ... I believe over time we will be able to score some wins.” While he cannot see the abolition of the death penalty happening in Indonesia “any time soon”, he hopes a bill tabled before parliament last year might prove a “middle way”.

Under the proposed changes, if people show they have rehabilitated themselves, they could see their execution commuted to a life sentence.

He also noted “the international campaign must also be more tactful not to embarrass Indonesia”.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed her country’s wish for Indonesia to put an end to capital punishment, during Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s recent visit to Europe.

According to the Commission for Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS) in Indonesia, more than 100 people are on death row in the country. Just over half of these are for murder while two face capital punishment for terrorism offences.

The rest are due to be executed for drug offences.

When Sukumaran and Chan faced their certain death last year, pastor Christie Buckingham remembers how they sang Bless the Lord until the end.

“(I remember) their kindness, their courage ... the way that they smiled at those about to take their lives,” she said.

She said she also promised to continue their fight against the death penalty.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

China sets death penalty threshold for graft cases

Source: The Japan Times (18 April 2016)

BEIJING – Corruption cases involving 3 million yuan ($463,000) or more may incur the death penalty in future, Chinese authorities ruled Monday, signalling that officials could be executed for graft.

Under President Xi Jinping the country has waged a much-publicized anti-corruption campaign vowing to target both powerful “tigers” and low-level “flies,” but no Communist Party official is known to have been put to death for the offense since Xi took office.

The Supreme People’s Court and China’s national prosecuting body said that bribes or embezzlement totalling 3 million yuan or more will be considered “extraordinarily huge value,” the Xinhua News Agency reported.

Such offenders will be eligible for the death penalty if their actions had “extremely severe circumstances and caused extremely vile social impact and extremely significant losses to the state’s and the people’s interests,” Xinhua cited their joint “judicial explanation” as saying.

Capital punishment will remain an option for the courts — which in China are controlled by the ruling party — and will not be mandatory.

The intent was to punish corruption “with severity according to the law,” Xinhua said.

Supreme People’s Court judge Pei Xianding said judicial authorities would hand down death sentences “in a resolute manner,” Xinhua reported separately.

A previous threshold was set in 1997 at 100,000 yuan, but was not updated until it was abolished last year.

Xi’s crackdown has swept up scores of senior officials in the party, the government, the military and state-owned companies, including former security czar Zhou Yongkang.

So far its most severe sentences have been death with a two-year reprieve — which is normally commuted to a life term — or life imprisonment, which Zhou was given.

Former railways minister Liu Zhijun was given a suspended death penalty in 2013 for taking bribes worth 60 million yuan, which was commuted to life imprisonment last year.

The document also widened the range of benefits that can be defined as bribes, to include debt forgiveness among others, the report said.

Any acceptance of gifts by government employees that might affect the performance of their public duties will be regarded as bribery even if there was no specific request by the briber at the time, it said.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Pakistan Pledges Not to Amend Law That Imposes Death Penalty for Blasphemy

Source: CNS News (31 March 2016)

Muslim radicals ended a four-day sit-in in a high-security “red zone” near Pakistan’s federal parliament, claiming victory after the government late Wednesday gave assurances it will not seek to amend the country’s notorious blasphemy laws or show leniency to anyone convicted under them.

The government’s pledge to the protestors came just days after a deadly Easter Sunday bombing in Pakistan’s second-biggest city underlined anew the threats faced by minority Christians both from terrorists and from Islamist extremists like those at the sit-in in the capital.

The protestors, estimated at 25,000-strong at the peak of their demonstration, are supporters of a police officer executed a month ago for the 2011 murder of a provincial governor he was paid to protect. Bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri became a hero to many fundamentalist Muslims after killing Punjab governor Salman Taseer, whom he had accused of blasphemy.

During the sit-in some protestors, members of radical Sunni groups known for their zeal for Mohammed and the Qur’an, clashed with police and set fire to buses and bus shelters.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had ordered that the protest be brought to an end, peacefully, by Wednesday. Pakistani media reported that protest leaders declared victory after talks with government officials netted them several of their listed demands.

They included an assurance that no amendments will be made to provision 295-C of the penal code, which states that “Whoever by words, either spoken or written or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death.”

According to the private television network Geo News, Daily Times and other outlets, the government also promised that no-one convicted under the blasphemy laws will be spared.

The government agreed further to release hundreds of people arrested during the sit-in who do not stand accused of attacking property or personnel, and in response to demands that shari’a be imposed across Pakistan agreed that clerics would submit proposals on the matter to the religious affairs ministry.

Government ministers portrayed the various points as an “understanding,” saying no written agreement was signed with protest leaders. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan declared that no future protests would be allowed in the capital’s “red zone.”

On two of the protestors’ demands, the government gave no assurances: They had called for Qadri to be publicly declared a “martyr,” and for the execution of Asia Bibi, the first Christian woman in Pakistan to be sentenced to death for blasphemy.

Asia Bibi, a mother of five, has been on death row since her conviction in 2010 for “blaspheming” Mohammed. Qadri murdered Taseer after the governor, a liberal Muslim, came out in support of Asia Bibi and called for her pardon.


How much of a concession the government has made to the protestors by pledging not to touch the blasphemy laws is debatable, since there has been no significant attempt to amend or annul them for years.

The last tentative effort to amend the blasphemy laws, by a lawmaker in the then-ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), was dropped just weeks after Taseer’s assassination after its sponsor, who had received death threats, failed to receive the support of her own party.

Religious freedom advocates say Christians and other minorities have long been disproportionately targeted under the blasphemy laws, which at times have also been used as a pretext in instances of personal grudges or business disputes.

Individuals accused of blasphemy have frequently been attacked by mobs, and vigilantes claiming to be protecting the honor of the prophet have taken the law into their own hands.

Among many killed in such circumstances was a High Court judge, shot to death in his Lahore chambers in 1997 after acquitting a man who had been convicted of blasphemy by a lower court; a minority Ahmadi lawyer, shot dead in 2014 after agreeing to represent a university lecturer facing blasphemy charges; and a Christian couple, accused by a mob of blasphemy and burned alive in a brick kiln, also in 2014.

On Sunday more than 70 people, many of them women and children, were killed in a suicide bombing at a public part in Lahore. Claiming responsibility for the attack, a Pakistan Taliban offshoot made it clear the target was Christians celebrating Easter.

Earlier this week Xavier William, head of a Pakistani Christian human rights advocacy group, Life For All, responded to queries about both the Easter Sunday bombing and the Islamabad sit-in.

“Religious intolerance, sectarian violence and blatant terrorism is destroying the very core of our social fabric,” William said.

“In a plural Islamic society, which is what we must aspire and strive to become, there is no place for intolerance, violence and appeasement of extremist groups who are trying to make our nation hostage to their obscurantist ideology.”

Human Rights Focus Pakistan president Naveed Walter accused the government of having “no long-term strategy to eliminate terrorism from the society,” citing both its response to terrorist threats against Christians, and the sit-in in Islamabad in support of Qadri – whose execution, Walter said, “also increased hatred against the Christian community.”

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Amnesty death penalty report: The secret China won’t share with the world

Source: (6 April 2016)

Asian nations are continuing to put thousands of people to their deaths every year.

Yet while the rest of the world is abolishing the death penalty, China and North Korea refuse to reveal how many people it executes each year.

China claims its figures are a state secret while North Korea remains uncooperative with human rights organisations.

Information surrounding its figures remain so tight that the world can only sit back and guess how many people they put to death every year.

Once again Asian powerhouse China has been named as the world’s biggest executioner in Amnesty International’s Death Sentences and Executions 2015 report.

In releasing the annual report this morning, the human rights group said it was impossible to obtain an exact figure on the number of people China has executed, but it is believed the figure is in the thousands, and is more than all the other countries in the world combined.

Amnesty International Australia spokesman Rose Kulak said the group obtained a rough figure based on non-government agencies, families who’ve had bodies returned to them and activists on the ground.

Ms Kulak, Individuals at Risk Program Coordinator at Amnesty, told said the main issue at hand was China’s lack of transparency.

“There is close to 50 crimes that people can get executed for,” she said.

“These crimes include things like embezzlement which in Australia would amount to jail time.”

China was also named as the world’s top executioner in 2014, with Amnesty estimating it was at least 1000 — a conservative figure, and one it believes is much higher.

However this year’s report did note, there are indications that the number of executions has decreased since the Supreme People’s Court began reviewing the implementation of the death penalty in 2007.


China was not the only nation in the spotlight.

The rogue nation of North Korea was also criticised for its lack of transparency and refusal to co-operate with human rights organisations, or release figures surrounding its execution rates.

Amnesty said it continued to receive reports, which it could not independently verify, indicating that executions were carried out and death sentences imposed for a wide range of alleged offences including questioning the leader’s policies.

However, according to media reports, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has executed 70 officials since taking power in late 2011 in a “reign of terror” that far exceeds the bloodshed of his father.

In 2013, Kim executed his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, for alleged treason. Jang was married to Kim Jong-il’s sister and was once considered the second most powerful man in North Korea.

More recently, South Korean media outlet Yonhap News agency reported 15 high-ranking officials were executed in North Korea prior to April.

Last August, it also reported Vice Premier Choe Yong-gon and Defence Minister Hyon Yong-cool had been executed in May by shooting.

Ms Kulak said it was also a concern that Pakistan, another country in our region, has resumed executions on a massive scale, with 320 killed last year alone.

She said the government’s reasoning of a terror crackdown on militants simply wasn’t justified.


The number of executions recorded in Iran and Saudi Arabia have increased by 31 per cent and 76 per cent respectively, and executions in Pakistan were the highest Amnesty International has ever recorded in that country, the report found.

Pakistan recorded a massive rise in executions after lifting a moratorium on civilian executions in December 2014.

More than 320 people were put to death in 2015, the highest number Amnesty International has ever recorded for Pakistan.

Iran put at least 977 people to death in 2015, compared to at least 743 the year before — the vast majority for drug-related crimes.

In Saudi Arabia, executions rose by a whopping 76 per cent compared to 2014’s figures, with at least 158 people being executed last year.

According to Amnesty, most were beheaded, but authorities also used firing squads and sometimes displayed executed bodies in public.

The United States came in next for mention.

For the seventh consecutive year, the US was the only country to execute across the Americas, carrying out 28 executions, the lowest number since 1991 and seven less than the year before.


The following methods of executions were used across the globe.

Beheading, Saudi Arabia; hanging, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Jordan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Singapore, South Sudan, Sudan; lethal injection China, USA, Vietnam as well as firing squad.


In the report, Amnesty noted a dramatic global rise in the number of executions recorded last year which saw more people put to death than at any point in the last 25 years.

The surge was largely fuelled by three countries including Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, which accounted for almost 90 per cent of all recorded executions.

Excluding China, at least 1634 people were executed in 2015, 573 more than recorded the year before.

According to the report this represents a rise of more than 50 per cent and the highest number Amnesty International has recorded since 1989.

Amnesty International’s Secretary-general Salil Shetty said the rise in executions was profoundly disturbing.

“Not for the last 25 years have so many people been put to death by states around the world,” he said.

“In 2015 governments continued relentlessly to deprive people of their lives on the false premise that the death penalty would make us safer.

“Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have all put people to death at unprecedented levels, often after grossly unfair trials. This slaughter must end.”

According to Amnesty, in almost all regions of the world, the death penalty continued to be used as a “tool by governments to respond to real or perceived threats to state security and public safety posed by terrorism, crime or political instability.”

This was despite the lack of evidence that the death penalty is any more of a deterrent to violent crime than a term of imprisonment.

Mr Shetty said the major upside of the report was that for the first time ever, the majority of the world’s countries were abolitionist for all crimes after four more countries abolished the death penalty last year.

Congo (Republic of), Fiji, Madagascar and Suriname repealed the death penalty during the year.

“2015 was a year of extremes. We saw some very disquieting developments but also developments that give cause for hope. Four countries completely abolished the death penalty, meaning the majority of the world has now banned this most horrendous of punishments,” Mr Shetty said.

The report found five of the 53 member states of the Commonwealth were known to have carried out executions including Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Pakistan and Singapore.

Japan and the US were the only countries in the G8 to carry out executions with 28 and three respectively.

At least 20,292 people were under sentence of death worldwide at the end of 2015.


According to the report, several nations, including China, Iran and Saudi Arabia, put people to death for crimes.

This included for economic crimes such as corruption (China, North Korea and Vietnam); armed robbery (Saudi Arabia); adultery (Maldives, Saudi Arabia); aggravated circumstances of rape (India), rape (Afghanistan, Jordan, Pakistan); apostasy (Saudi Arabia); kidnapping (Iraq); kidnapping and rape (Saudi Arabia); insulting the prophet of Islam (Iran).

Amnesty said these did meet the international legal standards of “most serious” to which the use of the death penalty must be restricted under international law.

UN Human Rights Office concerned by ongoing use of death penalty in Singapore

Source: The Online Citizen (6 April 2016)

The UN Human Rights Office for South-East Asia (OHCHR) is concerned by the Singapore Court of Appeal’s decision on Tuesday to uphold the death sentence given to Kho Jabing of Malaysia and urges the Government to immediately establish a moratorium on capital punishment.

“We are gravely concerned that Mr. Kho is at imminent risk of hanging as the court has lifted the stay of execution,” said Laurent Meillan, OHCHR’s acting regional representative in Bangkok. “We are also concerned that he has been forced to endure years of immense suffering as his sentence has been changed on a number of occasions.”

Mr. Kho, 31, was sentenced to death in 2010 after being found guilty of murder. At the time, a mandatory death penalty applied to all cases of murder in Singapore. Following a change in the legislation in 2012 which now gives judges the option of giving a life term for murders where there is ‘no intention to cause death’, he was re-sentenced to life imprisonment and 24 strokes of the cane in 2013.

In January 2015, the Court of Appeal decided to re-impose the death penalty. The following November, Mr. Kho was granted a temporary stay of execution less than 24 hours before he was due to be hanged as a result of an appeal by his lawyer.

The UN Human Rights Office calls on the Singapore Government not to carry out Mr. Kho’s execution.

OHCHR’s Regional Office welcomes the Government’s decision to apply legislative changes to sentences related to some cases of murder and certain categories of drug trafficking. Media reports have said at least five people - one convicted of murder and four others with drug trafficking – have had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment.

“While we are encouraged by the recent positive steps, we call on the Government to pursue more comprehensive death penalty reforms with the ultimate aim of abolishing the death penalty altogether,” said Meillan.

The UN Human Rights Office said it was also concerned that four individuals were executed in Singapore in 2015 - one for murder and the others for drug-related offences – which is a sharp increase from previous years. Singapore executed two people in 2014 and there were no executions during the de facto moratorium from 2011 to 2013. These statistics were released in Singapore Prison Service’s annual report this February.

Several States called on Singapore to abolish the death penalty during its human rights review in Geneva in January 2016.