Friday, 19 February 2016

More Malaysians want end to mandatory death penalty, online poll shows

Source: The Malay Mail Online (18 February 2016)

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 18 — Over half of Malaysians surveyed in an online poll want the government to scrap the mandatory death sentence that leaves judges with no discretion to hand down lighter punishments.

Conducted by Barisan Nasional (BN) component party Gerakan, the online poll results showed 838 online respondents were in favour of abolishing the mandatory death sentence while 685 respondents disagreed with judges being given the discretion to decide sentences, the party’s Youth wing leader Chai Ko Thing told a news conference today.

“As you can see from the results of votes garnered, the ratio is those who agreed are 55 per cent and those who disagreed is 45 per cent,” the Gerakan Youth Legal Bureau chief said.

The survey results were collected from 1,523 anonymous Internet users over a three-week period from January 22 and February 15 through Gerakan’s online poll site

The survey posed just one question: “In your opinion, should Malaysia abolish the mandatory death penalty?” and the results were based on the number of “Yes” or “No” clicks obtained.

According to Chai, the mandatory death penalty in Malaysia applies to various crimes such as murder, firearm possession, kidnapping with ransom, waging war against the King and drug offences.

However, he said the government has currently shown its intention to remove the mandatory death penalty for drug-related offences, a move he said is backed by public sentiments based on the poll results.

He said Gerakan had, in 2013, initiated a petition titled “No to death penalty”, adding however the scrapping of mandatory death sentences may be a good starting point and middle path.

“So the party’s stand on this issue is we are going for total abolishment of death sentence, but as a start from the result of this poll — it seems to be divided, maybe to remove mandatory, then we work towards total abolishment of death sentence,” he said.

Chai said Gerakan will present the poll’s findings to de facto law minister Nancy Shukri who is expected to present legal amendments to scrap the mandatory death sentence in Parliament next month.

Nancy had in a written parliamentary statement last November 3 said there are currently 1,022 convicted inmates awaiting execution pending their appeals against the court’s decision, adding that there were 33 executed during the 1998-Oct 2015 period while 127 others received lighter sentences or clemency due to their pleas to the State Pardons Board.

Attorney-General Tan Sri Mohamed Apandi Ali had last November also said that he wished the courts had discretion on sending convicts to the gallows or otherwise.

Chai said the online #BetterMalaysia poll — which only allows one vote from each device — was created as a platform for the public to express their opinions on topical issues.

The simplified nature of the ongoing polls that does not ask for any details of the respondents is also to cater to Internet-savvy Malaysians especially the youths, Chai said.

He said the third question is now open for voting until March 8, declaring it as: “Does increasing traffic fines serve as an appropriate measure to change the driving attitude of road users and reduce traffic offences?”

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Opinion: Bangladesh must abolish the death penalty now

Source: DW (12 February 2016)

The Bangladeshi Law Minister Anisul Huq’s remarks on the death penalty came after a meeting with a European Parliament delegation in Dhaka on Thursday. According to reporters present, Huq responded to calls from members of the delegation to abolish the death penalty in his country by categorically ruling out any changes to the law at the present time. This was a coolly calculated slap in the face for his visitors from Europe and a clear sign that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina intends to continue her quest to call Islamist leaders to account for the crimes they allegedly committed during Bangladesh’s war of liberation in 1971.

It reinforces the view that the Dhaka government has no intention of rethinking the political impact of the so-called International War Crimes Tribunal. The Tribunal has been underway in the country since 2010 and has imposed a series of death sentences on high profile Islamist leaders, several of whom have already been hanged.

The death penalty is irreversible and when used against political opponents it creates martyrs and triggers further political instability. While the death penalty remains popular with Hasina’s Awami League and its supporters, its continued use is without doubt creating a fertile breeding ground for Islamist terror. Just recently James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence in the US, warned that Hasina’s continuing efforts to undermine the political opposition would foster the rise of Islamist terrorists.International criticism of the Tribunal’s work has been consistently damning. Defense lawyers have been prevented from carrying out their work properly, some witnesses for the defense have not been allowed to testify and some of the testimony by prosecution witnesses has been farcical and based largely on hearsay. The latter is not surprising seeing how much time has elapsed by the alleged crime and the trial. The Tribunal clearly does not meet international judicial standards. Nonetheless, it continues to impose the death penalty against the Islamist opponents of the Dhaka government.

He is right. Moreover, Clapper pointed to the fact that Islamist terrorists had claimed responsibility for the slaying of at least 11 progressive writers and bloggers since 2013. However, Sheikh Hasina remains in denial of the obvious consequences of her policies and claims that the so-called Islamic State does not have a foothold in her country, despite evidence to the contrary. At the very least she is guilty of sticking her head in the sand, at worst of an extreme form of cynicism.

While the desire to finally close the 1971 chapter in the country’s past is both honorable and understandable, Bangladesh continues to move away from the path of reconciliation between those who support secularism in the majority Muslim country and those who wish to see Islam play a greater role. With more of those convicted by the War Crimes Tribunal now awaiting execution, the need for dialogue across the political spectrum is greater than ever, as it the need to abolish the death penalty now, rather than after the damage has been done.

Friday, 12 February 2016

End death penalty, keep it only for terror: Law panel tells government

Source: The Indian Express (1 September 2015)

Over 53 years after it favoured retention of the death penalty in statute books, the Law Commission of India recommended Monday that the death penalty be abolished for all crimes other than terrorism-related offences and waging war against the country. This was first reported by The Indian Express last Friday.

In its report, submitted to the government by commission chairman and former Delhi High Court Chief Justice A P Shah, the 10-member panel concluded that while death penalty does not serve the penological goal of deterrence any more than life imprisonment, concern is often raised that abolition of capital punishment for terror-related offences and waging war will affect national security.

However, three members of the commission including two representing the Ministry of Law and Justice — Law Secretary P K Malhotra and Legislative Secretary Sanjay Singh — submitted dissent notes against the recommendation to abolish death penalty. The third dissent note was given by Law Commission member and former Delhi High Court judge Usha Mehra who referred to the rights of “innocent victims”.

Questioning the “rarest of rare” doctraine, the panel said that administration of death penalty, even within the “restrictive environment of rarest of rare doctraine”, was constitutionally unsustainable.“After many lengthy and detailed deliberations, it is the view of the Law Commission that the administration of death penalty, even within the restrictive environment of ‘rarest of rare’ doctrine, is constitutionally unsustainable. Continued administration of death penalty asks very difficult constitutional questions… these questions relate to the miscarriage of justice, errors, as well as the plight of the poor and disenfranchised in the criminal justice system,” the report stated.

Pointing out that in the last decade, the Supreme Court had on “numerous occasions expressed concern about arbitrary sentencing” in death penalty cases, the panel said, “There exists no principled method to remove such arbitrariness from capital sentencing. A rigid, standardisation or categorisation of offences which does not take into account the difference between cases is arbitrary in that it treats different cases on the same footing. Anything less categorical, like the Bachan Singh framework itself, has demonstrably and admittedly failed.”

The commission also questioned the mercy petition system, provided for under the Constitution, saying, “The exercise of mercy powers under Articles 72 and 161 have failed in acting as the final safeguard against miscarriage of justice in the imposition of the death sentence.”

The report stated that from January 26, 1950 till date, successive Presidents have accepted 306 mercy petitions and rejected 131.

Referring to victims of crimes, the panel said in focusing on death penalty “as the ultimate measure of justice to victims”, the restorative and rehabilitative aspects of justice are lost sight of.

It said reliance on the death penalty diverts attention from other problems ailing the criminal justice system such as poor investigation, crime prevention and rights of victims of crime. It is essential that the state establish effective compensation schemes to rehabilitate victims of crime.

At the same time, it is also essential, the panel said, that courts use the power granted to them under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 to grant appropriate compensation to victims in suitable cases.

“The voices of victims and witnesses are often silenced by threats and other coercive techniques employed by powerful accused persons. Hence, it is essential that a witness protection scheme also be established. The need for police reforms for better and more effective investigation and prosecution has also been universally felt for some time now and measures regarding the same need to be taken on a priority basis,” the report stated.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Man cleared of murder after over 20 years in jail

Source: Straits Times (2 February 2016)

SHANGHAI • A man jailed in China more than two decades ago for murder has been acquitted, the latest in a series of wrongful convictions overturned in the country.

Mr Chen Man, who is now 53, was released yesterday from Meilan Prison in south China's Haikou City, in Hainan province, after the Zhejiang Higher People's Court overturned his conviction.

Mr Chen was arrested in 1992, accused of burning down a house in Haikou in which a man died. Stab wounds had been found on the neck and body of the victim and the police later arrested Mr Chen, who is from Sichuan province, for the alleged murder, the China News Service reported.

Mr Chen was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve by Haikou Intermediate People's Court in November 1994.

However, the local procuratorate deemed the sentence "too light" and urged a higher court to adjust it to a death sentence and execute Mr Chen, according to the Zhejiang court. The procuratorate's request was rejected by the Hainan Higher People's Court in 1999, beginning a 16-year appeal ordeal for Mr Chen and his family.

China's top court ordered Mr Chen's case to be re-opened in April last year after he appealed, and the Zhejiang Provincial Higher People's Court retried the case.

Mr Chen Man was convicted solely on the basis of confessions which were "inconsistent" during two trials which convicted him, court judge Zhang Qin said in a statement yesterday.

Yesterday, the High Court of China's eastern Zhejiang province pronounced him not guilty due to "lack of evidence".

"His role in the murder is not clear and the original judgment lacks evidence, therefore, the guilty verdict cannot be confirmed," the Zhejiang court said in its statement.

It said Mr Chen had the right to apply for state compensation.

The president of Hainan Provincial Higher People's Court bowed to Mr Chen after the announcement, the state-run China Daily reported.

The case is the latest highlighting miscarriages of justice in China, where forced confessions are widespread and more than 99 per cent of criminal defendants are found guilty. Mr Chen was convicted solely on the basis of confessions which were "inconsistent" during two trials which convicted him, court judge Zhang Qin said in a statement yesterday.

The government has tried to improve the way courts handle cases of miscarriages of justice following efforts by President Xi Jinping to bolster the rule of law and increase public confidence in the legal system. Wrongful executions have stirred particular outrage, though the death penalty itself remains popular.

Of those exonerated in recent years, Mr Chen spent the longest time in prison, state media said.

For some others, the new verdicts have come too late.

A court in the Inner Mongolia region in 2014 cleared a man named Hugjiltu, who was convicted, sentenced and executed for rape and murder in 1996 at the age of 18.

The declaration of innocence came nine years after another man confessed to the crime.

Twenty-seven officials in China have been "penalised" for his wrongful execution, state news agency Xinhua reported late on Sunday. But only one person will face criminal prosecution, Xinhua said, with 26 others face lighter "administrative penalties".

Monday, 1 February 2016

China officials punished over wrongful execution of teen

Source: BBC News (1 February 2016)

Twenty-seven Chinese officials have been penalised for the wrongful execution of a teenager, state news agency Xinhua said.

Huugjilt was 18 when he was convicted of the rape and murder of a woman in a factory's public toilet in 1996.

A serial rapist confessed to the crime in 2005 and Huugjilt was formally exonerated in 2014.

Acquittals are extremely rare in China and it is even rarer for convictions to be overturned.

Twenty-six officials were given "administrative penalties, including admonitions and record of demerit", Xinhua said citing an official statement on Sunday.

Feng Zhiming, the other penalised official, was suspected of other crimes related to his job and was being investigated, according to the report.

The murder happened during an anti-crime drive and detectives in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region admitted being under pressure to secure a conviction. The use of force to get confessions is thought to be widespread in the country.

Huugjilt's parents were given 30,000 yuan ($4850; £3080) as an expression of the court's sympathy, when the conviction was overturned.