Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Asia Briefs: Malaysia's 'hudud Bill' off the table for now

Source: Straits Times (23 November 2016)

KUALA LUMPUR Proposed amendments to the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 seeking to impose stiffer penalties for offences, excluding the death penalty, will not be tabled in the current parliamentary session , Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said yesterday.

He said the private member's Bill brought by Marang MP Abdul Hadi Awang will merely be read a second time this week to include several tweaks. The amendments will not be tabled or debated.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Villager’s Execution in China Ignites Uproar Over Inequality of Justice

Source: New York Times (20 November 2016)

BEIJING — Zhou Yunfei, a technology executive who owns a villa in eastern China, did not have much in common with an impoverished farmer more than 500 miles away who was convicted of murdering a village chief with a nail gun.

But when Mr. Zhou heard last week that the Chinese government had executed the farmer, Jia Jinglong, he was furious. He saw it as a sign that the ruling Communist Party was imposing harsh punishments on the most vulnerable members of society while coddling the well-connected elite.

“The legal system isn’t fair,” Mr. Zhou, 57, said, adding that local officials had “turned against the common people.”

President Xi Jinping has made restoring confidence in Chinese courts a centerpiece of his rule, vowing to promote “social justice and equality” in a legal system long plagued by favoritism and abuse. Since coming to power in 2012, he has led a high-profile campaign against corruption, ensnaring thousands of low-level officials and even some of the party’s most senior leaders.

But the furor over the execution of Mr. Jia, who had sought revenge on officials for demolishing his home, has raised doubts about Mr. Xi’s efforts, with people across the country publicly assailing inequities in the justice system and asking why high-level officials often escape the death penalty.

“The perception is that the people are powerless and vulnerable against corrupt officials,” said Fu Hualing, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong. “What is surprising is that Xi Jinping has been in power for four years, and that narrative has not changed.”

The uproar has placed the party, which is working to tighten its grip on courts while promoting the idea of fairness, in an awkward position.

Mr. Xi has cultivated an image as a champion of the people willing to take on corrupt officials of any stripe. Yet Mr. Jia’s case has reawakened concerns, especially among rural residents and members of the urban working class, that the Communist Party is protecting its own members.

In fiery social media posts and dinner-table conversations, some have argued for making punishments against corrupt officials more severe. Others have suggested that China, believed to be the world’s top executioner, should substantially reduce its use of the death penalty against impoverished citizens.

China’s leaders seem conflicted about how to respond to complaints of unfair treatment, which have plagued the judiciary for decades but have taken on new urgency as Mr. Xi attempts a top-to-bottom overhaul of the system.

On the one hand, party leaders might be wary of exacerbating the anger felt by many Chinese people, who often side with villagers like Mr. Jia, seeing them as folk heroes standing up against venal forces.

At the same time, Beijing might not want to be seen as endorsing an attack on a government official. And some party leaders may not like the idea of setting a precedent for using the death penalty against senior officials, at a time when critics of Mr. Xi say he is using the anticorruption campaign to go after political enemies.

“There’s a strong incentive for the elite within the party to protect itself,” said Jerome A. Cohen, a New York University law professor. “People realize today they’re free, but tomorrow they could be the targets.”

In recent days, the party’s hesitation has seeped into public view. The government at first appeared to tolerate, and even encourage, debate about Mr. Jia’s case. Lawyers issued open letters pointing to flaws in the prosecution’s argument, and state media outlets published sanctimonious editorials calling for the court to show humanity.

But as discontent spread on social media in the days leading up to Mr. Jia’s execution, the government reversed course and began censoring some online discussions about the case.

State-run media organizations adopted a scolding tone, warning that public opinion had “hijacked” the case. People’s Daily, the party’s flagship newspaper, went a step further, arguing that citizens should not express contrarian views about court cases in public.Photo

Zhou Yongkang, China’s former security chief, was sentenced to life in prison last year for taking bribes and revealing state secrets. Critics of the judicial system say officials often escape harsh punishment.CreditCCTV, via Associated Press

“We can see that online public opinion can deviate from reason and even become a terrifying tool that kills humanity and conscience,” an editorial in the newspaper said.

While the government has historically tolerated some debate about judicial decisions, Mr. Xi has generally sought to rein in dissent, especially when it gathers force online.

Li Wei, an activist in Beijing who was imprisoned for two years under Mr. Xi for helping organize protests demanding financial disclosures from party leaders, circulated a four-page petition online in late October calling for Mr. Jia to be spared and for the government to adopt a “more humane” justice system.

Soon his cellphone was buzzing with messages from university students, professors, security guards and others. He gathered 1,274 signatures over a few days, he said, before the authorities shut down his social media accounts.

“The so-called anticorruption campaign is not genuine,” Mr. Li, 45, said in an interview at a Beijing teahouse. “The reason why they were doing this is because they want to salvage the Communist Party regime.”

Chinese leaders appear to be working to counter perceptions that officials are being treated with kid gloves. Over the past year, party leaders have vowed to consider punishing officials who commit grave crimes, including stealing more than about $436,000, with the death penalty. They have also introduced new forms of punishment aimed at corrupt officials, including lifetime jail sentences without the possibility of parole.

But the government has yet to systematically invoke any of those punishments against prominent officials. And critics can point to a raft of recent cases in which powerful people and their families escaped the death penalty.

There is the example of Zhou Yongkang, China’s former security chief, who was sentenced to life in prison last year for taking bribes and revealing state secrets; he was the most senior leader to be jailed for corruption in more than 65 years of Communist rule.

And many people note the case of Gu Kailai, the wife of one of China’s most prominent politicians, whose death sentence for the murder of a British business associate was commuted to life in prison last year.

Fan Zhewang, 42, a teacher of Maoism at Xi’an University of Posts and Telecommunications in central China, said the treatment of Ms. Gu epitomized the inequities in the system.

Mr. Fan said that while the government’s decision to execute Mr. Jia was legal, he was concerned that a lingering sense of injustice and resentment among villagers would prompt more violence against officials.

“In the future,” Mr. Fan said, “I worry that people will just kill whole families of village chiefs.”

On Wednesday, a day after Mr. Jia was executed, a farmer in Yan’an, a northwestern city celebrated as a stronghold of the Communist revolution, was arrested and charged with killing a village official and several of his relatives, according to local reports. The man was said to be angry after officials seized his land.

In the days after the execution of Mr. Jia, friends and relatives in his village in the northern province of Hebei circulated a poem he wrote while in prison in which he described being in a dreamlike state. “I’ll miss the smell of flowers,” he wrote, “and the serenity of grass, something I love.”

Villagers said they did not want to talk about the case anymore. A man who gave his last name as Li said residents had grown accustomed to suffering injustices at the hands of wealthy government officials.

“Who do you turn to in order to vent your anger?” he said. “There’s no one we can seek help from.”

“Many people are angry,” he added, “but we don’t dare speak up.”

India opposes UN resolution for moratorium on death penalty

Source: Gulf News (22 November 2016)

United Nations: India has opposed a UN resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty, saying it goes against Indian law and the sovereign right of countries to determine their own laws and penalties.

“The resolution before us sought to promote a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty,” Mayank Joshi, a counsellor at India’s UN Mission said on Thursday. “My delegation, therefore, has voted against the resolution as a whole as it goes against Indian statutory law.”

The resolution, however, was adopted by the General Assembly’s committee dealing with humanitarian affairs by 115 votes to 38 with 31 abstentions after an acrimonious debate and the adoption of an amendment to recognise the sovereign rights of nations to determine their own laws, which virtually nullified it.

India supported the amendment and Joshi told the committee: “Every state has the sovereign right to determine its own legal system and appropriate legal penalties.”

The amendment passed by a vote of 76 to 72 with 26 abstentions. However, it did not mollify India, which voted against the amended resolution.

Explaining New Delhi’s position on capital punishment, Joshi said, “In India, the death penalty is exercised in the rarest of rare cases, where the crime committed is so heinous as to shock the conscience of society.”

In the last 12 years only three executions — all of them of terrorists — have been carried out in the nation of 1.2 billion.

Last year Yakub Memon, who financed the 1993 Mumbai bombings, was executed. Mohammad Afzal, convicted of plotting the 2001 attack on India’s Parliament, was hanged in 2013 and Mohammad Ajmal Amir Qasab, one of the terrorists involved in the 2008 Mumbai attack was executed in 2012.

An independent judiciary hears the cases where death penalty can be imposed and appeals are permitted at several levels, Joshi said. Moreover, the Supreme Court has decreed that “poverty, socio-economic, psychic compulsions, undeserved adversities in life” should be considered as mitigating factors in imposing the death penalty, he added.

The amendment about the sovereign right of nations to have their own legal systems was introduced by Singapore. Its delegate said that the original resolution was one-sided and tried to impose the values of one group of countries upon others.

New Zealand, echoing the sentiments of several other countries, said that sovereignty did not absolve nations from complying with international norms of human rights and the death penalty violated it.

The United States also opposed the resolution saying that capital punishment was legal under international law and dealing with it was a domestic matter.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Indonesia's president Joko Widodo hints at abolishing death penalty

Source: The Guardian (5 November 2016)

Indonesia’s president Joko Widodo has indicated his country wants to move towards abolishing the death penalty.

Speaking ahead of a three-day visit to Australia, Widodo told the ABC he thinks Indonesians will change their minds on execution laws as citizens in Europe had done in the past.

“We are very open to options,” he said.

“I don’t know when but we want to move towards that direction.”

The execution in Indonesia last year of Australian drug traffickers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran strained relations between the two countries. Widodo’s trip to Australia will be his first bilateral visit since Canberra withdrew its ambassador to Indonesia in protest against the executions.

“Indonesia has regulations, Indonesia has its own law, which still allows execution. That’s what I complied to,” the president told the ABC.

“We also listened to what other countries had to say. But again, I have to follow the provisions of the law applicable in Indonesia.”

But Widodo, who’s also known as Jokowi, also stressed the importance of rebuilding trust between Australia and Indonesia.

“The most important thing is definitely to have trust in between the country leaders, and then the relationship between the citizens,” he said.

Widodo also stressed the importance of the two nations working together to address the thousands of asylum seekers believed to be stranded in Indonesia.

“If we could sit down and talk through this, find the solution together I think in the future we’ll have a much better relationship,” he said.

Widodo arrives in Sydney on Sunday and is scheduled to address parliament in Canberra on Monday.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Human rights groups join global campaign to abolish death penalty after seven-year hiatus

Source: The Nation (12 October 2016)

Human rights and legal organisations have condemned the death penalty and promised to push for reforms of the judicial process that would ban executions in Thailand.

“The death penalty is not the solution to crime suppression. Unfortunately, it even causes economic damage as it wipes out human resources,” said former deputy prime minister Veerapong Ramangkul during a seminar at the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on Monday.

As many as 140 countries, approximately two-thirds of nations worldwide, have already abolished capital punishment, Veerapong said, adding that studies showed that executions did little to deter crime. 

The seminar marked the 14th World Day Against the Death Penalty, jointly hosted by the NHRC, the Rights and Liberties Protection Department and Amnesty International Thailand.

The majority of prisoners sentenced to death are poor people who could not afford to hire lawyers or take advantage of legal protections, while influential figures often can commit crimes with impunity, Veerapong said. 

Capital punishment also violates the human right to life while inflicting harm on those sentenced to death and their families, said James Lynch, deputy director of the Global Issues Programme at Amnesty Inter-national.

He added that grievances caused by executions lead to a “circle of violence”.

Thailand has seen a relatively positive trend to abolish capital punishment due to the third NHRC master plan, said Rafendi Djamin, director of Amnesty International Southeast Asia and Pacific Regional Office. The master plan addressing the possible revocation of the death penalty is in line with human rights instruments to which Thailand is party, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, said Kanchana Patarachoke, deputy director-|general of the International Organisations Department.

Also, state agencies and some private organisations have increasingly joined hands to raise awareness about the “unnecessary and cruel” punishment, she said, adding that Thailand’s progress on the issue was “moderate” when compared to other Asean countries.

During a meeting of the UN General Assembly in 2014, Thailand made a tangible positive step by abstaining from a vote calling for a temporary revocation of capital punishment, instead of voting against it, Kanchana said.

Within Asean, Cambodia and the Philippines have legally abolished capital punishment, while Laos, Myanmar and Brunei have stopped carrying out executions in practice.

Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand are among 58 states worldwide that still carry out executions, according to an Amnesty report.

However, Thailand has not seen an execution in seven years, said Kannika Saengthong, deputy secretary-general of Justice Ministry, adding that the country tends not to apply capital punishment as frequently as before although it has not been banned by law.

In a separate event marking the World Day Against the Death Penalty at Bangkok’s Alliance Francaise, an organisation that promotes French language and culture, EU representatives and the Justice Ministry jointly campaigned to raise awareness about the “cruelty” of the penalty.

“We have to continue campaigning and educate people about the death penalty. State-sanctioned killing still remains in part because of public support. When a horrendous crime takes place, some people support the execution of the offender,” said Pitikarn Sithidej, director-general of the Rights and Liberties Protection Department.

Pitikan said her team was working on reforming legislation to harmonise with the current domestic situation and international standards.