Sunday, 24 December 2017

Solutions sought to abolish death penalty

Source: The Jakarta Post (22 December 2017)

Civil society in Southeast Asia must work on more engagement, smarter solutions and data transparency in order to stem the tide of regression in efforts to abolish the death penalty in the region.

"The kind of change we want, we need to make it happen," international law expert Seree Nonthasoot said in a speech in Jakarta on Thursday at the Regional Conference on the Situation of the Death Penalty in ASEAN held by the Coalition for the Abolition of the Death Penalty in ASEAN (CAPDA).

He proposed several things for the fight to abolish the death penalty, such as using the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to attract ASEAN's attention. "Everyone in ASEAN loves SDGs. Goal 16 on access to justice will give you ammunition," he said. "Electrocution, gas, hanging, lethal injection, firing squad: Are these techniques for sustainability?"

Another way is by demanding transparency for penitentiaries.

"What we need is the numbers of prisoners on death row, the types of crimes carrying the death penalty, the means of commuting the death penalty, legal assistance and how many [death row inmates] are disabled," he said.

Nonthasoot highlighted the challenges that human rights defenders face in a region where only two countries have abolished capital punishment: Cambodia and the Philippines. He said the death penalty remains a sensitive topic.

"The only consensus we got is that we are going to study the treatment of those who have already been convicted [and sentenced to] the death penalty," he said, adding that he expect to launch the study in 2018.

In the past five years, more than 40 people have been executed in ASEAN, with many more waiting their turn on death row.

However, a worrying development in the region is the regression of the Philippines. The Philippine House of Representatives approved in March a proposal to reinstate capital punishment as part of President Rodrigo Duterte's main campaign promise to end crime and corruption.

Since Duterte took office in 2016, local media reported more than 8,000 deaths in his war on drugs.

CAPDA founder Rafendi Djamin called the development "ironic" considering that Manila was an exemplary case in ASEAN.

"It became a part of the international human rights commitment on the protocol where the death penalty is not part of the law anymore," he said. "But in the course of the year [...] we have had to make the Philippines a priority country for our work."

Rajiv Narayan, commissioner at the International Commission against the Death Penalty (ICDP), argued: "It's not enough to make a country an abolitionist; there are trends against it. We have to increase respect and protection for the right to life."

Narayan, who opened Thursday's conference, noted that a big part of his work with the ICDP to increase protection for the right to life involves engaging various countries and mapping out abolitionist and retentionist practices.

The primary rationale given in favor of the death penalty has always been that it deters crime. An official from the Indonesian Law and Human Rights Ministry, Mualimin Abdi, defended that rationale in Indonesia's case.

"The Indonesian Constitutional Court is of the opinion that the offenses punishable by death in Indonesia have met the standards of most serious crimes and that capital punishment is necessary for deterrence and that the reason is justified," he said.

"However the implementation of the death penalty is minimized in an effort to realize both interests of justice and fairness."

Indonesia resumed using the death sentence in 2013 following a four-year moratorium. In 2015, four people were executed, while at least 215 people remain on death row, according to CAPDA.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

China sentences 10 people to death in sports stadium as thousands watched

Source: The Independent (18 December 2017)

Thousands of people at a sports stadium in China watched as 10 people were sentenced to death before being taken away for execution.

The public sentencing was held in Lufeng, in southern Guangdong province, where 12 people were held on charges of producing and trafficking drugs, murder and robbery.

Video footage from the stadium showed those on trial being brought into the stadium in police trucks with their sirens blaring.

They were flanked by four police officers wearing dark sunglasses.

Seven of the 10 who were executed were convicted of drug-related crimes, The Paper reported, while the others were found guilty of murder and robbery.

After being convicted, they were taken to be executed.

Local media reports are unclear on what happened to the other two people.

It marks the second time in six months an open trial has been held at the sports stadium in Lufeng. In June, eight people were sentenced to death.

While China does not publish statistics on how many people receive the death penalty each year, Amnesty International estimated it killed "thousands" of people last year.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Malaysia scraps mandatory death sentence for drugs

Source: Bangkok Post (1 December 2017)

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's lower house of Parliament on Thursday passed an amendment to end the country's mandatory death sentencing of drug traffickers.

But the move comes too late to save a Japanese woman who is currently on death row for smuggling drugs, as the new law will not be applied retroactively.

The bill, which next goes to the Senate and then to the king for endorsement, would allow judges the discretion to either impose the death penalty or sentence a convicted person to life imprisonment and not less than 15 strokes of the cane.

Previously anyone found guilty of trafficking over a certain amount of dangerous drugs was automatically sent to the gallows.

The former law was Section 39(B) of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 (quoted here in part):

(1) No person shall, on his own behalf or on behalf of any other person, whether or not such other person is in Malaysia –

(a) traffic in a dangerous drug...

(2) Any person who contravenes any of the provisions of subsection (1) shall be guilty of an offence against this Act and shall be punished on conviction with death.

"The government is pursuing the amendment because it wants to see if, by giving the court the power to decide, it would help with the war against drugs," de facto law minister Azalina Othman Said told parliament, according to the official news agency Bernama.

She told the House of Representatives Thursday that despite various drastic measures taken by the government, the number of drug cases continues to rise.

Between January 2014 and October this year, she said, the police have detained 702,319 people for drug trafficking and possession.

Of this, 21,371 cases fell under Section 39B of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 that used to carry the mandatory death sentence, and 10,878 people have already been charged in court under that section.

Before imposing the life imprisonment and caning penalty under the proposed new law, the court must have the public prosecutor certify in writing that the person convicted has assisted law enforcement agencies in disrupting drug trafficking activities.

The court must also take into consideration whether the culprit was merely a drug courier and was not involved in buying and selling of the drug and there was no involvement of agent provocateurs.

Japanese citizen Mariko Takeuchi, 43, could be the last person hanged under the old law.

She was found guilty of by the High Court in 2011 of having trafficked 3.5 kilogrammes of methamphetamines into Malaysia via the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Oct 30, 2009.

Under the 1952 act, anyone found possessing a minimum of 50 grammes of methamphetamine is considered to be trafficking in a dangerous drug, which is punishable by death.

A section of the old Pudu Prison wall. (Photo via

In March, 2013, Takeuchi failed to get the appellate court to overturn her conviction and she took her case to the apex Federal Court, which in October 2015 ruled against her and sealed her fate.

"Unfortunately, the amendment is not retroactive. Too late for Mariko," her lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik said.

A former nurse, Takeuchi testified that she did not know about the drugs found in a suitcase she brought to Malaysia from Dubai. She said she was carrying the suitcase as a favour for an Iranian acquaintance.

Takeuchi, who has been incarcerated since her arrest, is the first Japanese national to be tried on a drug trafficking charge in Malaysia and the first sentenced to hang.

Hisyam said her last resort is to seek a pardon from the Sultan of Selangor state. Meantime, Takeuchi is being held at a women's prison in northeastern Kelantan state next to Thailand.