Monday, 26 November 2018

Bangladesh Cabinet approves death sentence for drug crimes

Source: wtop (10 October 2018)

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Bangladesh’s Cabinet has approved a draft law proposing the death penalty for drug offenses months into an anti-drug crackdown in which hundreds have been fatally shot by police.

Approval to the draft that came Monday needs to go through a number of procedures in parliament, but the go-ahead is a step toward harsher penalties for drug sellers and users in a country in which rights groups say there are a high number of extrajudicial killings and arbitrary arrests.

The draft of the Narcotics Control Act mainly focuses on use and carrying of methamphetamine, known locally as “yaba” and popular among young people.

Cabinet Secretary Mohammad Shafiul Alam said the draft proposes the death sentence as maximum punishment for producing, smuggling, distributing and using more than 5 grams of yaba.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina led Monday’s Cabinet meeting to approve the draft, which will be placed in parliament as a bill. It would then go to the country’s figurehead president for his signature to turn it into law.

Since May, when the crackdown began across the country, security officials have conducted many raids and killed nearly 200 people, mostly in “shootouts” or so-called “crossfires” as described by security agencies. But human rights groups said that most were targeted killings to break the network of drug dealers, especially of yaba. The government said the drive gained popularity, as local media reports said the spread of “yaba” was pervasive in the country.

Bangladesh does not produce the drug and blames Myanmar for setting up factories across the border.

Malaysia says no 'U-turn' in death penalty abolition

Source: Al Jazeera (16 November 2018)

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - As a lawyer, Liew Vui Keong helped one of his clients appeal successfully against a death sentence.

Now, as Malaysia's minister in charge of law, he is working to get the death penalty abolished in its entirety.

The legislation could be introduced in parliament before the house finishes its current sitting in the middle of next month.

"We have made a decision and I don't think we are going to make a U-turn," Liew, the de facto law minister, told Al Jazeera. He said studies showed that capital punishment was not an effective deterrent.

"The [only] question is whether we can do it in this session [of parliament] or the next."

Abolition of the death penalty was part of the election manifesto of the coalition that took power in May, the country's first change in government in six decades.

With the repeal, it joins only a handful of countries in the Asia-Pacific that have abolished the death penalty for all crimes and hands a reprieve to the 1,281 people who were on death row as of October 29.

A moratorium on all executions - Malaysia hangs those found guilty of capital crimes - is already in force.

Death row inmates are held in solitary confinement from the time of their conviction and allowed out of their cells for just an hour each day, according to those allowed to visit them.

Many have been there for years as their appeals make their way through the courts, a process lawyers say can take at least a decade.

About one-quarter have been found guilty of murder.

Balancing feelings

Some families, including relatives of murdered activist Bill Kayong and deputy public prosecutor Kevin Morais, have already said they don't support the abolition.

Last week's death of an 11-month-old baby, suspected of being abused in the care of a babysitter, has also prompted calls to maintain the death penalty for the most serious crimes.

"This is where I have to balance the feelings of the family of the victims who were murdered," Liew told Al Jazeera. "The Pardons Board can sit now to decide whether they want to commute that particular person to either life imprisonment or imprisonment for life."

The start of that sentence should also date from the time the board makes its decision on the offender, rather than the date at which they were originally convicted, he added.

"The government must not take a blanket approach to deal with death row inmates upon abolition," the Anti-Death Penalty Coalition of Malaysia, a civil society group formed last month, said in a statement. "The government must review each case individually as some of these crimes do not deserve the death penalty in the first place."

It's a view echoed by the Malaysian Bar. Sentences should be proportionate to the severity of the offence committed, its president George Varughese said.

Nearly three-quarters of those facing execution are people who have been found guilty of contravening Malaysia's harsh drug laws.

Until earlier this year, anyone found with a certain amount of drugs - 200 grams for cannabis and 15 grams for heroin - was considered a trafficker and faced a mandatory death sentence.

But recent amendments to Section 39B of the Dangerous Drugs Act gave judges the option to sentence an offender to life in prison and 15 strokes of the cane, providing certain conditions were met.

'I prayed'

Restaurant worker Shahrul Izani Suparman liked to play football and hang out with his friends in his village in Selangor, a state on Malaysia's west coast.

But when he was 19 he was stopped at a police roadblock and arrested after officers found 622 grams of cannabis hidden in the motorbike he'd borrowed from a friend.

Six years later he was sentenced to death - at that time the only option available to the judge - and transferred to death row where he found himself in a cell close to the "bilik akhir" - the final room - where inmates are taken the night before their execution.

"I prayed," Sapenah Nawawi, Shahrul Izani's mother, recalls in an interview through a translator. "I thought if this is what is fated then I accept it. But if my son has a chance to live I hope he does."

Many of the prisoners had been abandoned by their families who couldn't handle the social stigma of having a relative convicted to death, Shahrul Izani told her.

He thanked his mother for sticking by him.

In December 2016, with Shahrul Izani's appeals exhausted, prison officials called the family and asked them to come - all of them - for a special meeting.

Sapenah remembers the tense drive to the jail. Everyone was worried it might be the last time they would see Shahrul Izani.

But when they sat down with the officials, it turned out the Sultan of Selangor, following a global campaign, had decided to commute his sentence to life in prison.

"When we heard the news we were so happy," she said. Everyone was in tears.

Sapenah supports the government's decision to abolish the death penalty.

"A life sentence is good enough," she said. "It gives people a chance to repent and come out of prison a better person."

Miscarriages of justice

A year ago, South Korean student Kim Yun-soung was facing the death penalty on a charge of drug trafficking after being found with 219 grams of marijuana in a house south of Kuala Lumpur.

But the aircraft engineering student was freed after the main witness - the arresting officer - admitted lying about who was in the house at the time of the raid.

The police officer insisted in court there had been no one else at the scene of the arrest, but CCTV footage obtained by the defence clearly showed a second person in handcuffs.

"I am so happy and relieved and cannot describe my feelings," Kim's grandmother told the local media through tears of joy after he was acquitted.

Research from the Penang Institute, a think-tank, examining 289 capital cases found "inconsistency and a high judicial error rate" when it came to the death penalty in Malaysia.

Using legal publication databases, the institute found on average more than one-quarter of High Court judgements and half of Court of Appeal decisions were overturned by the immediate higher courts, mostly in relation to evidence.

"Decisions made by the high court have more than a one-in-four chance of being overturned," the October 30 report noted.

The type of offence, the accused's ethnicity, nationality and even the location of the offence were all found to contribute to the errors, while women were far less likely to be acquitted in drug trafficking cases than men.

Lim Chee Han, one of the report's authors, said its findings were further evidence of the need for the death penalty's abolition.

"It's quite big considering this is a life and death matter," he told Al Jazeera.

'A new era'

About 44 percent of death row inmates in Malaysia are foreign nationals; the largest group is from Nigeria, followed by Indonesia and Iran.

The Philippines is still reconciling the number of its nationals on death row. The embassy said there are "at least 50", including a group of nine who were sentenced to death for their part in the armed incursion into a settlement in southern Sabah.

It would like to see the commutation of sentences take into account each individual's crime.

"We are hoping the law will be more nuanced in terms of the severity of the crime," Ambassador Charles Jose told Al Jazeera.

Liew said the priority now is to secure cross-party support to ensure the abolition's smooth passage through parliament. The cabinet has already directed all ministries to get feedback on the repeal.

At least 32 offences across eight different pieces of legislation currently carry the death penalty, and in some cases the sentence is mandatory.

All will need to be amended for the abolition to become a reality.

Liew and his staff look queasy as they recall a recent visit to prison where officers explained how executions are carried out.

The inmate gets 48 hours notice and is moved to "the final room" the night before.

"It's just 15 seconds," Liew said of the time it takes from the hood being placed over the prisoner's head to their death on the gallows.

Malaysia's Cabinet decides to end death penalty for 33 offences

Source: The Straits Times (13 November 2018)

KUALA LUMPUR (BERNAMA) - Malaysia's Cabinet has reached a consensus that the death penalty for 33 offences as provided for under eight Acts of law should be abolished, including Section 302 of the Penal Code, which pertains to murder, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Liew Vui Keong said on Tuesday (Nov 13).

He said the decision, which was reached collectively, also encompassed the Firearms (Heavier Penalties) Act, 1971; Firearms Act, 1960; Kidnapping Act, 1961; and Armed Forces Act, 1972.

Death penalties also provided for under the Water Services Industries Act, 2006; Strategic Trade Act, 2010; and Dangerous Drugs Act, 1952, are also to be abolished.

"Following the Cabinet decision, a Cabinet memorandum has been circulated to the relevant ministries for their comments and to get public feedback on it," Datuk Liew said during a question-and-answer session in the Dewan Rakyat.

He was replying to a question from Dr Kelvin Yii Lee Wuen, the Pakatan Harapan MP from Bandar Kuching, who wanted to know the government's position on abolishing the death penalty, in particular with respect to whether there will be exceptions for extremely cruel crimes,

Mr Liew also told the House that the Bill on the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) was expected to be tabled at the next sitting of Parliament after all issues and policies were finalised.

He said follow-up meetings on the setting up of the commission had agreed that it should be truly independent, effective and have the power to tackle problems involving the police force.

"The framework takes into consideration powers that are more holistic and in line with existing laws and are currently in force," he said in reply to a question from Ms Maria Chin Abdullah, the Pakatan Harapan MP representing Petaling Jaya.

Mr Liew said the police's rights would also be assured as enshrined in Article 10 of the Federal Constitution.

In September 2018, the government announced the setting up of the IPCMC to replace the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Singapore launches survey on death penalty

Source: Rappler (31 October 2018)

SINGAPORE – Singapore will gauge public attitudes towards the death penalty in a survey, the interior ministry said Wednesday, October 31, as human rights groups renewed calls for its abolition.

The city-state – which staunchly maintains that capital punishment is a crime deterrent – executed 8 convicts last year, the highest number in a decade, according to official data. They had all committed drug offenses.

The Straits Times said it was the first time that the MHA, which is in charge of the prisons department, is conducting a survey on the subject.

Last week's hanging in Singapore of convicted Malaysian drug trafficker Prabu N Pathmanathan sparked fresh calls to scrap the death penalty, a legacy of British colonial rule.

Neighboring Malaysia, where the cabinet had decided to abolish the death penalty, had asked Singapore to spare the 31-year-old convict on humanitarian grounds.

"The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is conducting the survey to give us a better understanding of Singapore residents' attitudes towards the death penalty," MHA said in a statement to Agence France-Presse (AFP).

It said the survey is part of the government's "regular research on our criminal justice system" and involves citizens and permanent residents.

"Participants were randomly selected based on age, race and gender, for a representative sample of the Singapore resident population," it added.

Some 2,000 respondents will be questioned between October and December by market research consultancy Blackbox Research, which the MHA has commissioned for the project, the newspaper said.

Human rights groups said the survey is unlikely to be a prelude to Singapore softening its position on capital punishment.

"There's been no indication whatsoever that Singapore's position on use of the death penalty is softening," said Phil Robertson, deputy director for Asia at Human Rights Watch.

"One wonders whether the MHA is counting on a survey of public opinion to back their views and provide justification for their continued defiance of the international trend towards abolishing the death penalty," he told AFP.

Previously, the death penalty in Singapore was mandatory for crimes like drug trafficking and murder.

Following a review, legislation was passed in 2012 removing the mandatory provision for drug trafficking and murder under certain circumstances. –

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Asia Bibi: Pakistan acquits Christian woman on death row

Source: BBC News (31 October 2018)

A Pakistani court has overturned the death sentence of a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy, a case that has polarised the nation.

Asia Bibi was convicted in 2010 after being accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad in a row with her neighbours.

She always maintained her innocence, but has spent most of the past eight years in solitary confinement.

The landmark ruling has already set off violent protests by hardliners who support strong blasphemy laws.

Demonstrations against the verdict are being held in Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Multan. Clashes with police have been reported.

The Red Zone in the capital Islamabad, where the Supreme Court is located, has been sealed off by police, and paramilitary forces have been deployed to keep protesters away from the court.

Chief Justice Saqib Nisar, who read out the ruling, said Asia Bibi could walk free from jail in Sheikupura, near Lahore, immediately if not wanted in connection with any other case.

She was not in court to hear the ruling, but reacted to the verdict from prison with apparent disbelief.

"I can't believe what I am hearing, will I go out now? Will they let me out, really?" AFP news agency quoted her as saying by phone.

What was Asia Bibi accused of?

The trial stems from an argument Asia Bibi, whose full name is Asia Noreen, had with a group of women in June 2009.

They were harvesting fruit when a row broke out about a bucket of water. The women said that because she had used a cup, they could no longer touch it, as her faith had made it unclean.

Prosecutors alleged that in the row which followed, the women said Asia Bibi should convert to Islam and that she made three offensive comments about the Prophet Muhammad in response.

She was later beaten up at her home, during which her accusers say she confessed to blasphemy. She was arrested after a police investigation.

Fallout to continue

By Secunder Kermani, BBC News, Islamabad

The court delivered its verdict quickly, no doubt aware of the sensitivity of the case and the danger of a violent reaction to it.

Asia Bibi's lawyer, closely flanked by a policeman, told me he was "happy" with the verdict, but also afraid for his and his client's safety.

Even after she is freed, the legacy of her case will continue. Shortly after her conviction a prominent politician, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, was murdered for speaking out in her support and calling for the blasphemy laws to be reformed.

The killer - Mumtaz Qadri - was executed, but has become a cult hero with a large shrine dedicated to him on the outskirts of Islamabad.

His supporters also created a political party - campaigning to preserve the blasphemy laws - which gathered around two million votes in this year's general election.

It's the same party which many fear could be responsible for violent unrest in the coming days.

What is blasphemy in Pakistan?

Laws enacted by the British Raj in 1860 made it a crime to disturb a religious assembly, trespass on burial grounds, insult religious beliefs or intentionally destroy or defile a place or an object of worship, punishable by up to 10 years in jail.

Several more clauses were added in the 1980s by Pakistan's military ruler Gen Zia ul-Haq:
1980 - up to three years in jail for derogatory remarks against Islamic personages
1982 - life imprisonment for "wilful" desecration of the Koran
1986 - "death, or imprisonment for life" for blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad

What are Pakistan's blasphemy laws?

What did the Supreme Court say?

The judges said the prosecution had "categorically failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt".

The case was based on flimsy evidence, they said, and proper procedures had not been followed. The alleged confession was delivered in front of a crowd "threatening to kill her".

The ruling heavily referenced the Koran and Islamic history. It ended with a quote from the Hadith, the collected sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, which calls for non-Muslims to be treated kindly.
Why is this case so divisive?

Islam is Pakistan's national religion and underpins its legal system. Public support for the strict blasphemy laws is strong.

Hardline politicians have often backed severe punishments, partly as a way of shoring up their support base.

But critics say the laws have often been used to get revenge after personal disputes, and that convictions are based on thin evidence.

The vast majority of those convicted are Muslims or members of the Ahmadi community, but since the 1990s, scores of Christians have been convicted. They make up just 1.6% of the population.

The Christian community has been targeted by numerous attacks in recent years, leaving many feeling vulnerable to a climate of intolerance.

Many of the attacks are motivated by blasphemy cases, but others have come in reaction to the US-led war in Afghanistan.

No-one has ever been executed under the laws, but some people accused of the offence have been lynched or murdered.

Asia Bibi, who was born in 1971 and has four children, was the first woman to be sentenced to death under the laws.

Internationally, her conviction has been widely condemned as a breach of human rights.
What happens now?

There are fears that there could be a violent response to her acquittal.

As with her previous trials and appeals, large crowds gathered outside the court in Islamabad on Wednesday demanding her conviction be upheld and the execution carried out.

She has been offered asylum by several countries and is expected to leave the country.

Her daughter, Eisham Ashiq, had previously told the AFP news agency that if she were released: "I will hug her and will cry meeting her and will thank God that he has got her released."

But the family said they feared for their safety and would likely have to leave Pakistan.