Saturday, 28 December 2019

Parliament approves bill providing death penalty for sexual assault against children

Source: India Today (1 August 2019)

A bill seeking to provide death penalty for aggravated sexual assault on children and greater punishments for other crimes against minors was approved by Parliament after it was passed by the Lok Sabha on Thursday.

Piloting the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, 2019, Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani said it aims at making offences against children gender-neutral.

The Bill, which was already passed by the Rajya Sabha on July 29, defines child pornography, making it punishable.

Cutting across party lines, members supported amendments to POCSO Act though some demanded that Bill be referred to the standing committee or select committee as it makes certain offences punishable with death.

Seeking passage of the bill in Lok Sabha, Irani said this bill is not related to vote bank politics but to save the future of India.

In an apparent reference to Congress MP Ramya Haridas who raised the Unnao rape issue in the House, Irani said this bill should not be looked from the perspective of politics and should not be politicised for personal benefits.

Responding to Haridas, Irani said it was very unfortunate that when she was speaking some members who were supporting her were actually having fun.

She further said the courts of this country have even power to punish MLAs and MPs.

The Bill, said Irani, would provide added legal protection to 39 per cent of population or 43 crore children, irrespective of whether they are a girl or boy.

Besides other things, she said, the Bill defines child pornography so that sexual predators indulging in such heinous crimes could be punished.

Regretting that 5,000 persons followed the child pornography site operated by a person, Irani said, "this is a matter of grave concern for the society". The site had even shown the rape of a minor girl, he added.

Recalling a case wherein children were administered drugs and hormones to make them sexually active, she said, the law is aimed at providing stringent punishment to such offenders.

"We want to provide added protection to rarest of rare cases death (penalty)," she added.

Replying on the bill, Irani assured that under witness protection scheme, all measures such as doing threat assessment of the victim and witness and if required even changing their identity and others, were taken to ensure their safety.

On if juvenile is involved in the sexual offence against the children, the minister said that cases come under juveile justice act and the death penalty could be given only if he is above 16 years of age and juvenile justice board finds that he has an adult mind.

The minister acknowledged that the rate of conviction in sexual offences is very slow and informed that under Nirbhaya Fund, 1023 fast track courts will be established across the country and 18 state governments have already been taken on board by the government.

She also said that a national database for such cases have also been started and about 6.2 lakh sexual offence cases were registered in that base.

Sharing the details of awareness programme among children, the minister said CBSE will carry out programmes in school across the country to make aware children about good and bad touch.

She further said more than 40,000 teachers will also be trained for the same.

Participating in the discussion, Su Thirunavukkarasar (Cong) suggested that since the bill has a provision for the death penalty, it should be sent to a Parliamentary committee for further scrutiny.

Rita Bahuguna Joshi (BJP) said the Bill will go a long way in bringing offenders against children to book.

Kanimozhi (DMK) said that bill should be sent to select committee or standing committee as harsher punishment could deter people from reporting the crime.

While presiding over the proceedings, BJD's Bhartruhari Mahtab pointed out to Irani that the Hindi version of the POCSO bill used the word "balakon", a term for young boys, while the English word "children" is gender-neutral.

To this, she responded that the legislative department of the government had vetted the bill and cleared it.

Rajiv Ranjan Singh of the JD(U) hailed the bill, saying it will curb the growing trend in the society toward such heinous crimes.

He, however, suggested the government work towards having special courts across the country and ensure speedy trial so that the cases of sexual crimes against children are taken to a logical conclusion.

A short period of trial will also minimise the chances of accused influencing witnesses. Citing a survey, he said the cases of sexual harassment against children have risen by 500 per cent.

TMC's Satabdi Roy wondered if the death penalty will deter criminals and asked the government to explain as to what it is doing to help victims.

Shiv Sana's Vinayak Raut supported the bill and sought a time-bound trial for the accused.

BSP's Danish Ali also backed the bill, saying he supports capital punishment for those convicted under this Act even though he is ideologically against the death penalty.

Ali (BSP) said he was against the death penalty for the juvenile.

Hasnain Masoodi (NC) extended support to the Bill stating that the proposed legislation was for the 10 per cent of the victims and that for the remaining 90 per cent there was a need to strengthen the prevention system.

"We have to strengthen the prevention mechanism," he said and added that it was high time to make stringent and effective law for the protection of children.

Amid the opposition to the death penalty for juvenile by some members, Nishikant Dubey (BJP) said the government has shown the power to come up with the death penalty.

He also pitched for the need for an awareness campaign in the society.

Kalyan Banerjee (AITC) expressed concern that in the media the identity of the victim and his/her family got leaked which he said should not happen.

Pritam Munde (BJP) stressed on the rehabilitation of the victims.

Why is India passing more death sentences?

Source: BBC News (21 December 2019)

Four men found guilty of the gang rape and murder of a woman on a bus in Delhi in 2012 are due to be executed in the next few days, following a Supreme Court decision to reject an appeal by one of them.

Indian courts continue to hand down death sentences for the most serious crimes, although no executions have been carried out since 2015.

Other nations have much higher rates of capital punishment than India, with four countries accounting for most of the recorded executions in 2018.

But globally, the number of executions has been falling, and last year saw the fewest in a decade, according to the human rights group Amnesty International.

What crimes does India punish with the death sentence?

Most death sentences were imposed for murders, and murders involving sexual violence, at 45 and 58 respectively in 2018.

In India, these sentences can been be handed out under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (1860).

There are also 24 other state and central laws which contain provisions for the death penalty.

Since independence in 1947, the majority of executions have been carried out in Uttar Pradesh state, according to the National Law University in Delhi.

That state has executed a total of 354 people, with the next highest number being Haryana with 90, and Madhya Pradesh with 73 executions since independence.

The data shows that in 2018 alone, the courts imposed 162 new death sentences - 50% more than the previous year and the highest in nearly two decades.

The number of death sentences handed out by courts in India in 2018 for murders involving sexual violence jumped by 35% from the previous year, driven partly by changes in legislation.

In contrast, more than 250 death sentences were known to be handed out in Pakistan last year, and there were more than 229 in Bangladesh.

But globally, there were slightly fewer death sentences recorded in 2018 than in 2017 - 2,531 against 2,591.

Who executes most people globally?

Amnesty International, which campaigns against the death penalty, says 690 executions were known to have taken place last year, a drop of more than 30% compared with 2017.

In 2018, nearly 80% of all recorded executions took place in just four countries:

Saudi Arabia

In a rare official comment, Vietnam confirmed in November last year that it had carried out 85 executions. In previous years, Vietnam has not revealed the number of executions.

The Asia Pacific region saw a more than 46% increase in the number of executions last year compared with 2017, largely down to the figures from Vietnam. Japan executed 15 people, Pakistan at least 14, and Singapore 13. Thailand also resumed executions for the first time since 2009.

And in the US, for the second year in a row, there were slightly more executions than the previous year - 25 compared with 23 in 2017.

But there are some caveats to the figures:

They do not include China, where Amnesty believes thousands are executed, but the statistics are kept secret

The war in Syria means it is not possible to confirm if executions were carried out there

There is little or no information available from either Laos or North Korea

Amnesty says its figures for the use of the death penalty are therefore likely to be an underestimate.

Who has most people on death row?

There are limitations to the data and it is not available for every single country.

The largest number known about in 2018 was in Pakistan - more than 4,864 cases. Research by a Pakistani rights group this year said that the average prisoner spends 10 years on death row before any appeal gets to the country's top court.

There were more than 1,500 people on death row in Bangladesh, Amnesty International says.

India had 426 people on death row at the end of last year, according to National Law University data. More than half of these were convicted of murder, and a further 21.8% of murder with rape.

There are also large numbers on death row in the US - 2,654 people - and Nigeria had more than 2,000.

By the end of 2018, more than half of all countries had abolished the death penalty in law or in practice - up from 47% a decade ago.

In 2018, Burkina Faso abolished capital punishment, and both Gambia and Malaysia declared official moratoriums on executions.

The US state of Washington declared the death penalty unconstitutional, bringing to 20 the number of US states that have abolished capital punishment.

Friday, 11 October 2019

Malaysia: Unfair trials, secretive hangings and petty drug convictions reveal ‘cruel injustice’ of the death penalty – Amnesty International

Source: The Daily Blog (10 October 2019)

Malaysia must start to fulfill its promise to abolish the death penalty in forthcoming legislation by ending its use for drug-related offences and eliminating the mandatory death sentence, Amnesty International said today, as it launches a new report to mark the World Day Against the Death Penalty.

The report, Fatally flawed: Why Malaysia must abolish the death penalty, reveals the use of torture and other ill-treatment to obtain “confessions”, inadequate access to legal assistance, an opaque pardons process and other serious violations of the right to a fair trial that have put people at risk of execution.

The report also highlights how 73% of those on death row – 930 people – have been sentenced to death for drug-related offences in contravention of international human rights law. More than half of them (478) are foreign nationals.

“Malaysia has a golden chance to break with decades of cruelty and injustice, disproportionately inflicted on some of the most marginalized,” said Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu, Executive Director of Amnesty International Malaysia.

“Our research found a pattern of unfair trials and secretive hangings that itself spoke volumes. From allegations of torture and other ill-treatment to an opaque pardons process, it’s clear the death penalty is a stain on Malaysia’s criminal justice system.”

The death penalty is currently retained as the punishment for 33 offences in Malaysia and is mandatory for 12 of these. In recent years, it has mostly been used for murder and drug trafficking convictions.

A year ago, the newly-elected Malaysian government announced it would repeal the death penalty for all crimes, having already established a moratorium on executions in July 2018. But in a new parliamentary session starting this month, the government is expected to table legislation that will remove the mandatory death penalty only, and for just 11 offences – way short of full abolition.

Amnesty International is calling on the authorities to continue to observe the moratorium on executions until the death penalty is fully abolished and use the anticipated legislation to repeal the mandatory death penalty for all crimes – including drug trafficking.

Death row for the most marginalized

Of the 1,281 people reported to be on death row in Malaysia as of February 2019, 568 (44%) are foreign nationals, who face serious obstacles to access adequate consular assistance and interpretation.

Amnesty International has also found that some of Malaysia’s ethnic minorities are over-represented on death row, and data seen by the organization points to a large proportion of people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Amnesty International found that most people (73%) on death row were convicted of drug trafficking, more than half of them foreigners. Many of them claimed they were coerced or manipulated into bringing small amounts of drugs into the country and had not used any violence. Under international law, countries that have not yet abolished the death penalty must limit its use to the “most serious crimes,” such as murder.

The cases of many women on death row show the devastating impact of Malaysia’s draconian anti-drugs law combined with the mandatory death penalty. Nearly nine out of 10 women facing the gallows are foreigners convicted of drug trafficking. In some cases, women said they were in financial trouble or were coerced into carrying the drugs. However, the mandatory death penalty means judges have no opportunity to give any consideration to these circumstances.

Unfair trials

Lawyers and relatives told Amnesty International that it was common for defendants who could not afford a lawyer to go without any legal assistance until charges were brought before a court. They also described a critically under-resourced legal aid system that left many defendants without legal assistance for long periods, often until the very start of their trial.

Suspects in death penalty cases can be detained up to 14 days, and interviewees told Amnesty International that it was common for defendants to “get beaten up” to extract “confessions”. The practice continues to this day, despite ongoing outcry from Malaysian NGOs. A UN working group’s 2011 investigation already found that “virtually all detainees” had suffered torture or other ill-treatment during their interrogations.

Despite the very high rate of foreigners sentenced to death, as well as the numerous languages spoken inside the country, Malaysian law does not provide for any interpretation services to support defendants who do not speak Malay other than in courtroom proceedings. Amnesty International heard cases of people being asked to sign documents in Malay despite not understanding the language.

Hoo Yew Wah, a Malaysian national of Chinese ethnicity, was arrested aged 20 in 2005 with methamphetamine and convicted based on a statement he made in Mandarin, his mother tongue, but which police recorded in Malay. He says the statement they made him sign is inaccurate, that police broke his finger during the interrogation, and further threatened to beat his girlfriend if he refused to sign it. He did not have the assistance of a lawyer during the period in question. Hoo Yew Wah has been on death row since 2011.

An opaque and secretive system – and a chance for change
Malaysian law does not define the pardon process in any detail, nor does it set out the criteria for a pardon or how prisoners or their families are notified of a decision.

Defendants are not guaranteed a lawyer when they apply for a pardon, and many go without. Others fail to apply for a pardon altogether, either out of despair or because they do not want to admit guilt for a crime they say they did not commit.

While some pro-bono initiatives exist, access to these services is controlled by prison officials, and there is no transparency over how access is granted or not. While the criteria used are not known, they appear to affect foreign nationals: half of them have not filed a pardon application.

“A system this secretive denies Malaysians the full picture,” said Shamini Darshni.

“Amnesty International’s research shows why this government must now honour its pledge to abolish this ultimate cruel and inhumane punishment without delay.”

Monday, 5 August 2019

Singapore says drug smuggling worsens, even as hangings rise

Source: Reuters (31 August 2019)

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Drug trafficking into Singapore, which has some of the world’s toughest drugs laws, has risen recently, the law minister said on Wednesday, and he defended capital punishment for serious drug crime as reflecting public support.

Rights group Lawyers for Liberty warned of an “execution binge” after it said a number of prisoners on death row in Singapore had their requests for presidential pardons rejected this month.

“We have seen an increase in the number of people coming in from countries trying to traffic,” Minister of Law K Shanmugam told Reuters.

He did not elaborate on what type of illegal drugs were being smuggled in.

The wealthy city-state has a zero-tolerance policy for illegal drugs and imposes long jail terms on convicted users. It has hanged hundreds of people - including dozens of foreigners - for narcotics offences over past decades, rights groups say.

Malaysian-based law reform and rights group Lawyers for Liberty said this month that up to 10 prisoners in Singapore had their clemency petitions rejected in July.

“It indicates that Singapore is preparing for an execution binge, in total disregard of international legal norms and decent world opinion,” the group said.

Singapore does not disclose publicly information about clemency petitions and decisions.

Singapore, which has warned against a global trend to ease drug laws, reported 13 executions in 2018 - 11 for drug offences. Amnesty International said it was the first year since 2003 that the number hangings reached double-digits.

Globally, Amnesty recorded the lowest number of executions in the past decade in 2018.

Shanmugam said the higher number of executions last year was also partly due to a hiatus in executions over several years as the government reviewed the death penalty.

He said there remained “very strong support for the government’s current position” on drugs even as some neighboring countries ease their tough stands.

In next-door Malaysia, parliament voted last year to remove the death penalty as mandatory punishment for drug trafficking.

In Thailand, there has been debate on broader liberalization of laws around marijuana after the drug was legalized for medical use and research in 2018.

But Shanmugam said Singapore took a different stance.

“In the places where they have legalized marijuana ... crime has gone up ... medical costs and hospitalization costs have gone up significantly, much more than the tax dollars that the state had hoped to receive,” he said.

“Leave aside the economic costs, the social costs in terms of lives and the trauma and families has been very significant.”

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Sri Lanka: Resuming Death Penalty a Major Setback

Source: Human Rights Watch (30 June 2019)

(New York) – The Sri Lanka government should halt plans to resume executions and restore its de facto 43-year moratorium on the use of the death penalty, Human Rights Watch said today. Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena said he has ordered the execution of four drug offenders, claiming it would end increasing addiction problems in the country.

“Sri Lanka’s plan to resume use of the death penalty is a major setback for human rights,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Sri Lanka has been a bulwark against capital punishment in Asia for more than four decades, yet now the Sirisena government wants to throw in its lot with less rights-respecting regimes.”

The death penalty has not been carried out in Sri Lanka since 1976. Currently, 1,299 prisoners – 1,215 men and 84 women – are on Sri Lanka’s death row after having been convicted for capital offenses, including 48 people convicted for drug crimes.

Sirisena said he was determined to crack down on drug trafficking after over 300,000 people in Sri Lanka allegedly became addicts, with 60 percent of 24,000 prison inmates incarcerated for drug-related offenses.

The United Nations General Assembly has continually called on countries to establish a moratorium on the death penalty, progressively restrict the practice, and reduce the offenses for which it might be imposed – all with a view toward its eventual abolition.

Where the death penalty is permitted, international human rights law limits the death penalty to “the most serious crimes,” typically crimes resulting in death or serious bodily harm. In a March 2010 report, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime called for an end to the death penalty and specifically urged member countries to prohibit use of the death penalty for drug-related offenses, while urging countries to take an overall “human rights-based approach to drug and crime control.”

In its 2014 annual report, the International Narcotics Control Board, the agency charged with monitoring compliance with UN drug control conventions, encouraged countries to abolish the death penalty for drug offenses. The UN Human Rights Committee and the special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions have concluded that the death penalty for drug offenses fails to meet the condition of “most serious crime.” In September 2015, the UN high commissioner for human rights reaffirmed that “persons convicted of drug-related offences … should not be subject to the death penalty.”

Human Rights Watch opposes capital punishment in all countries and in all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty. The alleged deterrent effect of the death penalty has been repeatedly debunked.

“The death penalty is a cruel practice that has no place in modern society for combating drug crimes or any other offense,” Adams said. “Sri Lanka should work toward upholding its human rights pledges and immediately rescind the execution orders.”

Monday, 1 July 2019

After recruitment drive ends, Sri Lanka picks two hangmen as death penalty for drug offences resume

Source: South China Morning Post (29 June 2019)

Sri Lanka has hired two hangmen as it prepares for executions of four prisoners convicted of drug offences in what would be the country’s first use of the death penalty for over 40 years, prison authorities said on Friday.

The Prisons Department began the recruitment process in March after the last hangman
quit in 2014, citing stress after seeing the gallows for the first time. Another, hired last year, never turned up for work.

President Maithripala Sirisena announced on Wednesday an end to a moratorium on the death penalty in force since 1976, a move political analysts said was meant to boost his chances of re-election if he stands again later this year.

Local and international rights groups, along with Britain, Canada, the European Union and United Nations have raised concerns about the South Asian nation’s restoration of capital punishment

“The recruitment process is finalised and two [hangmen] have been selected. The two need to go through final training which will take about two weeks,” prisons spokesman Thushara Upuldeniya said.

The two were picked from among 100 applicants who responded to an advertisement calling for male Sri Lankans aged between 18 and 45 with “excellent moral character” and “mental strength”.

Prisons Commissioner TMJW Thennakoon declined to provide details of the four convicts whose death penalties were approved by the president.

On Friday, a petitioner – a Sri Lankan journalist – filed public interest litigation seeking to stop any executions, arguing that people’s rights were being violated. A court hearing will be held on July 2, and Thennakoon pledged that there would be no executions for the next seven days.

A spokesman for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said on Thursday international drug control conventions cannot be used to justify the use of the death penalty for drug-related offences alone.

“Application of the death penalty may also impede international cooperation in fighting drug trafficking as there are national laws that [bar] the exchange of information and extradition with countries which may impose capital punishment for the offences concerned,” the UNODC spokesman said.

Criminals in Sri Lanka are regularly given death sentences for murder, rape and drug-related crimes but until now their punishments have been commuted to life in prison.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse

Saturday, 22 June 2019

Pakistan to partially rescind capital punishment

Source: Anadolu Agency (20 June 2019)

KARACHI, Pakistan

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Thursday said Pakistan was going to revoke the capital punishment for the accused to be extradited from other countries.

“We are amending the penal code of Pakistan to revoke the capital punishment for the accused to be brought back to the country under extradition treaties with other countries”, Qureshi told reporters in the capital Islamabad.

The development came a day after British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt during a joint press conference with his Pakistani counterpart in London declared that the U.K. would not sign "politically-motivated" extradition treaties with any country.

Qureshi had assured Hunt that his country would not “misuse” any such agreement, if signed.

Islamabad is seeking extradition of several Pakistani nationals, including the founder of Karachi-based ethnic political group Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and a former finance minister, Ishaq Dar on different charges, including murder and money laundering.

Pakistan lifted a de-facto ban on capital punishment in December 2014 following a gruesome militant attack on an army-run school in northwestern Peshawar city, which killed over 140 people, mostly students.

Since then, over 300 convicts, mostly militants, have been sent to gallows. Currently, there are around 8000 death row prisoners in Pakistani jails.

Afghan president to visit Pakistan next week

Qureshi also told reporters that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani would visit Pakistan on June 27 on the invitation of Premier Imran Khan to hold talks on different issues, including the ongoing peace process in the war-racked country.

Diplomatic ties between the two neighbors remained frosty in recent years with both accusing each other of patronizing and using militants against each other.

Monday, 13 May 2019

Taiwan passes laws to make Chinese spying punishable by death

Source: ABS-CBN News (9 May 2019)

TAIPEI - Chinese spies will be subject to Taiwan's newly amended law under which they could face the death penalty, local media reported on Wednesday.

The legislature passed revisions to the penal code on Tuesday to stipulate that spies from mainland China, Hong Kong and Macao committing acts of espionage could be punished by life imprisonment or even death.

Until now, Chinese spies have only been given light sentences.

Those include Zhen Xiaojiang, a retired People's Liberation Army captain who was found guilty in September 2015 of setting up a spy ring in Taiwan, but received only a four-year prison sentence for violating the National Security Act.

The legislature also approved amendments to the Classified National Security Information Protection Act on Tuesday to increase the penalty of Taiwanese citizens leaking or handing classified national security information to people from mainland China, Hong Kong and Macao.

China and Taiwan have been governed separately since Nationalist forces led by Chiang Kai-shek lost a civil war on the mainland to Communist forces under Mao Zedong in 1949. Beijing considers Taiwan as a renegade province awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.


Thursday, 9 May 2019

Western boycotts soften Brunei’s sharia law

Source: Asia Times (7 May 2019)

Amid a global outcry against Brunei’s implementation of Islamic sharia law measures that allow for death by stoning for sex between men and extramarital affairs, the sultanate’s ruler has apparently climbed down from the harshest measures in what some have interpreted as a bid to shield his nation’s besieged overseas commercial interests.

The United Nations, United States and other Western governments had all lodged their concerns over the strict new measures. Hollywood celebrities, meanwhile, had called for a boycott of luxury hotels in Europe and the US owned by the country’s sovereign wealth fund, exclusive properties known collectively as the Dorchester Collection.

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, the small oil-rich sultanate’s absolute ruler, had previously defended his nation’s right to implement the code, part of his move towards what some see as the most extreme interpretation of sharia law. Apart from death by stoning for sexual offenses, the law also allows for amputation of limbs for theft and whipping for other violations.

In a televised May 5 speech, the 72-year-old monarch appeared to step back from those measures, declaring first that Brunei would ratify the United Nations Convention Against Torture and that it would not enforce the death penalty on those convicted under new religious laws. He also claimed the “privacy of individuals” would be respected.

Addressing the controversial legislation for the first time since its introduction on April 3, the sultan cited “many questions and misperceptions” over the implementation of Islamic law and said he would extend a moratorium on capital punishment under the new laws that already applies to the regular criminal code. 

Though offenses such as murder and drug trafficking are punishable by the death penalty under Brunei’s criminal code, executions have not been carried out in the country since 1957. Hassanal did not elaborate on whether this was a new decision, nor did he address other punishments such as whipping and amputation.

“Allah, the provider of blessings, will never bestow upon us laws meant to inflict cruelty on others,” he said in the address marking the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. “We are conscious of the fact that misperceptions may cause apprehension. However, we believe that once these have been cleared, the merit of the law will be evident.”

Atypically, the sultan’s office released an official English translation of the speech, indicating a desire to temper the international backlash that has flared over fears that the strict penal code would lead to the persecution or death of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

There are signs that the boycott against properties owned by the Brunei Investment Agency (BIA), a government arm, championed by actor George Clooney, musician Elton John and others has gained traction. Multinational banks such as JPMorgan, Deutsche Bank, CitiGroup, and Goldman Sachs all banned their employees from staying at Dorchester Collection-operated luxury hotels.

Brunei’s commercial interests are being affected elsewhere, too. According to Bloomberg, real estate firms in the United Kingdom have either shunned invitations from the sovereign fund to consult on its redevelopment of Lansdowne House, a prestigious office building in London’s West End acquired by BIA in the 1990s, or sought first clarification on the new laws.

Royal Brunei Airlines, the sultanate’s flagship carrier, is also feeling the pinch with reports of public relations firms in the UK declining offers to help sell Brunei as a travel and tourism destination. STA Travel, an international travel agency, went as far as severing ties with the airline, which accounts for 80% of the seats flown to and from the country.

Brunei’s ruler “clearly underestimated the damage this law would cause to the Brunei brand,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, told Asia Times. “It’s not just Brunei’s overseas hotels that are taking the hit but partners in the petroleum industry are asking tough questions about the likely fate of LGBT persons under this law.”

Royal Dutch Shell, the joint owner of Brunei’s biggest oil and gas venture responsible for some 90% of the country’s energy sector revenues, recently came under pressure when Eumedion, a Dutch corporate governance group comprised of top Shell shareholders, called on it to press for the improvement of LGBT rights in Brunei.

“This moratorium on the death penalty doesn’t go nearly far enough, it’s clear the sultan is only addressing the most horrific part of the law in the hope of blunting international criticism and anger,” Robertson said, adding that remarks by Brunei’s ruler showed that “the international campaign on Brunei is working, and now more pressure is needed.”

However, not all are convinced that international pressure forced the sultan’s hand.

“Although at first glance it seems that the sultan has backtracked due to international criticism and perhaps even because his bottom-line is being adversely impacted, on closer inspection, this was a domestic masterstroke,” said Mustafa Izzuddin, a political analyst at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Institute of South Asian Studies.

The academic said the announcement’s timing, coming just before the Islamic holy month, would resonate with Brunei’s Muslim majority. “The sultan’s seemingly conciliatory stance shows that he is capable of compassion, reflection and introspection, values that are internalized and promulgated in Ramadan.”

“[His] mileage has increased, not decreased because of the announcement,” Mustafa told Asia Times, describing the move as a “strategic halt” and “temporary reprieve” meant to “buy time for the kingdom to calm the turbulence and concurrently better explain and educate on the nuts and bolts of sharia law as is being implemented in Brunei.”

“I don’t believe that his Ramadan speech reflected his ‘bowing down’ to international pressure,” Azfar Anwar, an Islamic studies and history student at the University of Oxford, told Asia Times. “[The sultan’s] speech demonstrates his belief that the [sharia criminal code] simply needs to be explained better to the global audience.”

“He is de-escalating the situation by providing international audiences what they wanted to hear, [but also] upon scrutiny, he is showing the conservative Muslims, whether in Brunei or around the world, particularly those in the Middle East where he is trying to court investment, that he is unyielding on the sharia.”

If the sultan sincerely sought to strengthen Islamic teachings, however, Azfar claims he would have “sanctioned a serious discourse about this set of premodern Islamic penal codes, and how it can be implemented now according to the principles of justice and equality. All we have seen so far is the instrumentalization of the sharia as a political accessory,” he said.

While the Islamic penal code has support among Bruneians who see its implementation as an expression of religious and national identity, one local expert believes the sultan’s clarified stance appeals to those unhappy with the global media’s coverage of the strict new measures, which are widely seen in Brunei as misunderstood and lacking local context.

“The sultan choosing to respond in this way is unusual, but perhaps necessary since the backlash has taken on a more serious tenor than it did when sharia was first announced back in 2013,” a former Bruneian journalist told Asia Times. “To an extent, the external pressure has forced the governments to appease its critics somewhat. Will it reverse the law entirely? No.”

Bruneians are “probably hoping that with this clarification from the Sultan, the global opprobrium will dissipate and life will return to normal,” said the former journalist, who asked not to be named. “The Hollywood-led boycott is deeply unpopular here, most locals feel it smacks of Western hypocrisy and that Brunei is being unfairly targeted.”

Dominik Müller, a social anthropologist at Germany’s Max Planck Institute, told Asia Times that the sultan’s remarks represented a “clarification” rather than a “U-turn”, as reported widely by international media and made explicit “what many government people have long unofficially said and what most Bruneians have assumed.”

“Bruneian government sources have, albeit only behind the scenes, consistently stressed for years that the new law’s harshest punishments would never be applied and having them on paper would be merely of ‘educational’ character, though other problematic sections, not death-penalty or LGBT-related, remain valid,” he said.

“That said, it is truly remarkable that the sultan said it explicitly in a royal decree. Content-wise this was not surprising, but that he publicly said it, and unambiguously, definitely was and is clearly linked to international reactions,” said the academic, who is also a visiting fellow at Harvard Law School’s Program of Law and Society in the Muslim World.

“And although it is not the rupture international media claim it to be, it changes the situation insofar as it reduces the likelihood of the law developing a life of its own in the hands of potentially zealous enforcers.”

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Brunei says it won’t enforce death penalty for gay sex after backlash

Source: The Irish Times (5 May 2019)

Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah on Sunday extended a moratorium on the death penalty to incoming legislation prohibiting gay sex, seeking to temper a global backlash led by celebrities including George Clooney and Elton John.

The small Southeast Asian country sparked an outcry when it rolled out its interpretation of Islamic laws, or sharia, on April 3rd, punishing sodomy, adultery and rape with death, including by stoning.

Brunei has consistently defended its right to implement the laws, elements of which were first adopted in 2014, and which have been rolled out in phases since then.

However, in a rare response to criticism aimed at the oil-rich state, the sultan said the death penalty would not be imposed in the implementation of the Syariah Penal Code Order (SPCO).

Some crimes already command the death penalty in Brunei, including premeditated murder and drug trafficking, but no executions have been carried out since the 1990s [editor's note: the correct year is 1957].

“I am aware that there are many questions and misperceptions with regard to the implementation of the SPCO. However, we believe that once these have been cleared, the merit of the law will be evident,” the sultan said in a speech ahead of the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

“As evident for more than two decades, we have practised a de facto moratorium on the execution of death penalty for cases under the common law. This will also be applied to cases under the SPCO which provides a wider scope for remission.”

The vastly wealthy sultan, who once piloted his own 747 airliner to meet former US president Barack Obama, often faces criticism from activists who view his absolute monarchy as despotic, but it is unusual for him to respond.

The sultan’s office released an official English translation of his speech, which is not common practice.

“Both the common law and the Syariah law aim to ensure peace and harmony of the country,” he said.

“They are also crucial in protecting the morality and decency of the country as well as the privacy of individuals.”

The law’s implementation, which the United Nations condemned, prompted celebrities and rights groups to seek a boycott on hotels owned by the sultan, including the Dorchester in London and the Beverley Hills Hotel in Los Angeles.

Several multinational companies have since put a ban on staff using the sultan’s hotels, while some travel companies have stopped promoting Brunei as a tourist destination. – Reuters

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Death penalty: as world executes fewer prisoners, Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand are killing more

Source: South China Morning Post

The world may be turning its back on the death penalty, according to report by Amnesty International, but Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand are going in the other direction.

Globally, the number of executions has hit its lowest level in a decade, having fallen to 690 last year from 993 in 2017, according to the human rights watchdog’s 2018 death penalty report. While Southeast Asia as a region is broadly in line with that trend – with seven of the 10 Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) members carrying out no executions last year – the other three states are carrying out more.

Vietnam is the region’s most prolific executioner. It executed 85 people in 2018, more than any other Asean member. It also handed down 122 death sentences, meaning it now has more than 600 prisoners on death row. Meanwhile, Thailand carried out its first hanging since 2009 and Singapore hanged 13 people – its most since 2003. The Thailand execution was of a murderer; in Singapore most of the executions were of drug offenders. Vietnam, which uses lethal injections, executed people for a variety of offences, including murder, drug crimes and national security violations.

Amnesty International’s secretary general Kumi Naidoo said despite the fall in executions worldwide some states were “shamefully determined to buck the trend”.

Singaporean anti-death penalty activist Kirsten Han said the global trend made it even “more disappointing” that Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam were “still clinging on to this archaic, cruel punishment”.

“In 2018 we have seen more executions in Singapore than for a long time, even though there is a lack of evidence that it’s more effective at deterring crime than any other punishment,” she said.

And Amnesty International Malaysia’s executive director Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu said that despite the global trend, campaigners still had their work cut out. She pointed out that the
Philippines, which abolished the death penalty in 2006, was now looking to restore it.

“Efforts should be intensified, not lessened. Countries that are pushing for the death penalty are using political populism to retain or reintroduce it, despite research proving that it is not an effective deterrent. Politicians and leaders use the death penalty to show they want to be tough on crime, despite it not impacting the crime rate.”

Her view was echoed by legal adviser and human rights activist Michelle Yesudas, who said that despite the progress it was disheartening to see some nations “taking a hardline stance on retribution and executions”. “As Singapore chalks up increased executions, Brunei, an abolitionist country in practice for more than 20 years has now included stoning to death as punishment and the Philippines is considering the reinstatement of the death penalty. These moves ride on a wave of anti-crime rhetoric and the false idea that the death penalty is a deterrent and these narratives must be countered.”

For anti-death penalty campaigners, one of the highlights of last year was a commitment by
Malaysia to do away with capital punishment.

However, the former Malaysian representative to the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, Edmund Bon, noted that so far no other Asean nation had shown signs of following its lead.

Last May, Malaysian voters unseated the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition in favour of the more progressive Pakatan Harapan, which set about a series of legal reforms including a moratorium on the death penalty. The government, however, has not yet decided what will happen to the 1,275 prisoners already on death row.

Globally, China remains the world’s most prolific executioner. Amnesty International’s report said it believed the number of executions to be in the thousands, but it could not give an exact figure as the data was a classified state secret. Iran, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, and Iraq accounted for 78 per cent of the 690 executions in 2018. At least 98 of the executions were for drug-related offences.

There were 136 executions in the Asia-Pacific, up from 93 in 2017, although this increase was attributed mainly to Vietnam disclosing a figure – something it rarely does.

By the end of 2018, 106 countries had abolished the death penalty in law for all crimes and 142 countries had abolished the death penalty in law or practice.

In October last year, Singapore hanged Prabu Pathmanathan, who was convicted of drug trafficking despite appeals from the Malaysian government.

Human rights groups claimed that sentence was carried out in breach of due process.

In 2016, Singapore executed another Malaysian, Kho Jabing, for killing a construction worker. In the same year, law and home affairs minister K. Shanmugam slammed activists for “romanticising individuals involved in the drug trade”.

The minister said capital punishment would remain part of Singapore’s comprehensive anti-drug framework that includes rehabilitating users.

More recently, Singapore hanged Malaysian Michael anak Garing, who was convicted of murder in 2015.

15 foreigners among 48 handed death penalty in Indonesia last year: Amnesty

Source: Jakarta Post (11 April 2019)

Indonesia sentenced to death 48 people last year, including 15 foreigners convicted of drug crimes, according to the latest global report on capital punishment by human rights organization Amnesty International.

In its annual report released on Wednesday, Amnesty explained that of the 48 death sentences, 39 were in drug-related cases, eight were for murder and one for terrorism.

In 2017, 10 foreigners were among 47 individuals sentenced to death.

At least 308 convicts were on death row by the end of last year, awaiting their execution without a clear date.

Despite its stance on capital punishment, Indonesia has positioned itself as a human rights pioneer in Southeast Asia. But in 2018, the country observed a moratorium on executions for the second year in a row after the government under President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo executed 18 inmates convicted of drug-related offenses, including foreigners, in three batches between 2015 and 2016.

Nonetheless, Amnesty’s records show that Indonesia has not taken any steps toward abolishing the death penalty, much to the frustration of activists who point out that Indonesia is an initiator of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR). The country is currently also seeking a fifth term on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

“As a pioneer of human rights in Southeast Asia, Indonesia actually has a wider chance to progress from the moratorium [to abolition],” said Amnesty International Indonesia executive director Usman Hamid. “It is ironic that Indonesia has yet to take any formal steps to abolish the death penalty when the global trends show positive progress. Neighboring Malaysia has even announced an initiative to reform the punishment.”

Amnesty’s report shows a global decrease in executions from 2017 to 2018, down by 31 percent, from 993 to 690 executions – the lowest number in the past decade. The number of death sentences globally also slightly dropped from 2,591 in 2017 to 2,531 in 2018.

Known proponents of capital punishment have even started to abandon it last year. For instance, Gambia declared a moratorium on executions, while Burkina Faso abolished capital punishment for general crimes and Malaysia announced a death penalty reform after previously decided to halt executions.

Usman said that eliminating the death penalty could level up Indonesia's diplomatic efforts to save roughly 188 Indonesian citizens on death row abroad.

“Well, how can Indonesia convince other countries to save its citizens from capital punishment if Indonesia maintains a legal basis to practice inhumane punishments at home?"

Usman urged the House of Representatives to push the government into scrapping the death sentence in the Criminal Code (KUHP).

Lawmaker Charles Honoris of the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), who attended the report's launch, said that capital punishment was ineffective in curbing crimes, particularly drug offenses, given that the number of drug-related cases continued to increase in the past few years.

However, he shifted the responsibility to the government and the President, saying that the House was divided over the issue, with few lawmakers daring to openly voice their support for abolishing capital punishment. Therefore, the political will of the President was “key to starting the process of repealing the death penalty”.

The government softened its stance in the past few years by recategorizing the death penalty in the Criminal Code revision bill as an "alternative punishment" that could be commuted to life imprisonment if the convict showed good behavior. However, the draft’s deliberation has progressed at a snail's pace. (ipa)

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Malaysia urged to abolish death penalty by inmates’ families

Source: Arab News (30 March 2019)

KUALA LUMPUR: Families and friends of death row inmates petitioned the Malaysian government to repeal its mandatory death penalty on Friday. Earlier this month, the government backtracked on its decision to scrap capital punishment in the country.

Friends and kin of more than 20 death row inmates gathered in Putrajaya and sent a memorandum to the Malaysian Home Ministry, calling on the government to repeal mandatory capital punishment, and to pardon the inmates, some of whom have been in jail for decades.

“They are feeling very sad,” one friend of a death row inmate told Arab News. “Every family member was expressing their feelings about living without a child or a husband (to the government).”

The man, who asked to remain anonymous, is a friend of Mainthan, a death row inmate convicted of murder who has served 14 years in jail. Mainthan has maintained his innocence throughout his sentence and exhausted multiple avenues of appeal. “I’ve known him for the past two years,” his friend said. “I was really heartbroken — nobody should live like that. We are in 2019, not the 1990s.”

“The family is getting worse day by day,” he continued.

“It’s a family without a father. Even though the father is alive, he is not there to guide the family. It’s like there’s food in front of you, but you are not allowed to taste it. The kids are there (at the prison), but they are not able to hug … their father.”

In October last year, the Malaysian government announced it would abolish the mandatory death penalty for 33 offenses. However, in early March, Mohamed Hanipa Maidin, deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, told Parliament that the government would instead push for the abolishment of the mandatory death penalty for 11 offenses.

Those offenses include nine that fall under the Penal Code involving terrorism and serious crimes, including murder, hostage-taking, organized crime, offenses against the constitutional monarch, and the use of firearms.

Hanipa Maidin said that courts would be authorized to decide whether a person who had committed a serious crime should face capital punishment.

The March announcement met with criticism from human rights groups. The Malaysian Coalition Against the Death Penalty released a statement acknowledging the progress made by the government in abolishing the death penalty for 11 offenses, but expressing its concern over Malaysia’s justice system.

“We are concerned that, at the moment, there is still no developed jurisprudence, protection for the vulnerable, and no sentencing guidelines for the court to consider in exercising its discretion over whether to hand down a death sentence,” the group said.

Kasthuri Patto, a politician from the Democratic Action Party who attended last month’s World Congress Against the Death Penalty in Brussels is an advocate for the abolition of the death penalty, but emphasized the need for awareness and education on the matter.

“It is important to remember that … the death penalty cannot simply be (phrased) as a yes or no question,” Patto told Arab News. “There must be a series of questions that empower the person answering them with knowledge about the death penalty.”

She added: “We need to away from a retributive approach and move toward forgiveness and providing a second chance to death row convicts.”

The government has told Patto, she said, that the moratorium on executions would remain indefinitely, but that the final decision over prisoners’ fates lies with the Pardons Board.

“While no government should discount the emotional argument, as a government, we must also do what is right as per Article 5 of the Federal Constitution, the supreme law of the land, that the right to life must reign paramount to the act of extinguishing lives,” she said.

Mainthan’s anonymous friend told Arab News that he wants justice for his friend and for other long-suffering family members awaiting the fate of their loved ones on death row.

“Abolishing the mandatory death penalty is a secondary thing,” he said.

“What they are going to do with death row inmates should be the priority.”

He added that the Malaysian government must give hope to the people.

“For the past 60 years, the ruling party was Barisan Nasional, and nothing was changed. Now Pakatan Harapan (is in power). ‘Harapan’ means hope. For me, they should give families hope that they will be reunited with their loved ones on death row,” he said.

Death penalty never a solution to crime: advocates

Source: Asia Times (28 March 2019)

On March 11, at the beginning of the Lent season in the Philippines, where more than 90% of the population are Catholic Christians, the brutal murder and possible sexual assault of Christine Lee Silawan, a 16-year-old girl from Cebu City, in Central Visayas region, revived the call for the death penalty. The girl’s face was skinned, and the esophagus, tongue, and trachea were missing. A 17-year-old suspect was under the police custody. He was later released because of technicalities. The girl’s gruesome death reminded the nation of President Rodrigo Duterte’s promise: reimposition of capital punishment for drug-related offenses and heinous crimes.

On March 7, 2017, House Bill 4727 was approved in Congress. If it becomes law, the bill will revive the death penalty either by hanging, firing squad, or lethal injection. It was lauded by Malacañang Palace as an effective measure on Duterte’s war on drugs, but the Senate does not see it as a priority.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Duterte promised to revive the death penalty, believing that it would be a deterrent to criminals, specifically the drug lords. He believes that the “essence of the country’s penal code is retribution.”

In the 2018 Global Peace Index Report conducted by the Australian-based Institute for Economics and Peace, the Philippines ranked as the second least peaceful country in the Asia-Pacific region, despite the lower crime rate recorded by the Philippine National Police (PNP) in the same year.

According to the PNP, the crime rate was reduced to 9.13%, or a total of 473,068 crimes compared with 520,641 crimes posted in 2017. However, the murder rate in the capital city Manila was up by 112%. Common crimes in the Philippines include crime against a person – murder, rape, domestic violence – and crime against property, which includes robbery, theft and fraud. Drug trafficking and trade, human trafficking, and corruption are also rampant despite the government’s effort to curb criminality.
Crime against women

According to Edna Aquino, convener of the #Babae Ako (Iamawoman) Campaign, violence against women and girls, particularly rape, has been invoked in arguments to impose the death penalty. However, Aquino instead urges strong enforcement of existing laws such as those against rape and child abuse.

“Most women survivors of violence wish to see true and impartial justice delivered to them through fair trials and convictions, and through more robust enforcement of existing laws,” Aquino said.

According to the Center for Women’s Resources, one woman or child is raped every hour in the Philippines.

Duterte is known for his misogynistic comments and encouragement of killings. During his speech to soldiers and rebel returnees in Mindanao, he was quoted as saying that raping three women is OK, and told them to shoot female rebels in their genitals.

Davao City in Mindanao, Duterte’s bailiwick, had the highest number of rape cases in 2018, according to the PNP.

Father Flavie Villanueva, a Society of the Divine Word coordinator and the founder of Justice-Peace Integrity of Creation and also the executive director of AJ Kalinga Inc, believes that Duterte’s words have impact on how men treat women.

“Mr Duterte is not an ordinary citizen, he has the highest seat in the executive branch. When you say executive, what he says becomes a policy. There is no room here for freedom of expression. Because every expression that you create is regarded by people as something as executive,” Father Villanueva said.

‘Life is sacred’

In his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) in 2017, Duterte expressed his support for the reimposition of the death penalty, triggering criticisms from the Catholic hierarchy, from human-rights activists, and even from senators.

“In the Philippines, it is really an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. You took life, you must pay it with life. That is the only way to [make it] even. You cannot place a premium on the human mind that he will go straight,” Duterte said during the SONA.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) disagreed.

“We want punishment for the horrendous act committed but we do not call for the killing of a suspect nor the perpetrator who will be subjected to the imperfect justice system run by imperfect duty bearers,” CHR commissioner Karen Gomez-Dumpit said. She stressed that the death penalty is equated to a murder perpetrated by state agents because it is deliberate and premeditated and purposely kills a person. Father Villanueva agreed that it can never solve crimes, but instead creates a culture of fear and violence.

Aquino said the death penalty “threatens the fundamental rights of people, capital punishment will dismantle any hopes we have of building a peaceful, accountable and equal society which values human life and human rights; it further erodes our hopes for a people-centric governance model.”
‘Dancing with death’

In the only country in Asia to first ban the death penalty, then later reimpose it and ban it again, the international community as well as the Catholic Church and human-rights advocates are focusing again on Duterte’s latest stand on reviving capital punishment.

House Bill 4727, authored by former House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, was approved in Congress. The bill seeks death or life-long imprisonment on conviction of drug-related charges, including trafficking, manufacturing, importing, maintenance of drug dens and other drug-related crimes. The crime of plunder is no longer included. It will not impose the death penalty on convicted persons who were below 18 years of age or more than 70 years old during the commission of the crime.
Flawed justice

According to the Supreme Court decision on the case of People vs Mateo in 2004, after 11 years, it was found that there was a 71.77% error rate in verdicts and decisions impacting disproportionately against the poor. Before 2006, 483 death-penalty cases or 53.25% were reduced to reclusión perpetua or life imprisonment, while 65 cases were acquitted.

Blaming the CHR for the rise of crimes or why criminals get away is illogical.

“CHR does not have the mandate of being a law enforcer. We cannot digress from the issues that matter and must help, within our respective mandates and responsibilities, the police and other law-enforcement agencies’ mission to serve and protect the people. The police as a human-rights protector of all persons (without exception) need to be put at the front and center of the ‘solutions to rising criminality’ debate,” Gomez-Dumpit said.

Aquino also said there was an urgent need for reforms in the justice system. Court cases can can drags on for several years, in addition to biased and prejudicial proceedings and frequent miscarriages of justice.

In a 2018 survey of Social Weather Stations and CHR, it was found out that 7 out of 10 Filipinos do not support the death penalty.

Dual purpose

Capital punishment in the Philippines has a long history. During the Spanish period (1521-1898), American colonization, the Japanese occupation and the martial-law era under the Ferdinand Marcos regime, capital punishment was used not only to deter crimes but also used to curtail freedom.

After the People Power Revolution the death penalty was abolished by the 1987 constitution, “unless for compelling reasons involving heinous crimes, Congress hereafter provides for it.” The Philippines thus became the first country in Asia to abolish the death penalty.

However, calls for the reimposition of the death penalty did not abate. The military lobbied for members of the Communist Party of the Philippines to be executed.

But it was only in 1993, during the presidency of Fidel Ramos, a Protestant, that the death penalty was restored by virtue of Republic Act 7659 because of rising criminality.

Despite the death penalty, however, the crime rate continued to soar. In 1999 it increased by 15.3%. President Joseph Estrada issued a de facto moratorium on executions because of pressure from the Catholic Church and rights groups.

Finally, on June 24, 2006, president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo signed into law the Republic Act 9346, titled “An Act Prohibiting the Imposition of the Death Penalty.” The death penalty was downgraded to life imprisonment. The Philippines entered the ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming at the abolition of the death penalty in November 2007. This act in effective binds the Philippines never again to reintroduce the death penalty.

Rule of law

Father Villanueva has seen the worst in his ministry to the orphans and widows of Duterte’s drug war. Although he thinks that the Philippines is already desensitized to the point of reaching the “threshold of inhumanity,” he still believes in restorative justice, where society must provide a chance for criminals to reform.

The CHR is always anchored on the universality of human rights and to look at violations of human rights, shortcomings, abuses, and failure of government institutions to uphold the human rights of all persons. The government (the executive) has the primary duty to implement programs that respect, protect and fulfill human rights.

“We are a system of laws. We adhere to the rule of law and the right to due process for everyone. The deprivation of due process is an injustice that will mean more when it is us or family who is affected. The guarantee of due process and the rule of law will ensure that when it is our turn, we are assured that we will be treated evenly and fairly,” Gomez-Dumpit concluded.

But Duterte has already imposed the death sentence on us Filipinos whether we are guilty of heinous crimes or not. His anti-people policies and shoot-to-kill orders are enough to wipe out not only the criminals but those who are opposing him.

Brunei Introduces Death by Stoning for Gay Sex and Adultery, Despite International Outcry

Source: New York Times (3 April 2019)

A harsh new criminal law in Brunei — which includes death by stoning for sex between men or for adultery, and amputation of limbs for theft — went into effect on Wednesday, despite an international outcry from other countries, rights groups, celebrities and students.

Brunei, a tiny monarchy on the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia, based its new penal code on Shariah, Islamic law based on the Quran and other writings, though interpretations of Shariah can vary widely.

“Brunei’s new penal code is barbaric to the core, imposing archaic punishments for acts that shouldn’t even be crimes,” Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, a nongovernmental organization, said in a statement on Wednesday.

He called on the nation’s ruler, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, to “immediately suspend amputations, stoning, and all other rights-abusing provisions and punishments.”

Brunei has a population of just 430,000 but tremendous oil wealth, which has made the sultan, ruler since 1967, one of the wealthiest people on earth, said to own the world’s largest home and the biggest collection of rare cars.

The sultan, 72, is also the prime minister and holds several other titles. He first introduced the draconian version of Shariah in 2013, as part of a long-term project to impose a restrictive form of Islam on his country, which is majority Muslim.

International protest delayed its implementation at the time, but in deciding recently to put the law into effect, with some revisions, Brunei has stood defiant.

Brunei “is a sovereign Islamic and fully independent country and, like all other independent countries, enforces its own rule of laws,” the prime minister’s office said in a statement on Saturday.

Shariah, “apart from criminalizing and deterring acts that are against the teachings of Islam,” the statement added, “also aims to educate, respect and protect the legitimate rights of all individuals, society or nationality of any faiths and race.”

Rachel Chhoa-Howard, a Brunei researcher at Amnesty International, said in a statement that the country “must immediately halt its plans to implement these vicious punishments, and revise its penal code in compliance with its human rights obligations.”

Beginning on Wednesday, extramarital sex, anal sex, and abortion are to be punished by death by stoning. The death penalty will also be required for some other offenses, including rape and some forms of blasphemy or heresy, like ridiculing the Quran or insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

The law requires amputation of a hand or foot for some crimes, and whipping for others. The punishment for lesbian sex, previously imprisonment and a fine, is now to be 40 lashes.

In some cases, the harshest penalties apply only to Muslims; in other cases, they apply regardless of faith.

The punishments apply to many people who would be considered minors in the West. Anyone who has reached puberty is treated as an adult — while younger children who are old enough to understand right and wrong may be flogged.

Friday, 22 March 2019

Malaysia to abolish death penalty for 11 offenses

Source: Anadolu Agency (14 March 2019)

Malaysian government has decided to abolish death penalty for at least 11 offenses, including terror-related offenses, according to media reports.

The nine offenses fall under the Penal Code and two under the Firearms (Increased Penalties) Act 1971, Malaysian daily The Star said.

According to the daily, Malaysian Deputy Minister Mohamed Hanipa Maidin said that the government had also proposed to give discretionary powers to the courts in commuting sentences for the 11 offenses.

Of 11 offenses, five pertain to terrorism, including directing and committing terror acts. The rest cover murder, hostage-taking, organized crime, offenses against the constitutional monarch and the use of firearms, a report by Singapore-based Straits Times said.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Malaysia to keep death penalty, but no longer mandatory

Source: Channel News Asia (13 March 2019)

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has rowed back on an earlier plan to completely repeal the death penalty, saying that while the government will abolish mandatory capital punishment, it will leave it for courts to decide whether a person convicted of a serious crime will hang.

The mandatory death penalty for 11 criminal offences will be repealed, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Mohamed Hanipa Maidin told parliament on Wednesday (Mar 13).

These offences include committing acts of terrorism, murder and hostage-taking.

“We have made a decision. The government will only repeal the mandatory death penalty. We will make the amendments,” said Mohamed Hanipa.

“This is in keeping with the 27th pledge in the Pakatan Harapan (election) manifesto.”

To a supplementary question on whether there are plans to set up a parliamentary select committee to discuss the repeal of the death penalty before tabling the amendment Bill, Mohamed Hanipa said he would forward the suggestion to the government.

The minister in charge of law, Liew Vui Keong, had said last October that the Cabinet had decided to repeal the death penalty.

“All death penalty will be abolished. Full stop," he was quoted as saying.


Lawyers for Liberty, a human rights lawyers organisation in Malaysia, slammed the government’s U-turn on repealing the death penalty.

“The reversal of the earlier decision is shocking, unprincipled and embarrassing,” Lawyers for Liberty said in a press release.

“This is all the more so as the decision for total abolition had made international news and was praised throughout the region and the world,” it added.

“More seriously, the October 2018 announcement of total abolition had given hope and relief to thousands of convicted or charged persons and their families. To hold out hope of being spared the gallows, only to have the hope snatched away again is extremely cruel and unjust.”

The group also called on the government to keep the current moratorium on executions, pending the total abolition of the death penalty.

Malaysia's decision against a total repeal of the death penalty could also weigh on the future of a fugitive policeman, Sirul Azhar Umar, who fled to Australia just before a Malaysian court sentenced him to death for the 2006 murder of Mongolian model Altantuya Shaariibuu.

Sirul and another policeman convicted of the crime had been serving as members of the personal security detail for Najib Razak, who was deputy prime minister at the time of the murder.

The question of whether anyone had ordered them to kill the woman has never been answered. Najib went on to become prime minister and led the country for nine years before his spectacular defeat at last year's general election.

Since then, Malaysian police have re-opened the case into the model's killing and Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has said his government could revoke Sirul's death penalty to make way for his extradition.

Sirul, who has been held at an Australian immigration detention centre since 2015, faces the prospect of deportation after failing a bid for asylum in Australia.

However, under Australian law, Sirul can only be deported if he does not face the death penalty.

Source: Reuters/Bernama/gs(hs)

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

JAPAN – World’s longest-serving death row inmate Iwao Hakamada

Source: Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network / Japan Times (16 February 2019)

The story of Iwao Hakamada, a former professional boxer and death-row inmate, 82, who continues to battle to clear his name over a 1966 quadruple murder, will be adapted into a manga series, supporters of the convict announced Wednesday.

Hakamada was sentenced to hang in 1968 by the Shizuoka District Court, but was freed in March 2014 after nearly 48 years in prison on death row. Much of that time was spent awaiting his retrial, which has yet to be held.

But a group of Hakamada’s supporters who believe the former boxer is innocent want to retell the events in his case in the form of a manga, to convey his side of the story to younger generations.

To better portray the atmosphere and circumstances surrounding Hakamada’s arrest and his trial, the supporters are working with a manga artist from Shizuoka Prefecture.

Shigemi Mori, 30, who shares Hakamada’s experience as a professional boxer, will create the series. In his younger years Mori lived in Shimizu, an area that is now part of the city of Shizuoka and is also where the 1966 murder occurred.

“I want to tell people how sloppily the investigation was conducted and what Hakamada’s life has been like, in as understandable a way as possible,” Mori said Wednesday at a news conference in Tokyo.

He said he learned about Hakamada’s case as a junior high school student and then-aspiring boxing apprentice, and started questioning the trial that put Hakamada behind bars.

Mori said he believes Hakamada is innocent. Nonetheless, he also said that he is keen to not “coerce readers to accept the supporters’ opinions, and to convey what really happened around Hakamada.”

The manga will be released in six episodes under the title “Split Decision,” with the first episode scheduled for publication on Feb. 15. Eight-page episodes will be published at on the same day of every month.

Those behind the project also plan to translate the series into English and make it available via YouTube to reach a global audience. “I like the title,” Hakamada’s elder sister Hideko said at the news conference. Conceived by Mori, the title is a winning criterion used in boxing matches in which two of three judges pick a different winner than the third judge.

The title also reflects supporters’ criticism of the “unfair” decision in which Hakamada was sentenced to death by a 2:1 majority. The courts’ decisions were split over DNA tests on bloodstained clothing found near the murder victims.

“I promised to do everything I can (to prove Iwao’s innocence) and I did,” Hideko said. She lamented, however, that her efforts to convey her plea have gone unheard.

“It won’t help anything if I tell his story, so I want to convey it through manga,” Hideko said.

Hakamada was a live-in employee at a soybean processing firm in Shizuoka when he was arrested in August 1966 for robbery and the murder of the firm’s senior managing director, his wife and two children. The police found their bodies with fatal stab wounds at their fire-damaged home.

Hakamada initially confessed to the charges, but changed his plea at trial.

The Shizuoka District Court found Hakamada guilty and sentenced him to death in 1968. The sentence was finalized by the Supreme Court in 1980.

Hakamada and his family have long sought retrials, to no avail. But a new development came in 2014 when the district court accepted DNA test results undermining the prosecution’s claim that Hakamada’s blood had been detected on clothing found at the crime scene. The court noted that the evidence could have been fabricated by police.

Then, last June, the Tokyo High Court overturned the lower court’s ruling granting the retrial, questioning the credibility of the DNA analysis method. Hakamada’s lawyers are planning to appeal that decision to the Supreme Court.

Hakamada’s case has gained international attention as the former boxer remains the world’s longest-serving death row inmate.

Japan’s capital punishment system has also been criticized internationally as inhumane.

Hideaki Nakagawa, director of human rights advocacy group Amnesty International Japan, who was present at the news conference, believes the manga will and should spark debate regarding capital punishment among the public.

As of January, 110 inmates were awaiting execution and 86 of them are seeking retrials, according to the Justice Ministry.

“The Justice Ministry says the death penalty system reflects public opinion and enjoys support from the public, but it’s misleading,” he said. “Some people already protest against it … and (the manga) could be thought-provoking for others, too, and could impact public perception.” – Japan Times, 23/1/2019

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Sri Lanka ready for landmark hanging of drug convicts: Minister

Source: Channel News Asia (5 February 2019)

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka is ready to execute five drug convicts and end its 42-year capital punishment moratorium once President Maithripala Sirisena signs the death warrants and a hangman is appointed, officials said Tuesday (Feb 5).

Sirisena announced last year a tougher line on spiralling narcotics-related crime including executions for repeat drug offenders, inspired by a similar crackdown in the Philippines.

The country's justice minister told parliament Tuesday that legal and administrative procedures for the five condemned Sri Lankans were completed last month, paving the way for the first hangings since 1976.

"We have already complied with the president's request to restart capital punishment," Thalatha Athukorale said.

Five names had been sent to the president between Oct 12 and the end of January, but Sirisena was yet to sign the warrants and fix the execution dates, Athukorale added. There was no immediate comment from Sirisena's office on the cases.

Following a visit to the Philippines last month, Sirisena reaffirmed his plans to replicate his counterpart Rodrigo Duterte's "success" in dealing with illegal drugs.

Sirisena praised the "decisive action" of Duterte who has offered anti-narcotics help to Sri Lanka.

Duterte ran on a law-and-order platform that included promises to kill thousands of people involved in the drug trade, even officials.

"Even though I have not implemented some of the decisions of President Duterte, I will not bow to international non-governmental (rights) organisations and change my decision on death penalty for drug offences," Sirisena said last month.

Athukorale said there were 18 drug convicts who would qualify under Sirisena's guidelines to be hanged out of 376 convicts on death row.

But prisons spokesman Thushara Upuldeniya said authorities were still trying to fill a vacancy for an executioner.

Light work and a salary of 35,000 rupees (US$200) a month was offered in advertisements placed last year, but no suitable candidate came forward, he said.

"Technically, we don't have a hangman right now, but if the need arises, we should be able to get one fairly quickly," Upuldeniya told AFP.

While Sri Lanka's last execution was more than four decades ago, an executioner functioned until his retirement in 2014. Three replacements since have quit after short stints at the unused gallows.

Criminals are regularly given death sentences for murder, rape and drug-related crimes but their punishments have been commuted to life.

International rights groups have urged Sri Lanka not to revive capital punishment.

Source: AFP/aa

Monday, 4 February 2019

India: 2018 saw highest death penalties since 2000

Source: Anadolu Agency (25 January 2019)

In nearly two decades, Indian courts awarded highest number of death penalties last year, a new report has found.

According to The Indian Express, a local daily, the report -- Death Penalty in India: Annual Statistics Report 2018 -- released by New Delhi-based National Law University said that courts pronounced 162 death sentences in 2018 which are highest in a year since 2000.

India is one of the countries where awarding capital punishment is legal. In 2017, Indian courts had pronounced capital punishment to 108 persons.

The daily noted that rise in death penalties could be a result of an amended law, under which the capital punishment can be given to those convicted of rape and gang rape of girls below the age of 12.

On December 16, 2012, a 23-year-old student was brutally assaulted with iron rods and gangraped in a private bus in the capital New Delhi -- a horrific crime that roused anger in India. The then government set up a panel which suggested changes in Indian Panel Code (IPC), which were subsequently adopted by Indian Parliament in August 2018.

According to the report, eight of 29 Indian states -- Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Jammu and Kashmir, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, and Tripura -- did not award any death sentence during this period.

The report notes that most of the death penalties were awarded by trial courts which can be challenged in Supreme Court of India.

Last year, the Supreme Court had commuted death sentences to life imprisonment in 11 of the 12 cases it heard, the daily noted.

The spike in capital punishment has triggered a debate in India.

Rebecca John, an Indian lawyer, told The Wire, a local news website: “This scheme is a serious abnegation of all constitutional principles settled over decades by courts of law, and poses a direct threat to the fundamental right to life and liberty.”