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 MalacaƱang 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 reclusiĆ³n 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.