Thursday, 10 November 2022

Death row prisoners launch legal challenge to Japan’s no-notice executions

Source: Vatican News (24 October 2022)

https://www.vaticannews.va/en/world/news/2022-10/death-row-prisoners-launch-legal-challenge-no-notice-executions.html

Two prisoners sentenced to death in Japan have launched an appeal against how the country applies the death penalty.

Japan gives prisoners on death row only one or two hours' notice of their hanging, a policy that authorities say safeguards the victim’s “emotional stability.”

Campaigners say it deprives prisoners of their legal rights, as well as the chance to say goodbye to family or receive Church ministry.

Harrowing testimony

The case, brought by two anonymous death row prisoners in Osaka district court, contains harrowing testimony.

“When the prison officer opens the door of the prisoner’s room and announces the execution, the prisoner is immediately detained and taken to the place of execution,” the case quotes death row prisoner Hiroshi Sakaguchi as writing to lawyers. “The prisoner is tied up, handcuffed, and taken to the execution table in the same clothes, where he is hanged with a noose. … We, the condemned, are not allowed to object to the execution.”

Other testimony takes the form of an audio tape recorded in 1955, which shows the final hours of an unnamed prisoner at a time when notice periods were longer. In the tape, the man receives three days’ notice of his upcoming execution and spends the time making affectionate farewells to inmates and his visiting sister, who sobs. The tape includes sound of the man being hanged as Buddhist priests chant sutras.

Japan now has tightened the notice period to one to two hours, giving prisoners insufficient time to contact anyone outside the prison or even to reflect on their upcoming death.

Criticism of the policy

Takeshi Kaneko, a lawyer acting in Osaka for the two anonymous prisoners, says the policy is wrong.

“If you give notice on the day, you can’t prepare well,” Kaneko said. “It’s only due to the convenience of the authorities that they let the prisoner know on the morning of the day. That is a mistake.”

Moreover, the policy denies prisoners the chance to contact a lawyer, and therefore the right of appeal. At least one prisoner was executed while an appeal was underway.

Japan’s Justice Ministry has never said why or when it adopted immediate executions. It says only the policy ensures the prisoner’s “emotional stability.”

Campaigners believe it may be an attempt to prevent suicide. One death-row inmate killed himself in 1975, and the policy may date from that time.

Secrecy surrounds executions

The uncertainty points to the secrecy surrounding executions in Japan. The Justice Ministry announces a victim’s name and conviction but nothing else, citing non-disclosure and privacy rules. Some prisoners are held for more than a decade on death row before being killed on an apparently arbitrary date.

The secrecy means there is almost no public debate in Japan about the death penalty or how it is applied. Campaigners believe many people are even unaware that all prisoners are hanged, a policy unchanged since the 19th century.

“Since only two pieces of information are disclosed by the authorities, this is a situation in which it is impossible to discuss the death penalty system,” Kaneko said.

Hoping for a wider discussion

The current court case does not seek to overthrow the death penalty. The lawyers are challenging one small part of the procedure as a way to start a wider discussion.

“I’d like to ask everyone what they think about the death penalty,” Kaneko said. “Should the notice period be 30 days, 90 days, or even longer? Since there’s no discussion in Japan, we can raise awareness of the problem.”

Kaneko recommends that Japan consider following procedures in the United States, where prisoners in some states are given freedom to meet guests, write letters and eat a last meal of choice. This retains some of their dignity and offers a measure of healing.

If Japan adopted advance notice, it might allow prisoners a final tea ceremony and a chance to write haiku poetry, the Osaka court case argues.

International commitments

In 1979, Japan became a member of the Covenant on Civil Liberties, which prohibits “painful and humiliating” methods of execution. The Committee on Civil Liberties, which oversees implementation of the covenant, has several times expressed concern that death row inmates are executed without prior notice, and that their families cannot prepare themselves. This, it says, is cruel.

Meanwhile, the legal team in Osaka fears retribution against the two prisoners in this court case. They could be executed any day, for an undisclosed reason.

Because of that, the court is not being told their names.

Indonesia Mulls Introduction of a 'Probationary' Death Penalty

Source: Al Jazeera (10 October 2022)

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/10/10/indonesia-considers-plans-for-a-probationary-death-penalty

When Indonesia recently unveiled the latest plans to overhaul its ageing Criminal Code, one of the articles that caught everyone’s eye was the one about the death penalty.

While Indonesia has long executed those convicted of crimes such as terrorism, murder, and drug trafficking, the draft of the new Criminal Code describes execution as a “last resort” and offers an alternative: a 10-year probationary period during which those condemned can have the sentence replaced with a life term if they meet certain conditions.

According to the draft, which is expected to be signed into law in the coming months, judges will be empowered to hand down a death sentence with a probationary period of 10 years if the defendant “shows remorse, there is a chance of reform, they did not play a large role in the crime committed, or there were mitigating factors in the case”.

The so-called probationary death sentence, which has echoes of the two-year ‘reprieve’ that China offers to some of those convicted to death, has raised some concerns, however.

Usman Hamid, the head of Amnesty Indonesia, which campaigns for an end to the death penalty in its entirety, says that if a probationary period is going to be used, it should be granted to everyone who is sentenced to death.

“The concept of the death penalty as an alternative punishment is inconsistent, because the government’s formulation has regressed to where the waiting period is dependent on the judge’s decision, something that is prone to abuse,” he said.

Kirsten Han, a Singapore based anti-death penalty campaigner and independent journalist, says Indonesia’s plans for a probationary death penalty were interesting, but that it remained to be seen how it would actually work in practice.

“It is an improvement from what we have because at least it says that the death penalty should be a ‘last resort’ and that there are mitigating factors, whereas what we have here is mandatory death,” she said. “My main question would be how and who evaluates the criteria like ‘good behaviour’ and ‘chance for reform’.”

Dobby Chew, the executive coordinator of the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network based in Malaysia, agrees.

“It is not a bad idea per se and could be described as somewhat progress. But the conception and framework can be highly problematic as the starting point still requires a person to be sentenced to death,” Chew said.

“A probationary death penalty would put inmates in this odd circumstance where they have to live with the idea they need to prove themselves redeemed with the knowledge that their life would be forfeited if they don’t hovering over their head. In such circumstances, can any repentance even be considered genuine by any standards?”

Chew also agreed that the state would need to be careful in determining the criteria or context of the probationary period and have objective and measurable benchmarks in relation to perceptions of reform.

“The impact on the mental health of inmates and families differs substantially, some families are fundamentally broken, traumatised or damaged by the incarceration as the foundation for their family and lives were destroyed with the conviction and sentence. Occurrences of mental breakdown, or inmates living on a knife edge is relatively common,” Chew added.

He worries that a probationary death sentence in Indonesia will become a compromise that fails to address either reform or punishment.

“Trying to sugarcoat it in a probationary system does not solve the fundamental issues around the death penalty, nor would it provide society with the justice expected,” he said.

“And if a person was able to prove their repentance, or was able to show a lesser degree of culpability, would they have suffered unnecessarily on death row for the 10 years?”

“Do they deserve to have a metaphorical gun pointed at them for the 10 years of their incarceration?”

Malaysia and the Politics Behind the Death Penalty: A Tumultuous Relationship

Source: World Coalition Against the Death Penalty (24 October 2022)

https://worldcoalition.org/2022/10/24/malaysia-and-the-politics-behind-the-death-penalty-a-tumultuous-relationship/

Being one of the few countries around the world to still retain the use of the death penalty in the 20th century, it was a pleasant surprise when the Malaysian Government announced their agreement to abolish the mandatory death penalty on 10 June 2022, following the completion of research that was tabled to push for alternative punishments. Suffice it to say, many Malaysians, international bodies, and abolitionist advocates warmly welcomed this long-awaited news, almost 4 years in the making since the Pakatan Harapan government’s commitment to making Malaysia a no-death penalty zone in 2018.

But to say that our road towards abolition has been smooth sailing would be a far cry from the truth: prior to the announcement, the commitment to do away with the death penalty was filled with multiple delays and setbacks by Parliamentarians, not to mention a political crisis in between which resulted in the changing of government three times which slowed our progress. Adding on to this, advocates continue to face challenges in combatting age-old ideologies that were influenced by government policies of the yesteryears regarding the use of the death penalty, especially with drug offences.

But all in all, from our observations, these events brought to light one factor that played an incredibly significant influence in Malaysia’s abolitionist journey – namely, politics.

Thus, this article will attempt to break down how Malaysian politics has shaped the death penalty as our country knows it today. Firstly, we will explore the background context behind our country’s inheritance of the death penalty, and the political events that have occurred over the years to shift our nation’s view from retentionist to abolitionist.

BACKGROUND CONTEXT

As a previous member of the British colonial administration from 1826-1957, it is of no surprise that the then British Malaya not only inherited the legal and political systems of its British counterparts, but also the laws and punishments that were present at that time – this included the death penalty, of which the United Kingdom (‘UK’) was notoriously famous for in the course of its history. Although Malaysia liberated itself from British rule on 31st August of 1957, it still retained a good majority of these systems and laws that continue to be implemented to this day.

Ironically, the UK took their first steps in abolishing the mandatory death penalty in 1964, just a mere few years after Merdeka, Malaysia’s Independence Day before doing away with it in totality in 1998: One could attribute this to their obligations as signatories and members of various international treaties and bodies, including the European Council of Human Rights and many United Nations Conventions.

Malaysia however, did not follow suit, choosing to focus its resources and policies in favour of stabilising the socio-political changes that were occurring within the country, considering that we were fresh out of independence – an exploration of this can be found later in the article. As of today, the mandatory death penalty applies for 11 offences, ranging from murder, drug trafficking, terrorism, kidnapping, and possession of firearms. A parliamentary reply in February 2022 listed approximately 1,341 persons on death row, of which 905 death row inmates are convicted of offences involving the mandatory death penalty.

THE LONG AND WINDY ROAD TOWARDS ABOLITION

As mentioned earlier, Malaysia’s commitment towards abolition has come a long way considering the politics that have shaped the existence of the death penalty in our country over the years. This section will explore some of these events that have occurred and their respective influences.
The 1980s – The Mahathir Administration, and the War on Drugs.

No discussion on the politics behind the death penalty in Malaysia would be complete without diving into the infamous ‘war on drugs’ that most ASEAN countries undertook since the 1960s: this was often associated with that of the Mahathir administration for Malaysians.

Pre-1980s, the British colonial government introduced the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 (‘DDA 1952’) in Malaysia as a response to the growing threat of drug-related substances in the 1950s. The Act aimed to govern offences related to drug use and trafficking in the country and still continues to be in force to this day. However, it was only during Mahathir’s administration that the death penalty was introduced into the DDA 1952 in 1975, and was made mandatory in 1983.

This amendment was a result of efforts conducted by the government’s campaign against drugs since it was viewed as a security concern in light of the early stages of Malaysia’s development as an independent country fresh out of colonisation. Quintessentially, the issue was framed in a way that depicted drugs as something incredibly harmful to society, not the mention the dangerous threat it represented to Malaysia’s national security because it could possibly derail national development and cause major incitement to violence.

Thus, it was thought that in order to eliminate drug addiction, action must not only be taken through intensive efforts such as education, advertising, testing, and rehabilitation for relatively small amounts of drugs like heroin, cocaine, or marijuana, but also extremely harsh penalties to nip it at the source: to contextualise a few things, one could associate the increasing rates of drug use in Malaysia the early 80s to the fact that we were situated nearby the ‘Golden Triangle’, an area comprising of Thailand, Myanmar, and Vietnam that were known to be the main producers of heroin poppies – hence, it was of no surprise that the country was used as a point of supply to other regions in South East Asia and the world.

In light of this context, ‘nipping it at the source’ meant targeting the use of the death penalty on those involved in drug trafficking rings, to discourage those who intend to use Malaysia as a transit point for international smuggling to the rest of the world. Hence, the introduction of the death penalty in drug laws was seen as a convenient tool to instil fear in drug suppliers and, rather hopefully, deter them from carrying out their trade.

Suffice it to say, this framing dominated the political space from the 1970s to 1989s: that the mandatory death penalty was a necessary evil needed to combat drug offences. This framing largely influenced public perception at the time to retain the death penalty for drugs because of the threat it posed to breaking down family relations and taking away lives, of which those of the older generation continue to hold onto such sentiments today. To further put it succinctly, this mandate was reflected even in the judiciary’s judgment in various cases, most significantly in Chang Liang Sang & Ors v Public Prosecutor [1982] 2 MLJ 231:

other than in the most exceptional circumstances, a sentence of death should be imposed following a conviction for trafficking, in order to mark the gravity of the offence, to emphasise public disapproval, to serve as a warning to others, to punish the offender and most of all the protect the public

Henceforth, it is of no surprise that our country’s drug laws then were considered to be one of the harshest in the world, even more so with the implementation of the ‘no mercy’ policy for those applying for clemency in the 1990s. According to statistics by Amnesty International, Malaysia saw the hangings of more than 120 death row inmates convicted solely on drug offences from 1983 to 1992, of which 1992 saw at least 39 executions, the highest minimum amount recorded in one year. On average, this meant 15-16 executions per year.

Reflecting upon this period, however, 22 years after Mahathir’s administration, studies have shown that the then Prime Minister’s attempts were somewhat fruitless, especially in relation to heroin: it was found by the US Central Intelligence Agency that almost 2 in 3 Malay youths had used heroin throughout that era, proving that the extreme measures to tackle the issue were insufficient. Additionally, an article published by the New York Times in 1989 showed that the country’s addiction rate still rose, and the intensive war drained much of the country’s financial resources (at that time, it was estimated that $22 million was spent a year).
 
2010s: A Change of Heart – The Roger Hood Research on Public Opinion of the Death Penalty, and Amendments to s39B(2A) DDA 1952.

It was only at the beginning of 2010 that Malaysia began to see an uptick in the abolitionist agenda following a few events.

Firstly, the case of Yong Vui Kong drew more attention towards the flaws of the laws administering the death penalty, most particularly in relation to how it unfairly targets vulnerable communities: members of the public and leaders questioned the injustice that was meted out against innocent drug mules and carriers, especially since these individuals often came from poor socioeconomic backgrounds and had no choice but to turn to such trade in order to sustain themselves, or their family. As a result of his case, a 2010 campaign to save his life and commute his sentence in Singapore saw more than 109,346 signatures being collected, and members of the Bar Council, NGOs, and civil society organisations coming together to mobilise on public action. Most significantly, members of the public came together to form a clemency petition that was submitted to the Istana in Singapore – an impressive and collective feat that had never been seen before.

It was through the collective efforts of Parliamentarians, lawyers, and activists that likely brought a great change of framing within the community, namely that we started to view things from a human rights and injustice perspective in order to humanise the criminal and focus more on improving our legal procedures to adhere to international fair trial standards. In short, effort needed to be put in place to prevent miscarriages of justice in light of the irreversibility of the death penalty, a key argument that runs through abolitionist rhetorics. Particularly, there was a focus on how the death penalty represented the state impugning upon the constitutional rights and liberties of the accused: most importantly, the right to life: these human rights ideologies that the older generation used to despise was slowly becoming more ingrained into our communities – namely, the growing acceptance of human rights in Malaysian laws.

Thus in light of the growing popularity of the abolitionist agenda, a research study on public opinion conducted by the late Roger Hood in 2013 found that there was minimal opposition to the abolition of the death penalty – even more so for drug offences. In response to this report, Nazri Aziz (a then-law Minister of the Barisan Nasional Government) cited that this would not have been possible without the support of the public. This was explicit proof that public support for certain issues do play a big part in determining the existence of certain laws in place.

Further, Parliament passed an amendment to Section 39B of the DDA 1952 which saw the mandatory death penalty replaced with discretionary sentencing instead – however, some criticisms of the amendment include the fact that it is not retrospective for previous convictions, which makes it unfair for those that have assisted authorities in the past (a now mandatory element in to fulfil for discretion to be exercised in the amendment Dangerous Drugs Act 1952, s.39B(2A)(d). Additionally, it has been cited to be unsatisfactory in tackling the issue of drug offences as found by research studies conducted in 2022.

All in all, it could be said that the political climate and society, in general, were slowly changing to reflect one that was leaning towards mercy and forgiveness.
 
2018: A New Hope…? Reflecting on the Political Turbulence and Achievements of Pakatan Harapan and Perikatan Nasional.

Prior to the Pakatan Harapan coalition’s victory in the 14th Malaysian General Elections in 2018, the coalition released a manifesto in terms of the promises that the coalition would bring about should they be elected as government of the day – perhaps most significantly was the promise to abolish the death penalty totality in from Malaysian laws, despite their manifesto stating the mandatory death penalty only.

As per their promise after being elected, the then-government affirmed their position and proceeded to impose an official moratorium on all executions in October 2018 which continues to remain in place to this day, something that was widely praised as our first steps towards abolition. Additionally, they also took it upon themselves to review the country’s drug offences, whereby Mahathir, who was the ruling Prime Minister for the second time, declared that the mandatory death penalty which he imposed was seen as “too harsh and effective as a deterrent”.

The coalition were met with resistance by other parties, and very sadly, a slight setback in 2019 occurred when the coalition announced that it would not be abolishing the death penalty in totality just yet, but rather, to focus on abolishing offences that held the mandatory death penalty first and allowing for discretion to be given to judges for certain crimes.

Making matters worse, we saw the coalition’s power as government of the day fall apart following the infamous ‘Sheraton Move’ in 2020, which saw a new government under the coalition of Perikatan Nasional taking over (to last only 17 months before then Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin resigned) – in light of 2 Cabinet reshuffles and the political instability that took place, not to mention the Covid-19 pandemic that put Parliamentary work on a hold due to the declaration of national emergency in the country, this meant that any progress to do with abolition suddenly came to a halt and resulted with a standstill in development. Since the move, progress on the presentation of findings were riddled with postponement after postponement due to the need for further scrutiny and research.

This hiatus, however, did not last long: we saw discussions on the death penalty beginning to gain traction again in late 2021 as a result of the international uproar and heavy campaigning from local and international NGOs fighting against the imminent execution of the late Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam. For the first time in a long time, this saw the culmination of Members of Parliament and Government Officials from the Ministry of Home Affairs coming together and actively taking action to communicate with their Singaporean counterparts to halt his execution in light of his circumstances. Post-execution, calls to abolish the death penalty in Malaysia were made even stronger, emphasising the fact that we could not possibly criticise the acts of our neighbours if we also retained the exact same punishment in our own backyard.

Alongside this period, Parliament also saw Ministers bringing up plans to review and legalise cannabis for medical purposes, an issue which has slowly been gaining traction in the recent years across the globe. Malaysia also saw itself gaining membership in the United Nations Human Rights Council for 2022-2024. All in all, these efforts publicly displayed our commitment towards the abolitionist cause, which brought about praise from the international community.

It was finally in June 2022 that there was an announcement to present the proposals to the alternatives for the mandatory death penalty soon. This was a result of the presentation of a report on the study of alternative sentencing for capital punishment during a Cabinet Meeting, and would mean that the 11 offences holding the mandatory capital punishment will be replaced with alternative forms of punishment. The Malaysian Government will be expected to see a tabling of the relevant legislative amendments needed to abolish the mandatory death penalty in October during a parliamentary setting, and hopefully be on a road towards seeing these amendments take effect by January 2023.

In light of all that has happened, Malaysia’s journey proves to be a prime example of how vital public support and collective action from various stakeholders are, as this in turn changes the laws to reflect the ever-changing societal values that Malaysians uphold. From the CSOs, we saw the agenda being framed in light of the justice and human rights angle to appeal to the public understanding of the death penalty. But all in all, the awareness that has grown over the years among the public has provided sufficient pressure on government bodies in creating bipartisan support in the issue to continue and finish the work of their predecessors in pushing for the relevant amendments.
 
CONCLUDING REMARKS

Overall, despite the turbulent journey that Malaysia has undergone towards being an abolitionist country, recent events and activities that have taken place since still demonstrate the ever-present commitment towards the agenda. This was a result of the collective effort through legal complexes (lawyers, bar council and the judiciary) and civil society organisations (national, transnational, and international advocacy groups) that have utilised the use of litigation, networking, and advocacy – a rather potent combination – in incrementally and successfully highlighting the injustices of the death penalty in our country towards the masses and pressing Parliamentarians for change. This in turn helped to change the political climate regarding the death penalty to steer the change that is very much needed to actualise Pakatan Harapan’s original vision of abolishing the death penalty from Malaysian laws.

All that is left now is for the Malaysian government to follow through with their decision. While it might take time for change to be implemented, hope still remains for Malaysia to turn over a new leaf.

Tuesday, 20 September 2022

Malaysia confirms pledge to end death penalty

Source: UCA News (16 September 2022)

https://www.ucanews.com/news/malaysia-confirms-pledge-to-end-death-penalty/98779

Malaysia will abolish the mandatory death penalty and replace it with other types of punishment for several offences, a government minister said.

Minister of Law, Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said the decision was made after a series of meetings held on Sept 6 and 13, Channel News Asia reported on Sept. 14.

The meetings of the Substitute Sentences for the Mandatory Death Penalty Task Force Technical Committee were led by Minister Jaafar and key members of government agencies who agreed in principle to a proposal to substitute the sentences for 11 offences that carry the mandatory death penalty.

The minister also announced a moratorium for 1,337 death-convict inmates in Malaysia.

He also reiterated his stand on abolishing the death penalty and bringing in punishments that match the gravity of the offence.

“I remain committed to fighting for fairer and compassionate laws on the issue of whipping and the death penalty,” the minister stated in a Facebook post.

The recommendations of the Technical Committee will be submitted to a cabinet meeting and then presented in parliament this month.

Representatives of the Malaysian Prison Department, Ministry of Home Affairs, Royal Malaysia Police, and representatives from various agencies attended the meeting

In June, the Malaysian government initiated the process to abolish the mandatory death penalty, which was a long-standing demand from activists. The move was hailed across the globe.

Amnesty International Malaysia's executive director Katrina Jorene Maliamauv hailed the move as "a welcome step in the right direction, and we urge [the government] to go further and work towards full abolition of this cruel punishment,” AFP news agency reported in June.

In Malaysia crimes punishable by death include drug trafficking, terrorism, murder, rape resulting in death, kidnapping, and the possession of firearms wherein the judge does not have the option to give any alternate or lesser punishments.

The Catholic Church in Malaysia has been vehemently opposing capital punishment and is vocal in supporting its removal from the justice system.

Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (MADPET) is an abolitionist campaign supported by people from all levels of society including Christians.

In Oct. 2018, Charles Hector, a member of MADPET voiced his support for the then government's move to end capital punishment.

Hector said that they were “waiting for the day when we can celebrate the abolition of the death penalty, and death row will disappear in Malaysia,” the Vatican’s Fides news agency reported.

Malaysia carried out its last execution in 2018 and then imposed a moratorium.

In contrast to Malaysia, Singapore has drawn the ire of the international community for the recent executions of 10 prisoners for the crime of drug trafficking.

Monday, 12 September 2022

Iran: Rights groups slam death sentences for LGBTQ activists

Source: Deutsche Welle (9 September 2022)

https://www.dw.com/en/iran-rights-groups-slam-death-sentences-for-lgbtq-activists/a-63069473 

Iran said this week that a court had sentenced to death two female gay rights activists for "spreading corruption on earth" — a charge frequently imposed on people deemed to have broken the country's Shariah laws.

The country's official IRNA news agency reported that the two women, Zahra Sedighi Hamedani, 31, and Elham Chobdar, 24, "misused" women and girls in promising better training and job opportunities abroad — a reference to human trafficking.

A revolutionary court in the country's northwestern city of Urmia, some 600 kilometers (370 miles) northwest of the capital Tehran, handed down the death sentences. The women have the right to appeal.

They were informed of the sentence while in detention in the women's wing of the Urmia jail.

In a short statement, the Iranian judiciary confirmed that the sentences had been issued.

Anger and frustration at the verdict

Law experts say the charge of spreading corruption on earth is particularly vague and that the provision allows Islamic Revolutionary Courts — which handle cases like corruption on earth, enmity against God and drug trafficking — to abuse their legal powers and gives them a free hand in imposing capital punishment.

The verdict was slammed by foreign-based rights groups and activists.

They described the two women as local gay and lesbian rights activists working for the betterment of the LGBTQ community in the Islamic nation.

Many Iranians living abroad also took to social media to express their anger.

6Rang, an Iranian LGBTQ rights group based in Germany, called the verdict against the two women "unfair and unclear" and part of the regime's effort to "spread hatred" in society. The group called for increased global pressure on Tehran to free the two women.

The fate of Sedighi Hamedani, also known as Sareh, has been a cause for concern for months.

Sareh was arrested in October by Iranian security forces while trying to flee to Turkey after returning to Iran from Iraqi Kurdistan, where she had been based.

Global human rights watchdog Amnesty International said in January the charges against Sareh stemmed from her activism on social media in defense of gay rights.

She also appeared in a BBC documentary aired in May 2021 about the abuses LGBTQ people suffer in the Kurdistan Region of northern Iraq.

She had decided to leave Iraqi Kurdistan after being detained by the regional authorities.

It appears she crossed into Iran again before trying to head for Turkey.

A repressive place for LGBTQ people

In a video clip shared with her friend prior to her arrest, Sareh said she was "about to cross the border to Turkey" since she was afraid her "life is at risk."

She pointed out that she could be arrested any minute as security forces had identified her and her friends.

"All I wanted was for everyone to know about the pain and suffering the LGBTQ community is enduring in Iran and that we want to be recognized in order to live freely," she said in the video, shared with 6Rang.

"The journey towards freedom may cost our lives, but we are determined to take it and either live in freedom or die," she added.

6Rang said Chobdar, the other Iranian woman sentenced to death, owns a wedding boutique in Urumiya and is a friend of Sareh.

According to the rights group, Chobdar used to talk on her Instagram channel about issues affecting LGBTQ people in Iran, and that's why she was arrested by authorities for "promoting homosexuality."

Shadi Amin, a coordinator for 6Rang, condemned the death sentences as well as the repression faced by the LGBTQ community in Iran.

Homosexuality is illegal in Iran with its penal code explicitly criminalizing same-sex sexual behavior for both men and women.

The country is considered one of the most repressive places in the world for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, who face constant threats, intimidation and widespread social stigma.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi recently described homosexuality as an "ugly and despicable practice" and said it's part of a "propaganda campaign by the West" in Muslim countries.

Call for global pressure on Iran

Amin told DW that the families of the two women were under enormous pressure not to talk to media about the fate of their loved ones and about the "misconduct and torture" they're experiencing in prison.

She called on Germany and other foreign governments to put pressure on Iran for the release of the women. Amin stressed that the international community must do more to put an end to the repression of the LGBTQ community in the Middle East nation.

Under Iranian law, crimes such as murder, rape, drug trafficking and sodomy can lead to capital punishment. Iran is second only to China worldwide when it comes to the number of people sentenced to death.

The UN's independent investigator on human rights in Iran warned last year that the country continues to execute prisoners "at an alarming rate."

Earlier this year, Iran reportedly executed two gay men on charges of sodomy.

Sri Lanka: President informs the Supreme Court that he will not sign the death sentences

Source: Colombo Page (1 September 2022)

Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe on 31 August 2022 informed the Supreme Court through the Attorney General that he will not sign the implementation of the death penalty.

This was informed by Additional Solicitor General Nerin Pulle, who appeared for the Attorney General when several fundamental rights petitions filed requesting the annulment of a decision taken by former President Maithripala Sirisena in 2019 to execute four defendants sentenced to death for drug trafficking were called before the court.

This petition was called before a three-member Supreme Court bench comprising justices Vijith Malalgoda, L.T.B. Dehideniya and Murdu Fernando.

When the Attorney General inquired about this yesterday (30), President Ranil Wickramasinghe has informed the Attorney General that he will not use his signature to execute the death penalty and accordingly to inform the court about this when the relevant case is heard in the Supreme Court.

When the case was called yesterday, Additional Solicitor General Nerin Pulle, who represented the Attorney General, stated before the court that the government has taken a policy decision not to implement the death penalty and there is no change in that decision.

The chairman of the bench, Justice Vijith Malalgoda, informed the petitioner’s lawyers to inform the court on the next court date whether there is any need to continue this petition.

After considering the facts presented, the bench adjourned the hearing until February 23 next year.
Former President Maithripala Sirisena had made a statement on 26 June 2019 that he had decided to sign the execution of four prisoners sentenced to death for drug-related offences.

Several parties including the Sri Lanka Bar Association, the Center for Policy Alternatives, and the Organization for the Protection of Prisoners had submitted these fundamental rights petitions to the Supreme Court against the former President’s decision.

The petitions alleged that the then president’s decision was against the country’s public policy. Also, the petitioners submitted facts to the court that it is against international human rights principles, unjust and unfair.

Therefore, these petitions requested the court to issue an order invalidating the decision of former President Maithripala Sirisena.

Although Sri Lankan courts give death penalty in serious crimes such as murder, rape and drug trafficking, no executions have been carried out since 1976.

Malaysia may soon do away with mandatory death sentence: Minister

Source: The Straits Times (6 September 2022)

https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/malaysia-may-soon-do-away-with-mandatory-death-sentence-minister

PUTRAJAYA - Mandatory death and whipping sentences could become a thing of the past in Malaysia by early next year with amendments to the laws to be tabled in Parliament next month.

Instead, judges will have the discretion to hand down the two sentences.

"If everything goes well and there are no disruptions to the coming budget session, we will no longer have the mandatory death sentence in 2023," said Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar.

"This will also apply to whipping as it will be left to the discretion of the judges," he told The Star in an interview on Monday.

The Minister in the Prime Minister's Department (Parliament and Law) said he intended to table the proposed amendments during the Parliament meeting starting on Oct 3.

"The amendments on the mandatory death sentences will cover amendments to 33 sections under the law and involve mandatory death sentences for 11 offences," he said.

The 11 offences comprise nine under the Penal Code and two under the Firearms (Increased Penalties) Act.

On the fate of those now on death row, Dr Wan Junaidi said the government was still mulling over its options.

In June, it was reported that there were 1,342 death row inmates who were in limbo as to their fate.

Of the number, over 900 were convicted for drug trafficking while the remaining were for murder.

Of the total, 844 are Malaysians and 498 are foreigners from 40 countries.

The abolition of the mandatory death sentence was first raised by the Pakatan Harapan administration in 2018.

A moratorium on execution was then implemented.

On whipping, Dr Wan Junaidi said the proposed amendments would not do away with the punishment but again give judges the discretion on whether to impose it.

"Personally, I view whipping as very brutal and violent and simply inhumane.

"That is why I am suggesting that judges have the discretion to impose the punishment," he said, adding that most offenders suffer open wounds with many fainting after three strokes.

With discretion given, judges can weigh the gravity of the harm committed by offenders on their victims before imposing the punishment.

He said there might be instances where a judge might say no to whipping in some cases, but impose it on "sadistic" offenders who cause hurt to their victims.

Dr Wan Junaidi said he would meet the Attorney-General's Chambers soon to discuss the matter before seeking Cabinet approval to table the amendments.

On a separate matter, he said the recently passed anti-hopping law was expected to be enforced this month. THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Hamas Authorities Execute 5 Palestinians in Gaza

Source: Voice of America (4 September 2022)

https://www.voanews.com/a/hamas-authorities-execute-5-palestinians-in-gaza-/6730353.html

Gaza's ruling Hamas Islamists executed five Palestinians on Sunday, two of them on charges of espionage for Israel that dated back to 2015 and 2009, the Interior Ministry said.

The dawn executions, by hanging or firing squad, were the first in the Palestinian territories since 2017. Past cases of capital punishment being carried out in Gaza have drawn criticism from human rights groups.

The ministry statement did not provide full names for any of the condemned men. It said three had been convicted of murder.

The two convicted spies, aged 44 and 54, had given Israel information that led to the killing of Palestinians, it said.

The Israeli Prime Minister's Office, which oversees the country's intelligence services, declined comment.

"The execution was carried out after the conclusion of all legal procedures. The rulings had been final, with implementation mandatory, after all of the convicted were accorded full rights to defend themselves," the statement said.

Reuters could not immediately corroborate this.

Palestinian and international human rights groups have condemned the death penalty and urged Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-government in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, to end the practice.

Palestinian law says President Mahmoud Abbas has final word on whether executions can be carried out. But he has no effective rule in Gaza.

Since Islamist Hamas seized control of Gaza from Abbas in 2007, its courts have sentenced dozens of Palestinians to death, and have executed 27 so far, according to human rights groups.

Wednesday, 24 August 2022

Japan: End solitary confinement and video surveillance of death row prisoners

Source: FIDH (22 August 2022)

https://www.fidh.org/en/region/asia/japan/end-solitary-confinement-and-video-surveillance-of-death-row

Paris, Tokyo - 22 August 2022. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Center for Prisoners’ Rights (CPR) denounce the use of solitary confinement and intrusive video surveillance of death row prisoners in Japan. Such measures amount to serious human rights violations and are grossly inconsistent with Japan’s obligations under international law.

According to the latest available official figures, at the end of 2021 there were 107 prisoners (99 men and eight women) under death sentence in Japan. Almost half of them (47 men and two women) were in Tokyo Detention House.

CPR research found that prisoners under death sentence in Tokyo Detention House are held in solitary confinement in 5.4-square-meter cells that are monitored 24 hours a day by closed-circuit TV (CCTV) cameras placed on the ceiling. There are no obstacles in front of the cameras, so everything is videotaped, including prisoners removing their clothes and underwear, as well as their use of toilets.

According to interviews conducted by CPR with five death row prisoners in Tokyo Detention House in May 2022, four of them had been kept in solitary confinement in such cells for periods ranging from three to nearly 15 years. A fifth prisoner was moved after more than 14 years to a cell without a surveillance camera, pursuant to a transfer order dated 1 March 2022. At the time of publication of this statement, the other four prisoners remain in cells monitored by CCTV cameras. Female prisoners under death sentence in Tokyo Detention House are also kept in solitary confinement in cells with CCTV cameras manned by male and female officers.

The use of prolonged solitary confinement and the constant video surveillance of prisoners under death sentence are inconsistent with international human rights treaties to which Japan is a state party, namely the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT).

Prolonged solitary confinement, as defined by the United Nations (UN) Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the “Nelson Mandela Rules”), [1] is not in line with Articles 2 and 16 of the CAT, which impose on the Japanese government an obligation to prevent torture and other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In addition, the UN Committee against Torture has long held that solitary confinement might constitute torture or inhuman treatment and should be prohibited for prisoners sentenced to death. [2] Prolonged solitary confinement is also inconsistent with Articles 7 and 10 of the ICCPR. Article 7 stipulates that no one should be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In its General Comment No. 20, the UN Human Right Committee (CCPR) states that prolonged solitary confinement of detained or imprisoned persons may amount to acts prohibited by Article 7 of the ICCPR. [3] In addition, Article 10 of the ICCPR stipulates that all persons deprived of their liberty should be treated “with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.”

With regard to the 24-hour video surveillance of prisoners under death sentence, this practice is inconsistent with Articles 10 and 17 of the ICCPR. In its General Comment No. 21, the CCPR states that respect for the dignity of persons deprived of their liberty “must be guaranteed under the same conditions as for that of free persons” and that such persons enjoy all the rights set forth in the ICCPR, subject to the restrictions that are “unavoidable” in a closed environment. [4] Article 17 prohibits any “arbitrary or unlawful” interference with an individual’s privacy. The criteria of unlawfulness and arbitrariness are clarified by the CCPR in its General Comment No. 16, which states that interference authorized by the state can only take place on the basis of law, [5] and that even interference provided for by law “should be, in any event, reasonable in the particular circumstances.” [6]

Video surveillance of prisoners under death sentence is not provided by law in Japan and its imposition appears to be arbitrary. The Act on Penal Detention Facilities and the Treatment of Inmates and Detainees (“2005 Prison Act”) stipulates that prisoners under death sentence shall be subject to solitary confinement, prohibiting any contact with other prisoners. However, the 2005 Prison Act does not include rules related to the use of CCTV surveillance in cells. As a result, each correctional institution issues its own Detailed Regulations on Treatment of Inmates Requiring Special Attention (Detailed Regulations). These regulations designate prisoners under death sentence as “prisoners requiring special attention” who must be monitored through CCTV cameras “when particularly strict surveillance is required.”

According to CCPR research, most correctional institutions in Japan have issued their Detailed Regulations. For example, the Detailed Regulations of Tokyo Detention House, Fukuoka Detention House, and Tokushima Prison specifically prescribe that individuals who have been sentenced to death and whose case is under appeal may be detained in cells equipped with video surveillance. Other correctional institutions redacted parts of the designation standards for prisoners requiring special attention, so it is unclear whether prisoners under death sentence in such facilities are designated as persons requiring special attention.

According to the Detailed Regulations of Tokyo Detention House, prisoners who have been sentenced to death and whose sentence is under appeal can be confined in surveillance camera cells only “when particularly strict surveillance is required.” Yet, prisoners under death sentence interviewed by CPR in Tokyo Detention House have not attempted to commit suicide or escape, and no special circumstances would appear to justify their strict surveillance, giving the measure an arbitrary character.

Video surveillance of female prisoners may amount to an additional violation of their right to privacy, whenever CCTV cameras in their cells are operated by male officers, as it can be inferred by the UN Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the “Bangkok Rules”) and the CCPR’s General Comment No. 16. [7]

FIDH and CPR call on the Japanese government to end the use of solitary confinement and video surveillance of death row prisoners in all correctional facilities in Japan without undue delay. The two organizations also demand that death row prisoners held in cells equipped with video surveillance be immediately transferred to other cells without CCTV cameras.

Footnotes


[1] Rule 44 of the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners states: “For the purpose of these rules, solitary confinement shall refer to the confinement of prisoners for 22 hours or more a day without meaningful human contact. Prolonged solitary confinement shall refer to solitary confinement for a time period in excess of 15 consecutive days.”


[2] UN Committee against Torture, Observations of the Committee against Torture on the revision of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (SMR), 16 December 2013; UN Doc. CAT/C/51/4, paras. 32-33.


[3] UN Human Rights Committee, 44th session, General Comment No. 20: Article 7, 1992; para. 6


[4] UN Human Rights Committee, 44th session, General Comment No. 21: Article 10, 10 April 1992; para. 3


[5] UN Human Rights Committee, 32nd session, CCPR General Comment No. 16: Article 17 (Right to Privacy), 8 April 1988; para. 3


[6] UN Human Rights Committee, 32nd session, CCPR General Comment No. 16: Article 17 (Right to Privacy), 8 April 1988; para. 4


[7] Rule 11 of the UN Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders states: “If it is necessary for non-medical prison staff to be present during medical examinations, such staff should be women and examinations shall be carried out in a manner that safeguards privacy, dignity and confidentiality.” The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC’s) commentary to the Bangkok Rules states: “The presence of male staff in the examination and treatment of a woman prisoner may cause extreme distress and violates the right to privacy and should be avoided in all cases.” See also, CCPR’s General Comment No. 16, para.8.

Saturday, 6 August 2022

Vietnamese justice sentences seven people to death penalty for drug trafficking

Source: MSN (4 August 2022)

https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/uknews/vietnamese-justice-sentences-seven-people-to-death-penalty-for-drug-trafficking/ar-AA10h7Xg

The judiciary in Dong Thap province in southern Vietnam has sentenced seven people to death, while two others have been sentenced to life imprisonment and 20 years in prison, respectively, in a drug trafficking case.

The judicial authorities have found them guilty of the crimes of "illegally storing, transporting and organizing drug consumption", according to the verdict released by the Dong Thap People's Court.

Provincial police intercepted one of the defendants in August 2020 while driving a car loaded with nearly 46 kilograms of drugs, including heroin, methamphetamine and keratin.

Already during the trial, the defendants admitted to transporting drugs from Cambodia to Vietnam on as many as thirteen occasions with goods ranging from 20 to 45 kilos.

Thus, the Dong Thap People's Court ruled that the activities carried out by the group were harmful to society, which was the reason for the death penalty.

Vietnamese law is particularly harsh on drug trafficking, since the production or sale of 100 grams of heroin or cocaine, or 300 grams of methamphetamine, is punishable by death.

Human rights organizations have repeatedly urged the Vietnamese authorities to abolish capital punishment. This is the highest number of executions handed down in a single case so far this year.

Families of Myanmar’s death row inmates live in fear of execution

Source: Radio Free Asia (4 August 2022)

https://www.rfa.org/english/news/myanmar/execution-08042022185223.html

The families of 77 political activists sentenced to death by Myanmar’s military junta say they live in fear that their loved ones will be executed without warning after the military regime hanged four prominent prisoners of conscience.

Frustration with the junta boiled over last week after it put to death veteran democracy activist Ko Jimmy and former opposition lawmaker Phyo Zeya Thaw, as well as activists Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw, despite a direct appeal from Hun Sen to Min Aung Hlaing. The executions prompted protests in Myanmar and condemnation abroad.

On Thursday, the daughter of a 56-year-old former junta soldier sentenced to death for allegedly helping pro-democracy People’s Defense Force (PDF) paramilitaries told RFA Burmese that she can’t bear to think that her father might be executed at any point without her knowing.

"As a family member, there is no way I could accept that my father might die all of a sudden,” she said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“They gave him the death sentence, but did he deserve it? He had no involvement [in the anti-junta protests]. I think it is completely unfair that he was given the death penalty just for planning to get involved.”

She claimed that her father was arrested by the military without having committed any crime and was sentenced to death by a military court without having the opportunity to defend himself legally.

She urged the junta to let her father serve out a life sentence in prison, noting that he is a veteran soldier who spent many years in the military.

Prior to last week, only three people had been executed in Myanmar in the past 50 years: student leader Salai Tin Maung Oo, who helped organize protests over the government’s refusal to grant a state funeral to former U.N. Secretary-General U Thant in 1974; Capt. Ohn Kyaw Myint, who was found guilty of an assassination plot on the life of dictator Gen. Ne Win; and Zimbo, a North Korean agent who bombed the Martyrs’ Mausoleum in Yangon in an attempted assassination of the visiting South Korean President Chin Doo-hwan in 1983.

In the more than 30 years between Myanmar’s 1988 democratic uprising and the military coup of Feb. 1, 2021, death sentences have been ordered, but no judicial executions were carried out. Thailand’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) has said at least 77 people are currently sentenced to death in Myanmar.

Legality of execution

Legal experts have noted that only the country’s democratically elected head of state has the right to order an execution under existing laws.

Aung Thein, a High Court lawyer from Yangon, said coup leader Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing considers himself Myanmar’s head of state and that carrying out the death penalty is his right.

“[The junta hasn’t] disposed of the 2008 [military-drafted] Constitution. It has only been suspended,” he said.

“Since they have said they are operating according to the 2008 Constitution, [Min Aung Hlaing] believes the responsibility of head of state falls to him. That's why he might be under the impression that he can order executions.”

A lawyer from Yangon, who asked not to be named for security reasons, said that the hanging of a person considered a political challenger to the military appears more like “revenge” than anything legally justifiable.

“Things have gone from political repression to military repression,” the lawyer said. “When a rivalry becomes intense, the execution of the opposition by a rival organization can be seen more as revenge than legal action.”

Junta Deputy Information Minister Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun said the four activists executed last week were “perpetrators of terrorism” and were “judged according to the law.”

He told a press conference in the capital Naypyidaw a few days after the executions that ideally the junta would have killed the four more than once.

Aung Myo Min, human rights minister for Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG), said the unlawful arrest and execution of the opposition under unjust laws is the same thing as “murder in prison.”

He expressed concern that last week’s executions would lead to more “official” killings in the country’s prisons.

“For a military regime which sees the people as the enemy and kills them wherever they like, executing people in prison is not very unusual. In fact, this is not the death penalty. This is murder in prison, as it is based on unjust laws and unsubstantiated cases and verdicts. After these executions, we worry that the junta may continue, using it as a precedent.”

A mother whose son was recently sentenced to death in Yangon’s Insein prison told RFA she can only pray that no other family members of those on death row be forced to experience such a tragedy.

“It's not good in my heart. I don't know how to describe it,” she said.

“There is anxiety because I'm afraid [another execution] will happen. Nobody wants that to happen. I’m praying that it won't. ... I pray for the speedy release of these young kids."

ASEAN criticism

The current rotating chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, told a meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers in Phnom Penh on Wednesday that if political prisoners continue to be executed in Myanmar, he would be forced to “reconsider ASEAN’s role” in mediating the country’s political crisis.

Under an agreement Min Aung Hlaing made with ASEAN in April 2021 during an emergency meeting on the situation in Myanmar, known as the Five-Point Consensus (5PC), the bloc’s member nations called for an end to violence, constructive dialogue among all parties, and the mediation of such talks by a special ASEAN envoy. The 5PC also calls for the provision of ASEAN-coordinated humanitarian assistance and a visit to Myanmar by an ASEAN delegation to meet with all parties.

Even Min Aung Hlaing acknowledged that the junta had failed to hold up its end of the bargain on the consensus in a televised speech on Monday in which he announced that the junta was extending by six months the state of emergency it declared following last year’s coup. He blamed the coronavirus pandemic and “political instability” for the failure and said he will implement “what we can” from the 5PC this year, provided it does not “jeopardize the country’s sovereignty.”

Foreign Minister of Singapore Vivian Balakrishnan, who is attending the ASEAN meeting in Cambodia, publicly stated on Thursday that further discussion between the bloc and the junta “would not be beneficial” if there is no progress made in the implementation of the 5PC.

Myanmar’s junta has killed at least 2,148 civilians over the past 18 months and arrested nearly 15,000 — some 12,000 of whom remain in detention, according to the AAPP.

Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

Friday, 29 July 2022

Myanmar executes four anti-coup activists, drawing outrage

Source: Al Jazeera (25 July 2022)

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/7/25/myanmar-executes-four-democracy-activists-state-media

Myanmar’s military regime has executed four anti-coup activists, including a close ally of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, drawing widespread condemnation and outrage.

The four men were hanged over their involvement in organising “brutal and inhumane terror acts”, the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported on Monday.

The men were sentenced to death in a closed-door trial in January after being accused of helping armed groups fight the military, which seized power in a February 2021 coup led by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

Phyo Zeya Thaw, a former legislator from Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party, and prominent democracy activist Kyaw Min Yu were found guilty of offences under anti-terrorism laws. Their appeals were rejected last month.

Thaw, a hip-hop artist who was previously detained over his lyrics, had been accused of leading attacks on security forces, including a shooting on a commuter train in Yangon in August that left five policemen dead.

The two other men, Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw, were handed the death penalty for allegedly killing a woman they accused of being an informant for the military government in Yangon.

The executions mark the first use of capital punishment in the Southeast Asian country in decades.

The last judicial executions took place in the late 1980s, according to the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners (AAPP), a human rights group.

Executions in Myanmar have previously been carried out by hanging.

‘Brazen act of cruelty’

Dr Sasa, spokesperson for Myanmar’s National Unity Government, established by members of the elected government the military threw out of office. said the killings were a “dark day” for democracy and human rights.

“We all are devastated by this acts of terror,” Dr Sasa, who goes by the single name, told Al Jazeera. “Indeed they can take away their bodies, but the military generals in Myanmar will not take away the vision of these matters of democracy.”

Yadanar Maung, a spokesperson for Justice For Myanmar, said the executions amounted to crimes against humanity and called for further sanctions against the military’s State Administration Council.

“All perpetrators from Min Aung Hlaing down must be held accountable for this brazen act of cruelty,” Maung told Al Jazeera.

“The international community must act now to end the terrorist junta’s total impunity. The international response to these executions and the junta’s other international crimes must involve coordinated targeted sanctions against the junta and its business interests, a ban on jet fuel and a global arms embargo. Sanctions must be imposed on Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise, to stop oil and gas funds bankrolling the junta’s atrocities.”

Thomas Andrews, the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar, said he was “outraged and devastated” over the executions.

“My heart goes out to their families, friends and loved ones and indeed all the people in Myanmar who are victims of the junta’s escalating atrocities … These depraved acts must be a turning point for the international community.”

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said the executions would further isolate Myanmar in the international community.

In a statement, Hayashi called the move a matter of deep concern and said it will sharpen national sentiment and deepen conflict.

A military spokesperson did not answer calls seeking comment.

The men’s death sentences had been condemned by human rights groups, the United States, France and the United Nations, with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres describing the planned executions as “a blatant violation to the right to life.”

The government, which has sentenced dozens of activists to death since the coup, defended the planned executions as lawful and necessary.

“At least 50 innocent civilians, excluding security forces, died because of them,” military spokesperson Zaw Min Tun told a televised news conference last month. “How can you say this is not justice?”

Myanmar was plunged into crisis by the coup, which removed Aung San Suu Kyi from power, with violence spreading across the country after the army crushed mostly peaceful protests in cities.

More than 2,100 people have been killed by the security forces since the coup, according to the AAPP. The government has said that figure is exaggerated.

Monday, 18 July 2022

Thailand breaks away from Southeast Asia’s brutally punitive drug policies

Source: New Mandala (18 July 2022)

https://www.newmandala.org/thailand-breaks-away-from-southeast-asias-brutally-punitive-drug-policies/

In a region that stands out for having some of the most brutally punitive drug policies in the world, it was astonishing to witness Thailand become the first country in Asia to legalise cannabis. Until recently, Thailand had one of the largest prison populations in Southeast Asia, and one of the world’s highest rates of female incarceration, with most inmates convicted for drug offences. It also imposes the death penalty for certain drug offences (although there has not been an execution for a drug offence for over 10 years), has waged an anti-drug campaign that enabled the extrajudicial killing of at least 2,400 people in 2003, and arbitrarily detains thousands of people in compulsory detention centres for drug users in the name of drug rehabilitation.

Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, drug policies are no less harsh. So far this year, four men have been hanged for drug trafficking offences in Singapore. Thousands of people have been killed extrajudicially by the police in the Philippines since 2016, and even greater numbers of people are being held under arbitrary arrest and detention in prisons and in compulsory drug rehabilitation programmes. The over-investment in law enforcement and criminal justice systems to carry out the broad scope of punishment imposed by drug laws around the region has led to the inadequate capacity of social and health agencies to deliver responses to drugs that are genuinely grounded in principles of health, harm reduction, and development.

These impacts are comprehensively evident in Thailand, but in 2021, several drug policy reforms came into effect, starting with the legalisation of kratom (a plant indigenous to Southeast Asia and commonly used in some rural communities in Thailand as a mild stimulant to treat fatigue), followed by the establishment of the Narcotics Code (which contained reduced penalties and revised sentencing rules to reduce levels of incarceration and shift towards providing a health response to drug use), and continuing with the legalisation of cannabis in 2022.

Uncertainties remain on Thailand’s path toward regulating cannabis

On 9 June 2022, people lined up to make their first legal purchases of cannabis. Every part of the plant has been removed from the list of controlled substances under Thailand’s drug laws. Under these laws, activities relating to cannabis — from consumption to distribution and import/export — were previously met with fines, imprisonment, and even the death penalty. Now, only cannabis extracts exceeding 0.2 per cent THC (the psychoactive component of the drug) remain illegal, which seems to primarily refer to cannabis oil.

Oddly enough, detailed regulations on the definition of ‘extracts’, as well as the use, sale, and cultivation of cannabis, are yet to be released (although they are expected in September 2022). This has resulted in a temporary grey zone where — aside from a few rules (e.g., to prevent public nuisance, and prohibiting sales to people under 20 years of age and pregnant women) — there are virtually no restrictions on the cannabis products that are now widely available for sale. Mobile vans stop in areas with concentrated tourist traffic and offer either pre-rolled joints or a menu of different cannabis strains to choose from to roll your own joint. The government even started to give away one million cannabis plants to households, as people are now allowed to grow an unlimited number of plants at home for their own use.

While statements from the Thai government insist that cannabis has been legalised for medical purposes, they remain vague on the extent to which non-medical use is allowed. In practice, it is now possible to buy and sell cannabis buds and flowers containing any level of THC, without a doctor’s prescription. If people are allowed to grow their own cannabis, then it also naturally follows they can use it however they choose, for medical or non-medical purposes, without a prescription required. The distinction between the medical and non-medical use of cannabis can be blurred in reality — although the 0.2 per cent THC threshold recommended by the WHO to distinguish cannabis intended for medical use is an important yardstick in the international drug control treaty framework.

The fact is that long before the international drug control treaties were agreed upon (in 1961, 1971 and 1988), cannabis was part of Thailand’s traditional medical, spiritual, and culinary practices — like in many other parts of the world. After decades of prohibition (following pressure from countries such as the US), it is heartening to see Thailand reclaim its culture and traditions. The legalisation of cannabis has been championed by Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, who made it his central promise during the 2019 general election campaign. Since then, he has continually referred to the twin benefits of improved access to medical treatment and economic growth as the main aim of the reforms.

There are several issues of concern arising from the rushed nature of the reforms, however. For instance, the reforms were adopted without substantive public consultations, where the voices of people who use cannabis or farmers seeking to enter the new cannabis market could have been heard. In addition, people who use cannabis for medical purposes have found the government-supplied products ineffective and have returned to the black market to fulfil their treatment needs. Small-scale farmers have found the bureaucratic hurdles and costs of commercial production too high and doubt that they can compete with larger corporations. As a result, a group of advocates have put forward a people’s draft law to push for a decentralised regime that would enable the market participation of a wide range of local farmers and other actors in the supply chain. Given the newfound availability of legal cannabis, there is also a pressing need for education and advice to promote the safe and responsible use and cultivation of cannabis.

The significant impact of changes in drug laws

It is important to note that at each step of Thailand’s drug law reforms since 2021, people deemed eligible were released from prison. Over 10,000 people convicted of kratom-related offences and over 3,000 people convicted of cannabis-related offences were released from prison and had their convictions expunged. Many more who were convicted of other offences that were ineligible for release also had their convictions relating to kratom and cannabis expunged. People in prison were encouraged to apply for reconsideration of their sentences after the Narcotics Code took effect, which could result in a sentence reduction and make them eligible for immediate release.

Unlike the cannabis reforms, the legalisation of kratom and the adoption of the Narcotics Code took place after a lengthy consideration process, which was led chiefly by the Ministry of Justice. The pathway to reform was significantly different to that of cannabis — not to mention, overshadowed by the cannabis reforms. However, in a region still marked by extremely cruel and inhumane responses to people engaged in drug-related activities, the reforms to Thailand’s criminal justice, health, and economic systems resulting from the series of drug law changes represent a welcome change. Hopefully, the changes will become a model to look to for Thailand’s neighbours. But for now, uncertainties and concerns about the future shape of these reforms remain.

Wednesday, 29 June 2022

Iran: Regime Using Death Penalty As Means Of Repression

Source: Eurasia Review (2 June 2022)

https://www.eurasiareview.com/02062022-iran-regime-using-death-penalty-as-means-of-repression/

In its annual review of the death penalty, Amnesty International reported that 2021 saw a worrying rise in executions and death sentences as some of the world’s most prolific executioners returned to business as usual and courts were unshackled from Covid-19 restrictions.

At least 579 executions were known to have been carried out across 18 countries last year⁠ – a 20% increase on the recorded total for 2020⁠. Iran accounted for the biggest portion of this rise, executing at least 314 people (up from at least 246 in 2020), its highest execution total since 2017. It is worth noting that these are the statistics that the government of Iran has offered to state-run media, and the actual number of executions in Iran in 2021 is undoubtedly higher. Iran claims most of these executions have been due to a marked increase in drug-related cases– a flagrant violation of international law that prohibits the use of the death penalty for crimes other than those involving intentional killing.

Iran maintains a mandatory death penalty for possession of certain types and quantities of drugs⁠⁠ – with the number of executions recorded for drug-related offenses rising more than five-fold to 132 in 2021 from 23 the previous year. The known number of women executed also rose from nine to 14. At the same time, the Iranian authorities continued their abhorrent assault on children’s rights by executing three people who were under the age of 18 at the time of the crime, contrary to their obligations under international law.

A review of Iran’s death penalty practice suggests that religious and political offenses are employed in a relatively arbitrary fashion, with religious offenses being used to silence political dissidents and political offenses used to persecute persons having acted against religion.

On Thursday, March 17, Javaid Rehman, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran, presented his report during the 49th session of the Human Rights Council. Mr. Rehman highlighted widespread human rights abuses and drew attention to the system-wide lack of accountability for human rights failures: “I reiterate the fundamental responsibility of the State to take serious steps to ensure accountability. In the absence of such steps and the unavailability of domestic channels for accountability, I stress the role and responsibility of the international community, including this Council.”

At the start of 2022, there were serious concerns regarding a recent spike in executions. During the past few weeks, Iran executed forty-nine individuals—fourteen in ten days alone. Of the forty-nine, ten can be attributed to drug-related offenses. Sentencing data also indicate a spike in the issuance of the death penalty. In the same recent thirty-day period, ten individuals were sentenced to death, including 27-year-old Wushu champion Yazdan Merzaei, on drug-related charges.

The Iranian regime’s killing machine has not stopped and is busier than ever. Prisoners are tortured to their death, execution chambers have a waiting list, and Iran’s officials, courts, and judges in the brutal judiciary system recognize no halt or break for issuing death sentences. Based on the Iranian regime Prison Organization’s classified documents obtained by the Iranian opposition coalition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), some 5,197 prisoners are on death row or convicted of Qisas (retribution in kind). “Some 107 prisoners are sentenced to amputation, 51 were sentenced to stoning, and 60 death row prisoners were under the age of 18 at the time of the alleged offense in 2020,” the NCRI stated. According to the documents, there are “1,366 inmates with death sentences, 39 of whom are women; and 3,831 prisoners sentenced to Qisas, 144 of whom are women. The number of prisoners with sentences of more than 15 years is 17,190.”

At dawn on Wednesday, May 25, the Iranian regime’s Judiciary executed at least eight prisoners in Gohardasht Prison in Karaj.

Three of these individuals were identified as Abbas Bitarfan, Ali Nosrati, and Gholam Hossein Zeinali. The other two executed prisoners were Ali Montazeri and Vahid Mianabadi.

On Wednesday, Tehran’s public prosecutor also announced the execution of a prisoner identified only by his initials as R.A. who had previously been sentenced to death on charges of ‘Moharebeh’ (Arabic for war against God). Some sources have verified the identity of the prisoner as Ramin Arab. A local source also reported the execution of another prisoner on May 21 at Zahedan Central Prison in southeastern Iran. The prisoner was identified as Abdullah Brahui from Zahedan. According to the state-run Rokna news agency, a 29-year-old prisoner was executed in Mashhad prison in northeastern Iran on May 22.

The rise in the number of executions in Iran and the regime’s insistence on holding its grounds despite international outrage against this increase reveals a plain and simple reality: The regime of the mullahs is on the verge of collapse and is under the illusion that sending Iranians to the gallows would prolong its life.

How A Singapore Execution Set Off Wave Of Protests

Source: The ASEAN Post (30 May 2022)

https://theaseanpost.com/environment/2022/may/30/how-singapore-execution-set-wave-protests

The only post on Tan Mei Qian's Instagram profile is a picture of her and two friends delivering a letter to Singapore's President.

The letter contained a request to spare the life of Datchinamurthy Kataiah, a 36-year-old man who has been languishing on death row for the past seven years.

His crime – trafficking 44 grams of heroin, around three tablespoons worth, into Singapore.

"The media is heavily censored. So, there is little opportunity for us to raise our opinions here," Ms Tan said.

But that changed last month when another man, Nagaenthran K Dharmalingham, was executed for smuggling drugs into Singapore from Malaysia.

Birth Of A Movement

His hanging sparked a debate as young, aware and globally conscious Singaporeans began speaking up, mostly on social media – an unusual occurrence in politically passive Singapore.

In the days before Nagaenthran's execution, around 400 people gathered at Hong Lim park – the sole place in Singapore where protests are largely allowed without prior police approval.

In the past, rallies against the death penalty that were held there had attracted crowds of less than 50.

But this, a demonstration to halt the execution, was a watershed moment, activists say.

"Nagaenthran's case galvanised many in Singapore and made everyone realise how unforgiving and brutal our punishment system is," Jolovan Wham, the protest organiser, said. Nagaenthran was handed the death sentence for strapping 43 grams of heroin to his thigh.

In the months leading up to his hanging, his lawyers and family filed appeals and clemency requests asking for his death sentence to be commuted on the grounds that he was intellectually disabled.

One assessment found him to have an IQ of 69, a level internationally recognised as a learning disability.

But the courts rejected the claim and found that he knew what he was doing at the time of the offence.

There was hope that the pandemic, which led to a two year pause in executions, would alter Nagaenthran's fate.

But on 27 April, he was hanged at dawn.

Widespread Support

Most Singaporeans support the use of the death penalty but Nagaenthran's case has ignited debate over capital punishment. Singapore's government says its strict drug laws, including the death penalty, are an effective deterrent against crime, making it one of the safest places in Asia.

Just over a month before Nagaenthran's execution, Singapore's Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam told parliament that the majority of residents still support the death penalty and consider it appropriate punishment for drug trafficking. He was referring to preliminary findings from a 2021 survey.

But he did concede that young Singaporeans' support for capital punishment for drug traffickers was lower than the national average.

The responses to Ms Tan's post reflect these findings: "lol go study lah and I hope you never ever get to experience the destruction drugs cause to both the addicts and their loved ones," one comment reads.

Another says, "Please la girl don't fall prey to this nonsense... propaganda. You have no idea what a drug-run state looks like".

But Ms Tan is hopeful.

"I think we are going in a good direction because there is a lot more conversation about it."

More Executions To Come

The increased awareness has been a crutch for the families of those on death row. Datchina's family feels stronger and more resolute about his case because of what they saw at Hong Lim Park, said Kirsten Han, who has been campaigning against the death penalty for more than a decade.

"That is very distinct from other cases that I've worked on. Singaporeans are trying to find action to take themselves," she added.

Nagaenthran's case prompted criticism from the United Nations (UN), an European Union (EU) representative and global figures like billionaire Richard Branson. International rights groups called it a "tragic miscarriage of justice".

"For the first time I see a group of people are voicing out against the death penalty. Social media is full of Nagaenthran's case across so many industries – business, actors, ministers," said Angelia Pranthaman whose 31-year-old brother Pannir Selvam Pranthaman is also on death row, awaiting an execution date.

Activists, who have been trawling through court judgements and speaking to families, estimate that there are more than 60 people currently on death row in Singapore. Prisoners – and their families –have been appealing their cases in Singapore's courts, often representing themselves because lawyers are unwilling to take on late-stage cases.

'Broken System'

As efforts continue to save those who have received execution notices, some are questioning the punishment itself.

Amnesty International says out of the 10 death sentences handed out in Singapore during the pandemic – one sentence was handed out on Zoom – eight were for drug offences.

Singapore is also one of the few countries in the world that have mandatory death sentences for drug crimes – those caught carrying more than 15g of heroin are subject to the death penalty.

UN experts have said the death sentence is disproportionate for the number of drugs in question. Many also say those convicted are victims of a larger problem. "Our system is such that we impose the harshest penalty on the mules. But unfortunately, the drug lords behind the mules are still doing their business in other countries," criminal lawyer Sunil Sudheesan said.

Calls For Abolition

Experts say there is a global shift towards abolishing the death penalty, and that Singapore is an outlier among developed nations.

That said, Asia is home to the top executioner in the world.

China is believed to execute thousands of people every year, but official data is not publicly available.

Indonesia continues to use the death penalty for drug trafficking but hasn't carried out an execution since 2016.

Singapore's neighbour Malaysia has a moratorium on executions and has amended its laws, but Human Rights Watch says judges continue to hand out death sentences, rather than life imprisonment, in the majority of cases.

Other countries in Southeast Asia – the Philippines, Myanmar and Thailand – no longer have capital punishment.

"Singapore's international reputation has already deteriorated significantly with the execution of Nagaenthran," said the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network in a statement after his death.

Despite renewed calls from across the world for Singapore to reconsider capital punishment and existing death sentences, abolition or even a moratorium on executions seems unlikely in the near future.

"It won't happen too soon, but I have been encouraged by the number of young people who are taking action," Mr Wham said.

"I'm optimistic."