Sunday, 24 June 2018

Officials Silent on Thailand's 1st Execution in 9 Years

Source: Khao Sod English (19 June 2018)

http://www.khaosodenglish.com/featured/2018/06/19/officials-silent-on-thailands-1st-execution-in-9-years/

BANGKOK — Death penalty opponents were caught by surprise by Thailand’s first execution in nine years Monday night while officials are offering no explanation.

After 26-year-old Teerasak Longji was executed at Bangkok’s Bang Kwang Central Prison by lethal injection for aggravated murder, the leading group calling for abolition of capital punishment said Tuesday it deplored the decision and had no idea why the unexpected execution occurred now.

“We are not sure,” Amnesty International Thailand Director Piyanut Kotsan said Tuesday morning when asked about the timing.

Piyanut said Amnesty was not in the loop despite years of discussions with the Justice Ministry. She said her understanding was that Thailand has committed to becoming an abolitionist state as reflected in its master plan for human rights.

The last execution occurred in 2009 when two men were put to death for drug-related crimes. This past October, the head of the government’s human rights agency signaled the death penalty, which had been in de facto moratorium since 2009, would eventually be abolished.

“I can’t say when it will end but in practice it will soon be 10 years since no execution has taken place,” Pitikan Sitthidej said in October. “We don’t know when the death penalty will be abolished.”

Amnesty Thai director Piyanut said that standard practice for the last resort of clemency has been to obtain a royal pardon commuting death to life in prison. She said it’s unclear whether a royal pardon had been sought by Teerasak, who six years ago stabbed a 17-year-old high school student 24 times to steal his smartphone and wallet in Trang province.

Corrections Department chief Narat Savettan declined to comment Tuesday on the circumstances.

“I cannot give any comment about this,” he said, adding that the department would not issue any further statement on the matter.

A statement from Narat released Monday shed new light on why an execution had taken place after nine years. The last paragraph of the statement stated hope the execution would serve as deterrence.

“It is hoped that this execution will give pause to those thinking of committing heinous crimes or violating the law to consider the penalty,” it read.

The statement also pointed out that since the introduction of modern execution in 1935, 325 executions have taken place.

Someone who answered the phone at Bang Kwang Prison said its director, Sophon Yimpreecha was out for a meeting and could not be immediately reached.

Amnesty Thailand issued a statement Monday saying execution is deplorable and will not reduce crime.

“This is a deplorable violation of the right to life. Thailand is shockingly reneging on its own commitment to move towards abolition of the death penalty and the protection of the right to life, and is also putting itself out of step with the current global shift away from capital punishment,” wrote Katherine Gerson, an Amnesty campaigner in Thailand.

According to Amnesty Thailand, 510 people were on death row as of the end of 2017, 94 of which were women. The number of those who have exhausted all final appeals is 193.

Gerson wrote that there is no evidence that the death penalty has any unique deterrent effect, “so the Thai authorities’ hopes that this move will reduce crime is deeply misguided.”

Kingsley Abbot, senior legal advisor for the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists, tweeted on Monday that execution is never justifiable and “flies in the face of Thailand’s repeated commitments on the international to work towards abolition.”

Amnesty announced it will hold a demonstration outside Bang Kwang at 2pm this afternoon.

Man executed by lethal injection

Source: Bangkok Post (18 June 2018)

https://m.bangkokpost.com/news/general/1487782/man-executed-by-lethal-injection

A man has been executed, a first in eight years, according to the Corrections Department.

Teerasak Longji, 26, who was convicted of aggravated robbery, received a lethal injection at 3-6pm on Monday, said Pol Col Narat Svetanan, director-general of the department.

Teerasak robbed and killed a man in Trang province on July 17, 2012. He took a mobile phone and a wallet from the victim and stabbed him 24 times.

The first court handed down a death sentence on him, and the Appeal Court and the Supreme Court upheld it.

He was the seventh prisoner executed by lethal injection after the method replaced firing squad 15 years ago.

Since 1935, 325 convicts have been executed. Firing squad was used on 319 prisoners. The last time was on Dec 11, 2003.

Lethal injection replaced it on Dec 12, 2003. Before Teerasak, it was administered on Aug 24, 2009.

Punishments under the Thai Criminal Code are fining, asset seizures, detention, imprisonment and execution.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Down with the death penalty

Source: The Kathmandu Post (4 May 2018)


On April 21, 2018, India’s cabinet passed the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2018. One of the main amendments proposed in the ordinance was the insertion of a new provision, Section 376AB, in the Indian Penal Code which prescribes a death penalty to offenders convicted of raping a minor under the age of 12. Many have welcomed the government’s decision to exercise stringent punishment. This decision was primarily in response to widespread public outrage against the increasing incidents of rape, among others.

In Nepal too, in the wake of an increase in the reported incidents of rape, members of the public, activists and law makers have been putting forth similar demands to enact laws that allow for capital punishment against perpetrators of rape. Recently, in a State Assembly meeting of Province 3 that was held in Hetauda, members of the assembly demanded that death sentences be levelled against those guilty of rape. This is a clear indication of the public support for capital punishment when it comes to heinous crimes such as rape. According to popular opinion, if perpetrators are given a death sentence, then justice will be served and the occurrence of heinous crimes will decrease.

A pertinent question here is whether or not prescribing a death penalty to the perpetrators of such heinous crimes acts as deterrence, thus resulting in crime reduction. Is death penalty really the solution to combat such crimes?

The practice of capital punishment is guided by the retributive principle of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” An analysis by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights concluded that “capital punishment does not deter crime to a greater extent in comparison to the threat and application of the supposedly lesser punishment of life imprisonment.” As Amnesty International puts it, “the death penalty violates the most fundamental human right—the right to life. It is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment carried out in the name of justice.” It has to be understood that the death penalty, irrespective of the nature of the crime, characteristics of the offender, or the method used to prosecute, is a cruel and inhumane act.

Where do we stand?

In Nepal, following legal reforms in 1946, the death penalty was partially abolished for ordinary crimes. It was reinstated in 1985 for the offences of homicide and terrorism. The death penalty was completely abolished in Nepal only after the constitutional provision of 1990. In South Asia, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka have abolished capital punishment; while, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Maldives have continued the practice.

The prevailing Constitution of Nepal (2015) under article 16 has guaranteed that all citizens have the right to live with dignity and has also prohibited any law to be made that prescribes the death penalty. This is a fundamental right. As per article 1 of the constitution, the constitution is the fundamental law and any law that is inconsistent with the constitution shall be void. It, therefore, is explicit that no law can be made in Nepal that prescribes the death penalty. Even if such a law is made, it shall be void on grounds of inconsistency with the constitutional provision. Apart from these, Nepal is a signatory to Second Optional Protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which mandates abolition of the death penalty.

The newly enacted Penal Offence (Punishment Determination and Implementation) Act, 2074 which is due to be implemented from August 17, 2018 has incorporated various new penal provisions such as community service, suspended sentence, reform homes, rehabilitation centres, open prisons, parole, probation, etc. Section 13 of the act has clearly prescribed that the purpose of punishment should be to deter the offender, rehabilitate the offender, create a sense of remorse in the offender, etc. This clearly suggests that the penal policy adopted by the criminal justice system of Nepal is of a reformative approach.

Apart from this, in a bid to introduce stringent laws, the new National Penal (Code) Act, 2074 has introduced a new provision regarding life time imprisonment. As per the prevailing Muluki Ain, 2020, lifetime imprisonment would entail 20 years in prison. But the new law has prescribed two kinds of life time imprisonment: imprisonment for the remainder of that person’s life in cases of heinous crimes, and imprisonment for a period of 25 years.

Way forward

As per a report by Amnesty International, 105 countries around the world had abolished the death penalty for all crimes as of September 2017. With many countries adopting an abolitionist approach to the death penalty, it is time to re-examine our stance. Nepal was among the earliest countries in South Asia to abolish the death penalty, which is remarkable. The prevailing constitution has explicitly prohibited making laws that prescribe the death penalty. The new laws on sentencing policy are guided by a reformative approach. In this purview, it is futile to put forth demands to reintroduce the death penalty for heinous crimes. It would be a regressive step for the criminal justice system of Nepal.

It has to be understood that the death penalty is never the answer. Seeking justice through revenge can never serve as justice in the realest sense. Injustice to one cannot bring justice to another. There is no credible evidence to suggest that death penalties deter crimes more effectively than other punishments. Rather than opting for inhumane punishment such as the death penalty, more focus must be given to proper implementation of existing laws, strengthening the investigation and prosecution process, and providing speedy justice. While it is important that all perpetrators of heinous crimes be brought to justice and given punishments that match the gravity of the offence, the death penalty should never be levelled against anyone.

Magar is a section officer at the High Court Tulsipur, Butwal Bench

Drug trafficking: Death penalty no longer mandatory; but give judges full discretionary powers

Source: Aliran (3 May 2018)

https://aliran.com/civil-society-voices/drug-trafficking-death-penalty-no-longer-mandatory-but-give-judges-full-discretionary-powers/

Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet) is pleased that the Dangerous Drugs Amendment Act 2017, which received royal assent on 27 December 2017, has finally, after much delay, come into force on 15 March 2018.

The 8 March gazette notification appointing the date of coming into operation of this new law – which will abolish the mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking, giving judge’s discretion to be able to sentence those convicted of drug trafficking to an alternate sentence of life imprisonment with not less than 15 strokes of the whip – was signed by the minister of health. It was odd that it was not the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Azalina Othman, the de facto law minister or the home minister.

It must be pointed out that this still unexplained delay has resulted in grave injustice to at least 10 individuals who had been sentenced to the mandatory death penalty this year until 15 March 3018, because judges still had no discretion to consider and impose any other sentence other than death penalty until the date the Act came into operation. (It must be noted that not all those convicted and sentenced to death for drug trafficking would have been reported by the media.)

This 10 media-reported cases include give Malaysians and five foreign nationals, being:

S Pragasam, 30 – Ipoh High Court (Malay Mail, 9 February 2018)

Ong Cheng Yaw, 33, and San Kim Huat, 38 – Kuala Lumpur High Court (The Malaysian Insight, 8 February 2018)

Jonas Chihurumnanya (Nigerian) – Kuching High Court (The Borneo Post, 30 January 2018)

S Gopi Kumar, 33 – KL High Court (The Sun Daily, 24 January 2018)

A Sargunan, 42, and four Indian nationals, namely Sumesh Sudhakaran, 30, Alex Aby Jacob Alexander, 37, Renjith Raveendran, 28, and Sajith Sadanandan, 29 – Shah Alam High Court (The Sun Daily, 22 January 2018)

This new law, when it came into force, will only benefit those who had not yet been convicted by the High Court. If already convicted and sentenced to death before the law came into force, then even the appellate courts will not have the power to review the death sentence, and impose an alternative sentence for drug trafficking.

The only way that those already sentenced to death can escape the death penalty is if the appellate courts set aside the conviction for drug trafficking.

Even after the amending Act came into force, there are still serious flaws, including limitation on the factors that judges could consider when imposing the appropriate just sentence after conviction. The law now states, that judges “may have regard only to the following circumstances” being a limited list of four matters.

In criminal trials generally, judge will consider all relevant factors and circumstances of the case and/or the relevant convicted persons, including also age and whether he or she is a first time offender, before imposing a just and appropriate sentence.

At present, there is also mandatory requirement “that the person convicted has assisted an enforcement agency in disrupting drug trafficking activities within or outside Malaysia” before a judge can impose a sentence other than death.

This is unjust for it affects an individual’s right to a fair trial, for an innocent person, when convicted at the High Court, may be forced to incriminate himself truthfully and/or falsely simply to avoid the death penalty. This ‘admission’ will also affect his or her right of appeal against conviction and sentence to the appellate courts, be it the Court of Appeal and/or the Federal Court.

The new amendments also failed to deal with the 800-plus persons currently on death row for drug trafficking, including also others who had already been convicted before the amending Act came into force.

Madpet calls for a immediate amendment of the law to ensure full, unfettered discretion be given to judges when it comes to sentencing those convicted of drug trafficking. We also urge that judge’s discretion when it comes to the imposition of imprisonment not to be simply limited to life imprisonment, but to be extended possibly by setting a more just and reasonable minimum sentence of not more than five to 10 years especially for first-time offenders;

Madpet also calls for the abolition of the mandatory death penalty for the about 11 remaining offences in Malaysia, and for the total abolition of the death penalty; and

MADPET also reiterates the call for a moratorium on executions pending abolition of the death penalty in Malaysia.

Monday, 30 April 2018

‘South Korea should lead abolition of death penalty in Asia-Pacific’

Source: The Korea Herald (27 April 2018)


South Korea has an unprecedented record when it comes to the death penalty, allowing a political prisoner on death row to become its president.

Late President Kim Dae-jung, who was in office from 1998 to 2003, was sentenced to death in 1980, on treason charges.

With a campaign by the international community and human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Kim was able to leave the country for the United States two years later.

The last execution in Korea took place in 1997 and while the country still has the death penalty, it has been categorized as abolitionist in practice.

Now, South Korea should take the next step to abolish its death penalty and lead the human rights movement said Chiara Sangiorgio, the advisor on the abolition of the death penalty at the International Secretariat of Amnesty International, in an interview with The Korea Herald on Tuesday.

“South Korea has not carried out executions for more than 20 years. I think the moment is ripe for steps to be taken to abolish the death penalty here,” she said. Sangiorgio was also the lead author of the annual Amnesty report on the death penalty. The organization released the 2016-2017 report on April 12.

According to the latest report compiling data until the end of last year, South Korea has not delivered a death sentence for the past two years.

“Unfortunately, we did see one case in February, but we can see it is becoming a rare occurrence here,” she said.

“Many countries around South Korea practice executions in horrific ways, from North Korea to China and Japan. So the country stands out in the region from this point of view. It is a human rights issue which the government and the administrators here should take ownership of.”

China was once again the world’s leading executioner, with the figures expected to reach into the thousands. Japan carried out four executions in secrecy, and North Korea is also infamous for their public executions.

Regarding the communist regime, the watchdog found a report which claims that a ban on public executions has been placed.

“We see it as a significant step, which shows how the world’s stance is changing towards the death penalty.”

But she explained they face challenges with limited access to information in North Korea.

“We know there are executions. And we are concerned about the unfair trial proceedings as it seems to be the way through which the punishment is imposed, without the right to appeal,” she said. “But it would be difficult make a judgment for North Korea until we have full access to the statistics there.”

As of the end of 2017, South Korea had 61 men under the sentence of death. And while there has been legislative efforts to abolish the death sentence, the public sentiment appears to oppose doing away with the death penalty.

According to 2015 data from Korea Legislation Research Institute, 65.2 percent of the respondents opposed the abolition of the death penalty, while 34.2 percent agreed. In another poll in 2017, 79.4 percent of 1,000 respondents supported maintaining the death penalty.

Since 1999, seven revision proposal bills have been tabled at the National Assembly where they have been left pending for several years.

Sangiorgio noted it is not enough for the authorities to just say they cannot abolish the death penalty due to public opinion, as it is a question of leading the country for improving human rights.

“How polls are devised, what the respondents know, and when the polls are conducted can all affect the result,” she said. “Studies have shown that when the public is informed of what the death penalty is and what alternatives there are, their supporting opinions will change,” she explained.

“It is important to understand that abolishing the death penalty is not asking for impunity for crime, but that it is discussing about cruel punishment that needs to be repealed.”

Taking the example of Mongolia, which abolished the death penalty over a period of six years, Sangiorgio said South Korea can also initiate the process step by step.

“The government can start by formalizing the status quo of where the country is at in terms of the death penalty, and have a strong pronouncement by leadership. It should also take international commitment,” she said.

Amnesty International called for the South Korean government to immediately establish an official moratorium on executions, and urged it to vote in favor of the draft resolution on a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, which will be considered at the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly at the end of this year.

“South Korea is put in a unique place and timing. And the country‘s leadership should take the opportunity to improve its human rights record and become the next country to abolish the death penalty,” Sangiorgio said.

By Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)

Saturday, 28 April 2018

How Islamic does Brunei want to be?

Source: Asia Times (23 April 2018)

http://www.atimes.com/article/islamic-brunei-want/

When Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah first indicated in 2014 his oil-rich sultanate planned to implement sharia law, the announcement stirred waves of controversy, with Hollywood stars and rights activists calling for a boycott of the luxury Beverly Hills hotel owned by his sovereign wealth fund.

Four years on, however, the Muslim majority Southeast Asian state has yet to fully implement the harshest elements of the Islamic criminal code, including amputation or even execution for theft, apostasy, adultery and the deemed offense of sodomy.

While Hassanal, who rules as absolute monarch, prime minister and head of state religion, continues to call for the full implementation of sharia law, there has been little public explanation for the delay.

That’s led to certain speculation the sultanate is sensitive to outside perceptions, particularly as the nation courts more foreign investment – including from China – to help diversify its long dependence on energy revenues amid fast depleting supplies.

While nearby Malaysia and Indonesia also enforce laws that exclusively govern the conduct of Muslims, Brunei would be the first East Asian country to adopt strict sharia law at the national level.

Though some netizens had questioned or opposed the proposed Islamic legal code on social media when first announced, most people in the conservative sultanate are believed to support sharia legislation as an expression of religious and national identity.

The sultan, judging by his public speeches, views expressions of religiosity as a check on the Western influence of the internet and globalization broadly.

Though no organized opposition group has ever openly challenged the state’s religious stance, some observers believe the laws aim to placate Islamists who may otherwise be put off by the monarchy’s ostentatious displays of wealth.

Some analysts regard Brunei’s adoption of sharia law as a bid to attract more investment from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Situated between Asia’s largest Muslim majority countries, Brunei has long sought to become a regional hub for Islamic banking, finance and services.

While there is no evidence to suggest that sharia law influences the investment decisions of GCC countries, harsher Islamic laws would put Brunei’s legal and religious strictures closer in sync with Saudi Arabia and others.

In March last year, King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud became the first Saudi monarch to visit Brunei. The brief appearance of the Saudi royal, who claims religious guardianship as custodian of Islam’s holiest sites, served to affirm the sultan’s own religious position and legitimacy.

While the introduction of sharia law may have sullied perceptions of Brunei in the West, China has moved to become the sultanate’s largest foreign investor in recent years. The Bank of China (BOC) established a branch in Brunei in 2016 to facilitate FDI, including ventures related to its global Belt and Road Initiative.

Major Chinese investments include the Muara Besar refinery and petrochemical complex, currently being built by China’s Hengyi Industries International Pte Ltd. The venture has employed thousands of Chinese construction workers in the sultanate.

Beijing’s investments in Brunei’s shipping, telecommunications and agriculture sectors, currently estimated at around US$4.1 billion and growing, have set the stage for Bandar Seri Begawan to become a regional outpost for Chinese businesses.

Chinese nationals and business people, however, could be reluctant to live under the punitive measures associated with sharia law. It remains to be seen whether the full implementation of Islamic law in Brunei complicates relations with China or deters private investment.

Sharia demands a high evidentiary burden of proof, such as the requirement of four pious men to witness personally an act of fornication to support a sentence of stoning, which would make cases of capital punishment rare.

Brunei’s legal system is based on British common law with a parallel sharia law system for Muslims that had largely governed custody rights and marital matters. Sharia’s jurisdiction was broadened in 2014 to include criminal law.

The first phase of the new penal code covers cases generally punishable by fines or imprisonment. The subsequent phases have yet to be implemented. Some reports attribute the delay to challenges faced by the country’s Kafkaesque religious bureaucracy.

The implementation of full sharia law can only take effect following the gazetting of a Criminal Procedure Code (CPC), a document articulating all rules and prosecutions associated with sharia as a guide for their implementation.

Brunei’s ruler has publicaly lambasted the country’s religious affairs ministry, which is tasked with drafting the CPC, for the delays. Hassanal lamented how the CPC draft process seemed to “drag on without completion” in remarks to local media in 2016.

“The challenges of fundamentally transforming judicial and enforcement structures may have been underestimated,” writes Dominik Müller, a visiting fellow at Harvard University’s Islamic Legal Studies Program.

The sultan’s “public criticism against the CPC’s slow finalization exemplifies how in the absence of an opposition or independent civil society, he plays that role now as well,” he says, noting, “the Sultan is his government’s sharpest critic.”

A draft of the sharia CPC was recently announced for gazetting in lieu of last month’s Legislative Council, the country’s annual session of parliament, indicating a possible end to the ongoing legal impasse.

The second phase is slated to take effect 12 months after the CPC’s enactment, while the third and final phase will begin after 24 months. Barring any further delays, this would put Brunei on track to fully enforce sharia law by 2020, four years later than first envisaged.

Non-Muslims comprise some 21.2% of Brunei’s population, according to US Central Intelligence Agency statistics, while 65.7% are ethnic Malays who practice Islam.

Though ethnic and religious minorities in Brunei generally refrain from open dissent, some hold private reservations about harsher forms of sharia law due to human rights concerns and impacts on commercial activity.

All restaurants in Brunei, including Chinese restaurants and those catering to non-Muslims, are required to close during Friday prayers and are limited to providing take-away services to adhere to fasting during the month of Ramadan.

Regulations restricting traditional Chinese lion dance performances have also come into effect. Public celebrations of Christmas have been curbed since 2014, when the new penal code’s first phase first came into force.

Brunei’s sharia courts say the number of filed cases in 2017 had dropped to 148 from 259 in 2016. Around 66% of sharia offenses pertain to khalwat, or intimate contact between unmarried couples.

Hassanal, 71, marked 50 years in power last October with a golden jubilee procession through the capital Bandar Seri Begawan. The sultan’s advocacy of Islamic criminal law has prompted observers to question why such measures had not been introduced in the earlier years of his reign.

Most interpret the move as a means of legitimizing the monarchy’s political power amid sluggish economic growth and dwindling oil and gas reserves threaten the sultanate’s high standard of living.

An eventual succession will see Brunei’s Crown Prince Al-Muhtadee Billah take the throne as the next sultan. The prince has characterized Brunei’s sharia compliance as a “competitive edge” in efforts to transform the sultanate into an Islamic finance hub.

Only a small number of governments have actually implemented the sort of punishments that Brunei has in mind, says Chandra Muzaffar, a Malaysian political scientist and Islamic reform activist.

“Ruling elites in certain Muslim countries champion certain forms of punishment such as amputations and the like which resonate with the masses’ understanding, or rather misunderstanding, of Islam,” Chandra says.

“They do not want to emphasize the essence of the faith such as accountability and human dignity, which may undermine their own position.”

India: Reject Ordinance on Death Penalty for Rape

Source: Human Rights Watch (24 April 2018)

https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/04/24/india-reject-ordinance-death-penalty-rape

(New York) – The Indian parliament should not adopt into law an ordinance which introduces capital punishment for those convicted of raping a girl under 12 years of age, Human Rights Watch said today. India should instead work towards abolishing the death penalty which is inherently cruel and irreversible, with little evidence that it serves as a deterrent.

The government passed the ordinance on April 21 following widespread protests after attempts by some leaders and supporters of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to defend Hindu perpetrators of the abduction, ill-treatment, rape, and murder of an 8-year-old Muslim child in Jammu and Kashmir state. In Uttar Pradesh state, authorities not only failed to arrest a BJP legislator accused of raping a 17-year-old girl, but also allegedly beat her father to death in police custody.

“With this populist call for hangings, the government wants to cover up the fact that its supporters may have engaged in a hate crime,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director. “If the government is serious about dealing with violence against women and children, it will have to do the hard work of reforming the criminal justice system and ensure that perpetrators are not protected from prosecution by political patronage.”

Two BJP ministers in Jammu and Kashmir state government joined an affiliated group called the Hindu Ekta Manch to protest the arrest of the accused in the horrific case in the state. The accused include a former government official and four police personnel. The ministers have since resigned.

Following the 2012 gang rape and death of Jyoti Singh Pandey, a medical student in Delhi, the Indian government enacted legal reforms to respond to sexual assault and rape. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, added new categories of offensesregarding violence against women and girls and made punishment more stringent, including death penalty for repeat offenders. Similarly, the Protection of Children against Sexual Offences Act, 2012, established guidelines for the police and courts to deal with victims sensitively and provided for the setting up of specialist child courts.

“There was hope that these measures would encourage more victims and their families to step forward, and result in more successful prosecutions,” Ganguly said.

While the number of rape cases reported in 2016 increased by 56 percent over 2012, there remains much to be done to change the way the justice system responds to victims.

In a November 2017 report, “Everyone Blames Me,” Human Rights Watch found that survivors, particularly among marginalized communities, still find it difficult to register police complaints. They often suffer humiliation at police stations and hospitals, are still subjected to degrading tests by medical professionals, and feel intimidated and scared when the case reaches the courts. They face significant barriers when trying to obtain critical support services such as health care, counseling, and legal aid.

Although Indian law makes it mandatory for police officials to register rape complaints, Human Rights Watch found that police sometimes press the victim’s family to “settle” or “compromise.”

In cases of children, not only has the government not established effective oversight mechanisms that could help prevent child sexual abuse, but existing measures remain poorly implemented.

For women and girls with disabilities, who face a higher risk of sexual violence, the challenges are even greater, Human Rights Watch has found.

However, instead of fixing these structural barriers, the Indian government has expanded the use of capital punishment for rape. Now the parliament should ensure that this ordinance does not become part of permanent legislation.

The government’s ordinance comes despite the fact that both a high-level government committee and India’s Law Commission came out against the death penalty. Human Rights Watch opposes the use of the death penalty in all cases.

The new ordinance also increases minimum punishment for rape of girls and women. While the Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences Act covers sexual abuse against both girls and boys, the ordinance does not cover rape of boys.
  • For rape of women above 16 years of age, minimum punishment is increased from 7 years to 10 years in prison;
  • For rape of girls between 12 to 16 years of age, minimum punishment is now 20 years which may extend to life in prison;
  • For gang rape of girls between 12 to 16 years of age, minimum punishment is life in prison;
  • For rape of girls under 12 years of age, minimum punishment is 20 years in prison which may extend to life in prison or death penalty;
  • For gang rape of girls under 12 years of age, minimum punishment is life in prison or death penalty.
In India, according to the 2016 government data, out of 38,947 cases of rape reported by children and women, the accused was known to the victim in 94.6 percent of the cases. In 630 cases, the accused was the victim’s father, brother, grandfather, or son; in 1,087 cases, the accused was a close family member; in 2,174 cases the accused was a relative; and in 10,520 cases, the accused was a neighbor.

Rape is already underreported in India largely because of social stigma, victim-blaming, poor response by the criminal justice system, and lack of any national victim and witness protection law making them highly vulnerable to pressure from the accused as well as the police. Children are even more vulnerable due to pressure from family and society.

With this background, an increase in punishment, including the death penalty, may, in fact, lead to a decrease in reporting of such crimes.

“The Indian government has repeatedly said that it is committed to dealing with violence against women and children. But actions speak louder than words,” Ganguly said. “The new amendments are ill-conceived and hasty. Protecting children requires a far more thoughtful approach and politicians need to summon the political will to deliver it.”

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Death penalty soon to end ‘in practice’

Source: The Phuket News (16 April 2018)

https://www.thephuketnews.com/death-penalty-soon-to-end-in-practice-66779.php#hzZlc36ulrlctUgg.97

BANGKOK: Thailand will be one step closer to becoming a country that is no longer considered to have capital punishment next year, according to a definition which adopts a 10-year period for declaring a country execution-free in practice, says Amnesty International Thailand.

The group said it was pleased this criteria will likely be met, but added the country should go the whole way and revoke the death penalty entirely.

Amnesty International has recently released its 2017 global review of the death penalty, which shows its declining use in many regions around the world, such as Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, including Thailand where there has been no execution since 2009.

Last year, Thai courts ordered 75 executions, a decrease from 216 cases in 2016.

“We’re close to becoming a country that is free of executions in practice as recognised by the United Nations. If we can successfully do it, it will be significant to the country’s human rights development,” she said.

According to the Department of Corrections, as of December 2017, there were 502 prisoners in Thai jails who have been sentenced to death.

Ms Piyanut said that the country could go further by officially suspending the death sentence together with commuting the sentences of those who have received the death penalty but have yet to be executed.

Moreover, she said the country should ratify the Second Optional Protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which is a binding international agreement to abolish the death penalty.

Amnesty International is committed to the unilateral abolishment of the death penalty on the grounds of human rights and humanitarianism, while there has been no correlation found between the use, or abolition, of capital punishment and crime rates, she said.

According to the Amnesty International report, there were least 993 executions in 23 countries in 2017, down by 4% from 2016 (1,032 executions) and 39% from 2015 (when the organisation reported 1,634 executions, the highest number since 1989).

At least 2,591 death sentences in 53 countries were recorded in 2017, a significant decrease from the record-high of 3,117 recorded in 2016.

Indonesia, which executed four people convicted of drug crimes in 2016, did not carry out any executions last year and reported a slight decrease in the number of death sentences imposed, the group’s report said.

Amnesty International: Malaysia taking baby steps to abolishing death penalty

Source: Malay Mail Online

http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/amnesty-international-malaysia-taking-baby-steps-to-abolishing-death-penalt

KUALA LUMPUR, April 12 — Amnesty International Malaysia (AIM) has lauded the government’s move to amend the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 to give judges discretion over the previously mandatory death penalty.

At the launch of its Global Report: Death Sentences and Executions 2017, AIM executive director Gwen Lee said the move, though small, was still positive and that the government was progressing towards eliminating capital punishment.

However, she questioned the impact the amendment will have on reducing executions in the country.

“Those convicted of transporting, sending or delivering a prohibited substance who were also found to have cooperated with law enforcement in disrupting drug trafficking activities have an alternative sentence of life imprisonment and no less than 15 strokes of the whip.

“While this might seem like a positive move, it is unclear what impact these changes will have on reducing the number of people executed as the alternative punishment still amounts to torture.

“It creates an impossible choice for people who have been wrongly accused of crimes — admit to a crime they did not commit or maintain their innocence at the risk of death,” Lee said.

She then told reporters after the launch that the first case after the amendment had taken place still put three men on death row.

“Based on a news article on April 4, the High Court Judge sentenced three men to the mandatory death penalty.

“The lawyers tried to use the new amendment but according to the judge there was no proof that the men actually helped bust a drug trafficking ring, thus they were not eligible for life imprisonment,” she said.

Lee also presented that last year Malaysia had carried out at least four executions — three for murder and one for discharge of firearm — although she believed there could be more as data on the death penalty is not made public.

She also disclosed that 38 new mandatory death sentences were imposed for 21 drug related offences, 16 murders and one discharge of firearms. Four of those sentenced were women and 12 were foreign nationals.

As of February, data compiled from the Prisons Department showed that 1,122 convicts are on death row. Malaysia was also one of the 11 countries that had consecutively executed convicts over the past five years.

Lee also brought to attention the case of Hoo Yew Wah who was arrested in March 2005 when he was 20 years old for being in possession 188.5 grams of methamphetamines and was automatically presumed and later convicted of trafficking.

Hoo was convicted based on a statement he made at the time of arrest without a lawyer present. All his appeals had been rejected by the courts and his petition for pardon to the Sultan of Johor, where the offence took place, is still pending.

The launch was also attended by members of the diplomatic corp including the Mexican Ambassador to Malaysia, Carlos Felix Corona and the Spanish Ambassador to Malaysia Carlos Dominguez Diaz.

Pakistan operating a blanket policy of refusing all mercy petitions

Source: Daily Times (12 April 2018)

https://dailytimes.com.pk/226884/pakistan-operating-a-blanket-policy-of-refusing-all-mercy-petitions/

ISLAMABAD: Chaudhry Shafique, Commissioner from the National Commission on Human Rights stated that the clemency process in Pakistan is deficient, and recommended that improvements be made to align it with the country’s constitutional and international human rights obligations.

Speaking at the launch of JPP’s latest report No Mercy: A Report on Clemency for Death Row Prisoners in Pakistan, Mr Shafique added “The President’s power of mercy is critical for ensuring justice under Pakistan’s criminal justice system.”

He stated that at a hearing at the Senate Committee on Human Rights last month, it was recommended that the NCHR, Ministry of Law and Justice, Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Human Rights, must examine the petitons before sending it to the President.

The Canadian High Commissioner to Pakistan Mr Perry Calderwood also delivered his comments on the report saying that, “Canada opposes the death penalty in all cases, everywhere and we encourage the abolition of the death penalty internationally.” He added that, “The debate on capital punishment in Pakistan occurs in a global context, but it is also local and specific to this country. It is a debate led by Pakistani citizens.”

No Mercy finds that in the three years since the moratorium on the death penalty was lifted, the Government of Pakistan has executed nearly 500 prisoners. Although the President of Pakistan possessed the constitutional authority to pardon death row defendants under Article 45 of the Constitution, in practice, such petitions have been consistently denied since Dec. 2014, therefore operating under a blanket policy even for cases with strong evidence of humanitarian abuses and violations.

According to the Ministry of Interior, the President’s office rejected 513 mercy petitions of condemned prisoners over the last five years, 444 of which were in the first fifteen months after the resumption of executions in Dec. 2014.

This is particularly alarming given that the Interior Ministry has also informally confirmed that the Government of Pakistan has a de facto policy in place to summarily reject all pleas of mercy.

83 percent of all executions and 89 percent of all death sentences handed out since Dec. 2014 have been in Punjab. Out of approximately 3,723 prisoners awaiting execution, mercy petitions of 41 (including 1 woman) have been rejected as of July 2017. 382 prisoners have been executed in Punjab since Dec. 2014.

This staggering figure could soon include paraplegic death row prisoner Abdul Basit, mentally ill Imdad Ali or even known juvenile offender Muhammad Iqbal. Pakistani citizen Zulfiqar Ali also continues to languish on death row in Indonesia. Their death sentences, direct results of a systemic flaws, may only be overturned under the right to seek Presidential pardon.

Mercy petitions of 74 prisoners remain pending with the President of Pakistan.

The cases examined in the report illustrate the systemic problems that Pakistan’s criminal justice system is mired in. Given these procedural failings, it is imperative that individuals on death row be provided with a fair chance to obtain clemency, and to introduce new and potentially exculpatory evidence.

The report can be found on http://www.jpp.org.pk/report/no-mercy-a-report-on-clemency-for-death-row-prisoners-in-pakistan/

Sarah Belal, Executive Director, JustIce Project Pakistan adds: “The right to seek pardon belongs to the people and so is reposed in the highest dignitary of the State. It is enshrined in our constitution, and that the Supreme Court has deemed this power unfettered. As citizens, death row prisoners have the unqualified right to seek pardon, and the Presidency has an obligation to consider their petitions on merit and not to summarily reject them. Pardoning the most vulnerable prisoners, whose stories we have shared today, would be a critical step to demonstrate a meaningful application of this responsibility.”

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Capital Punishment, Human Rights, and Indonesia's Chance for the Moral High Ground

Source: The Diplomat (3 April 2018)

https://thediplomat.com/2018/04/capital-punishment-human-rights-and-indonesias-chance-for-the-moral-high-ground/

On Sunday March 18, Saudi Arabian authorities beheaded Indonesian migrant worker Zaini Misrin without providing diplomatic notice to the relevant Indonesian authorities.

The execution was carried out undeterred by repeated requests from Indonesian President Joko Widodo for clemency. Zaini was executed in spite of strong evidence suggesting he was coerced into confessing to killing his employer and that his own translator was complicit in this coercion.

There are fears that more Indonesian migrant workers may be executed in Saudi Arabia. While a large number of Indonesian citizens are on death row in Saudi Arabia, the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has stated there are two specific cases involving Indonesian female migrant workers that have been listed as critical.

Zaini is not the first Indonesian to be beheaded in the Gulf state. In 2011, the execution of an Indonesian migrant worker prompted Indonesia to recall its ambassador and to begin a moratorium halting the placement of Indonesian migrant workers in the informal sector in Saudi Arabia. In 2015, the execution of two mentally ill Indonesian women migrant domestic workers prompted the Indonesian government to extend the moratorium to 21, mainly Middle Eastern, countries.

Despite the moratoriums, which have been widely criticized by migrant rights organizations for being a reactionary move that violates a number of human rights, thousands of Indonesians continue to be employed in Saudi Arabia as domestic workers, migrating through irregular channels and living without any of the legal and social protections that documented migrant workers enjoy.

The latest beheading sparked waves of protest within Indonesia and across the globe. Swathes of outraged activists have called the execution a blatant violation of human rights. The framing of the capital punishment as a human rights violation, however, is made difficult by the fact that none of the core international human rights treaties explicitly forbid capital punishment.

The use of the death penalty is only forbidden in an Optional Protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and this optional protocol, with only 85 state parties, has not come close to achieving universal ratification. In spite of a number of nonbinding resolutions issued by the United Nations General Assembly calling for its abolition, capital punishment continues to largely be understood as a legally permissible exception to the right to life.

The United Nations Convention Against Torture is one of the few human rights treaties that Saudi Arabia has ratified. Although the committee that implements the convention has been notably inconsistent in its stance on the death penalty, the committee in its 2016 concluding observations on the report of Saudi Arabia encouraged the state to establish a moratorium on executions and to commute all existing death sentences. With 20 Indonesian citizens currently on death row in Saudi Arabia, Jakarta has a vested interest in seeing the recommendations of the committee implemented.

Indonesia fights tirelessly to secure clemency for its citizens facing the death penalty abroad through diplomatic negotiations, legal channels, and even by paying blood money or ransoms where possible. Domestically, however, Indonesia continues to implement capital punishment, executing Indonesian and foreign citizens alike and defending its right to do so with arguments of national sovereignty.

During the 2017 Universal Periodic Review in Geneva, where Indonesia’s human rights track record was reviewed by 103 states, capital punishment was the main human rights issue that came into the spotlight with 30 individual states recommending Indonesia abolish the death penalty or place a moratorium on its use.

The Indonesian National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) contends the Indonesian government is losing the moral justification to protect its citizens on death row abroad when the state continues to carry out executions at home. The results of extensive monitoring carried out by Komnas Perempuan regarding women facing the death penalty revealed that the majority of women on death row are victims of gender-based violence and that female domestic workers are targeted by international drug smuggling and human trafficking syndicates, unknowingly made into drug mules by perpetrators who exploit the women’s layered vulnerabilities.

An important finding of the Commission shows that the death penalty and the extensive periods of time that people spend on death row in Indonesia have economic, physical, and psychological effects on the convicted person and their families that are torturous and inhumane. These findings of the Commission are in line with the statement of the Committee Against Torture that prolonged time on death row could amount to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.

Komnas Perempuan notes that currently in Indonesia there are a number of former women migrant workers who have been sentenced to death despite indications that they are victims of human trafficking. Filipino national Mary Jane Veloso and Indonesian Merry Utami, imprisoned in 2010 and 2001 respectively, are two women currently on death row in Indonesia. Both of these women are former migrant workers and they are both indicated to be victims of human trafficking whose progress through the judicial system has been markedly unjust.

The commissioner of Komnas Perempuan’s Migrant Worker Task Force, Thaufik Zulbahary, explained, “Migrant workers, especially women migrant domestic workers are one of the most vulnerable groups in society… they are prone to experiencing human rights violations at every stage of migration.” To effectively work at reducing these vulnerabilities and improving outcomes for migrant workers, international advocacy — including pushing for global ratification of the Convention on Migrant Workers — must be accompanied by grassroots initiatives aimed at improving the fulfillment of migrant workers’ human rights.

One such grass roots initiative is TKI Bijak, a program that is operating in West Java, Indonesia, disseminating information to prospective migrant workers about proper recruitment procedures and practical information regarding destination countries and human rights concerns for each respective country. Through initiatives like this, prospective migrant workers are equipped with the means to make educated decisions about their deployment and the risk of human rights violations are minimized.

On the international stage it is essential that the discourse surrounding the death penalty stops focusing on capital punishment as an issue of state sovereignty and a legitimate exception on the right to life. The various international human rights mechanisms and treaty bodies, especially the Committee Against Torture, have the responsibility to take a stronger stance in opposing the death penalty and take the lead in shifting the international discourse to focus on the right to life as the ultimate, nonderogable human right that transcends notions of sovereignty.

While the international community slowly works toward global abolition of capital punishment, states should at a minimum observe the Safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty. This document, published by the Economic and Social Council in a 1984 resolution, states in the fourth and fifth points that capital punishment may be imposed only when the guilt of the person charged is based upon clear and convincing evidence leaving no room for an alternative explanation of the facts. The safeguard further states that capital punishment may only be imposed pursuant to a final judgement rendered by a competent court after legal process that gives all possible safeguards to ensure a fair trial, including adequate legal assistance at all stages of the proceedings.

It is estimated that there are around 4.5 million Indonesian migrant workers currently working overseas. As a country that prides itself on endeavoring to provide the highest possible protections for its citizens abroad, Indonesia in a purely pragmatic sense has a vested interest in leading by example and looking to abolish the death penalty or at the very least commute the death sentence for victims who are indicated to be victims of human trafficking or have been denied a fair trial. The domestic cessation of the implementation of capital punishment is an important first step that will give added legitimacy to Indonesia’s attempts to seek clemency for its citizens on death row abroad.

Jack Britton is a translator, researcher, and writer currently embedded with the Indonesian National Commission on Violence against Women (Komnas Perempuan) in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Friday, 23 March 2018

With Death Penalty at Home, Can Indonesia Save Its Citizens Abroad?

Source: Jakarta Globe (22 March 2018)

http://jakartaglobe.id/news/death-penalty-home-can-indonesia-save-citizens-abroad/

Jakarta. The government sent a protest note to Saudi Arabia on Monday (19/03), after an Indonesian national was beheaded in Mecca. Saudi authorities did not inform Indonesia that its citizen would be executed.

Zaini Misrin, a 53-year-old man from Bangkalan in East Java's island of Madura, was a migrant worker convicted of the murder of his Saudi employer. He was executed on Sunday.

"The Indonesian government did not receive any notification prior to the execution of Zaini Misrin," citizen protection and legal aid director at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Lalu Muhammad Iqbal, said during a press conference in Jakarta.

Although the kingdom has no regulatory obligation to issue such notifications, since the two countries are in friendly relations, Indonesia should have been officially apprised of the decision, he said.

With nearly 200 Indonesians facing capital punishment abroad, the government has been making considerable efforts to stay their execution.

However, despite huge opposition domestically and on the international stage, and despite its non-permanent seat at the United Nation High Commission of Human Rights, Indonesia itself implements the death penalty. This, in the eyes of many, renders inconclusive the country's attempts to save its own citizens from the cruel and unusual punishment.

Since 2011, 583 Indonesians have been sentenced to death abroad. The executions of 392 have been stayed. There are 188 ongoing cases in Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, China and the United Arab Emirates.

Most of the cases involve migrant workers, but there are also drug trafficking convicts, especially in Malaysia.

The Case of Zaini

Zaini's journey to Saudi Arabia began in 1992, when he started working as a private driver for Abdullah bin Umar as-Sindi. He then came back to Indonesia, and returned to work for the same employer in 1996.

Zaini was arrested by Saudi authorities in July 2004, on charges of murdering As-Sindi. He was convicted in November 2008.

In accordance with Muslim law, in cases of killing and wounding, Saudi Arabia applies qisas, or the law of retaliation — a person who has injured another is to be penalized to a similar degree, unless he or she is pardoned by the victim's family.

Indonesia was granted consular access to Zaini only in 2008. The delay, according to Lalu, was caused by imperfections in the previous protection system for Indonesian citizens abroad.

To save Zaini, the government appointed two lawyers in 2011, while presidents Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Joko "Jokowi" Widodo requested Saudi Arabia that he be granted clemency. Jokowi raised the issue three times with King Salman bin Abdulaziz. So did Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi during her meetings with the Saudi counterpart, Adel Jubeir.

Zaini's family came to Saudi Arabia with a plea for pardon from As-Sindi's family. To no avail.

The Indonesian government requested a case review in January 2017. It was rejected. Another appeal was filed in January this year, and the case was stiil ongoing at the time of Zaini's death.

"We have summoned the Saudi ambassador to express our disapproval over the execution and the fact that it took place despite the ongoing legal process," Lalu said.

According to Jakarta-based Migrant Care, Zaini's testimony reveals he confessed the murder under pressure and intimidation by Saudi authorities.

"During his trial, Zaini Misrin had no neutral and impartial translator," the organization said in a statement.

Pardon

Under the principle of qisas, offenders can receive forgiveness from their victim's closest relatives. This in 2017 saved the life of Masamah, another Indonesian migrant worker in Saudi Arabia, who was convicted of murdering her employer's child in 2009.

An alternative punishment to qisas is diya or "blood money" — the financial compensation paid to the heirs of a victim.

In April 2014, the Indonesian government paid 7 million riyal ($1.9 million) to free Satinah Binti Jumadi Ahmad from death row in Saudi Arabia.

Satinah, a domestic helper from Ungaran, Central Java, was convicted of killing her Saudi employer in 2007. She said she acted in self-defense.

According to Lalu, in Zaini's case, the victim's family was not willing to exercise its right to pardon or diya.

More Protection

To offer more protection to Indonesian citizens working abroad, the House of Representatives passed a new law in October.

The 2017 Law on Migrant Workers replaced the 2004 Law on the Placement and Protection of Indonesian Migrant Workers. It establishes a framework to improve cooperation between the central government and local authorities in the migrants' places of origin, and guarantees more assistance to them, including insurance and competency training.

Director general for labor supervision at the Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration, Maruli Apul Hasoloan, said during Monday's conference that all prospective migrant workers will be informed about their rights and mechanisms to protect them, as well as the existing regulations on labor in their receiving countries.

The government is now also particularly careful about making sure that Indonesians willing to work abroad have all their documents and permits cleared before they leave.

"According to our statistics, 92 percent of the cases against Indonesian migrant workers are related to those who left the country without following the necessary legal procedures," said Hermono, secretary of the National Board for Placement and Protection of Indonesian Overseas Workers (BNP2TKI).

Monday, 19 March 2018

UN Human Rights Office condemns execution for drug-related offences in Singapore

Source: The Online Citizen (16 March 2018)

https://www.theonlinecitizen.com/2018/03/16/un-human-rights-office-condemns-execution-for-drug-related-offences-in-singapore/

BANGKOK (16 March 2018) – The UN Human Rights Office for South-East Asia condemns the execution of Singaporean national Hishamrudin bin Mohd for a drug-related offence this morning, expressing concerns that he had not been able to file a clemency petition.

“Under international law, the death penalty may only be used for ‘the most serious crimes’ which has been interpreted to mean only crimes involving intentional killing,” said the Office’s Regional Representative, Cynthia Veliko. “Drug-related offences do not fall under this threshold.”

“We deeply regret that in 2017, eight individuals were executed for drug-related offences in Singapore, which is a sharp increase from previous years. We have also received information that there was another execution for drug-related offences last Friday, bringing the total known figure to two executions so far in 2018,” she said.

This week, Hishamrudin bin Mohd filed a last-minute application for judicial review by the Court of Appeal and had a closed-door hearing on 15 March 2018. However, the Court of Appeal denied his application.

On Monday, Mr. Hishamrudin’s family was informed that he would be executed on 16 March 2018. They were also informed that the petition for clemency had been rejected, although they had not yet filed a proper clemency petition on his case.

Mr. Hishamrudin, 57, was arrested and charged with two offences for possessing a total of 38.50 grams of a pure form of heroin on 7 October 2010. He has consistently maintained his innocence, and claimed to have no knowledge of the nature of the drugs, nor that he possessed them for the purposes of trafficking.

On 6 April 2016, Mr. Hishamrudin was convicted and sentenced to death under section 33B of the Misuse of Drugs Act. On 3 July 2017, his appeal was dismissed by the Court of Appeal.

“We repeat our call to the Government of Singapore to immediately instate a moratorium on the use of the death penalty as part of a process toward the full abolishment of capital punishment,” said Ms. Veliko.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Trump reportedly praised Singapore for executing drug dealers. Here’s how they’re killed.

Source: The Washington Post (27 February 2018)

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2018/02/27/trump-reportedly-praised-singapore-for-executing-drug-dealers-heres-how-theyre-killed/?utm_term=.d3e29b3f0884

President Trump has been privately praising Singapore, the small city-state once known as the world's most active executioner per capita.

This is according to Axios, which reported Sunday that the president has been telling friends for months that the death penalty should be imposed on drug dealers in the United States — similar to a policy enforced for decades by Singapore.

An anonymous senior administration official told Axios that the president has also spoken admiringly about the executions of drug traffickers in China and the Philippines, and has said he would love to have a law that allows the United States to execute drug dealers without exception. Axios reporter Jonathan Swan also said Tuesday that Trump has “talked up” executions in China, the Philippines and Singapore to not just confidants but also members of Congress and some foreign leaders. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump's reported comments are consistent with his penchant for embracing no-holds-barred policies and rhetoric on drug crimes, from his Justice Department's directive to federal prosecutors to pursue the harshest penalties possible, to his extraordinary endorsement of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, whose drug war has left thousands of suspected drug dealers dead without as much as a day in court.

But Singapore's unyielding stance on law and order has long raised red flags among human rights groups, especially as more and more countries eliminate the death penalty. Advocates say Singapore's judicial process is often shrouded in secrecy and misinformation and is designed to tip the scales of justice heavily toward prosecutors, who have nearly limitless power over who dies and who is spared.

The method has also been met with harsh criticism.

People convicted of capital offenses in Singapore are executed by hanging, which Kirsten Han, co-founder of an anti-death penalty group in Southeast Asia, described in chilling detail: “A noose — measured according to the individual's height — is placed over the prisoner's head, the knot behind the right ear to ensure the spinal cord is snapped upon the impact of the long drop through the trapdoor.”

Families are never present, just prison officers and doctors.

In a seemingly unusual part of the execution practice in Singapore, those condemned to die are allowed to change into regular clothes the day before they're executed — so they can pose for a picture that will be given to loved ones as a keepsake.


Australia's then-attorney general called the method “a most unfortunate, barbaric act” in 2005, when an Australian heroin trafficker was executed in Changi Prison. Many Australians held candlelit vigils on the eve of Nguyen Tuong Van's execution.

Hanging was the most common method of execution in the United States in the 1800s before widespread adoption of the electric chair. It remains widespread in several countries in Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

It is the lone method of capital punishment in Singapore, where executions are on the decline: The government has executed 24 people over the past decade — 16 of whom were convicted of drug crimes.

Singapore's mandatory death sentence would be imposed equally on a person who trafficked more than 15 grams of heroin and a person who bombed a government building and killed dozens. To place this in context, trafficking a much larger amount of heroin in the United States — 100 to 999 grams — is punishable by five to 40 years in prison.

Similarly, Singapore has some of the world's toughest gun laws. For example, a person who fires a gun, or attempts to fire a gun, while committing a crime in Singapore faces a mandatory death sentence upon conviction — even if nobody is wounded or killed.

“Simply having the keys to a car or to a room or to a house where drugs were found” means that a person is a presumed drug trafficker and, therefore, could face the death penalty, said Chiara Sangiorgio, a death penalty expert for Amnesty International.

Hence, there is no presumption of innocence. The burden of proof is on the accused, who are often poor people far down the drug chain, and foreigners who might not be fluent in the local languages, Sangiorgio said.

Advocates say there's no evidence that executions are any more of a crime deterrent than lesser punishments. In 2009, researchers from Columbia Law School compared murder rates in Singapore and Hong Kong, where capital punishment was abolished in 1993, and found little difference.

But Singaporean officials have long insisted that the specter of death, particularly for drug traffickers, has worked for their city-state.

“Singapore is relatively drug-free, and the administration is under control. There are no drug havens, no no-go zones, no drug production centers, no needle exchange programs,” K. Shanmugam, Singapore's minister of home affairs and law, said in 2016.

A “soft approach,” he said, would flood the island state with narcotics — a line of thinking that appears to be similar to Trump's.

The number of executions every year, however, has significantly dropped, and changes have been adopted.

Singapore, which is about half the size of Los Angeles, executed 76 people in 1994 and 73 in 1995, when the population was just more than 3 million. In 2015 and 2016, there were just eight executions in total on the island — five for people convicted of drug crimes.

Changes in 2013 to Singapore's Misuse of Drugs Act gave judges leeway in sentencing if defendants meet two conditions: (1) they were merely couriers or drug mules and (2) they have greatly cooperated with law enforcement officers by tipping them about other drug traffickers. Alternatively, those who have proven that they are couriers can also be spared if they are mentally or intellectually disabled. A judge can impose lesser sentences, such as life imprisonment and caning — a type of punishment that drew controversy in the United States in 1994, when a 19-year-old American was caned for vandalism.

The revised laws have cut the number of those sentenced to death. According to a recent study by Amnesty International, 38 out of 93 people convicted of murder and drug trafficking from Jan. 1, 2013, were spared from hanging.

Shanmugam, the Singaporean minister, also said last year that the drug trade has hardly flourished since the changes: Officials have caught 90 traffickers since 2012 through the help of drug couriers who cooperate in exchange for leniency, he said.

Eugene K.B. Tan, a professor at the Singapore Management University School of Law, called the revisions “tempering justice with mercy” in a 2016 column for the Straits Times.

“The Government has determined that the mandatory death penalty (MDP) may not be needed for all types of serious crimes. This is an important first step, notwithstanding the attraction and force of the MDP was its unequivocal demonstration of zero tolerance and resolve in maximum deterrence,” Tan wrote. “Yet, the shift to the discretionary death penalty regime should not be misconstrued as Singapore letting up on drug trafficking and murders. Instead, this shift was necessary to retain public confidence and legitimacy in our administration of criminal justice.”

But the revisions did little to ease the concerns of human rights advocates.

Amnesty International analyzed judgments issued by Singapore's High Court and Court of Appeal on the cases of 137 people charged with capital offenses from 2008, five years before the changes took place, to 2017, four years after. The organization said it found that although executions are happening far less often, major human rights violations still occur.

Defense attorneys, for example, are never present during interrogations. In many cases, particularly in the case of foreigners, the statements that lead to conviction were either misrepresented or were lost in translation, Sangiorgio said.

Prosecutors and not the judges still have unchallenged power to decide whether defendants should be spared from the gallows based on their level of cooperation. Prosecutors must first issue what is called a “certificate of substantive assistance,” which confirms that a defendant has given them substantial information about other drug traffickers. Only then can judges decide on a lesser punishment. In many cases, however, defendants can be so far down the drug hierarchy that they do not have any meaningful information to give, Sangiorgio said.

“In other words, people pay with their lives for failing to provide information which they are incapable of providing,” according to the study.

Take, for example, the case of a 32-year-old Malaysian man who was convicted after the Central Narcotics Bureau found him with 16.56 grams of heroin, just above the legal threshold. He told police that a friend had offered to pay him the equivalent of $236 to deliver the heroin. His attorney asked the High Court to consider him a courier, but prosecutors, without explanation, declined to issue a certificate of substantive assistance, leaving the judge with no other choice but to sentence him to death.

Here's how the High Court described the state of affairs in a 2016 ruling on the case of a man who was convicted of trafficking more than 100 grams of heroin:

“He is not given a certificate of substantive assistance.... We do not know why. He might not have much assistance to give. He might have declined to assist, in which event we do not know if his depressive illness had any connection to that attitude.... The language of the law here is precise and simple. Life, on the other hand, is not so. Every life is complex in its own way. The mandatory death penalty has been the law for a long time and I do not think that in providing the changes set out in [Section 33B Parliament] has become more lenient towards drug trafficking. This crime is no less serious today than it was before the amendment.”

Singapore and the United States were among the 40 countries and territories that voted against a United Nations resolution calling for a global moratorium on executions in 2016.

Trump, according to Axios, has acknowledged that executing people for drug offenses would never happen in the United States. In trying to add some nuance to Trump's comments, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, who is in charge of the administration's anti-drug efforts, told Axios that the president was talking about drug dealers who cause mass overdose deaths by flooding communities with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid far more potent than heroin or morphine.

“The president makes a distinction between those that are languishing in prison for low-level drug offenses and the kingpins hauling thousands of lethal doses of fentanyl into communities, that are responsible for many casualties in a single weekend,” Conway said.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Philippine Catholics protest drug killings, death penalty

Source: Straits Times (24 February 2018)

http://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/philippine-catholics-protest-drug-killings-death-penalty

MANILA (REUTERS) - Around a thousand Catholics in the Philippines marched in Manila on Saturday (Feb 24) to protest President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on drugs and his efforts to reinstate the death penalty.

The protests come a day after students in the capital and provincial universities held demonstrations against Duterte, and a day before the 32nd anniversary of the "People Power" revolution that drove dictator Ferdinand Marcos into exile.

Catholic devotees prayed the rosary and sang hymns as bishops and the Philippines' own cardinal read sermons against what they say are not "pro-life" policies in the government.

The protesters carried banners and placards with the message "Protect and Defend the Sanctity of Life and Marriage," "End Impunity" and "Stop the Killings."

Despite criticism of the Philippine leader's bloody war on drugs campaign, Duterte remains wildly popular and a trusted public official in the South-east Asian nation.

The Social Weather Station's (SWS) latest quarterly poll shows Duterte's trust rating bounced back to "excellent" in December from "very high" three months before. Another survey by the privately-run pollster gave his government the best rating so far for a Philippine administration since surveys started in the 1980s.

The Catholic Church protested the pending Bills in Congress introducing divorce and re-imposing capital punishment.

The majority of the Philippines' 105 million people are Catholic. Despite the popularity of the anti-drugs crackdown, some sectors of the church have become increasingly vocal on the drugs killings, with the church calling for justice and offering sanctuary to drug users.

"The threat is still there. We still hear news of extrajudicial killings. And still the bill of the death penalty is in Congress," said Broderick Pabillo, Manila auxillary bishop.

More than 4,000 suspected drug dealers have been killed since Duterte took office in June 2016. Police said the killings resulted from self-defence during raids and sting operations.