Monday, 21 August 2017

Malaysia’s Planned Drug Reform Highlights Divide in SE Asia’s Drug War Approach

Source: Talking Drugs (10 August 2017)

Malaysia is set to repeal legislation that imposes a mandatory death penalty for people who sell drugs, despite most of its neighbouring countries implementing increasingly brutal drug policies.

On August 8, Minister Azalina Othman Said tweeted to corroborate a story in the press: Malaysia’s cabinet had "agreed to amend the colonial-era Dangerous Drugs Act of 1952 to give courts a choice in sentencing". Under current legislation, anyone found guilty of trafficking drugs faces a mandatory death penalty; the planned reform would give judges discretion in sentencing. While the proposed amendment has support from the cabinet, it must first be tabled in the parliament, which is expected to pass it in October, The Australian reports.

As TalkingDrugs reported in 2016, Malaysia seems to have placed a “secret moratorium” on the execution of people for drug offences for several years. Despite executing 229 people for drug offences between 1983 and 2013, Malaysia is not believed to have executed anyone for such an offence since then. Numerous people have, however, been sentenced to death for drug trafficking, but the executions have not taken place.

Malaysia also seems to be moving in a gradual progressive direction in relation to drug use. The country’s Ministry of Health has received acclaim from international non-profits, including Harm Reduction International, for its strong and successful policies that reduce the harms of drug use, including needle syringe programmes (NSPs) and methadone maintenance therapy. However, Malaysia is by no means a bastion of evidence-based drug policy, as it continues to force some people into compulsory “rehabilitation” centres, which a recent study suggests may increase the risk of relapse when compared to voluntary methadone treatment.

Regardless, Malaysia’s gradual shift away from executions marks a sharp contrast with many of its neighbouring countries in the Southeast Asia region.

Across the Straits of Johor, to the south of the Malaysian Peninsular, is Singapore, which was estimated in 2004 to have the highest per capita execution rate in the world. While the city state may no longer hold this grisly title, it continues to execute people for relatively low-level drug offences with considerable regularity and highly questionable judicial standards. Most recently, on July 14, the Singaporean state executed a Malaysian man who was given a mandatory death sentence after heroin was found in a car that he had borrowed. Such punitive measures are part of the country’s approach to drugs, which it calls "harm prevention"; a senior minister recently described this as including “tough, swift, and uncompromising… robust [law] enforcement” to prevent the distribution or use of drugs.

A few miles from the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, across the Malacca Strait, is Indonesia, where the government has been waging an increasingly vicious war on people involved with drugs in recent years. Within four months of the inauguration of President Joko Widodo in October 2014, the government had executed 14 people for drug offences. As TalkingDrugs has reported, the country’s approach has taken a significantly more draconian turn: in July 2017, Widodo told police to commit extrajudicial killings of foreigners if they are alleged to have sold drugs and resist arrest. The country's national police chief justified the approach by asserting that “when we shoot drug dealers, they go away”.

The Philippines, with which Malaysia shares a maritime border in the South China Sea, is currently implementing some of the most repressive drug legislation in the world. As TalkingDrugs has extensively reported on, President Rodrigo Duterte has presided over a drug war slaughter that has led to the deaths of an estimated 9,000 people since July 2016. In one of the more recent harrowing developments, Duterte called for the introduction of the death penalty in the Philippines for a range of offences – including drug possession.

Malaysia has perhaps only one neighbouring country with a relatively less punitive drug war: Thailand. Thailand’s Ministry of Justice launched a comprehensive nationwide harm reduction programme in January 2017, including methadone provisions and counselling, as well as job training to prepare people with problematic drug use for entering the work force. While Thailand does technically allow the death penalty for drug offences, it has not executed anyone under this law (or for any offence) since 2009.

If countries in the Southeast Asia region continue in their current trajectory, more successful harm reduction measures, and relatively less harsh punishments for trafficking offences, may be implemented in Malaysia and Thailand. Conversely, the near future seems increasingly harrowing for Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Asia-Pacific Countries – Death Penalty Status, Population, etc

Source: Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (18 August 2017)

ASIA-PACIFIC COUNTRIES – Death Penalty Abolition Status


Eastern Asia

China (1,367,820,000) **

China, Hong Kong SAR (7,298,600)**
China, Macao SAR (644.900)
China Tibet (3,002,000)   
Japan (126,920,000) **
Korea (North) (25,000,000 )
Korea (South) (50,800,000 ) **
Mongolia (3,061,000 )**
Taiwan (23,526,000 ) ** 

Northern Asia

Russian Federation (146,544,000)

South-Central Asia

Afghanistan (26,556,000 )  **         
Bangladesh (158,226,710 )  **        
Bhutan (760,000)
India (1,326,000,000) **   
Iran (78,226,000)         
Kazakhstan (17,713,300 )
Kyrgyzstan (5,895,000 )
Maldives (341,000)                       
Nepal    (31,000,000)   **
Pakistan (188,144,000 ) **
Sri Lanka (21,203,000 )  **
Tajikistan (8,352,000 )
Turkmenistan     (5,400,000 )
Uzbekistan          (31,000,000 )

South-East Asia

Brunei Darussalam * (417,200 )                
Cambodia * (14,676,591)
Indonesia * (258,705,000)     **      
Lao PDR * (7,000,000)
Malaysia * (31,660,000)     **          
Myanmar (Burma) * (51,419,000)
Philippines * (100,981,000)    **     
Singapore * (5,535,000)    **           
Thailand * (67,959,000)     **          
Timor-Leste (East Timor)
Vietnam * (90,730,000)  **             

Western Asia and Middle East

Armenia (3,000,000)
Azerbaijan (9,705,600)
Bahrain (1,234,000 )      
Cyprus (848,300)
Georgia (3,729,000)
Iraq (36,000,000 )           
Israel (8,522,000 )
Jordan (6,297,000)        
Kuwait (3,695,000 )       
Lebanon (4,460,000 )    
Oman    (4,469,500 )       
Palestinian territories (4,293,000 )           
Qatar (2,597,000 )          
Saudi Arabia (31,770,000 )          
Syria (24,044,000 )         
Turkey (78,741,000)
United Arab Emirates (8,264,070 )
Yemen (26,000,000 )      


Australia (23,792,000)    **
Papua New Guinea (8,219,000)   **
New Zealand (4,579,000)**
Fiji (867,000)
Solomon Islands (587,000)
Vanuatu (278,000)
New Caledonia (France) [273,000]
French Polynesia (France) [273,000]
Samoa (193,000)
Guam (US) (162,000)       
Kiribati (113,000)
Tonga (104,000)  **
Federated States of Micronesia (103,000)
Marshall Islands (55,000)
American Samoa (US) [55,000]   
Northern Mariana Islands (US) [47,000]   
Palau [17,000]
Cook Islands (NZ) [15,000]
Wallis and Futuna (France) [12,000]
Tuvalu   [11,000]
Nauru [10,000 ]
Norfolk Island (Australia) [3,000]
Niue (NZ) [2,000]
Tokelau (NZ) [1,000]
Pitcairn Islands (UK) [60]

RED BOLD – Retentionist Countries
BLUE  – Abolitionist Countries in Practice – RISK of return of DP
GOLD – US is a Retentionist Country – as such the status here is questionable?

1985      AUSTRALIA abolished the death penalty for all crimes.
1989      CAMBODIA abolished the death penalty for all crimes.
1993      HONG KONG abolished the death penalty for all crimes
1997      NEPAL abolished the death penalty for all crimes
1999      EAST TIMOR, TURKMENISTAN abolished the death penalty for all crimes
2002      TURKEY abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes. CYPRUS abolished the death penalty for all crimes
2003      ARMENIA abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes
2004      BHUTAN, SAMOA and TURKEY abolished the death penalty for all crimes
2006      PHILIPPINES abolished the death penalty for all crimes.
2007      KYRGYZSTAN abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes.
2008      UZBEKISTAN abolished the death penalty for all crimes.
2015      FIJI abolished the death penalty for all crimes.
2016      NAURU abolished the death penalty for all crimes.
1 July 2017 MONGOLIA abolished the death penalty for all crimes.
*may not be comprehensive, some positive developments may have inadvertently left out

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Indonesia ombudsman finds rights violations in execution of Nigerian

Source: Reuters (28 July 2017)

JAKARTA (Reuters) - The office of Indonesia's ombudsman has unearthed evidence of rights violations in the execution of a Nigerian drug convict last year, an official said on Friday.

Humphrey Jefferson was still seeking clemency from President Joko Widodo at the time of his execution, which meant he still had a chance of being pardoned, said Ninik Rahayu, an official of the ombudsman's office who is overseeing the case.

Jefferson, sentenced to death in 2004, had also sought a second judicial review of his case by the Supreme Court, but his request was denied by the Central Jakarta court without proper explanation, Rahayu said, in what she called maladministration.

If the court had taken on Jefferson's case, his execution would have had to be delayed until its final verdict.

"When one is given the death penalty, all of the procedures must be done according to the laws," Rahayu told reporters at her office.

"The rights of the person must be fully met before his sentence is carried out. You can't bring back the dead to life."

Rahayu also said the Attorney General's office, responsible for conducting the execution, had not followed rules requiring it to give Jefferson and his family 72 hours' notice of the event.

The execution was done according to law, said Muhammad Rum, a spokesman for the Attorney General's office.

Telephone calls to the Central Jakarta court to seek comment were not answered.

A Supreme Court spokesman, Judge Suhadi, who goes by one name like many Indonesians, did not comment on the specific case but said the court did not generally grant a second review.

Jefferson, two other Nigerians and an Indonesian were the only prisoners to face the firing squad on July 29 last year, from a group of 14 picked initially.

The delay was due to a "comprehensive review", said Attorney General H. Muhammad Prasetyo.

The executions were the second round under Widodo, whose predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, imposed a moratorium on the death penalty.

Many international bodies and foreign governments have urged Indonesia to pardon those on death row. They have also called on Indonesia to abolish capital punishment, but the calls have gone unheeded.

Widodo has told law enforcement officers not to hesitate in shooting drug traffickers who resist arrest in the war on drugs.

The ombudsman's office has given government bodies 60 days to respond to its findings. But its limited powers mean it can only take its recommendations to Widodo in cases of failure to respond.

Jefferson's lawyer, Ricky Gunawan, said he planned to use the ombudsman's findings to file a civil lawsuit against the office of the attorney-general, seeking compensation for his client.

"We call on the Attorney General's office to stop the preparation of any future death execution ... and treat the convicts with respect and have their rights fulfilled," Gunawan said.

Reporting by Gayatri Suroyo; Editing by Ed Davies and Clarence Fernandez

Japan executions: Inside the secretive, efficient death chambers


THERE are polished floors, clean surroundings and symbolic statues.

But this place is far from peaceful and there’s a reason why it’s known as the Tokyo death house.

This is where Japan hangs its criminals in secrecy so tight that not even the convicted know when their time is up.

Last week’s execution of two convicted murderers has once again cast light on the country’s practice of putting people to death, a method labelled cruel and inhumane by human rights groups.

Nishikawa, 61, was convicted of killing four female bar owners in western Japan in 1991, while Sumida, 34, was sentenced to death for killing a female colleague in 2011 and dismembering her body.

The government remained unrepentant despite calls from activists to stop the hangings.

“Both are extremely cruel cases in which victims were deprived of their precious lives on truly selfish motives,” Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda said.

“I ordered the executions after careful consideration.”


Japan remains notoriously secret about its use of the death penalty, with the US the only other major developed country which carries out capital punishment.

In Japan, most prisoners wait years for their fate to be carried out.

In 2010 the media was given a rare glimpse into the execution chamber in Tokyo where the condemned are put to death.

Prisoners are kept in isolation and have access to a priest before they die.

A statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy, is in a nearby room, just metres from where prisoners will take their last breath.

They are then led into the chamber and a noose is put around their neck while red boxes around a trapdoor indicate where the condemned are to stand.

In the room next door, three executioners have access to the trap door which will give way once the buttons are pressed.


Human rights group Amnesty International called Japan’s use of the death penalty inhumane and said it showed “wanton disregard for the right to life.”

“The death penalty never delivers justice, it is the ultimate cruel and inhumane punishment,” Hiroka Shoji, East Asia researcher at the campaign group, said in a statement last week.

“Executions in Japan remain shrouded in secrecy but the government cannot hide the fact that it is on the wrong side of history, as the majority of the world’s states have turned away from the death penalty.”

The two men’s deaths bring to 19 the number of people executed in Japan since 2012, with 124 remaining on death row, Amnesty said.

The human rights group also said prisoners were often only given a few hours notice with lawyers and family only notified after it had taken place.

“Secret executions are in contravention of international standards on the use of the death penalty,” Amnesty said.

Nishikawa was hanged while seeking a retrial. But Mr Kaneda indicated it was mistaken to believe that death-row inmates cannot be executed as long as their retrial pleas are pending.


While the two men last week were convicted of murder, not everyone on death row is actually guilty.

In 2014 Iwao Hakamada was released after 45 years on death row after being convicted on falsified evidence.

The former boxer had confessed to murdering four people in 1966 but retracted his statement shortly after.

Once released he said he was coerced into confessing the crime.

Prosecutors claimed the case against Hakamada rested on bloodstained pyjamas. But instead of presenting the pyjamas at the trial they found five other pieces of clothing, each with blood on them, at his workplace.

A court found that a DNA analysis obtained by Hakamada’s lawyers suggested that investigators had fabricated evidence and he was eventually freed.

Iranian Deputies Push To Abolish Execution For Drug-Related Offenses

Source: Radio Free Europe (23 July 2017)

Iranian lawmakers have proposed changes to the country’s tough antidrugs laws, a move that could abolish the death penalty for some drug-related crimes.

If approved by parliament, a proposed amendment could curb the number of executions in the Islamic republic, which has one of the highest rates of capital punishment in the world.

Iran has been under mounting international pressure to curb its number of executions. Human rights groups say Iran executed at least 567 people in 2016 and nearly 1,000 in 2015, including men from Afghanistan, where the majority of illicit drugs come into Iran. Iranian officials say 70 percent of all executions in the country were for drug-related offenses.

In Iran itself, calls have been made to ease the use of capital punishment for drug-related offenses. Critics say the extensive use of the death penalty has done little to stop drug use and trafficking in the country that is on a major transit route for drugs smuggled from Afghanistan.

Iran has some of the toughest drug laws in the world. The death penalty can currently be invoked for the trafficking or possession of as little as 30 grams of heroin or cocaine.

On July 16, parliament approved a proposal to amend the law to disallow the death penalty for petty, nonviolent drug-related crimes. Parliament speaker Ali Larijani, however, sent the draft bill back to the parliamentary judiciary committee for further deliberation.

"I have consulted the head of judiciary regarding this bill,” Larijani was quoted as saying by the semiofficial ISNA news agency on July 17. “They said they agree with the principle of the bill, but there are still some drawbacks that need to be resolved.”

Before becoming law, the legislation needs to be approved by parliament and ratified by the Guardians Council, the powerful clerical body that must approve all proposed legislation.

‘Height Of Cruelty’

The New York-based Human Rights Watch has called for the government to halt all executions for drug-related crimes while parliament debated the reforms.

“It makes no sense for Iran’s judiciary to execute people now under a drug law that will likely bar such executions as early as next month,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “It would be the height of cruelty to execute someone today for a crime that would at worst get them a 30-year sentence when this law is amended.”

In November, Hassan Nowruzi, the parliamentary judicial committee spokesman, called for parliament to change the law, revealing that 5,000 people were on death row for drug-related offenses, the majority of them aged between 20 and 30. He said the majority are first-time offenders.

In October, more than 150 lawmakers in the 290-member chamber called for the executions of petty drug traffickers to be halted. Lawmakers also suggested that capital punishment should be abolished for those who become involved in drug trafficking out of desperation or poverty.

In August, Mohammad Baqer Olfat, the deputy head of the judiciary's department for social affairs, said the death penalty had not deterred drug trafficking; in fact, he said, it was on the rise. Rather than the death penalty, he suggested, traffickers should be given long prison terms with hard labor.

‘Tough Stance’

But hard-liners in the judiciary appear to be resistant to the idea of tweaking the country's harsh drug laws.

In comments published in September, Judiciary head Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani defended the body’s “tough stance” against amendments to the law.

“In some cases, including drug trafficking, we’re forced to act quickly, openly, and decisively,” said Larijani, while adding that the judges should not delay the implementation of sentences.

He said in some cases “alternative punishments” can replace the death penalty while respecting “some conditions,” but added that “the death penalty cannot be ruled out.”

Afghan Inmates

Thousands of Afghans involved in the illicit narcotics trade have ended up in Iranian prisons and have been executed. Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of opium, which is used to make heroin, and Iran is a major transit route for the drug to western Asia and Europe.

The precise number of Afghans executed in Iran over the past several years is unknown. Tehran rarely informs or provides explanations to Kabul about the execution of its citizens.

Afghan media estimates that some 2,000 Afghans have been jailed in Iran on drug-smuggling charges and other criminal acts, while hundreds more face the death penalty.

Afghan lawmakers and human rights groups have raised concerns, saying many Afghans imprisoned in Iran do not receive fair trials because they lack access to defense lawyers and are not given the opportunity to get assistance from Kabul.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Maldives: Halt first execution in more than 60 years

Source: Amnesty International (20 July 2017)

The Maldives must immediately halt its first execution planned in more than sixty years and preserve its positive death penalty record, Amnesty International said today.

The human rights organization has learned that three men, whose death sentences were made final by the Supreme Court in 2016, are now at risk of imminent execution as reports emerged that the authorities have been preparing to implement death sentences. The number and names of the prisoners involved have not been disclosed.

“The Maldives authorities must immediately halt plans to carry out any executions and establish an official moratorium on the implementation of the death penalty as a first step towards its full abolition. By sending these men to the gallows, the country will do irreparable damage to its reputation,” said David Griffiths, Amnesty International’s Senior Advisor on South Asia.

“The country was a leader in the region, with an enviable record of shunning this cruel and irreversible punishment at a time when many other countries persisted with it. Now, when most of the world has abolished the death penalty, it is heading in the wrong direction by reviving its use.”

Amnesty International has been raising serious concerns about the fairness of the proceedings that lead to the imposition of the death penalty in the country. In the case of one of the three men at more imminent risk, Hussain Humaam Ahmed, Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have raised serious concerns about the use as evidence of a pre-trial “confession” that he retracted as coerced and which led to his conviction and death sentence for murder in 2012.

Ahmed Murrath was convicted of and sentenced to death for murder in 2012, and Mohamed Nabeel was convicted of and sentenced to death for murder in 2009. The Supreme Court upheld both men’s death sentences in July 2016.

Amnesty International is absolutely opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances, regardless of the crime or the method of execution.

The three men have exhausted all domestic legal avenues. They have not been allowed to apply for pardon or the commutation of their death sentences.

Last year, the UN Human Rights Committee issued a binding order to stay the execution of one of the individuals, pending the consideration of an appeal filed on the prisoner’s behalf.

“When lives are at stake, it is all the more critical that safeguards of due process are strictly observed. It is also concerning that under international law, the Maldives must ensure that death row prisoners and their families are given reasonable advance notice. But in this case, they have even been denied the dignity that is their right,” said David Griffiths.


In 2014, the Maldives government under President Abdulla Yameen announced that executions would resume after more than 60 years without the death penalty being implemented.

The authorities have since amended legislation, clearing the way for executions to take place, including removing the power from the executive to grant pardons or commutations in intentional murder cases, a breach of their rights under international human rights law.

There are 20 people currently on death row, including at least five who were convicted and sentenced to death for crimes committed when they were less than 18 years old. Under international human rights law, it is unlawful to execute juveniles for any crime whatsoever.

As of today, 141 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice; in the Asia-Pacific region, 20 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes and a further seven are abolitionist in practice.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

New law to enable Vietnam's corrupt officials to escape death penalty by paying back stolen money

Source: VN Express (13 July 2017)

Amendments to Vietnam’s Penal Code, which takes effect in January 2018, give those found guilty of corruption and bribery the chance to escape the death sentence if they return 75 percent of their ill-gotten gains.

Those sentenced to death for corruption or taking bribes can have their punishment commuted to life in jail if they cooperate with the authorities during the investigation and voluntarily return at least 75 percent of their illegal earnings, officials said at a press briefing called by the President Office on Wednesday.

The 2015 Penal Code had been scheduled to come into effect in July 2016 but was shelved due to multiple errors and loopholes. The National Assembly, Vietnam's top legislature, approved the revised law last month.

The clause was one of the controversial parts of the new code. Some lawmakers argued that it would weaken the fight against corruption, which the Vietnamese government has set as one of its priorities.

Under the 1999 Penal Code, capital punishment could be handed down to those who abused their power to embezzle VND500 million ($22,000) or take bribes of at least VND300 million. Vietnamese workers earned an average of $2,200 last year.

The new law also spares convicts over 75 years old from the death penalty, as well as those convicted of robbery, vandalizing equipment and works significant to national security, opposing order, surrendering to the enemy, drug possession and appropriation, and the production and trade of fake food. That will bring Vietnam's number of capital crimes from 22 to 15.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Family claims brothers’ hanging botched, signs of strangulation

Source: Malay Mail Online (4 July 2017)

PETALING JAYA, July 4 — The family of two brothers accused the Kajang prison authorities today of botching up the hanging of two men who had been executed for murder.

The family of brothers Rames Batumalai, 45, and Suthar Batumalai, 40, alleged that Suthar’s body was found to have strangulation marks around his neck area, the neck was not broken (the neck is broken clean in a proper hanging), and his face was swelled up.

“We are not contented with the death and how they were executed. Suthar’s face was swollen. He showed signs of strangulation.

“His face was swollen, there were marks on the neck and his eyes were bulging,” sister-in-law B. Devi told a press conference this morning.

Both brothers were hanged to death on March 15 for their 2010 murder conviction despite the family filing for a clemency petition in late February. The brothers were charged with murdering a man named Krishnan Raman.

The siblings were also executed on a Wednesday instead of Friday, when hangings in Malaysia are usually conducted, which raised more questions on whether their execution was botched.

The family’s lawyer, N. Surendran, demanded that the prison authorities and Home Ministry give a detailed explanation to the family on the way the execution was conducted and also on why it was done before the clemency petition’s result was known.

“From a legal point of view, both of them were executed without exhausting all legal processes.

“A prisoner who has been convicted, has the legal right for his clemency to be considered under constituency. If you don’t allow [the] process to finish, you have breached the law,” he said.

The Padang Serai MP also demanded authorities to have an inquiry on the brothers’ execution and answers to be given immediately to the family.

“We are also asking explanation on manner hanging carried out and explanation on why the neck of Suthar was in that condition. We are entitled to these explanations as family members.

“We want an inquiry by authorities. I hope the home minister and authorities respond to this as soon as possible as it is a case of public interest,” Surendran added.

Amnesty International executive director Shamini Darshini said the brothers’ hanging raised questions on the transparency of the death penalty in Malaysia.

“Legal processes around death penalty is not completely clear. This is clear indication, it is not (transparent).

“When a person is hanged, there is a science to it. In this case, there are questions whether execution was correctly done. This seems to indicate a botched execution,” she said today.

She also urged Putrajaya to declare a moratorium to prevent such incidences from happening in other death penalty cases in the future.

“The death penalty in Malaysia needs to be abolished. We need the government to put in place a moratorium to prevent this from happening again. That’s what we calling for an immediate moratorium,” Shamini said, adding that Malaysia has over 1,068 people on death row as of March this year.

In the application of clemency previously sighted by Malay Mail Online, the family had obtained a statutory declaration from the deceased’s wife to forgive the brothers.

Rames and Suthar were sentenced to death in April 2010 under Section 302 of the Penal Code for murder, after being convicted for the February 4, 2006 murder.

Mongolia Abolishes the Death Penalty for All Crimes

Source: ADPAN (4 July 2017)

ADPAN welcomes the new Criminal Code, which abolishes the death penalty for all crimes, entry into force on 1 July 2017 in Mongolia after it was adopted by the State Ikh Khural of Mongolia on 3 December 2015.

Now Mongolia becomes 18th abolitionist for all crimes country in the Asia Pacific region.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Pakistan, in a First, Sentences Man to Death Over Blasphemy on Social Media

Source: New York Times (12 June 2017)

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — An antiterrorism court in Pakistan has sentenced a Shiite man to death for committing blasphemy in posts on social media. The man, Taimoor Raza, 30, was found guilty of making derogatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad, his wives and others on Facebook and WhatsApp.

Mr. Raza was sentenced to death on Saturday by Judge Bashir Ahmed in Punjab Province. It was the first time anyone has been given the death penalty for blasphemy on social media in Pakistan. Mr. Raza can appeal the sentence.

Blasphemy remains a highly contentious issue in Pakistan, where mere allegations of the offense can lead to violence and killings by vigilante mobs. Critics contend that the country’s blasphemy law has been used to settle personal disputes and has worsened interfaith relations.

Counterterrorism officials arrested Mr. Raza at a bus station in Bahawalpur in April 2016. He was accused of having blasphemous content on his mobile phone, and officials said he had been showing the content to people at the bus station when he was arrested. Muhammad Shafique Qureshi, the prosecutor in the case, said that the court had found Mr. Raza guilty of blasphemy and that he had used Facebook and WhatsApp to spread the content.

“The forensic report of his mobile phone showed that he had committed blasphemy in at least 3,000 posts,” Mr. Qureshi said. The police also said that at the time of arrest, 20,000 Iranian rials, or about 60 cents, was recovered from Mr. Raza.

Mr. Qureshi said that during police interrogations, Mr. Raza confessed to being a member of a banned Shiite group, Sipah-e-Muhammad. The organization was engaged in a deadly retaliatory campaign of violence against radical Sunni groups before being outlawed in 2001 along with the Sunni militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

Mr. Raza was initially charged under a section of the penal code that punishes derogatory remarks about other religious personalities for up to two years. Later, during the course of the investigations, he was charged under a law that focuses specifically on derogatory acts against the Prophet Muhammad, which carries a death penalty.

Mr. Raza’s sentence comes amid a widening crackdown against blasphemous content on social media, especially Facebook and Twitter. This year, the country’s interior minister asked Facebook to identify people suspected of committing blasphemy so that they could be prosecuted.

Critics say the government’s move has spread fear and intimidation, leading to vigilante justice and violence.

In April, a university student in northern Pakistan was tortured and shot to death by fellow students. The student, Mashal Khan, who attended Abdul Wali Khan University, was accused of posting blasphemous content on Facebook.

A subsequent investigation concluded that the blasphemy allegations against Mr. Khan were baseless and that his murder was premeditated. The killing prompted nationwide outrage and renewed criticism from human rights groups about the country’s blasphemy law.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Schapelle's home, but 170 Australians are in jail or facing charges overseas for drug crimes

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald (28 May 2017)

Nearly one third of the 545 Australians currently imprisoned or facing charges overseas were convicted or arrested for drug-related crimes, according to the latest figures from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Many are in countries where conviction on drug charges may attract the death penalty.

DFAT figures on open consular cases show that as of May 24, 102 (or 41 per cent) of the 246 Australians languishing in overseas jails were convicted on drug charges, and 68 (or 23 per cent) of the 299 Australians arrested overseas were arrested on drugs charges. They come as convicted drug smuggler Schapelle Corby returns to Australia, having completed her sentence in an Indonesian jail.

While Corby's is perhaps the most high-profile case of an Australian facing the death penalty, a Fairfax Media analysis shows that since 1980 at least 92 Australians have been charged with crimes that attract the death penalty.

Of these, 33 were handed a death sentence, although 20 of these were later commuted to life sentences. Six have been executed, including Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran who faced a firing squad in Indonesia in 2015. One death row inmate in Thailand, Donald Tait, had his conviction overturned in 1988.

The remaining six are on death row or were on death row at last report. Three are in Thailand and Vietnam: Antonio Bagnato, convicted of murder in Thailand in February this year; and Tran Minh Dat and Pham Trung Dung, separately convicted in Vietnam in 2014 on heroin trafficking charges.

A further three on death row in China have had their sentences suspended: Henry Chhin, who was handed a the death penalty suspended for two years in 2005 and whose whereabouts is unknown; Bengali Sherrif, understood to have been given the death penalty suspended for two years in 2015; and Anthony Bannister, who received a suspended death sentence in 2015. All three were convicted for trafficking ice.

Also included in the 92 are three Australians either awaiting trial or a verdict: Peter Gardner and Ibrahim Jalloh are in China and Maria Pinto Exposto is in Malaysia. All three were arrested in separate cases in 2014, on charges of trafficking methamphetamine.

These figures, based on media reports, underestimate the true number of Australians held on charges that could attract the death penalty.

Separate numbers, obtained through freedom of information laws, hint at the sizeable gap between the two data sets. They show that since 2015, Australian Federal Police have assisted in nearly 130 foreign investigations involving more than 400 people, where a successful prosecution could potentially lead to a death sentence.

"That's an extraordinary number," said Stephen Blanks, President of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties. "If that's correct then publicly-sourced information is only scratching the surface."

Amnesty International's latest report on the death penalty, released last month, highlighted the secrecy surrounding the use of capital punishment in countries such as China, Vietnam and Malaysia.

As many as a dozen Australians – including Sherrif, Bannister, Gardner and Jalloh – are believed to be held in a single city in southern China, Guangzhou, putting estimates of the number of Australians on or facing death row as high as 17.

"China keeps its grotesque use of the death penalty a 'state secret', but our research shows that thousands of people are sentenced to death and executed each year," said Amnesty International Australia's Rose Kulak.

"China executes more people than all other countries in the world put together."

In 2016, at least 1032 people were executed worldwide, excluding in China, according to the latest Amnesty International figures.

DFAT annual reports tracking statistics on Australians arrested overseas for any offence show the rate of arrest rose to its highest level in six years in 2015-16, with 15.2 arrests per 100,000 departures. The largest number of arrests were in the US (262), followed by Thailand (107) and the United Arab Emirates (100).

"DFAT has long provided clear and consistent messaging to Australians that they must respect the laws of the countries in which they work, live or travel," a departmental spokesperson said.

Mr Blanks said the death was not appropriate for any crime, for "many reasons apart from the barbarity".

"There is always the possibility that errors in the judicial process have been made. There is always the possibility that criminals can reform themselves – and the examples of the two Australians executed in Indonesia, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, stand out in that regard," he said.

"In practice, the death penalty operates in a discriminatory way against those least able to defend themselves. Typically, it will be the drug mules that are caught and executed, rather than the organisers of the drug trade."

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Singapore to enforce death penalty for nuclear terrorism acts

Source: Channel News Asia (8 May 2017)

SINGAPORE: A person who commits a fatal act of terrorism using radioactive material or nuclear explosive devices will face the mandatory death penalty under new laws passed in Parliament on Monday (May 8).

The legislation paves the way for Singapore’s ratification of the United Nations’ (UN) International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (ICSANT).

Second Minister for Home Affairs Desmond Lee said that while the likelihood of a nuclear terrorist attack in Southeast Asia was remote, the rise of terror group Islamic State means Singapore cannot discount such a scenario and must treat the threat seriously.

“Especially when many countries, including those in our region, use nuclear energy, or are actively exploring the use of nuclear energy,” he added. “In February this year, Malaysian authorities arrested eight people connected to the theft of Iridium-192, a radioactive material which can be used to make dirty bombs.”

It will now be a criminal offence to intentionally and unlawfully use any radioactive material or nuclear explosive device, or use or damage a nuclear facility leading to the release of radioactive material, to achieve the effects of terrorism.

The penalties will be pegged at the same level as a murder offence in the Penal Code and therefore, in the event of death caused, lead to the gallows, said Mr Lee, adding that in any other case, life imprisonment will be the punishment.

The new laws also provide for extra-territorial jurisdiction - meaning any person outside Singapore who commits an act which constitutes a nuclear terrorism offence if carried out in Singapore, is deemed to have committed the act here, said Mr Lee.

“If taken into custody, the person would be charged, tried and punished accordingly in Singapore. This provision allows us to prosecute the offender in Singapore, if it is not possible or desirable to extradite him,” he explained. “It ensures that perpetrators do not escape punishment, regardless of which country they are from, and where they committed the offences.”

But Singapore must also facilitate extradition requests by the 109 other countries who are parties to the Convention, and provide mutual legal assistance with its domestic framework.


Mr Lee later told the House that Singapore has, over the years, been preparing and developing to deal with the risks of nuclear terrorism.

“Agencies such as NEA (National Environment Agency) and SCDF (Singapore Civil Defence Force) have developed the necessary operational capabilities to deal with illicit use of nuclear and radioactive material in Singapore,” he said. “MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) and NEA have also been working together to tighten security measures at premises storing high-risk radioactive material.”

To begin with, Singapore has a strict regulatory regime put in place by NEA to make it hard for radioactive material to end up in the wrong hands, said Mr Lee.

“On import, valid permits are required for all cargo entering our port checkpoints - if necessary they will be subject to X-ray screening and radioactivity checks,” he added.

“Thus far, we’ve not detected any breaches involving radioactive material in Singapore.”

An inter-agency committee continually assesses the threat of nuclear terrorism in Singapore, and in the event of an attack, there will be processes to deal with possible scenarios.

“Should such an incident occur, MHA will coordinate a whole-of-Government response,” Mr Lee outlined. “SCDF will render assistance to casualties and contain the radioactive material, assisted by our armed forces where necessary. NEA will provide technical advice to help mitigate harm. The police will investigate the act, find the perpetrators and take them to task.”

He added: “Beyond efforts from agencies, Singaporeans will need to be prepared for an attack.” Authorities may have to evacuate people from affected areas, and members of public may also need to be trained on how to reduce inhalation of harmful substances.

“There are no immediate threats, but we take the possibility seriously,” said Mr Lee. “It is timely we put in place the necessary legal framework now and join the international community to combat terrorism in all its forms - including nuclear terrorism.”

Source: CNA/jo