Sunday, 8 May 2022

Death penalty: Singapore’s growing abolition movement

Source: The Interpreter (4 May 2022)

https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/death-penalty-singapore-s-growing-abolition-movement

The sun baked the concrete and tarmac as mourners walked behind a hearse carrying Nagaenthran K Dharmalingam, wailing and crying out for the life that had been lost. Over 200 people attended his funeral, sending him off on the final leg of a horrific journey that had begun 13 years ago, when Nagaenthran had been arrested in Singapore and eventually charged with trafficking 42.72 grams of heroin.

Nagaenthran’s story triggered an outpouring of support and concern in the final six months of his life. Although the Singapore government has repeatedly insisted that he was not intellectually disabled – even going as far as to issue a statement to that effect on the day he was hanged in prison – it was not a matter of contention that he’d had an IQ of 69, far below the average, and that he had “borderline intellectual functioning” as well as other cognitive impairments. As far as international standards were concerned, Nagaenthran was a person with intellectual/psychosocial disabilities. When his family first received an execution notice in October 2021, informing them that he would be put to death on 10 November, people expressed shock at how cold the letter was, informing his mother in bureaucratic language about the imminent hanging of her son.

Unlike most other death row prisoners in Singapore, Nagaenthran’s case attracted the attention of the international press. People followed its twist and turns, through desperate late-stage court applications to the surreal stay of execution that came after he tested positive for Covid-19, making him somehow too sick to kill. An online petition urging the President of Singapore to grant him clemency garnered over 100,000 signatures. Solidarity letters were signed by people from multiple sectors, from healthcare workers to professionals within the legal industry. When the Singapore government ignored our pleas and executed him anyway on 27 April, many Singaporeans showed up at the wake the mourn him, bringing flowers and cards and handwritten messages of support for his family.

The breadth of support for Nagaenthran that materialised within a very short period was not something I’d seen before as an abolitionist in Singapore. In 2010, the family of Yong Vui Kong – who has since been re-sentenced to life imprisonment – had also gathered over 100,000 petition signatures, but it had taken them weeks of canvassing in the streets of Singapore and Malaysia to reach that number.

Nagaenthran’s psychosocial disabilities made his case a particularly sympathetic one. Even people who were not necessarily against capital punishment agreed that a vulnerable person like him should have been spared. But that alone cannot account for the increase in support for abolition, and the shift in discourse on the death penalty in the country that is underway.

On 3 April, a protest against the death penalty drew a crowd of about 400; three weeks later a vigil for Nagaenthran and another death row prisoner, Datchinamurthy a/l Kataiah (originally scheduled for execution on 29 April, but who later received a stay of execution) had a similarly strong turn-out. Unlike the campaigns on which I’d worked on a decade ago, which had tended to focus on the specifics of a particular case, the participants of these protests demanded not just pity and mercy for a specific person, but complete abolition of the capital punishment regime. Placards and chants zeroed in on systemic oppression and exploitation, pointing to the intersections of race, class and structural inequality. People did not hesitate to describe death sentences as murder and state violence, and to call for an end to the killing.

Singaporeans, usually assumed to be protest-averse and politically passive, are also coming forward to act on their convictions. Ahead of executions, multiple people have personally delivered letters to the presidential palace, seeking pardons for death row prisoners. The night before Nagaenthran’s execution, a small group of Singaporeans gathered outside Changi Prison despite a heavy police presence, writing messages and saying prayers for a man they had never met, but whose humanity they recognised and cared for.

While it is true that most Singaporeans are still in favour of the death penalty, a comprehensive public opinion survey conducted by academics has shown that this support isn’t as overwhelming and unshakeable as the government often portrays it to be. Abolitionist sentiments and conversations have emerged on social media platforms despite being largely excluded from local mainstream media coverage. The government still insists that the death penalty for drugs is an effective deterrence, imposing their own interpretations of public opinion surveys to push that claim. But a growing number of Singaporeans are now questioning and challenging, even directly rejecting, this dominant narrative.

The impact of such expressions of support cannot be understated. While still in the minority in terms of overall public sentiment in the country, the fact that people are showing up and taking action not only grows the movement, but also has a deep and lasting impact on the loved ones of those on death row. Family members often feel silenced, intimidated and humiliated by the stigma attached to having a relative on death row – public demonstrations of solidarity show them that they are not alone in their fight. In recent years, my conversations with families have evolved. Where they used to focus only on the specifics of their loved one’s case, family members now express much more concern for every other case on death row, and repeatedly state the need for complete abolition of the death penalty.

Nagaenthran’s death caused much pain and suffering, particularly for his family, but also for many Singaporeans who had desperately wished for him to be spared. Many people will need time to process their shock, disappointment, anger and grief, but the anti-death penalty movement presses on. We have no other choice. Although Datchinamurthy, who lived in the cell next to Nagaenthran’s, managed to win himself a stay of execution, such stays are only temporary, and multiple prisoners are at risk of imminent execution. While we did not succeed in keeping Nagaenthran alive, the support his story garnered for the abolitionist movement now represents hope for many others.

Japan mass murderer's bid to escape gallows revives death penalty debate

Source: Asia One (6 May 2022)

https://www.asiaone.com/asia/japan-mass-murderers-bid-escape-gallows-revives-death-penalty-debate

A Japanese man sentenced to death for murdering 19 people at a facility for the mentally disabled in 2016 has appealed his conviction, triggering renewed debate over the death penalty in a country where public support for capital punishment remains high.

Satoshi Uematsu, 32, was convicted in March 2020 of the murder of 19 residents at the Tsukui Yamayuri-en care centre in Sagamihara city outside Tokyo, and sentenced to death. Uematsu, a former caretaker at the facility, used knives to injure another 26 people, leaving 13 of them severely injured.

Immediately after the death sentence was meted out at the Yokohama District Court, Uematsu withdrew the automatic legal appeal to higher courts.

The request for a retrial was filed with the same court on April 1, with judges to rule on whether a retrial should be granted in the coming weeks.

The reason for the appeal is unclear, although Uematsu's lawyers claimed in the original trial that he could not be held accountable for his actions due to mental incompetence, in part from his consumption of marijuana.

But court-appointed experts had deemed him mentally fit to stand trial.

Uematsu had previously delivered a letter to the speaker of Japan's lower house of parliament in which he threatened to kill hundreds of disabled people and outlined a plan for attacks against Tsukui Yamayuri-en and another facility.

He also wrote that killing the disabled would be "for the sake of Japan and world peace".

Relatives of the dead have expressed their anger at the request for a retrial, with a parent of a murdered resident telling the Kanagawa Shimbun, "I am forced to turn back time to relive it. I am very disappointed at the request for a trial."

Takeshi Ono, whose 49-year-old son Ichiya was severely injured in the attack, told the newspaper, "I am surprised. I have no words. I want to express my anger."

There has been little sympathy for Uematsu among the Japanese public, with government statistics indicating that around 80 per cent of them support the death penalty.

"That was a terrible case, to me probably the worst I can remember in Japan," said Makoto Hosomura, 68, a wine importer from Saitama prefecture in north Tokyo.

"I think most people were shocked that he managed to kill so many people, but also that he chose people who could not defend themselves.

"I think the original court ruling was correct," he said. "He showed no pity towards those people or their families, and I have not seen any remorse in anything he said afterwards. Why should anyone have pity on him now?"

Nami Suzuki, a hospital administrator from Yokohama, said: "I do not think that he will change his beliefs and he should receive the strongest punishment possible."

Online messages were similarly supportive, with one message on Japan Today that said: "This scum doesn't deserve mercy for this mass killing of the disabled."

Another read: "Please do not waste any more of our tax money on this loser", while another suggested that the final outcome will be the same and that Uematsu is "just delaying the inevitable".

Opponents of the death penalty continue their campaigns against Japan hanging inmates, with the Asahi newspaper calling for Tokyo to follow European nations and abolish capital punishment.

After the July 2018 hanging of the last six members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult that carried out a fatal 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, an editorial described the executions as "shocking".
Abolitionists press on

A 2016 campaign by Japan's Federation of Bar Associations to end capital punishment by 2020 has made little headway. The movement proposed legal reforms to replace the death penalty for serious crimes with a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Director of Amnesty International Japan, Hideaki Nakagawa, said his organisation continues to determine reasons for Japan's still-strong support for the death penalty.

"We frequently see that public calls for the death penalty rise after a heinous crime has been committed, and all the more so when the crime victim is a child," he said.

"These calls, particularly at these emotional times, seem to be more of an expression of the anger that we all feel at the crime and frustration at the fact that such heinous acts could not be prevented."

"But we should not confuse these reactions with an informed debate on what our response as a society to crime should be, to inform government policies on effective crime prevention should be," he said.

"Studies have shown again and again that the death penalty does not have a unique deterrent effect, and that public opinion pools can be influenced by several factors."

"Our calls for abolition of the death penalty should not be confused for calls for impunity for crime," he emphasised. "The death penalty is not the solution and further brutalises us as a society - and there is much more that the government should do to prevent crime and protect human rights for all."

Nakagawa points out the global trend towards abolishing the death penalty and that he "personally would like to be optimistic" that Japan might follow that trend, although he concedes that the Japanese government "appears to be determined" to retain the capital punishment.

Saturday, 30 April 2022

‘Not only is the prisoner killed, but his family is destroyed’

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald (30 April 2022)

https://www.smh.com.au/world/asia/not-only-is-the-prisoner-killed-but-his-family-is-destroyed-20220429-p5ah3v.html

Singapore: Apart from the family members and friends of the prisoners he has represented, Julian McMahon knows about as well as any Australian about the grisly, heartbreaking reality of the death penalty.

The Melbourne barrister was the lawyer for Bali 9 members Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, who faced an Indonesian firing squad in 2015, and for Melbourne man Van Tuong Nguyen, who was put to death for drug trafficking by Singapore in 2005.

“The role of the lawyer in those circumstances is to provide steady guidance and not to be overwhelmed by the emotional horror of it all,” McMahon told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

“That comes later. It’s deeply upsetting to participate in. By participating up close you see that not only is the prisoner being killed, but also his family is being destroyed. The ripple effect of an execution is to kill the prisoner, destroy the family and ultimately to harm all those involved in the process.”

The issue of capital punishment has naturally peaked in prominence in Australia over the years when Australians have been caught up in its crosshairs, most notably in those instances in Indonesia and Singapore, and in Malaysia, which executed Perth man Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers, from Sydney, for heroin importation in 1986.

The body of Nagaenthran Dharmalingam was to be cremated in his home town of Ipoh in Malaysia’s Perak state on Friday afternoon, two days after his execution inside Changi prison and more than a decade after he was arrested entering Singapore with 42.72 grams of heroin strapped to his thigh and given a mandatory death sentence.

He was the second inmate to face the gallows in Singapore in the last month. Three others have received execution notices this year – all for drug offences as well - as the city state begins carrying out the death penalty again after a two-year hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the case of a 34-year-old Malaysian man with “borderline intellectual functioning” being hanged by Singapore this week generated worldwide attention.

The ultimate penalty

The resumption of executions has thrust the spotlight back onto the hardline stance on narcotics of Singapore, which shares one of the world’s busiest land crossings with Malaysia and regards the death penalty as a core national policy, crucial to maintaining its status as one of the safest places on the planet.

The island nation is far from alone in Asia in handing out the ultimate penalty for drug trafficking.

The region is a global leader when it comes to capital punishment for drugs crimes. According to the latest report by Harm Reduction International, which assembles figures on the death penalty for drugs, there were 237 known drug-related death sentences handed down worldwide last year and more than 90 per cent of them were in south-east Asia.

Indonesia was the frontrunner with 89, followed by Vietnam with at least 87, Malaysia 15, Laos 14, Singapore 10 and Thailand two.

Yet while Singapore has resumed executions, none of its regional neighbours except Vietnam - where capital punishment is a state secret and numbers are unknown - have actually carried one out in recent years. In 2021, Indonesia went a fifth straight year without delivering one for any offence, Malaysia’s last execution was in 2017 and Thailand hasn’t put a prisoner to death for drugs since 2009, although it did execute a man by lethal injection in 2018 over a robbery resulting in death.
The war on drugs

It’s not to say that those tied up in the drugs game or linked to it have not paid the highest price at the hands of the state. The Philippines abolished the death penalty in 2006 but President Rodrigo Duterte took matters into his own hands after his election in 2016 in a so-called war on drugs that rights groups estimate has led to more than 20,000 drug-related killings by authorities and vigilante groups.

And in countries such as Indonesia, the lack of executions doesn’t equate to progress, said HRI’s human rights lead Ajeng Larasati, who is Indonesian.

“There is a still a huge appetite [by courts] to sentence people to death for drugs in Indonesia,” she said.

In Malaysia, judges are also still prescribing the sentence despite even though they have limited discretion to opt for a life sentence and whipping rather than the death penalty for drug trafficking, under an amendment to the law passed in 2017.

Last October Hairun Jalmani, a 55-year-old single mother of nine in Sabah, was sentenced to death after being found with 113 grams of methamphetamine.

There are at least small signs things might change. A parliamentary committee is expected to this year table a further amendment to the law in Malaysia, where convictions for murder, kidnapping and drug trafficking have had mandatory death sentences.

But Dobby Chew, the Malaysia-based executive coordinator of the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network, warns the anticipated changes fall a long way short of abolition, as had briefly been foreshadowed by then prime minister Mahathir Mohamad when won election again in 2018.

“From what we understand it’s only going to recommend that mandatory death sentences be replaced with full discretion for judges,” Chew said.

Across the Johor-Singapore Causeway, though, there is no sign anything will change.

In Singapore, drug trafficking, including for more than 15 grams of heroin, is among the offences that carries a mandatory death penalty and all but three of 60 prisoners on death row were there on narcotics offences, according to the Transformative Justice Collective, a Singaporean organisation seeking reform of the city-state’s justice system.

This week, the United Nations human rights office expressed alarm at “a rapid rise in the number of execution notices issues since the beginning of the year in Singapore”.

But Singapore authorities staunchly back the deployment of capital publishment, pointing to its deterrent effect and studies they say demonstrate support by its population.

The Herald and The Age requested an interview with Singapore Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam on the use of the death penalty but was directed instead towards statements by the Central Narcotics Bureau and Attorney General’s Chambers defending the execution of Nagaenthran, saying he had been transporting enough heroin to “feed the addiction of 510 drug abusers for a week”.

In response to previous questions, though, the home affairs ministry said: “The death penalty is an important component of Singapore’s criminal justice system. It is applied only after due process of law and with judicial safeguards. We use capital punishment in the most limited of circumstances, to deter the most serious crimes in Singapore’s context, such as murder and drug trafficking, and this has proven effective. In so doing, the larger interest of ensuring our people’s fundamental human right to safety and security, is served.”

In parliament here last month, Shanmugum said the majority of Singaporeans believed the death penalty served as an effective deterrent against serious crimes, reading from preliminary findings of a government study.

The home affairs ministry has said there is evidence that drug traffickers had reduced the amount of drugs they transported because they knew about the death penalty and the thresholds for different drugs, pointing to reductions in the trafficking of opium and cannabis after the introduction of the mandatory death penalty in 1990 and another government study showing “severe legal consequences had limited [offenders’] trafficking behaviour”.

The deterrence argument is one that is furiously contested including by rights groups. “Based on research that has been carried out, there is no reliable evidence of the deterrent effects of the death penalty. It’s not just for drugs, it’s also for other crimes punishable by death,” Larasati said.

The way McMahon sees it, it is also ineffective on another front. It is almost never the drug kingpins themselves who are ensnared.

“The so-called zero tolerance policy only works against the easy target – the intellectually disabled or the drug addicted or the generally incompetent low-level drug mule,” he said.

“That in itself should give pause to reflect on what’s really happening because those people are constantly replaceable by an endless line of foolish or vulnerable young offenders.”

Having experienced Singapore’s system at close quarters, he added: “It is a shocking fact and aberration for a sophisticated state to maintain a mandatory death penalty, particularly for relatively minor drug offences.”

Malaysia’s Death Penalty Hypocrisy

Source: Human Rights Watch (28 April 2022)

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/04/28/malaysias-death-penalty-hypocrisy

When Nagaenthran Dharmalingam, a Malaysian national, was facing the death penalty in Singapore on drug charges, Malaysia’s prime minister and foreign minister twice wrote to the Singapore government asking for clemency. According to a statement from the Foreign Ministry, they even offered to discuss transferring Nagaenthran to Malaysia.

On April 27, Singapore hanged Nagaenthran in the face of massive international calls for clemency. After the execution, Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry put out a statement thanking all of those who had campaigned on his behalf.

While the Malaysian government’s activism on behalf of its citizen is laudable, it is also hypocritical. Nagaenthran was sentenced to death in 2010 for bringing 42.72 grams (approximately three tablespoons) of diamorphine – a drug made from morphine – into Singapore. He likely would have faced the same death sentence had he been arrested in Malaysia.

Judges in Malaysia are currently required to impose the death penalty on almost anyone convicted of “trafficking” in drugs – presumed for anyone possessing more than minimal amounts. Since the presumption applies to those carrying 15 grams of morphine or diamorphine, Nagaenthran also would have been presumed to be “trafficking” in drugs under Malaysian law.

Amendments passed in 2017 provide Malaysian judges limited discretion to impose a life sentence plus whipping instead of the death penalty. However, according to research by Australia’s Monash University, judges exercised their discretion to impose a life sentence in only four of the 38 cases in which a defendant was convicted of drug trafficking between March 2018, when the amendments went into effect, and October 2020. The other 34 defendants were sentenced to death.

While Malaysia declared a moratorium on executions in July 2018, the laws imposing the death penalty remain on the books and courts continue to sentence defendants to death. On the same day that the Foreign Ministry issued its statement on Nagaenthran, a court in the city of Kuching sentenced a man to death for trafficking methamphetamine.

The Malaysian government should stop playing games with people’s lives and commit to enacting legislation to eliminate the death penalty for all – not just some – drug offenses in the next sitting of Parliament. And if it wants its international calls for clemency to be taken seriously, the government should move swiftly to full abolition of the death penalty, an inherently cruel punishment wherever it is carried out.

Wednesday, 13 April 2022

Singapore hardens opinion against death penalty as ‘sense of injustice’ grows

Source: The Guardian (13 April 2022)

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/apr/13/singapore-hardens-opinion-against-death-penalty-as-sense-of-injustice-grows

The news was delivered in just a few cold sentences. An appeal for clemency for Nagaenthran Dharmalingam, a man on death row whose case has prompted a global outcry, had failed.

“Please be informed that the position...remains unchanged” wrote Singapore president’s principal private secretary, in a letter to Nagaenthran’s family: “The sentence of death therefore stands.”

Nagaenthran’s relatives and supporters have campaigned tirelessly for his life to be spared. He was arrested in 2009, aged 21, for attempting to smuggle a small amount of heroin – about three tablespoons – into Singapore and has since spent more than a decade on death row. His lawyer has argued that he has an IQ of 69, a level recognised as indicating a learning disability, and should be protected from execution under international law. Nagaenthran has said he was coerced into carrying the drugs.

Nagaenthran’s case has appalled rights groups, and provoked an outcry from voices around the world - from billionaire businessman Richard Branson, a critic of the death penalty, to EU representatives and UN experts. Domestically, it has also prompted some younger Singaporeans to question a system that the government has long claimed makes the city state “one of the safest places in the world”.

“The death penalty is applicable only for a very limited number of offences, involving the most serious forms of harm to victims and to society, such as intentional murder and trafficking of significant quantities of drugs. We have put in place many judicial safeguards surrounding its use,” the government says.

The Singapore government does not disclose how many people are on death row. Since 2019, eight death row prisoners have been given execution notices, placing them at imminent risk of hanging. One of these men was hanged last month.

‘Sense of injustice’

Death penalty cases are rarely reported in any detail in Singapore’s tightly controlled media, but Nagaenthran’s story has been shared widely online. Isaac Chiew, a 22-year-old university student, said he hadn’t thought very much about the death penalty, until he came across Nagaenthran’s case on Instagram. “Reading all the details really made me feel this sense of injustice,” he says. “It just made me feel - this could have been my friend or me in a different circumstance.” Nagaenthran was just a young man who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time, says Chiew. He began to read about others on death row, and was struck by stories of people who were condemned to death simply for falling in with the wrong crowd or making a mistake.

Profiles of some death row inmates shared online by campaigners show they are not big time criminals, but rather men from marginalised communities who have faced poverty, or struggled with addiction.

“Social media has allowed us to centre the voices of death row prisoners and their families,” says Jolovan Wham, a human rights activist.

In a rare protest this month, more than 400 people turned out at Speakers’ Corner at Hong Lim park, the only place where demonstrations are permitted in Singapore, to call for executions to be halted.

Kirsten Han, a journalist and activist who has spent a decade campaigning against the death penalty, believes its likely the highest turn out ever seen at such a demonstration. The message, too, was different.

“Previously a lot of other death penalty events might have been focused on - give this person a chance,” said Han. But protesters were now critiquing the whole system. They weren’t, she added, just expressing pity for any one person; they were calling for abolition of the death penalty. Most of the attendees were young Singaporeans.

The Singaporean authorities have shown no willingness to move towards dropping the death sentence, despite a global shift towards abolition, said Ariel Yin Yee Yap, a doctoral researcher and teaching associate at Monash University.

“My research indicates a long pattern of state justification and legitimisation, to both the international community, and domestic audiences, [of] its continued practice of capital punishment,” she said. The government argues that capital punishment is the most effective deterrent against crime - an idea debunked by criminological research, she adds.

Public support

Research suggests that the death penalty is supported by the overwhelming majority of Singaporeans - but that this is not an unconditional or strongly held view. A study by the National University of Singapore found that seven in 10 Singaporeans said they agreed with capital punishment in general, but that support fell when people were presented with different scenarios and asked to choose whether the person convicted should be executed. Support also depended heavily on the premise that it was a more effective deterrent than other forms of punishment, and that no errors were made when such sentences were administered.

Research suggests the more information people have about the death penalty, the more their support wavers, said Han. “That’s part of the challenge. How do we give them these details when it can’t get into mainstream media?”

Han hopes attitudes will change with time. But she adds that, public opinion aside, governments should still commit to abolishing the death penalty. “Human rights issues should not be subjected to whatever the majority votes for.”

For Nagaenthran, there are no more procedural steps left. His last ditch appeal was rejected last month as baseless by Singapore’s top court. The clemency, now refused, was the only option left.

Friday, 8 April 2022

Will 2022 signal sea change in the death penalty for drugs?

Source: Jakarta Post (6 April 2022)

https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/will-2022-signal-sea-change-in-the-death-penalty-for-drugs-jakarta-post-contributor

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - On March 30, Singapore executed Abdul Kahar bin Othman, a local man sentenced to death for drug offences and the first person to be executed in Singapore in since 2019.

Othman had been unable to appeal his execution because he did not have a lawyer. Eight of the 35 countries that still retain the death penalty for drug offences are in South-east Asia and were responsible for a staggering 91.5 per cent of all confirmed death sentences given for drug offences worldwide, according to the Global Review 2021 from Harm Reduction International (HRI).

The imposition of these death sentences is shrouded in secrecy and characterised by widespread human rights violations (HRI 2019), such as lack of access to legal representation (HRI 2020), as in Othman's case. Too often, there are reports of torture, ill treatment and coerced confession.

The situation is particularly dire for foreign nationals who find themselves sentenced to death outside of their home countries, often without interpreters and lawyers made available to them during the legal process, says a March 2019 HRI briefing paper.

In Indonesia, all 14 convicted drug offenders who were executed in 2015 and 2016 were foreign nationals. Obviously, 2021 was not the first year in which death sentences in South-east Asian countries comprised the overwhelming majority of death sentences for drug offences around the world.

The HRI's Global Overview 2020 shows that 98 per cent of confirmed global death sentences for drugs, or 209 out of 213 sentences, were delivered in South-east Asian countries: 79 in Vietnam, 77 in Indonesia, 25 in Malaysia, 13 in Laos, eight in Thailand and six in Singapore. The figure presented in the 2019 HRI briefing paper is similar, with 170 out of 180 confirmed death sentences, or 94.4 per cent.

The percentage of drug convicts on death row is alarming: 98 per cent in Laos, 66 per cent in Indonesia, 67.8 per cent in Malaysia, 55 per cent in Singapore, 63.5 per cent in Thailand and 50 per cent in Brunei Darussalam. By 2021, a total of 1,633 people were on death row for drug offences in the region, although the figure in Vietnam remains unknown.

The above figures likely paint only a partial picture because of a lack of transparency, but they demonstrate how the drug policies of South-east Asian countries have a significant, negative impact on human rights in the region as well as efforts to abolish the death penalty around the world.

Capital punishment is an abhorrent, outdated and inhumane form of punishment. Applying it for drug offences is a violation of international human rights law, a position that has been reaffirmed by numerous international authorities and human rights bodies.

Closer to home, however, Asean human rights bodies, including the Asean Inter-governmental Commission for Human Rights (AICHR), remain silent on the issue.

Nothing was heard from the AICHR in response to Othman's case, either before or after his sentence was carried out. The regional commission also failed, and continues to fail, to respond to Singapore's announcement on the execution of Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam, whose case has sparked an international outcry from rights groups.

Five UN human rights experts published a statement in Nov 2021 urging Singapore to halt his execution, accompanied by dozens of statements and joint statements from civil society organisations. In Feb 2022, Singaporean authorities issued notices of execution for three more people on death row for drug offences.

Again, nothing was heard from the AICHR. More executions are set to follow that of Othman. Earlier this week, Singapore's Court of Appeal dismissed Dharmalinggam's appeal. This means that Singapore does not necessarily need to issue a new notice of execution, and rights activists fear that Dharmalinggam may be executed soon.

As a regional human rights mechanism, the AICHR has the responsibility and the legitimacy to denounce and seek to address human rights violations that occur in the region. The death penalty is a human rights issue in South-east Asia, but the region's main human rights body is yet to oppose it publicly.

Moving forward, there are plenty of opportunities for the AICHR to raise and advocate for abolishing the death penalty for drug offences. It is not too late for the AICHR to ask the Singaporean government to stop its planned executions and undertake much-needed reform of the country's draconian drug policies.

It is also not too late to support the Philippines' Commission on Human Rights in blocking President Rodrigo Duterte's plan to reinstate the death penalty. And certainly, there are plenty of opportunities to support Malaysia's effort to abolish the death penalty for drug offences as the country plans to table an amendment to that policy in late 2022.

So, will 2022 be the year that South-east Asia can finally have a regional human rights mechanism that champions abolishing the death penalty for drug offences?

Singaporeans protest the death penalty in rare demonstration

Source: France24 (3 April 2022)


Singapore (AFP) – Hundreds of protesters in tightly controlled Singapore staged a rare demonstration against the death penalty Sunday as fears grow the city-state is set to carry out a wave of hangings.

Authorities last week conducted the country's first execution since 2019 when they hanged a drug trafficker. Several other death row convicts recently had appeals rejected.

Organisers said about 400 people joined the demonstration at "Speakers' Corner" in a downtown park, the only place in the city-state where protests are allowed without prior police approval.

They held signs reading "Capital punishment does not make us safer", and "Don't kill in our names", and chanted slogans against the death penalty.

"Capital Punishment is a brutal system that makes brutes of us all," Kirsten Han, a prominent local activist, said in an address to the crowd.

"Instead of pushing us to address inequalities and exploitative and oppressive systems that leave people marginalised and unsupported, it makes us the worst version of ourselves."

Protests are unusual in Singapore, which frequently faces criticism for curbing civil liberties.

Aside from in "Speakers' Corner", it is illegal for even one person to stage a demonstration without a police permit.

Abdul Kahar Othman, a 68-year-old Singaporean drug trafficker, was hanged Wednesday despite appeals for clemency from the United Nations and rights groups.

Next in line to be executed could be Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam, a mentally disabled Malaysian convicted of heroin trafficking who lost his final appeal last week.

His case has attracted a storm of criticism, including from the European Union and British billionaire Richard Branson.

Three other men sentenced to death for drugs offences had their appeals rejected earlier in March.

Prosperous but socially conservative Singapore has some of the world's toughest drugs laws, and has faced mounting calls from rights groups to abandon the death penalty.

Authorities insist that capital punishment remains an effective deterrent against drug trafficking and has helped to keep the city-state one of the safest places in Asia.

Tuesday, 29 March 2022

Report: Fewer Nations Using the Death Penalty for Drug Offenses, But Executions and Secrecy Are Up in Those that Do

Source: Death Penalty Information Center (23 March 2022)

https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/news/report-fewer-nations-using-the-death-penalty-for-drug-offenses-but-executions-and-secrecy-are-up-in-those-that-do

Fewer countries are using the death penalty for drug offenses, but according to a new global report, executions increased in those that did and took place in proceedings characterized by authoritarianism and secrecy.

In its eleventh annual report on The Death Penalty for Drug Offenses: Global Overview 2021, released mid-March 2021, the international drug monitor Harm Reduction International (HRI) found that eight “high application” nations contributed to an increase in known death sentences and executions. “The group of countries actively resorting to capital punishment as a central tool of drug control is shrinking, but is also more and more characterized by opacity and secrecy, if not outright censorship,” HRI wrote.

To be classified as “high application” by HRI, a country must have carried out an execution or imposed at least ten death sentences for non-violent drug offenses within the past five years. HRI classified Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam as high application nations.

HRI confirmed at least 132 executions for drug offenses in 2021, an increase of 336% from the number of known drug executions in 2020. That total, however, “is likely to represent only a fraction of all drug-related executions carried out globally,” the group warned, because the secrecy shrouding the death penalty in countries such as China, North Korea, and Vietnam makes it impossible to track their execution practices.

HRI also reported “[a] minimum of 237 death sentences for drug crimes … in at least 16 countries,” representing an increase of 11.3% from 2020 and 29.5% from 2019. About ten percent of those death sentences were imposed on foreign nationals. “Individuals from ethnic minority backgrounds, women, and members of vulnerable groups remain disproportionately affected by the imposition of the death penalty for drug offences,” the report said.

“Executions were confirmed to have taken place in Iran and China, and were likely carried out in Vietnam and North Korea,” HRI reported. HRI confirmed at least one drug-related execution in China but reported the country was believed to have conducted more than a thousand executions in 2021. HRI also confirmed 131 executions for drug offenses in Iran.

The huge increase in executions for drug offenses in Iran — up from 25 in 2020 — more than offset the decline in confirmed drug-related executions in Saudi Arabia following a moratorium on executions for drug offenses announced by the Kingdom in 2020. Saudi drug executions fell from 84 in 2019 to zero in 2021, although the Kingdom is still sentencing people to death for drug offenses and has denied drug offenders on death row retrials or commutations, HRI said. Singapore, HRI reported, carried out no drug executions for the second consecutive year.

Indonesia imposed 89 death sentences for drug offenses in 2021, the most confirmed sentences of any nation. HRI confirmed from media and court reports that Vietnam imposed at least 87 death sentences for drug crimes in 2021, although the actual total remains a state secret. HRI was unable to confirm death-sentencing numbers from China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.

HRI reported that more than 3,000 people are confirmed to be on death rows across the globe for drug offenses, with drug death sentences increasing at a faster rate than death sentences for other offenses. The report said that women who are sentenced to death and executed are disproportionally likely to have been convicted of drug offenses. Eight-six of the 164 women executed in Iran between 2010 and October 2021 had been convicted of drug offenses, the report said, at least five of whom were put to death in 2021.

Use of the death penalty for non-violent drug offenses has long been recognized as a violation of international law.

Tuesday, 15 March 2022

Saudi Arabia executes 81 in one day for terror offences

Source: Straits Times (12 March 2022)


RIYADH (AFP) - Saudi Arabia said Saturday (March 12) it executed 81 people in one day on a variety of terrorism-related offences, exceeding the total number of executions in the kingdom in the whole of last year.

All had been "found guilty of committing multiple heinous crimes", the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported, saying they included convicts linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group, or to Al-Qaeda, Yemen's Huthi rebel forces or "other terrorist organisations".

They had been plotting attacks on vital economic sites, or had targeted or had killed members of the security forces, or had smuggled weapons into the country, the SPA added.

Of the 81 people, 73 were Saudi citizens, seven were Yemeni and one was a Syrian national.

SPA said all those executed were tried in Saudi courts, with trials overseen by 13 judges over three separate stages for each individual.

The wealthy Gulf country has one of the world's highest execution rates.

Saturday's announcement marks the kingdom's highest number of recorded executions in one day, and more than the total of 69 executions in all of 2021.

The Singapore lawyer who defends those facing the gallows

Source: Al Jazeera (7 March 2022)

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/3/7/death-penalty-the-singapore-lawyer

Singapore is known for being tough on crime, with some of the harshest punishments in the world, including a mandatory death sentence for certain offences, including drug-related crimes.

One lawyer, M Ravi, has been taking on the state in high-profile cases for decades.

Ravi has been diagnosed as bipolar and is currently suspended from practising law on mental health grounds, but he has been heavily involved in the case of Nagaenthran Dharmalingam, a Malaysian man with a learning disability found guilty of drug offences and sentenced to death.

A last-minute appeal that attracted worldwide attention gave Nagaenthran a reprieve, and he contracted COVID-19 in November of last year, further delaying the process.

Singapore’s Court of Appeal heard his case on March 1, and has reserved judgement until an undisclosed date.

Ravi spoke to Al Jazeera about why he takes on such challenging cases. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Al Jazeera: You are one of the few lawyers involved in the defence of people facing the death penalty. Why do you take on such cases?

M Ravi: My original focus was mainly commercial and corporate cases, looking at intellectual property, technology, that kind of stuff.

In 2003, when a Malaysian boy Vignes Mourthi was facing the death penalty [for smuggling 27 grams of heroin into the country], I mounted a last-minute constitutional challenge at the request of the former opposition leader in Singapore, Mr J B Jeyaretnam. He’s almost like a Nelson Mandela of Singapore.

On the eve of the execution, I asked the then Chief Justice if we could reopen this case. He said that the case had run its course and there was little I could do.

I then asked [that] if I could show that he was innocent, would Mourthi still be hanged? He said yes. That was a horrifying statement. I saw the way the poor and the oppressed were being treated. It brought me to fight against the death penalty in Singapore.

Al Jazeera: The Law Society of Singapore has suspended you from practising law on psychiatric grounds following your diagnosis of bipolar disorder. What has happened?

M Ravi: As I was preparing to argue Nagaenthran’s appeal, my doctor said suddenly that I am unwell. And that’s it, the Law Society said I have to stop as the doctor found that I am unwell.

I’m still doing work, preparing bundles of papers. If I don’t do that, Nagaenthran will be in the gallows.

The psychiatrists that have spoken to me from around the world, and other people I have spoken to, said that I don’t need treatment and just need rest.

Of course I am frustrated. I was originally told by my doctor that I can still argue Nagaenthran’s case and my MC [medical note] should end on January 13. Then he extended it to March 13. And the court is not going to wait, the Attorney General is pressing that Nagaenthran’s case should go ahead and be rushed through.

Al Jazeera: What other challenges do you face when taking on these difficult cases, going up against the Singapore state?

M Ravi: The Law Society and the Attorney General have applied to the Court of Appeal to suspend me from practice – or even strike me off.

That’s because of a case in 2020, the case of Gobi Avedian. He was supposed to be executed, but I managed to stop it. 

The authorities are extremely frustrated because I frustrated their scheme of the death penalty. The Court of Appeal acknowledged that this is the first miscarriage of justice case in Singapore.

In this case, the Court of Appeal said we have made a mistake. The question I asked the Attorney General is ‘What if I had not come to practice law in this case?’ Gobi would have been gone. I criticised the entire administration of the death penalty.

Then there is the media. They constantly say that I am mad. There is psychological harassment about my psychiatric condition.

Al Jazeera: Will Singapore ever get rid of the death penalty?

M Ravi: It will. Just look at the case of Yong Vui Kong. He was only 19 when he was caught [trafficking heroin into Singapore in 2007].

This boy was supposed to be executed and, on the eve of the execution, I filed to stop it.

It took three, four years, but finally the law was amended [Yong was spared]. The law now gives judges some discretion.

So there is a precursor to tell us that things can change. Singapore is ripe to repeal the death penalty, most countries in the Southeast Asia region don’t practise it. Philippines is a no, Myanmar no, Thailand no, Indonesia yes but still slow.

And now we have Richard Branson taking them on and telling other rich people about it.

I think they have no choice but to get rid of it.

Al Jazeera: How confident are you and your team of Nagaenthran’s appeal?

M Ravi: It’s a humungous amount of work. There are five Deputy Public Prosecutors, they are all at the top. Singapore finds a lot of resources to kill people.

I think I will be able to win. Five judges are [hearing] the case. If it’s a shut case and not serious and open, they wouldn’t even come.

Secondly, psychiatric prison experts from the UK and Australia have given their expert opinion to say that the methods used by the Institute of Mental Health in Singapore are backwards. The tests are all wrong. The manner in which they are administered are very childish.

Malaysia Should Scrap the Death Penalty Once and For All

Source: The Diplomat (4 March 2022)

https://thediplomat.com/2022/03/malaysia-should-scrap-the-death-penalty-once-and-for-all/

In January, Malaysia’s Law Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said the cabinet would discuss the findings of a study on alternatives to the mandatory death penalty, which applies to crimes including drug trafficking, treason, and murder.

After almost two years without any progress on death penalty reform, this is a welcome development.

For more than 40 years, Amnesty International has campaigned against the death penalty around the world, and more than two-thirds of countries have abolished it in law or in practice. Here’s why Malaysia – and other countries that retain the death penalty – should show human rights leadership and set an example by scrapping it once and for all.

Simply put, governments should not kill people. Or as the United Nations Human Rights Committee has put it, “the death penalty cannot be reconciled with full respect for the right to life.”

Every single human being has the inherent right to life and governments have an obligation to protect lives, not take them. This right is recognized under international law for all human beings, without distinctions of any kind, including for persons suspected or convicted of even the most serious crimes.

Amnesty International, and many other individuals and organizations around the world, believes that the death penalty violates this right.

In Malaysia, we have found numerous violations of the right to a fair trial. Defendants who cannot afford or are unable to hire their own lawyers are often unrepresented during police interrogations, and lack interpretation if they do not speak Bahasa Malaysia, while there are credible allegations of torture and other ill treatment at the hands of authorities, among other examples.

The imposition of the death penalty after a violation of the right to a fair trial is a violation of the right to life. There is no perfect criminal justice system and mistakes can always occur. The irreversible nature of the death penalty leaves no room for redress if an innocent person is wrongfully convicted and executed.

The death penalty also discriminates. The greater the disadvantage, the greater the risk of being sentenced to death. Our research has found that the burden of the death penalty in Malaysia has largely fallen on those convicted of drug trafficking, which has disproportionately included women and foreign nationals.

As of September 2021, 67 percent of people on death row are there for drug offenses, some for carrying as little as 15 grams of opioids. A majority of people sentenced to death are also from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, while ethnic minorities are overrepresented among those on death row.

These findings gain an even greater significance when considered in the context of laws and policies that contravene international law and standards: for example, the lack of access to interpretation from the point of arrest for foreign nationals, or the impossibility of having coercion or other mitigating circumstances taken into account at sentencing, because of the mandatory death penalty.

The application of the death penalty can also be arbitrary, particularly for those whose nationality, gender, socioeconomic background, or other characteristics can contribute, or leave them more vulnerable, to being sentenced to death.

What about the argument that the death penalty acts as a unique deterrent against crime?

This has never been backed by evidence. For instance, a study comparing the murder rates in Hong Kong and Singapore, both of a similar size and population, for a 35-year period beginning in 1973 found that the abolition of the death penalty in Hong Kong and the high execution rate in Singapore in the mid-1990s had little impact on murder levels.

It is high time the authorities focused their resources on tackling the root causes of crime and devised long-term, more effective solutions. The death penalty does not make us safer. Furthermore, we believe those found responsible for crime deserve second chances.

These beliefs are becoming mainstream. As of today, 144 countries – more than two-thirds of the world’s nations – have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. In the Asia-Pacific region, more than 20 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes, with Papua New Guinea becoming the latest in January of this year.

In 2020, six Asia-Pacific countries carried out executions, the lowest since Amnesty International began keeping records. Despite voting at the U.N. General Assembly in 2018 and 2020 in favor of two resolutions calling on all countries to establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty, Malaysia remains part of an increasingly isolated minority of countries that still practices capital punishment.

Given that it recently took its seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council, by abolishing the death penalty, Malaysia can align itself with the global trend, improve its human rights record, and send a strong signal to other countries in ASEAN and the region that positive change on the death penalty is not only possible, but required to protect human rights.

We call on Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob and his cabinet to do the right thing and abolish the death penalty in Malaysia.

Thursday, 24 February 2022

Families of 30 death row inmates hopeful Putrajaya will abolish capital punishment this year

Source: Malay Mail (21 February 2022)

https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2022/02/21/families-of-30-death-row-inmates-hopeful-putrajaya-will-abolish-capital-pun/2042954

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 21 — The families of more than 30 death row inmates are hopeful that this year they will get some form of cheer should the Malaysian government decide to abolish the death penalty.

This comes amid Putrajaya’s promise to study proposed alternatives to the death penalty before the end of this month, as mentioned by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law) Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, who said a special committee tasked to review the death penalty had briefed him of its findings last month.

Shamala T Manickarajah is a representative of the families who is spearheading the movement along with the various NGOs in order to push for the release, retrial, reduction of sentence, and ultimately, the abolishment of the death penalty of those convicted.

Shamala said she was inspired to help the families after finding out a childhood friend’s husband had been sentenced for drug possession. He has been in jail in Perlis for 13 years.

As part of her efforts, she shared how she helps the families write letters to the various agencies and to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong yearly begging for clemency for the convicted.

She said most of the families did not know how to go about getting clemency so she guided them through the process.

“After repping my friend, I was going to Bentong jail and saw many prisoners crying, waiting for family members so I decided to help them and not just my friend’s husband. I recall in the early days I helped all the makciks and pakciks fill up their forms and wrote letters for them to the prisons and so on. Most of them are poor.

“Last year, we went as a group to see Datuk Liew Vui Keong and he promised to look into our cases but he then passed away. When we went to Putrajaya to the offices, we were told they have our letters and are considering them so we are hoping for the best,” Shamala said during a press conference organised by Amnesty International Malaysia (AIM) today.

“We heard this year the Agong nominated 27 names for pardon. We are praying it is some of us because many of the victims have been in prison for more than a decade.”

In August 2019, the Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration formed the Special Committee to Review Alternative Punishments to the Mandatory Death Penalty to examine alternatives to the mandatory death sentence.

The PH government collapsed in February 2020, however, before the Bill for the abolition of the death penalty could be tabled in the March meeting of Parliament that year.

Wan Junaidi had said that before the government decides on any amendments, it needed to determine the effectiveness of capital punishment as a deterrent to crime while also looking at alternative punishments.

Chiara Sangiorgio, an expert on the death penalty for Amnesty International, said the general public was always hesitant to agree to abolishing the death penalty but studies show that once the rule was in place, society eventually eased into it.

“The global trend shows most countries are abolishing it as it was eight countries in 1958, now it is 108 countries that have abolished the death penalty.

“When it is abolished, public opinion changes despite the initial hesitancy; hence, we need to continue to talk about death penalty and challenge its effectiveness as there is no evidence to show it prevents further crime,” said Chiara.

In addition Chiara said from 2015 to 2020, 10 countries conducted executions and in 2020 Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iraq made up close to 90 per cent of total reported executions worldwide.

There are eight countries including Malaysia that execute people for drug offences.

“While the direction is clear, Malaysia is at a crossroads but they have the opportunity to make the change. There’s been some progress with the moratorium but what we have learnt when it comes to the use of the death penalty in Malaysia see lot of arbitrariness a lot of unfairness and discrimination.

“The key learning from this is that piecemeal reforms will not work and fixing the unfixable will not work. That’s why we call for a bold stance to be taken by the government of Malaysia and get rid of it once and for all,” she said.

Malaysia has had a moratorium on all executions since 2018 while awaiting recommendations from the committee.

Shamala said the families of the incarcerated understand that some of their actions are wrong, while others claim they were wrongly convicted; either way, she is hopeful there will be progress this year.

“I feel the Malaysian government will definitely abolish the death penalty. From the families’ side, they are hoping the sentences of their loved ones can be reduced or they are released for time served,” she said.

Thursday, 10 February 2022

Malaysia must take the lead in Southeast Asia by abolishing the death penalty

Source: New Straits Times (10 February 2022)

https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2022/02/770152/malaysia-must-take-lead-southeast-asia-abolishing-death-penalty

MALAYSIA is on the path of becoming a nation that will put the dignity of human beings and human rights before any other consideration.

This would be the case if the government eliminated the death penalty from its penal code.

By the end of the month, the government could embrace the likely recommendations being provided by a committee headed by former chief justice Tun Richard Malanjun, findings that hopefully will prove that alternative sentencing to the death penalty is possible and in the best interest of the country.

Public opinion is swayed by the emotional turmoil and trauma caused by stories about the death penalty.

It is regrettable that judges kept sentencing people to death despite an official moratorium being in place and an imperfect but still positive amendment to the Dangerous Drug Act 1952 in 2017.

The amendment did away with automatic mandatory penalty and instead gave a discretion to judges to decide, based on conditions to be met for not imposing the death penalty on someone.

That's why the government must follow through and make a case for a total, unconditional abolition of the death penalty.

There should not be any hesitation on this move.

Even Chief Justice Tun Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat recently said that stiff sentences did not seem to deter people from getting involved in drugs.

It is a case that criminologists around the world, together with activists, are trying to make, a case that must be built on evidence, even when it is harder to come up with solid evidence, like the role deterrence plays in drug-related crimes.

This is an effort worth taking and must continue, even if it takes time.

We know that those who suffer the worst consequences in these cases are the vulnerable.

In Malaysia, despite conservative mindsets in the judiciary, politicians — with their hesitancy and changes of positions, shifting from a bold and progressive stance to a weakened position — are mature enough to understand that capital punishment does not reflect the modern values the country stands for.

This is one of the reasons why a possible cabinet decision to abolish the death penalty has wider implications for the region as well.

We know that the Asean community works based on the principle of non-interference, but advocating against capital punishment is not about minding someone's else business but rather working to promote a better humanity, a fairer and more just global civilisation founded on unalienable human rights.

The committee led by Malanjun devoted considerable attention to alternative sentencing, not just for the sake of delivering less cruel punishments, but also as a way to redeem and rehabilitate convicted criminals.

This path of redemption might not be always feasible and a life sentence with no parole might be the best option available, but it is important not to forget that jails should be places for moral resto-ration and not personal destruction and demolition.

Hopefully, politicians studying Malanjun's report will make the right decision and use this as an opportunity to frame a strong, progressive strategy to promote human rights beyond the nation's borders.

While waiting for the cabinet to take a final decision, the path is already clear: Malaysia must lead the way in Southeast
Asia by getting rid of the death penalty.

In a nutshell, this column is about Malaysia taking the lead not only domestically but also internationally to promote the defence of life.

The nation should pursue this cause not from a position of moral supremacy and perfection, but from one of humility.

That's the place where Malay-sia started learning, showing itself to be able to change its mind, become better, more humane and an example to those who refuse to change.

The author writes on civic engagement, youth development, Sustainable Development Goals and regional integration in the context of the Asia Pacific

Sunday, 30 January 2022

More than 100 sentenced to death in Yangon since Myanmar coup

Source: Radio Free Asia (27 January 2022)

https://www.rfa.org/english/news/myanmar/deaths-01272022181610.html

Myanmar’s junta has condemned more than 100 people to death in the Yangon region alone since it seized power a year ago.

None of the people sentenced were given the right to defend themselves. Of the 101 people documented by RFA’s Myanmar Service, 50 were convicted in secretive military tribunals where they were denied access to legal representation, while the rest were sentenced in absentia.

Those convicted hailed mostly from the Yangon townships of North Okkalapa, South Dagon, North Dagon, Hlaingtharyar, Dagon Port and Shwepyithar, where martial law has been in place amid resistance to military rule.

Two of the more well-known prisoners facing the death penalty are Phyo Zeyar Thaw, a lawmaker with the deposed National League for Democracy (NLD) party, and activist Ko Jimmy, a leader of the 88 Generation Student group. Both were sentenced for violating the country’s Anti-Terrorism Law, according to a Jan. 21 announcement by the junta.

Bo Bo Oo, a former NLD lawmaker from Yangon’s Dallah township, told RFA that not only were the two men sentenced without legal representation, but photos suggested they were tortured during interrogation.

“We could say they are two of the worst cases of arbitrary arrests and torture of civilians in the country since the coup,” he said.

“Both were given maximum sentences. By closely looking at the pictures [released by the junta] of the two, we could surmise they had been severely tortured during interrogation. Arresting and torturing people anytime, anywhere, is a threat to civilization.

Bo Bo Oo said the junta is cracking down on those who oppose it and sending a message to imposing maximum penalties including death.

Ko Jimmy’s wife, Nila Thein, who is also a well-known 88 Generation Student, told RFA that she would not negotiate with the junta over her husband’s sentence and would continue to fight for democracy.

A high court lawyer in Yangon, who spoke on condition of anonymity, criticized the military council for terrifying the public with the threat of executions.

“Their judiciary has no justice and no independence. So, I’m not going to say their verdicts are right,” he said. “There have been no executions since the [last] military takeover in 1988. The junta is trying to intimidate the population.”

‘Serious rights violations’

Aung Myo Min, human rights minister for the country’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG), called the death sentences “serious human rights violations.”

“[The death penalty] is a legal procedure that must be approved by the president and the present sentences are not even in accordance with the laws of the country,” he said.

“They are arresting anyone they like and then handing out death sentences, and these are very serious [violations of Myanmar’s laws].”

NUG Minister for Defense Naing Htoo Aung called the junta’s death sentences “unacceptable.”

“The people of Myanmar and the entire world understand the true situation,” he said. “The entire [legal] process is unfair.”

Attempts by RFA to contact junta Deputy Information Minister Zaw Min Tun went unanswered Thursday.

Since orchestrating a coup on Feb. 1 last year, security forces have arrested nearly 8,800 civilians and killed close to 1,500 — mostly during nonviolent protests of junta rule, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association of Political Prisoners.

Earlier this week, the Swedish Embassy in Yangon issued a statement calling for the abolishment of the death penalty in Myanmar and the unconditional release of all political prisoners.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

Sunday, 16 January 2022

'Thou shall not kill': Death penalty to be abolished in Papua New Guinea

Source: SBS News (12 January 2022)

https://www.sbs.com.au/news/thou-shall-not-kill-death-penalty-to-be-abolished-in-papua-new-guinea/0efdc0db-6d4f-4a73-8cde-fe242591bbab?s=03

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape says his government is doing away with the death penalty and those now on death row will instead serve life sentences without parole.

Mr Marape told members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church holding their 33rd synod in Port Moresby that PNG was a Christian nation and the death penalty was out of place.

"The Bible says thou shall not kill and the government has removed, by policy, the clause on the death penalty," PNG newspaper The National on Wednesday quoted him as saying.

"We are working on giving the maximum penalty to those who commit an offence and are sentenced to death.

"They will now receive life sentences without the possibility of parole," Mr Marape said.

Justice Minister Bryan Kramer last year said the death penalty would be reviewed.

Correctional Services Commissioner Stephen Pokanis told The National that 14 inmates in Bomana Prison in Port Moresby were on death row, while other prisons around the country also have death row inmates.

No executions have been carried out in PNG since 1954.

The death penalty was abolished in 1970 when PNG was under Australian administration ahead of independence in 1975 but it was reintroduced by the PNG government in 1991 for the crime of wilful murder.

Since then there has been a de facto moratorium on capital punishment.