"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Execution or life in prison? Delaware Supreme Court to decide

State Supreme Court Justices didn't filter their comments much during a hearing Wednesday that could let those currently on death row live the rest of their life in prison.

Earlier this year, the court ruled Delaware's capital punishment system unconstitutional because juries weren't the ones ultimately responsible for locking in a death penalty conviction.

Previously, juries decided whether a defendant was eligible for a death sentence, but then a judge weighed different factors to hand down his or her ruling.

The test case before the court is that of Derrick Powell, who shot and killed Georgetown police officer Chad Spicer in 2009.

His lawyer, Patrick Collins, says continuing to execute death row inmates who were convicted under an unconstitutional system flies in the face of precedent.

"Executing Derrick Powell would far and away be an extreme outlier as opposed to just about any other state that has considered the question," he said.

Justice Collins Seitz Jr. openly agreed later in the hearing.

"How could it ever be just to execute someone who was sentenced under a flawed statute? I don't understand how that's just," Seitz said.

Maryland legislatively abolished its death penalty in 2013 without including those already convicted and facing execution. Then Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) later commuted the sentences of the four men on death row to life in prison in 2015.

State prosecutors rebutted that these sentences should remain intact because this court previously said new rulings on constitutional issues can't necessarily be applied retroactively. There are 2 exceptions, but prosecutors argue they don't apply here.

After repeatedly interrupting during the state's presentation, Chief Justice Leo Strine told the deputy attorney general he had yet to flesh out his argument.

The state Supreme Court will issue its ruling in the coming months.

Source: delawarepublic.org, December 7, 2016

Delaware Supreme Court weighs fate of 13 on death row


Even though the Delaware Supreme Court did not immediately rule, some of the justices seemed swayed by arguments Wednesday that the 13 men on death row should not be executed in light of the court's finding the state's death penalty law unconstitutional in August.

As a prosecutor was peppered with questions about why the state wants to proceed with the executions, Justice Collins J. Seitz Jr. summed up much of the sentiment, asking how the state can proceed under a flawed statute.

"Isn't death different?" he asked. "I don't understand how that is justice."

Deputy Attorney General John Williams argued to the justices in Dover that the court should apply a long-standing rule against retroactively applying a new ruling after a criminal case is completed.

Patrick Collins, the attorney arguing on behalf of 29-year-old Derrick Powell, who was sentenced to death for the fatal shooting of Georgetown police officer Chad Spicer, disagreed.

"It has long been a principle of constitutional law that death is different, and it is not just a hollow phrase," Collins said. "It means special procedural protections have to be in place to ensure that if death is going to be imposed, that it is only imposed when those constitutional protections have been afforded."

Wednesday's arguments stemmed from a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in January that struck down Florida's death penalty law, saying it violated the U.S. Constitution by giving judges, and not juries, the final say to impose a death sentence.

Alabama and Delaware were the only other states that, like Florida, allowed judges to override a jury's recommendation of life.

The Delaware Supreme Court found that the state's capital punishment law was also unconstitutional. The move halted all future death sentences unless the General Assembly acts to change the current law.

The court on Wednesday heard arguments over whether the court's ruling should be applied retroactively to Powell and the others on death row.

Powell is Delaware's youngest inmate on death row.

In September 2009, he and 2 men arranged to rob another man during a marijuana deal. The robbery attempt went awry, and Powell fired at the fleeing man in the parking lot of a Georgetown McDonald's, according to court documents.

The incident led to a police chase that ended when Powell fired a shot at a police car, fatally wounding the 29-year-old officer and father, court documents said.

Powell was found guilty of 1st-degree murder and other charges in February 2011. He was sentenced to death in May of that year.

Source: The News Journal, December 7, 2016

Delaware court mulls retroactivity of death penalty ruling


Delaware's Supreme Court justices are mulling whether their ruling declaring the state's death penalty law unconstitutional can be applied retroactively to a dozen men already sentenced to death.

The court heard arguments Wednesday in an appeal filed by Derrick Powell, who was sentenced to death in 2011 for killing Georgetown police officer Chad Spicer in 2009.

In August, a majority of the Supreme Court justices declared that Delaware's death penalty law was unconstitutional because it allowed judges too much discretion in sentencing and did not require that a jury find unanimously and beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant deserves execution.

Attorney General Matt Denn declined to appeal that ruling in federal court but said he believes that it cannot be applied retroactively to offenders already sentenced to death.

The court also heard an appeal by Otis Phillips, who was convicted of murder in the 2012 killing of soccer tournament organizer Herman Curry at Wilmington's Eden Park. He was also convicted of manslaughter in the death of 16-year-old soccer player Alexander Kamara.

In answering Phillips' appeal, prosecutors said that because his conviction is on direct appeal and not considered final, he is covered under an August state Supreme Court ruling declaring Delaware's death penalty unconstitutional.

Source: Associated Press, December 7, 2016

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Iran: Two prisoners executed

Public execution in Iran
Iran Human Rights (DEC 7 2016): A prisoner was reportedly hanged at Dizel Abad Prison (Kermanshah province, western Iran) on Tuesday December 6 on murder charges, and a prisoner was reportedly hanged at Salmas Central Prison (West Azerbaijan province, northwestern Iran) on Wednesday December 7 on drug related charges.

The human rights news agency, HRANA, has identified the prisoner hanged at Dizel Abad Prison as Ali Akbar Karami. 

According to HRANA, Mr. Akbar Karami had turned himself in to Iranian judicial authorities two months after allegedly committing murder about three years ago.

Ali Chartagh is the name of the prisoner who was reportedly hanged at Salmas Prison, according to HRANA and independent sources close to Iran Human Rights.

"Ali Chartagh was arrested three years and seven months ago and was charged with participating in the storage of 750 grams of crystal meth. He was sentenced to death by the revolutionary court in Salmas," a confirmed source tells Iran Human Rights.

According to close sources, Mr. Chartagh was executed by Iranian authorities even though he had reportedly requested a retrial and his case file was in the process of being reviewed by Branch 38 of Iran's Supreme Court, presided by Judge Latifi Rostami.

Iranian official sources, including the Judiciary and the media, have been silent about these two executions.

Source: Iran Human Rights, December 7, 2016

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Georgia executes William Sallie

William Sallie
William Sallie
A Georgia man who shot and killed his father-in-law before abducting his estranged wife and her sister became the ninth man executed by the state this year.

William Sallie, 50, died by lethal injection at 10:05 p.m. Tuesday at Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson.

His execution had been scheduled for 7 p.m. But the state waited to hear from the U.S. Supreme Court on whether Sallie's execution would be stayed.

In his final statement, Sallie apologized for his crime and asked for forgiveness. He accepted a final prayer before the deadly dose of drugs was administered.

Sallie was sentenced to death for the March 1990 murder of John Moore.

He had already abducted his 2-year-old son and moved to Illinois when he returned to Georgia and rented a mobile home in Liberty County under an assumed name.

He had a friend buy a 9-millimeter pistol for him and, on March 28, 1990, went to the home of John and Linda Moore — his estranged wife, Robin's parents — where he cut the phone line while Robin was talking to her boyfriend.

At about 12:45 a.m., Sallie pried open a back door of the home, went into the master bedroom and shot John and Linda Moore. John was hit six times, including two shots that damaged his heart, and died.

Linda was shot in the thumb, the shoulder and both thighs.

Sallie went outside to reload and Robin and her 17-year-old sister, April, pleaded with him to let them get help for her parents.

Instead, he re-entered the home and handcuffed a bleeding Linda Moore to Justin, Robin's 9-year-old brother. He then bound Robin and April to each other with handcuffs and duct tape.

He took the two of them to his Liberty County mobile home, where he assaulted them both.

After a few hours, Linda and Justin managed to get themselves free and get to a neighbor, who called police.

Sallie released Robin and April in Bacon County the night of March 29, after asking them not to press charges. He was arrested shortly thereafter.

Sallie became the 68th inmate executed in Georgia since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

He was the 46th inmate put to death by lethal injection. There are presently 58 men under death sentence in Georgia.

This year, Georgia has nearly doubled its records for executions. The death penalty was carried out five times last year.

Source: Loganville Patch, December 7, 2016

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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

ISIS Publicly Executes Man On Charges Of Homosexuality in Aleppo, Syria

"Crowds including children were then ordered to stone the body."
The terror group has reportedly executed hundreds of men for having same-sex sexual relations.

Images of a Syrian man being thrown to his death after being accused of homosexuality have been released by Islamic State today (December 5).

The unidentified victim was reportedly dragged to the top of a building in Maslamah City in war-torn Aleppo, Syria, before being thrown to his death.

According to reports, crowds including children as young as six were then ordered to stone him.

Capital punishment for men accused of homosexuality has been used by ISIS to assert its supposed ideological purity since the terrorist group began exerting power, with the group describing gay men as the “worst of creatures”.

In September this year, an ISIS defector revealed the extent of the cruelty with which gay and bi men are treated in ISIS-controlled areas, including punitive rape.

“I saw the worst things one can imagine on the face of the Earth,” Kamandar Bakhtiar revealed to the United Arab Emirate’ Alaan TV.

He added: “All these things run counter to Islam. I was very upset by these deeds, but there was nothing I could do.”

Images of men being thrown to their deaths as punishment for suspected homosexuality has become one of the defining features of ISIS occupation in the Middle East. However, according to one former ISIS member, rape is also used as a punishment by the extremist group.

Kamandar Bakhtiar, a former member of the so-called Islamic State’s Afghanistan branch, spoke about some of the punishments he witnessed during his time with the terror group in a video interview published by The Daily Caller.

“During the three months I spent in the ranks of ISIS, I saw the worst things one can imagine on the face of the Earth,” He revealed to the United Arab Emirate’ Alaan TV on September 7.

“They kill and behead innocent people, plunder the property of regular people, and they do the worst possible things, such as raping homosexuals.”

He added: “All these things run counter to Islam. I was very upset by these deeds, but there was nothing I could do.”

Severe punishments for men accused of homosexuality are commonplace in ISIS-controlled territories. According to reports boys as young as 15 have been executed for alleged homosexuality.

In June this year, ISIS praised the deadly attack on gay nightclub, Pulse, which killed 49 people and injured 53 more.

Source: Attitude, Josh Lee, Dec. 5, Sep. 16, 2016

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Iran Supreme Court Confirms Death Sentence for Businessman Babak Zanjani

Babak Zanjani
Babak Zanjani
Iran Human Rights (DEC 5 2016): The death sentence for Babak Zanjani, the prime suspect in a high profile financial corruption case, has been confirmed by Iran's Supreme Court.

Gholamreza Ansari, a senior official at the Supreme Court, confirmed the news to the state-run news agency, Mizan. 

In regards to the two other defendants in the case, Mehdi Shams and Hamid Fallah Heravi, Ansari said their death sentences were quashed by the Supreme Court pending a new trial.

Babak Morteza Zanjani is an Iranian businessman who was arrested on the order of Iran's Attorney General on December 30, 2013 under corruption and bribery charges in alleged connection to skirting international sanctions and money laundering. 

In March 2016, an Iranian court reportedly sentenced Zanjani, Shams and Fallah Heravi to death and ordered them to pay a fine equalling to one fourth of the total amount of money they allegedly laundered.

Iran Human Rights condemns the execution sentence confirmed for Babak Zanjani, and is deeply concerned about the Iranian authorities' usage of the death penalty sentence for cases of financial corruption.

"The Iranian authorities turn to the death penalty as the solution to all their problems. They are are using Babak Zanjani as a scapegoat to evade accountability for and divert public opinion from the deep corruption which exists within all levels of the Iranian political establishment ," says Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, spokesperson for Iran Human Rights.

Source: Iran Human Rights, December 5, 2016

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Alabama and Georgia dueling for death penalty capital

In the midst of celebrations, good cheer, and that warm charity of spirit only the holidays bring, oft expressed as "peace on earth and goodwill towards all," Georgia and Alabama are instead ritualizing killing.

If it feels like I just wrote a column about Georgia's shameful record on executions, it's because I did. 3 weeks ago.

Observing that Georgia had performed a record 8 executions in 2016, more than any other state, and more in any year in Georgia since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, I wrote: "Georgia is now the new, undisputed champion killer of the condemned."

Unsatisfied and lusting for still more violence, vengeance, and blood, Georgia is primed to add to their already gruesome gurney-tally tomorrow, December 6.

That's when stern-faced, tight-lipped lawmen (and possibly law-women) will, for extra pay, take a break from the Christian spirit and normal human rhythms of work, football, prayer, and time spent with family and friends, to frogmarch 50-year-old William Sallie - who has already spent more than 1/2 his life imprisoned - to his death.

Sticking to tradition like it was hanging mistletoe, Georgia's Department of Corrections has already gleefully issued, "Sallie's Last Meal Advisory," which all good people of conscience will immediately recognize as a fiendish and loutish display that debases the dignity of human life.

Glomming on to this gross ghoulishness for the sake of clicks is Rhonda Cook, who writes for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution; the headline of Ms. Cook's recent piece peevishly opines, "[m]urderer requests junk food for his last meal."

Putting aside Mr. Sallie's gastronomic predilections, Andrew Cohen, writing for the Brennan Center for Justice, explained at the end of last week in "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia," why Sallie's execution should horrify any person who believes in basic due process of law.

Meanwhile, as competitive with Georgia in killing its citizens as it is in college football, correctional officials at that hell on earth Holman Prison in neighboring Alabama are sipping on egg nog and practicing up how to correctly spell, say, and explain that thick tongue-twister of a word, "Lagophthalmos."

No, dear reader, I know what you're thinking and don't be ashamed, I was confused at first too - Lagophthalmos is not the name of one of Rudolph's long-lost reindeer friends.

Rather, Lagophthalmos is the cockamamie excuse Alabama's Department of Corrections (ADOC) and Attorney General's Office are rallying around to disclaim why Alabama's last execution may have burned a man, death row inmate Christopher Brooks, alive; this is a claim federal public defenders made and supported with affidavits from a medical expert and a federal investigator that should deeply disconcert, if not demoralize, anyone who believes medieval torture has no place in 21st century America; a claim that still has not been aired in a court of law.

And so, because everyone knows clemency in Alabama is a farce, unless the Supreme Court of the United States or the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals grants a stay of execution, Lagophthalmos and its dubious merits for why Christopher Brooks' eye inexplicably popped open as he lay on that ghastly gurney in January, are certain to be on the mind of everyone invited by ADOC to witness Smith's execution this Thursday.

Just how many eyeballs will be eyeballing Smith for signs he is being burned alive on a chemical stake - a stake thrusting right through the feckless heart of the Constitution's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment?

Let's just say it'll be about the same as the number of ornaments weighing down the gentle blue-green boughs on a Christmas tree.

Festive, isn't it?

Source: The Hill, Opinion, Stephen Cooper, December 5, 2016. Mr. Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015.

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Florida may be pondering 'novel' lethal injection change

Etomidate
Florida: A drug never before used for executions
In a move that would be certain to spur more litigation over the state's already embattled death penalty, Florida corrections officials appear to be planning what could be a dramatic change to the triple-drug lethal injection process --- including the use of a drug never before used for executions.

The Department of Corrections has spent more than $12,000 this year stockpiling 3 drugs likely to be used to kill condemned prisoners, according to records obtained by The News Service of Florida.

The state has never previously used any of the 3 drugs it has been purchasing since last year, even as Florida's death penalty remains in limbo after a series of rulings from the courts.

The new triple-drug cocktail would be the only one of its kind among the states that rely on similar procedures to kill prisoners.

1 of the drugs that Florida could be planning to use as the critical 1st dosage, used to anesthetize condemned inmates, has never before been used as part of the 3-drug execution procedure in the U.S., according to a death-penalty expert at the University of California, Berkeley Law School.

A federal judge this fall ordered the state to provide years of records related to Florida's three-drug lethal injection protocol --- including the types of drugs purchased, the strengths and amounts of the drugs, the expiration dates of the drugs and the names of suppliers --- to lawyers representing Arizona Death Row inmates and the First Amendment Coalition of Arizona.

The Arizona lawyers in June filed a subpoena seeking the records from the Florida Department of Corrections, but the state refused to release the documents --- arguing that the information is exempt under Florida's broad open-records law --- until ordered to do so by U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles Stampelos.

Stampelos gave corrections officials the option of keeping the records protected from the public, but, unlike other states that provided similar records to the Arizona lawyers, the Florida agency did not require the heavily redacted documents to be kept secret.

The 104 pages of documents include invoices, drug logs and a handful of emails, and indicate that Florida has run out of the execution drugs it has used for the past few years.

Most important, the records show that the state no longer has a supply of midazolam hydrochloride, the drug used to sedate prisoners before injecting them with a paralytic and then a killing agent.

But Florida has been purchasing the drug etomidate, also known by its brand name "Amidate," a rapid-onset and short-acting "hypnotic drug" used for "the induction of general anesthesia," according to Amidate manufacturer Hospira's website.

The state made its 1st purchase of etomidate in April 2015 and has purchased it regularly throughout this year. The drug would likely be used to replace midazolam, according to lethal injection experts.

Department of Corrections officials would not comment on whether the agency is considering a change to the lethal-injection protocol or whether the state was forced to seek new drugs due to some pharmaceutical manufacturers in recent years banning the use of their products for executions.

"The death penalty is our most solemn duty. Our foremost objective of the lethal injection process is a humane and dignified process," agency spokeswoman Michelle Glady said in an email.

The constitutionality of any state's three-drug execution procedure hinges on the 1st of the drugs used in the process, said Megan McCracken, a lawyer with the Death Penalty Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley Law School.

Ensuring that prisoners are properly sedated is critical to guaranteeing that the lethal injection procedure does not violate Eighth Amendment prohibitions on cruel and unusual punishments, she said.

"For executions that use three drugs, and specifically executions that use a paralytic as the 2nd drug, the 1st drug is crucially important because whether or not the execution will be humane and will bring about death without pain and suffering will turn completely on whether or not that 1st drug renders the prisoner insensate to pain," she said.

Midazolam, still in use by some states, is at the heart of the Arizona lawsuit, filed after convicted killer Rudolph Wood took 2 hours to die in 2014. Arizona corrections officials have tried to get the lawsuit dismissed as moot because they claim they have run out of the drug and it is no longer available. At least 4 other states claim they have supplies of midazolam.

Concerns about midazolam also prompted the Florida Supreme Court last year to halt the execution of Jerry William Correll, pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed by Oklahoma prisoners over the drug's use. In June 2015, a sharply divided U.S. Supreme Court rejected the challenge in the landmark case, known as Glossip v. Gross.

The use of etomidate in an execution --- if that is what Florida is planning to do --- is "brand new and wholly novel," McCracken said.

"It has not been used to our knowledge in an execution in any state and it's never appeared on an execution protocol in any state," said McCracken, who specializes in the lethal injection process.

Like most other states with a 3-drug execution procedure, Florida's current protocol requires the use of midazolam to sedate prisoners before injecting a paralytic --- now vecuronium bromide --- followed by potassium chloride, the drug used to stop a prisoner's heart.

The records show that Florida has a small supply of potassium chloride that will expire in February, and in March began buying potassium acetate, presumably a replacement for potassium chloride, the drug used to stop a prisoner's heart.

Potassium acetate has only been used once before, the experts said. Last year, Oklahoma corrections officials admitted they mistakenly used potassium acetate in the execution of Charles Warner, although the state's protocol requires the use of potassium chloride.

The last time Florida purchased potassium chloride was in June, 2015, when a vendor sold it to the state accidentally, the records show. The vendor repeatedly requested that the state return the drugs. It is unknown if Florida is able to purchase it elsewhere.

The introduction of a new protocol is likely to further complicate Florida's embattled death penalty.

Executions in Florida have been on hold since January, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in a case known as Hurst v. Florida, that the state's death penalty sentencing law was unconstitutional because it gave too much power to judges, instead of juries.

Shortly after the Hurst decision, the Florida Supreme Court halted 2 pending executions ordered by Gov. Rick Scott. Those stays remain in effect.

The Florida Supreme Court recently struck down a new law, passed in March to address the Hurst ruling, because the measure did not require unanimous jury recommendations for death sentences to be imposed.

A new lethal-injection protocol would inevitably lead to lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the new drugs, defense lawyers predicted.

"A new protocol will potentially lead to more litigation because, based on the drugs they've ordered, a combination of those drugs have never been used in an execution in the U.S. that we're aware, so the litigation would be centered on the fact that this novel drug combination essentially amounts to human experimentation," said Maria DeLiberato, a lawyer representing inmate Dane Abdool, 1 of 5 Death row inmates who are plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit challenging Florida's lethal-injection protocol.

The inmates are also challenging, among other things, the secrecy involved in where the drugs are obtained and how they are administered.

Source: Sun-Sentinel, December 5, 2016

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Theresa May must urge Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to end child death sentences

Ali Mohamad al-Nimr
Tortured into ‘confession’, convicted in a secretive trial: Ali Mohamad al-Nimr
Theresa May must urge Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to end child death sentences 

The Prime Minister has been urged to use meetings today with Saudi and Kuwaiti leaders to call on both countries to end the use of the death penalty against children.

Ms May is ‘guest of honour’ at the GCC Summit in Manama, Bahrain, and is due to meet today with the King of Saudi Arabia and the Emir of Kuwait.

International human rights organisation Reprieve has written to the Prime Minister, asking her to use the Summit to raise the cases of three prisoners sentenced to death as children in Saudi Arabia; and to call on Kuwait to reverse its recently-announced plans to lower the age at which people become eligible for a death sentence to 16.

Saudi Arabia has sentenced to death Abdullah al Zaher, Dawoud al Marhoon and Ali al Nimr for alleged involvement in protests in the kingdom, despite their being 15, 17 and 17 respectively at the time of their arrest. All three were tortured into ‘confessions’ and convicted in secretive trials. They remain imprisoned under sentence of death and could be executed at any time, without even their families being informed beforehand. On 2nd January this year, several juveniles were among 47 people executed en masse in the Kingdom.

According to Gulf News, the Kuwaiti Government recently announced that, from 2017, the age of eligibility for the death penalty would be lowered to 16. The announcement was made by Bader Al Ghadhoori, the head of juvenile protection at the Kuwaiti Ministry of Interior, during a talk warning students about the use of social media and the internet.

Both Gulf States – as well as others such as Bahrain, which has a record of using the death penalty against political opponents – enjoy a close relationship with the British Government. Many have received support and training from the UK for their prison and police services, despite their use of the death penalty and torture to extract false ‘confessions.’ 

During 2016, Freedom of Information requests by Reprieve have revealed that: 


Despite existing concerns over the risk of British complicity in abuses, the Prime Minister announced this morning that the UK would enter into a new phase of security cooperation, saying that “more than ever, Gulf security is our security”.

Reprieve’s letter, sent on 17 November, asks that the Prime Minister use her attendance at this week’s summit to: 

  • Urge the Saudi authorities to commute the death sentences of Ali al Nimr, Dawood al Marhoon, and Abdullah al Zaher, and those of any other juveniles facing the death penalty in the country; 
  • Request that Kuwait’s Government urgently call off its plans to lower to 16 the age at which individuals can receive the death penalty; 
  • Call on the Bahraini Government to commute the death sentences handed to two tortured protestors, Mohammed Ramadan and Hussain Moosa, and to release them. 

Commenting, Harriet McCulloch, deputy director of Reprieve's death penalty team, said:

“Across the Gulf, repressive Governments are seeking to execute children and protestors on politically-motivated charges, often following torture and forced ‘confessions.’ The UK says it’s supporting reform, but appalling abuses continue in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain - and now Kuwait is threatening to sentence children to death. The Prime Minister must today make clear that new security ties will depend on an immediate halt to the use of the death penalty against children and protesters - and she must ensure any cooperation is subjected to rigorous and transparent human rights assessments. Otherwise, the UK risks becoming complicit in the use of the death penalty against children and protestors to crush dissent.”

➤ The full text of the letter to the Prime Minister is available on Reprieve’s website.

Source: Reprieve, December 6, 2016. Reprieve is an international human rights organization.

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Fifteen Saudi Shia sentenced to death for 'spying for Iran'

Shia Muslims face a heavy crackdown by Saudi authorities
Shia Muslims face a heavy crackdown by Saudi authorities.
A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced 15 people to death for spying for Iran.

They were among 32 people - comprising 30 members of the kingdom's Shia Muslim minority, an Iranian national and an Afghan - put on trial in February.

Prosecutors accused them of treason, setting up a spy ring in collaboration with Iranian intelligence, and passing about sensitive data on military zones.

Tensions between Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia and Shia-led Iran have escalated in the past year.

Saudi Arabia broke off diplomatic relations with Iran in January following the storming of its embassy in Tehran by protesters angered by the execution of the prominent Saudi Shia cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, and three other Shia.

Saudi officials insisted Nimr was guilty of terrorism offences, but Iran's supreme leader said he had been executed solely for his criticism of the Sunni monarchy.

The regional powers also back opposing sides in the wars in Syria and Yemen.

The 32 defendants tried at the Specialised Criminal Court in the capital Riyadh in February are believed to have been detained in 2013.

At the start of the trial, it was reported that they included several well-known figures in the Shia community who were not involved in politics, including an elderly university professor, a paediatrician, a banker and two clerics.

But a correspondent from Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV said on Tuesday that most of the defendants were members of the Saudi military.

Most were from Eastern Province, home to the majority of Saudi Arabia's Shia.

Several of the defendants were given prison sentences and two were found not guilty, al-Arabiya reported.

Shia make up 10 to 15% of the kingdom's 28 million population, and many assert that they suffer systematic discrimination in public education, the justice system, government employment and religious freedom.

Dissent is rarely tolerated, and between 2011 and 2013 more than 20 people were shot dead by security forces and hundreds more detained during protests by Shia calling for an end to discrimination.

Shootings and petrol bomb attacks also killed several police officers.

Source: BBC News, December 6, 2016

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Urgent Action for Syarhey Vostrykau, last known prisoner on Belarus death row

Urgent Action

Syarhey Vostrykau is the last known prisoner on death row in Belarus after the authorities executed the other remaining three prisoners on death row on 5 November. 

Syarhey Vostrykau is at imminent risk of execution.

Background:


The European Union says it has confirmed that Belarus carried out a total of 3 executions during the month of November -- raising the total number of executions in the former Soviet republic during 2016 to 4.

European foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said on December 1 that the EU had confirmed reports by the rights group Amnesty International that death-row inmate Hyanadz Yakavitski had been executed by authorities in Belarus.

Mogherini did not specify when Yakavitski's execution took place. But Amnesty International said on November 30 that Yakavitski was put to death sometime after November 5.

The EU on November 30 said it had confirmed the execution in November of 2 other death row inmates who had been convicted on murder charges -- 28-year-old Ivan Kulesh and 31-year-old Syarhey Khymyaleuski.

A 4th prisoner, Syarhey Ivanou, was executed in Belarus on April 18.

The EU condemned all of the executions, saying the death penalty runs counter to Belarus's stated willingness to engage with the international community.

Amnesty International's campaigner on Belarus, Aisha Jung, says the "sudden and shameful purge" of death-row prisoners in Belarus is "additionally shameful" because executions there "are typically shrouded in secrecy and carried out at a moment's notice."

Amnesty International says the 3 executions in November were carried out with gunshots to the back of the head.

The nongovernmental human rights organization says it also is concerned about the fate of another man on death row in Belarus -- Syarhey Vostrykau. (Read more)

Write a letter, send an email, call, fax or tweet:


* Urging President Lukashenka to halt the execution of Syarhey Vostrykau and immediately commute his death sentence;

* Calling on President Lukashenka to establish an immediate moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty;

* Stress that whilst we are not seeking to downplay the seriousness of the crime, research shows that the death penalty does not deter crime more than other forms of imprisonment and is the ultimate denial of human rights.


Contact these 2 officials by 16 January, 2017:


President
Alyaksandr Lukashenka
Vul. Karla Marksa 38
220016 Minsk, Belarus
Fax: +375 17 226 06 10
+375 17 222 38 72
Salutation: Dear President Lukashenka

Charge d'Affaires Mr. Pavel Shidlovsky
Embassy of Belarus
1619 New Hampshire Ave NW, Washington DC 20009
Fax: 1 202 986 1805 // Phone: 1 202 986 9420
Salutation: Dear Ambassador

Source: Amnesty International USA, December 5, 2012

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Monday, December 5, 2016

EU urged to clarify if states are funding mass executions in Iran

Public hanging in Iran
The European Union has been urged to urgently clarify whether it is helping to fund Iranian anti-narcotics programmes linked to mass executions.

In a letter seen by The Independent, human rights charity Reprieve raises concerns that as part of a "new page" in EU-Iran relations announced earlier this year, the EU and member states could be actively seeking to fund UN programmes linked to support for Iran's drug police - a body responsible for hundreds of executions in the country.

Reprieve has called for "urgent clarification of the European Commission's policy on funding counter-narcotics operations in Iran", following "deeply concerning" reports in the Iranian media that a senior official in the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said the EU was actively seeking to provide support for Iranian drug enforcement operations.

The letter, addressed to EU foreign policy chief Frederica Mogherini and co-signed by NGOs including Human Rights Watch and Iran Human Rights, cites a report in the Iran Daily stating a UNODC official named Alex P Schmid confirmed "the European Union has positive evaluation of Iran's performance in the anti-narcotics fight," and the "European Commission is eager to earmark new funds to Iran for the purpose".

He reportedly added: "Countries such as Denmark, Sweden and Norway are ready to allocate the credit to Iran."

Around 1,000 people were executed in Iran last year, according to a report from the United Nations investigator Ahmed Shaheed. But, the unofficial number is believed to be higher.

The majority of these executions are linked to drug trafficking and non-lethal drugs offences.

According to Reprieve, in 2014 the Iranian government executed 474 drug offenders, in 2015 682 drugs offenders were hanged and around 189 drug offenders had been hanged as of September 2016.

Despite these statistics, the deputy head of the judiciary, Mohammad Bagher Olfat, said in August that the death penalty had not had a "dissuasive effect" on drug trafficking through Iran, which is one of the main routes for Afghan heroin heading for Europe.

The EU is the 2nd largest donor to the UNODC, spending more than 2 million euros (1.6 million pounds) on the law enforcement arm of UNODC's 2010-15 regional programme for "Afghanistan and the neighbouring countries" - an initiative alleged to support the activities of the Iranian drug police, according to reports from Reprieve.

"Counter-narcotics support programmes in Iran risk enabling death sentences by urging Iranian drug police to demonstrate increased arrests, higher conviction rates, and larger seizure sizes - all of which end up encouraging capital convictions in a judicial system that fails to meet the minimum standards of due process and where the death penalty is one of the required punishments for seizures of more than 30g of illegal drugs," the letter reads.

A draft resolution by the European Parliament published in October called on the European Commission to "ensure that any technical or other assistance offered to Iran is not used to commit human rights violations".

The EU's 28 member states made a joint statement to the UN General Assembly in April confirming that "imposing the death penalty for drug offences is against the norms of international law".

During the same month, Ms Mogherini visited Iran to announce the EU and Iran had "turned a new page" in their diplomatic relations, but also said "it is not a secret we have some concerns" over the question of human rights in Iran.

Countries including the UK, Italy, Germany and Austria have previously indicated they will not contribute to Iranian counter-narcotics programmes overseen by the UNODC.

Maya Foa, a director at Reprieve, said: "Iran continues to hang hundreds of alleged non-violent drug offenders every year in a brutal and ineffective war on drugs. In light of these abuses, many national Governments across Europe have refused to provide support for Iran's anti-narcotics efforts - rightly acknowledging that this would put them at risk of complicity in the country's execution spree.

"Given many member states' refusal to fund such raids, and the EU's clear and categorical opposition to the death penalty, it would be hypocritical and unacceptable for the EU to provide support to Iran's execution machine. The EU should urgently disavow comments by the UN drugs agency that it is willing to do just that".

An EU spokesperson said: "We do not comment on comments neither on reported comments. No decisions on new funding have been taken on the matter. We are in a stage of launching a dialogue with the Iranian authorities. Any EU-Iran cooperation on the fight against drugs is done in a manner fully consistent with the respect of human rights."

The UNODC declined to comment and said they were not able to verify the Iranian media reports.

Source: The Independent, December 5, 2016

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EU Confirms Execution Of 3rd Inmate In Belarus In November

Syarhey Khymyaleuski
Syarhey Khymyaleuski
The European Union says it has confirmed that Belarus carried out a total of 3 executions during the month of November -- raising the total number of executions in the former Soviet republic during 2016 to 4.

European foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said on December 1 that the EU had confirmed reports by the rights group Amnesty International that death-row inmate Hyanadz Yakavitski had been executed by authorities in Belarus.

Mogherini did not specify when Yakavitski's execution took place. But Amnesty International said on November 30 that Yakavitski was put to death sometime after November 5.

The EU on November 30 said it had confirmed the execution in November of 2 other death row inmates who had been convicted on murder charges -- 28-year-old Ivan Kulesh and 31-year-old Syarhey Khymyaleuski.

A 4th prisoner, Syarhey Ivanou, was executed in Belarus on April 18.

The EU condemned all of the executions, saying the death penalty runs counter to Belarus's stated willingness to engage with the international community.

Amnesty International's campaigner on Belarus, Aisha Jung, says the "sudden and shameful purge" of death-row prisoners in Belarus is "additionally shameful" because executions there "are typically shrouded in secrecy and carried out at a moment's notice."

Amnesty International says the 3 executions in November were carried out with gunshots to the back of the head.

The nongovernmental human rights organization says it also is concerned about the fate of another man on death row in Belarus -- Syarhey Vostrykau.

The EU, Amnesty International, and other human rights organizations have been calling on Minsk to join a moratorium on the death penalty for years.

Before April, an execution had not been carried out under the Belarusian legal system since November 2014.

According to rights groups, more than 400 people have been sentenced to death in Belarus since the early 1990s.

Source: Radio Free Europe//Radio Liberty, December 2, 2016

Statement by the High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini


Today, we have learnt of yet another execution that has taken place in Belarus, that of Henadz Yakavitski. Earlier this week, the executions of 2 others, Ivan Kulesh and Sergei Khmelevsky, were confirmed, adding to that of Syarhey Iwanov in April.

The upsurge in executions in 2016 is against the commitment, made by Belarusian authorities within the framework of the United Nations, to consider the introduction of a moratorium on the use of the death penalty.

The European Union opposes capital punishment, which fails to act as a deterrent to crime and represents an unacceptable denial of human dignity and integrity.

Steps taken by Belarus to respect universal fundamental freedoms, rule of law and human rights, including on the death penalty, will remain key for the shaping of the EU's future policy towards Belarus.

Source: europa.edu, December 2, 2016

ODIHR Urged Belarusian Authorities To Impose Moratorium On Death Penalty


The ODIHR OSCE condemned the execution of death sentences in Belarus and called on the authorities to impose an immediate moratorium on their executions. This is stated in the statement of the Director of the Bureau for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) Michael Georg Link, interfax.by reports.

"Carrying into execution Siarhei Khmialeuski's death sentences, as well as other reports on the execution of death sentences, are a cause for serious concern, as the ongoing death penalty executions in Belarus run counter to the growing international trend towards abolition of this inherently cruel, inhuman and degrading penalty," Link stressed.

"The majority of the OSCE participant-states have already abolished the death penalty, and I urge the Belarusian authorities to introduce a moratorium as a first step towards the complete abolition of the death penalty," the OSCE ODIHR Director said.

The Bureau also recalled that the OSCE participant-states have committed themselves to keep the capital punishment abolition under consideration.

"The secrecy of most of the death penalty executions is cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners and their families. And no matter how it is carried out, the death penalty is an unacceptable denial of human dignity," Link stated.

Each year, the ODIHR publishes a report "The Death Penalty in the OSCE Area", containing information on the status of the death penalty in 57 countries - members of the Organization. Belarus and the United States are the only states OSCE members, which support the death penalty in practice.

It is to be recalled that since the beginning of this year 4 convicted have already been executed in Belarus - Ivan Kulesh, Siarhei Khmialeuski, Siarhei Ivanou and Henadz Yakavitski. 3 of them were executed in November this year. Presumably, that all the 3 of "November" condemned men were executed in the same day.

At the moment there is only 1 person in the "death row cell" - Homel resident Siarhei Ostrykau (for the rape and murder of two women).

Belarus is the only country in Europe and the former Soviet Union, which still applies the death penalty. Since the beginning of 1990, more than 400 condemned men have been sentenced to death, for all that time only 1 person's death penalty was commuted to a prison term.

The European Union once again condemned the death penalty in Belarus. The head of EU diplomacy Federica Mogherini also stressed that the issue of the death penalty will shape the EU's policy towards Belarus.

Source: Charter 97, December 2, 2016

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Judge allows Dylann Roof flip-flop on lawyers in guilt phase of death penalty trial

Dylann Roof
Dylann Roof
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- A federal judge has approved the request of the alleged Charleston church shooter to bring back his lawyers, one week after he asked to have them dismissed.

In a handwritten request filed on Sunday, 22-year-old Dylann Roof asked U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel to bring his defense team back on board for the guilt phase of his federal death penalty trial, which begins next week in Charleston.

Roof will be allowed to go back to representing himself for the penalty phase. Gergel agreed Monday, but warned Roof that he can’t change his mind again.

Prosecutors have asked for the death penalty. Such cases are split into two parts: the guilt phase, and then a separate portion that focuses on whether the defendant will be sentenced to death, or life in prison.

The request came a week after a federal judge allowed Roof to represent himself in the June 2015 slayings at Emanuel AME Church. CBS Charleston affiliate WCSC-TV had reported that Roof, facing 33 charges including hate crime and murder, told Judge Gergel that he had reviewed the order that declared him competent to stand trial, and that he felt ready to represent himself.

Gergel told Roof in court that he felt the decision to be “strategically unwise,” but he ultimately granted Roof permission to represent himself at trial.

Ever since then, his high-powered legal team has sought to play a larger role in his defense, saying late last week they feared Roof wouldn’t introduce evidence that could possibly spare his life.

Authorities have said Roof killed the parishioners in a racially motivated attack at the Emanuel AME Church in June 2015. After an hour of Bible study and prayer, authorities say Roof hurled racial slurs during the shooting and left three people alive so they could tell the world the killings were because he hated black people.

Final jury selection and opening statements in Roof’s federal trial on dozens of federal charges, including hate crimes and obstruction of the practice of religion, are scheduled to begin Wednesday. He also faces a death penalty trial on state murder charges.

Source: CBS News, December 5, 2016

Prosecutors say they need 7 days in church case


CHARLESTON, S.C. — Prosecutors estimate it will take about seven days to present their case against Dylann Roof, who is charged with hate crimes in the fatal shooting of nine black parishioners in a Charleston, South Carolina, church last year.

Roof’s lawyers were put back on the case Monday by the judge after Roof requested it. They said they wouldn’t need much time to prepare for the guilt phase of Roof’s trial, which is scheduled to begin Wednesday.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Roof, meaning there will be a second, penalty phase of the trial if he’s found guilty. For that part, Roof wants to go back to being his own lawyer.

U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel also ruled Monday that Roof’s parents, grandmother and grandfather can remain in the courtroom during the trial even though they’re potential witnesses. All other witnesses must stay out until they testify. Roof’s grandfather is a lawyer.

Source: Associated Press, December 5, 2016

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