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

Friday, July 21, 2017

Capital punishment an effective way to combat drug dealers: Indonesia's police chief

National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian
National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian
National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian said on Thursday that the example of the Philippines illustrated that capital punishment was an effective way to combat drug dealers.

He said capital punishment delivered a deterrent effect, despite controversies surrounding its implementation.

"From practice in the field, we see that when we shoot at drug dealers they go away," Tito said, referring to the drug war initiated by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

Civil societies that focus on human rights have long lambasted the Indonesian government for persistently implementing the death penalty. 

These groups often highlight the country’s judicial system, which is still marred by rampant corruption.

Tito earlier expressed appreciation for the work of his subordinates who succeeded in foiling a plan by four Taiwanese citizens to smuggle one ton of crystal methamphetamine into Greater Jakarta last week.


Tito said he had told police officers “not to hesitate shooting drug dealers who resist arrest.”

Source: The Jakarta Post, July 21, 2017

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Malaysia: Bangladeshi human rights activist briefly detained, deported

Adilur Rahman Khan
Adilur Rahman Khan
KUALA LUMPUR: Bangladeshi human rights activist Adilur Rahman Khan was deported on Thursday night.

In a statement, the Immigration Department confirmed that Adilur had been sent back to Bangladesh via flight MH112 at 8.05pm.

Adilur, the secretary of human rights group Odhikar, was detained at about 4am on Thursday upon arriving at the KL International Airport.

The activist’s name was found to be in the “Not To Land” list, the Department said.

“Another check in the MyImms system found that Adilur’s name had to be referred to an enforcement agency.

“The said enforcement agency then recommended his deportation,” it said.

The Department added that Adilur was treated well by authorities and the airline in charge of his flight.

“The said airline was fully responsible for handling his deportation and his welfare,” it said.

Adilur was scheduled to attend the National Conference on the Death Penalty organised by Anti Death Penalty Asia Network (Adpan). 

The conference is being held at the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH) on Friday and Saturday.

Source: The Star, July 21, 2017


Malaysian authorities detain Adilur Rahman Khan, the Secretary of a leading Bangladeshi human rights organization


The Malaysian authorities at Kuala Lumpur airport detained Adilur Rahman Khan, the Secretary of Odhikar, a leading Bangladeshi human rights organization, this morning as he arrived in the country to speak at a conference on the death penalty.

“There is no justification for detaining him whatsoever. It is an outrage that a human rights activist cannot even travel freely to speak on a key human rights issue,” said James Gomez, Amnesty International’s Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

“We are concerned that this arrest and detention is the latest target in a growing trend to impose travel bans on human rights defenders entering Malaysia.”

Adilur Rahman Khan’s detention is the latest in a series of cases where peaceful activists have been barred from entering the country, including Hong Kong political activist Joshua Wong, Indonesian human rights defender Mugiyanto Sipin and Singaporean political activist Han Hui Hui.

Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network, the organizers of the conference, said that Adilur Rahman Khan was the only foreign participant not allowed into the country. Human rights campaigners from Amnesty International are among those in attendance.

Source: Amnesty International, July 20, 2017

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Pakistan: HC halts execution of petitioner who claims hanging "un-Islamic, painful and against human values"

scaffold
PESHAWAR: A Peshawar High Court bench on Thursday suspended execution of death sentence awarded to a prisoner till July 26 and issued notice to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa advocate general in the prisoner’s writ petition seeking directives from the court to the government to introduce a less painful mode of execution instead of hanging to death.

The bench comprising Justice Waqar Ahmad Seth and Justice Abdul Shakoor ordered that till next date of hearing, July 26, the death sentence awarded to the prisoner, Jan Bahadur, shall not be implemented.

The bench ordered that the advocate general should appear and argue on the points raised by the petitioner, Jan Bahadur.

The petitioner, imprisoned at Haripur Central Prison, has requested the high court to declare the mode of hanging to death as un-Islamic and unconstitutional as it was painful and against human values.

The petitioner states that section 368 of Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) provides: “When any person is sentenced to death, the sentence shall direct that he be hanged by the neck till he is dead.”

He has requested the court to issue directives for ending the execution of death row prisoners through hanging as it is cruel, painful, un-Islamic and inhuman.

He added that the court may issue directive that such mode of execution should be adopted which is not painful.

The petitioner was arrested in connection with a murder case registered at Takhtbhai police station, Mardan, on Oct 22, 1993. He was sentenced to death by an additional district and sessions judge on Apr 7, 2000, at Takhtbhai.

The said judgment was upheld by the high court on Mar 12, 2002, and subsequently, the Supreme Court of Pakistan had also upheld the verdict. His review petition and clemency petition were also rejected.

The respondents in the petition are: provincial home secretary, superintendent of Haripur Central Prison, provincial law secretary, secretary to Council of Islamic Ideology, and district and sessions judge, Mardan.

The petitioner’s counsel, Mohammad Khursheed Khan, stated that there are nine modes of carrying out death penalties, which includes: death by hanging; through firing squad; shooting in the head; through lethal injection; beheading; stoning to death; gas chamber; through electric chair; and pushing from height.

He stated that in past in all the states of USA the mode of execution was through hanging. Subsequently, he states, the use of electric chair was devised, which was considered less painful. However, he added that in 1921 the State of Nevada introduced gas chamber for carrying out death penalty.

He contended that in over 30 states in the USA, the mode of execution was now through lethal injection, which is considered more humane and less painful. He stated that through that mode three injections were administered to a death row prisoner- the first injection turns a prisoner unconscious; the second makes his body paralysed and the third one stops his heart function.

He claims that in 28 countries prisoners are executed through firing squad, whereas in 22 countries prisoners are killed by shooting in the head.

He stated that the colonial rulers had introduced death by hanging through the CrPC in 1898 and after creation of Pakistan the same mode was adopted.

Source: Dawn, July 21, 2017


Man hanged to death in Attock jail


ATTOCK:- A death row convict was executed in Central Jail Attock in the early hours of Thursday morning. M Lateef had stabbed to death his relative Abdul Waheed over monetary dispute on March 25, 2004. 

Police have registered a case against the accused over the complaint of the deceased’s uncle Faizur Rehman. 

The court found the accused guilty and had sentenced him death penalty on July 1st, 2004.

Later, the Lahore High Court (LHC) Rawalpindi bench and the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the lower court, and his mercy appeals were also rejected.

Source: The Nation, July 21, 2017

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Kasich to skip opening state fair to monitor Ronald Phillips' execution

Ronald Phillips
Ronald Phillips
Columbus -- Gov. John Kasich will skip the opening of the Ohio State Fair on Wednesday so that he can monitor activities at the Death House as the state carries out the first execution in more than three years, his spokesman said.

Convicted child killer Ronald Phillips is scheduled to be executed Wednesday morning for the 1993 beating, rape and murder of his girlfriend’s 3-year-old daughter.

The state has not carried out the death penalty since the execution of Dennis McGuire in January 2014 when Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction used a previously untested combination of lethal drugs. Witnesses said McGuire gasped and choked as the execution took 26 minutes.

Death penalty opponents, including 200 clergy, 17 former prison workers, and five men exonerated after serving time on Ohio’s Death Row, are pressing Kasich to not resume executions. They issued an open letter to the governor and held a Statehouse press conference this week.

Retired 2nd District Court of Appeals Judge James Brogan, who chaired an Ohio Supreme Court task force on the death penalty, said it’s troubling that executions are slated to resume when most of the task force’s 56 recommendations to the Legislature lay idle.

Death Row inmates filed legal challenges in federal court to Ohio’s lethal injection process. Phillips and two other inmates have asked the U.S. Supreme Court for a delay while their challenge to Ohio’s procedure continues.

Lawyers for the death row inmates argue the procedure’s first drug, the sedative midazolam, creates an unconstitutional risk of pain by not rendering prisoners deeply unconscious before two other drugs kick in.

Midazolam has been used in some executions that were problematic, including in Ohio, Arkansas and Arizona. The request for the delay was made to Justice Elena Kagan, who handles such appeals for Ohio.

There are 139 inmates on Ohio Death Row. Four are scheduled to be executed in 2017, 10 in 2018, nine in 2019 and four in 2020, according to the DRC website.

Source: Dayton Daily News, AP, Laura A. Bischoff, July 20, 2017


Ronald Phillips makes 2nd appeal to top court to stop execution


A condemned child killer in Ohio has made a second appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to stop his scheduled execution.

Ronald Phillips asked the high court Thursday for an emergency stay based on his age at the time of the murder. He was 19, older than the Supreme Court's cutoff of 18 for purposes of barring executions of juveniles. His request argues the age should be 21.

Also before the court is Phillips' request for an emergency stay based on an execution method he and other inmates have challenged.

Phillips is set to die July 26 in what would be Ohio's first execution in more than 3 years.

Phillips was sentenced to death for the 1993 rape and killing of Sheila Marie Evans, his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter.

Source: Associated Press, July 20, 2017


John Kasich Will Monitor Ohio's 1st Execution in 3 Years Next Week


Ohio Governor John Kasich
Ohio Governor John Kasich
Ronald Phillips is slated to be executed by the state of Ohio next Wednesday, July 26. It would be the state's 1st execution in 3 years after a series of legal and governmental delays after the last execution, of Dennis McGuire, during which the state used an untested cocktail of drugs, including midazolam, and which led to what witnesses described as gasping and choking during the 26 minutes it took McGuire to die.

A federal judge in January declared the use of midazolam unconstitutional, but a federal appeals court ruled 8-6 last month that Ohio can use the sedative in the process. 

Lawyers for Phillips, who was convicted of raping and murdering his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter in 1993, have asked the Supreme Court to delay the execution, noting that the divided ruling proves more debate is needed on the matter.

"What is happening in Ohio is a matter of great concern everywhere," attorney Mark Haddad said in a statement to Cleveland.com. "The record in the Ohio prisoners' case firmly establishes an intolerable risk of resuming executions under the midazolam 3-drug protocol."

Coalitions and advocacy groups, including former death row inmates who have since been exonerated, have pressed Ohio Governor John Kasich to postpone the execution. 

There are larger legal and moral issues at play here, to be sure, but as retired 2nd District Court of Appeals Judge James Brogan told the Dayton Daily News, the very idea that Ohio plans on resuming executions when a state Supreme Court task force's extensive recommendations on the use of the death penalty have been largely ignored is "troubling."

Kasich, for his part, hasn't acceded to pressure to delay Phillips's death, but the Associated Press and Dayton Daily News report that Kasich will skip the opening of next week's state fair to monitor the developments at what is charmingly referred to as the Death House.

Source: clevescene.com, July 20, 2017

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Florida Man Exonerated of Murder and Released from Death Row

Ralph Wright Jr.
Ralph Wright Jr. (left)
Ralph Wright Jr. was exonerated and released from Florida’s death row on Tuesday after a circuit court acquitted him of a 2007 double murder.

In May, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that there was not enough evidence to prove Wright was guilty of the murders and remanded the case back to the Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court with instructions that Wright be acquitted.

Wright was convicted in 2014 of the murder of his ex-girlfriend and their 15-month -old son. 

No physical evidence linked Wright to the crime and there was no indication he was in the area at the time. 

Prosecutors said a single glove left at the scene belonged to Wright, but no DNA evidence linked the glove to him.

Wright was found guilty, nonetheless, with the jury voting 7-5 to recommend the death penalty. 

Governor Rick Scott has since signed into law a bill requiring that a jury vote be unanimous in order to recommend the death penalty.

“There is no fingerprint, footprint, blood, fiber pattern impression or other physical evidence tying Wright to the crime scene,” the Florida Supreme Court wrote. “There is no cell tower evidence placing him in the vicinity of the crime scene. There is no murder weapon. The only evidence presented by the state to prove that Wright was the murderer is the fact that he had motive and opportunity. But while motive and opportunity might create a suspicion that Wright committed the murders, even deep suspicions are not sufficient to sustain the convictions.”

Wright is the 27th person to be exonerated from Florida’s death row and the 159th person in the nation to be exonerated from death row since 1973.

“Ralph Wright, Jr.’s exoneration is the most recent reminder that Florida’s death penalty system not only devalues life but also imperils innocent lives too,” Brian Empric with Florida Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty said, according to Florida Politics.

➤ Read the coverage here and here.

Source: Innocence Project, Innocence Staff, July 20, 2017

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Gov. Kasich: “Amazing Grace” starts with you

Ronald Phillips
Ronald Phillips
Recently, at the Community Church in Woodland Hills, California, a woman sang “Amazing Grace.” She sang slow with sweet, lilting sorrow, letting each dolorous, weighty note saturate the space with sound. She sang right in front of the same pulpit where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once preached, on his birthday, on January 15, 1961.

Invited by Rev. Frank Doty, a progressive and persistent white pastor who refused to take “no” for an answer, Dr. King told the assembled congregation over a half-century ago: “Love yourself, if that means rational and healthy interest. You are commanded to do that. That is the length of life. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. You are commanded to do that. That is the breadth of life.”

From that hallowed ground, before she sang, the woman told the story of John Newton, the slave trafficker and improbable author of “Amazing Grace”; she explained, with care, how, because of Newton’s salvation, the song’s lyrics are a powerful testimony that forgiveness and redemption are always possible. Even for the worst sinners. Even for a slave trader – a man who by his own admission was responsible for murder, torture, and the subjugation of many innocent souls.

“Amazing Grace” is not just as a song, she explained, it’s a philosophy for life; together with the Golden Rule and other aphorisms, it’s a gold standard for how we should treat ourselves and others. It affirms, as Sister Helen Prejean is credited with saying, that “every human being is worth more than the worst thing they’ve ever done.” As a moral code or credo, “amazing grace” asserts that no matter a person’s sin, crime, or wrongdoing, that there is goodness inside each one of us – a goodness that should never be killed.

Elucidating the concept of amazing grace in relation to the nation’s next looming execution — the lethal injection of Ronald Phillips, scheduled for July 26 in Ohio — writer Lisa Murtha convincingly argues, “[t]his killer turned prison chaplain shows what’s wrong with the death penalty.” Conceding that Phillips’ crime, the rape and beating death of his girlfriend’s three-year-old daughter, Sheila Marie Evans, was “horrendous,” Murtha nonetheless argues that Phillips should be spared.

Among the good reasons Murtha advances for mercy are: the offense occurred “24 years ago when Mr. Phillips was 19 years old”; “Ron Phillips at 43 years old is a very different man from the disturbed young adult who killed Sheila Marie in 1993”; “Killing Ron Phillips will achieve a measure of vengeance, but it will not undo any of the terrible things he did”; “killing him releases him from the burden of thinking every single day about the horrendous crimes”; and, “Today, Ron Phillips is an unofficial chaplain at Ohio’s Chillicothe Correctional Institution. He attends multiple church services each week and has spent time with other inmates discussing the Bible readings and life’s challenges.”

Rhetorically, Murtha asks: “How many more people like Ron Phillips – searching for salvation, open to change – fill our country’s prisons? How many inmates could Mr. Phillips serve and bring closer to God if only he could live among them?” Ultimately, unless Phillips wins an unlikely reprieve in court, it’ll be Ohio Governor, John Kasich — and not a higher power, as it should be in a free and just country — who’ll be the final arbiter of Murtha’s latter question.

Governor Kasich can, and he should, use his unnatural, godly power of clemency to exercise “amazing grace” — as Murtha and a growing cacophony of diverse voices have called for — and spare Phillips. He should exercise “amazing grace” like the dad in Philadelphia who recently forgave his daughter’s killer, inscribing a book of poetry to him. It’s the same “amazing grace” called for by author and activist Shane Claiborne in his book, Executing Grace: How the Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It’s Killing Us. And, it’s the same “amazing grace” former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson advocates for in a civilized and modern world (“I carried out the death penalty as governor. I hope others put it to rest.”). Put most simply, and at its base, Governor Kasich should show “amazing grace” like that which the once “lost” former slave trafficker John Newton “found” in God.

Or, alternatively, Kasich can let Phillips’ execution go forward, just like Kelly Gissendaner’s in September of 2015; Gissendaner was the first woman executed in Georgia in seventy years. Like Phillips is set to be, Gissendaner was executed long after her crime, she sought salvation during her incarceration and, she did good works, ministering to other inmates behind bars; emotionally and tearfully, Gissendaner sang “Amazing Grace” as she was being executed — just as others have before her — in the dastardly annals of death penalty history. According to Pastor Carl Ruby of Central Christian Church in Springfield, Ohio, if Kasich allows this to happen to Phillips, he will have “turn[ed] his back on Christ.”

Time will soon tell if Governor Kasich will make the right decision, and grant clemency. What’s certain is, without “amazing grace,” Ronald Phillips’ time will almost surely run out.

Source: Los Angeles Post-Examiner, Stephen Cooper, July 20, 2017. Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California. His twitter is: @SteveCooperEsq.


RESUMPTION OF EXECUTIONS LOOMS IN OHIO


Ronald Phillips is scheduled to be executed in Ohio on 26 July. He was sentenced to death in 1993 for a murder committed earlier that year when he was 19 years old. He is now 43. This would be the first execution in Ohio in 3 1/2 years.

Write a letter, send an email, call, fax or tweet:
  • Calling on the governor to stop the execution of Ronald Phillips and to commute his death sentence; 
  • In your own words, urging the governor not to allow executions to resume in Ohio; 
  • Explaining that you are not seeking to downplay the seriousness of violent crime or its consequences. 
Friendly reminder: If you send an email, please create your own instead of forwarding this one!

Contact this official by 26 July 2017:

Governor John Kasich
Riffe Center, 30th Floor
77 South High Street
Columbus, OH 43215-6117
USA

Fax: +1 614 466 9354
Email (via website): http://www.governor.ohio.gov/Contact/ContacttheGovernor.aspx
Twitter: @JohnKasich

Salutation: Dear Governor

Source: Amnesty International USA, July 2017

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Iraq: Execution Site Near Mosul's Old City

Mosul, Iraq
Mosul, Iraq
Investigate, Punish Those Responsible for Any War Crimes

International observers have discovered an execution site in west Mosul, Human Rights Watch said today. That report, combined with new statements about executions in and around Mosul's Old City and persistent documentation about Iraqi forces extrajudicially killing men fleeing Mosul in the final phase of the battle against the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), are an urgent call to action by the Iraqi government.

Despite repeated promises to investigate wrongdoing by security forces, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has yet to demonstrate that Iraqi authorities have held a single soldier accountable for murdering, torturing, and abusing Iraqis in this conflict.

"As Prime Minister Abadi enjoys victory in Mosul, he is ignoring the flood of evidence of his soldiers committing vicious war crimes in the very city he's promised to liberate," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Abadi's victory will collapse unless he takes concrete steps to end the grotesque abuses by his own security forces."

International observers, whose evidence has proven reliable in the past, told Human Rights Watch that on July 17, 2017, at about 3:30 p.m., a shopkeeper in a neighborhood directly west of the Old City that was retaken in April from ISIS took them into an empty building and showed them a row of 17 male corpses, barefoot but in civilian dress, surrounded by pools of blood. They said many appeared to have been blindfolded and with their hands tied behind their back. They said the shopkeeper told them that he had seen the Iraqi Security Forces' 16th Division, identifiable by their badges and vehicles, in the neighborhood 4 nights earlier, and that night had heard multiple gunshots coming from the area of the empty building. The next morning, when armed forces had left the area, he told them, he went into the building and saw the bodies lying in positions that suggested they were shot there and had not been moved. He said he did not recognize any of those killed.

The international observers also saw soldiers from the elite Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) in the area. They contacted Human Rights Watch by phone from the site and later shared five photos they took of the bodies.

On July 17, another international observer told Human Rights Watch they spoke to a senior government official in Mosul who told them he was comfortable with the execution of suspected ISIS-affiliates "as long as there was no torture." The observer said a commander showed their group a video taken a few days earlier of a group of CTS soldiers holding 2 detainees in the Old City. They said the commander told them that the forces had executed the men right after the video was taken.

Salah al-Imara, an Iraqi citizen who regularly publishes information regarding security and military activities in and around Mosul, published four videos allegedly filmed in west Mosul on Facebook on July 11 and 12. One video, posted on July 11, appears to show Iraqi soldiers beating a detainee, then throwing him off a cliff and shooting at him and at the body of another man already lying at the bottom of the cliff. Human Rights Watch had verified the location of the first video based on satellite imagery. Other videos showed Iraqi soldiers kicking and beating a bleeding man, federal police forces beating at least 3 men, and Iraqi soldiers kicking a man on the ground in their custody.

A 3rd international observer told Human Rights Watch on July 18 that they witnessed CTS soldiers bring an ISIS suspect to their base in a neighborhood southwest of the Old City on July 11. The observer did not see what happened to the suspect next, but said that a soldier later showed them a video of himself and a group of other soldiers brutally beating the man, and a 2nd video of the man dead, with a bullet to his head.

"Some Iraqi soldiers seem to have so little fear that they will face any consequence for murdering and torturing suspects in Mosul that they are freely sharing evidence of what look like very cruel exploits in videos and photographs," Whitson said. "Excusing such celebratory revenge killings will haunt Iraq for generations to come."

A 4th international observer told Human Rights Watch on July 11 that the day before they had witnessed a group of CTS soldiers push a man whose hands were tied behind his back into a destroyed shop near the main road in the west to the Old City. They said they heard several gunshots, went into the shop after the soldiers had left, and found the man's body with several bullet holes in the back of his head. They shared the photo of the body.

On July 10, the same observer said they saw Iraqi Security Forces just outside the Old City holding about 12 men with their hands tied behind their backs. They said an officer told them that the military's 9th Division had detained these men inside the Old City on suspicion of ISIS affiliation. They said they saw the soldiers lead the detained men just out of sight, then heard shots ring out from their direction. The observer was unable to verify what happened.

On July 7, 2 additional international observers told Human Rights Watch that on different occasions in late June, they witnessed soldiers bring at least 5 suspected ISIS affiliates out of the Old City to the west, strapped to the hoods of Humvees, when temperatures in the city often reached 48 degrees Celsius, or 118 degrees Fahrenheit.

The nongovernmental organization Mosul Eye has been documenting abuses by all sides in Mosul since 2014, and has posted numerous videos and witness statements about executions on its Twitter feed since July 14, with one reading: "Mass Executions 'Speicher Style' [a reference to an ISIS massacre in 2014] for the last survivors of the old city. ISF is killing and throwing bodies of everyone it finds to the river."

As of July 10, the Iraqi military has prevented access to west Mosul for most journalists, limiting coverage of recent events inside the Old City. Iraqi forces should allow journalists access to west Mosul to report on the conflict and any alleged abuses, Human Rights Watch said.

Throughout the operation to retake Mosul, Human Rights Watch has documented Iraqi forces detaining and holding at least 1,200 men and boys in inhumane conditions without charge, and in some cases torturing and executing them, under the guise of screening them for ISIS-affiliation. In the final weeks of the Mosul operation, Human Rights Watch has reported on executions of suspected ISIS-affiliates in and around Mosul's Old City.

An Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs representative told Human Rights Watch on July 19 that he would request a government investigation into the allegations. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly raised concerns about allegations of ill-treatment, torture, and executions in meetings with Iraqi officials in Baghdad as well as with representatives from United States-led coalition member countries. Human Rights Watch does not know of a single transparent investigation into abuses by Iraqi armed forces, any instances of commanders being held accountable for abuse, or any victims of abuse receiving compensation.

Iraqi criminal justice authorities should investigate all alleged crimes, including unlawful killings and mutilation of corpses, by any party in the conflict in a prompt, transparent, and effective manner, up to the highest levels of responsibility. Those found criminally responsible should be appropriately prosecuted. Extrajudicial executions and torture during an armed conflict are war crimes.

"Relentless reports, videos, and photographs of unlawful executions and beatings by Iraqi soldiers should be enough to raise serious concerns among the highest ranks in Baghdad and the international coalition combatting ISIS," Whitson said. "As we well know in Iraq, if the government doesn't provide an accounting for these murders, the Iraqi people may take matters into their own hands."

Source: Human Rights Watch, July 20, 2017

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Pakistan: Inching away from the hangman

The argument that the lifting of the moratorium on capital punishment is crucial to combatting terrorism simply does not hold ground

National Commission for Human Right (NCHR) recently held a conference titled ‘Moving away from Death Penalty in Pakistan’. The issue is least discussed in Pakistan, as the country always favoured death penalty with the exception of a 7-month moratorium.

The world is divided in two camps: abolitionist and religionist. There were many common arguments both ways. But the reality is a large number of countries have moved away from death penalty by replacing it with life imprisonment, moratorium or they do not practice it at all.

In 1984, General Assembly passed a resolution specifying strict condition for the countries that have not abolished death penalty. The resolution prohibited the application of death sentence on persons below 18 years of age at the time of the commission of crime, pregnant women, and new mothers or on person who suffer from mental disability.

An accused should be given a fair trial and right to appeal or seek pardon. It further said pardon or commutation of sentence may be granted in all cases of capital punishment. The 1984 resolution was a milestone. 37 more countries either abolished or put moratorium on death penalty, increasing the number of countries without death penalty to 190. The list includes a number of OIC countries like Senegal, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Maldives, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Brunei, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Mali, and Mauritania Niger. Pakistan and Turkey had put a ban on death penalty which was recently lifted.

Article 6 of the international covenant on civil and politics rights (ICCPR), to which Pakistan is a signatory, states, “Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law.” It further states, “Nothing in the article shall be invoked to delay or to prevent the abolition of capital punishment by any state party to the present covenant. In 2008, the government of Pakistan had placed a moratorium and stopped execution of prisoners on death row.

After a brutal terrorist attack on Army public School Peshawar in December 2014, the voluntarily imposed moratorium was lifted first for terrorism-related cases and then in March 2015, for all capital punishment cases. Although Article 6 (2) of the ICCPR permits application of death penalty, it is restricted to the ‘most serious crimes’, in accordance with ECOSOC (resolution 1984) safeguard.

In countries like Pakistan where investigation and evidence gathering are fragile and conditions to fulfill the requisites of justice are non-existent, fair trial cannot be guaranteed. Sometimes the truth of the deceased being innocent never comes to light even decades later. Wrongful convictions are a common phenomenon. Even well-functioning legal systems have sentenced to death men and women who were subsequently proved innocent.

Recently, in nearly a dozen cases, the Supreme Court acquitted the accused, who had appealed against the high courts, confirmation of their death sentence. The accused had spent 8 to 20 years in prison. Their acquittal was on lack of adequate evidence or collusion between the complaint and the police. Political influence and corruption becomes a major obstacle in dispensation of justice. Even in a country like United States, more then 100 cases of wrongful convictions is a glaring example of erroneous judgement. Human Rights activists believe that it is better to pardon erroneously than to punish erroneously. The killings should not be driven by politics in any case.

In 1947, Pakistan set death penalty for 2 offences only, but now it is increased to 27 offences. Since 2014, 416 people were given death penalty and 425 in 2016. Out of 87 people executed last year, only 14 were terrorists. The argument that lifting of moratorium is to combat terrorism does not hold ground.

Eminent lawyer Faisal Siddiqui says that in reviewing jurisprudence, moratorium has no legal basis hence cannot be a permanent solution and that traditional remedies will not work.

The constitution of Pakistan is neither secular nor theocratic, but a hybrid. The state policy towards crime is to kill everyone who does not comply, which is why the society is completely traumatised and brutalised. There is a death consensus between state and society. The penal law is therefore militarised.

The new phenomenon of ‘mob-violence, to dispense justice is becoming part of our daily lives. Recent killing of Mashal is a case in point. Blasphemy law has been used time and again as a weapon to settle scores.

We need to get out of the stagnant situation and review mandatory death penalty in 27 crimes. The list can be curtailed to most serious offences, definition maintainable human rights standards. These procedures have been laid down by various human rights intuitions, international tribunals and officials. The right to be heard fairly in court, to have a legal counsel, no torture to extract confession and adequate evidence are some of the pre-requisites. The state is bound to provide a procedure for reviewing the court decision, and to arrow capital offenders to seek amnesty, pardon or commutation of death sentence. Juvenile offenders and mental disability cases should be treated according to the procedure laid down for them. The death sentence is not applicable to pregnant women or new mothers. These principles reflect profound universal sentiment.

Instead of mandatory capital punishment, judges should be given options for life imprisonment. One more factor which needs our attention is the lack of legal counsel for accused from poor background. Many death convicts are underprivileged and cannot have access to quality legal assistance. There is also an issue with due process of law. In a recent visit to Karachi jail by NCHR delegation, the common complaint from the prisoner was unavailability of competent legal counsel. Many complained the state council does not turn up on hearings.

Discrimination on the of basis of financial status, sex, ethnicity or political affiliation is a violation of human rights. In Pakistan, as someone remarked either the prime minister or the poor prisoners are sent to gallows. Former chief justice of India Justice Bhagwati once said, “In India, only the poor get death sentence.”

Fair trial means that accused and his lawyer get sufficient facilities and time for their defence. Some countries Like Pakistan and Bangladesh have enacted separate laws for trials of different categories of crimes to combat terrorism. Speedy trials or military courts do not fulfill the criteria of a fire trial. The presumption of innocence is not held in high regard either. It is a common sight to see accused handcuffed, maltreated and in degrading conditions.

In a number of cases, evidence is inadequate and faulty. Our Judicial system does not meet the universally acknowledged human rights standards in awarding capital punishment to offenders of the “most serious crimes.” It needs to be reformed as soon as possible to stop arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture, and unlawful detention.

Source: Daily Times, Anis Haroon, July 20, 2017. The writer is a member of the National Commission on Human Rights.

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Thailand taking middle path on capital punishment

Public revulsion over a spate of gruesome murders threatens to reverse de facto moratorium on executions

At a press conference last week on the arrest of eight suspects in the recent massacre of eight family members in Krabi, the national police chief said the perpetrators were inevitably destined for capital punishment. 

After a spate of gruesome murders in recent months involving dismemberment of the victims and the execution-style shooting of a whole family including children, many citizens no doubt heartily agree with Police General Chaktip Chaijinda that the cold-blooded killers deserve to be put to death. 

Strong support for capital punishment in Thai society is buttressed by the argument that it acts as an effective deterrent against serious crimes, though human rights campaigners and international organisations deny this and routinely call for the death penalty to be abolished. 

Amnesty International reports that Thai courts handed down 216 death sentences last year, leaving 427 prisoners on death row at the end of 2016 – including 24 foreign nationals. But no execution has been carried out in this country since August 2009. 

Countries can be divided into four major groups when it comes to the issue of capital punishment – those that retain and use it, those that abolish it for all crimes, those that abolish it most cases but retain it for “exceptional” circumstances, and those that have abolished it in practice. 

The latter group of countries have executed no prisoners for 10 consecutive years and have a policy or established practice of not carrying out executions. 

Thailand is categorised among the 58 countries that retain and use capital punishment, while a total of 105 countries have abolished the practice completely. Yet Thai policy appears to be shifting towards the latter group of countries who retain the punishment in law but do not in practice.

Last year in May, Thailand accepted recommendations from the United Nations’ Human Rights Council to review the imposition of the death penalty for offences related to drug trafficking, to commute death sentences with a view to abolishing capital punishment, and to take steps towards abolishing the death penalty. 

It seems capital punishment is being retained here with the purpose of deterring violent crimes, though no actual executions have been carried out for almost eight years. During that time, those convicted of murder or masterminding murder have simply been incarcerated on an ever-lengthening death row. Some have even had their sentences commuted to life terms after confessing to and showing remorse for their crimes. 

Meanwhile thanks to the Corrections Department’s system of grading inmates, those classified as “excellent prisoners” or “good prisoners” can be entitled to reduced terms and even pardons. These convicts can simply wait to be released after completing their reduced terms. A number of murderers convicted in high-profile cases have already been freed. 

 Thai authorities appear to have opted for a middle path, seeking to appease both rights advocates and those who want capital punishment to be retained. This policy has the merit of helping protect the human rights of both convicted murderers and the victims and their grieving families.

Source: The Nation, Opinion, July 20, 2017

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Iran Must Halt Drug-Related Executions

Public execution in Shiraz, Iran.
Barbaric and medieval punishments: Public execution in Shiraz, Iran.
Spate of Executions Despite Imminent Reforms

(Beirut) – The Iranian government should immediately halt all executions for drug-related offenses while parliament debates amendments to reform the country’s drug law, Human Rights Watch said today. Parliament is expected to vote in two weeks on an amendment to the drug law that would drastically increase the bar for a mandatory death penalty sentence.

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

On July 16, 2017, parliament approved a proposal to amend Iran’s 1997 Law to Combat Drugs to limit the death penalty for some nonviolent, drug-related offenses. However, parliament sent the draft legislation back to the parliamentary judiciary commission for a fourth time to deliberate the proposed changes for certain offenses.

Under Iran’s current drug law, at least 10 offenses, including some that are nonviolent, are punishable by death, including possession of as little as 30 grams of synthetic drugs such as methamphetamines. The law also mandates the death penalty for trafficking, possession, or trade of more than five kilograms of opium or 30 grams of heroin; repeated offenses involving smaller amounts; or the manufacture of more than 50 grams of synthetic drugs.

On December 6, 2016, 146 members of parliament introduced a draft amendment that sought to replace capital punishment for drug offenses with imprisonment for up to 30 years, while allowing the death penalty if the accused or one of the participants in the crime used or carried weapons intending to use them against law enforcement agencies. The death penalty also would still apply to a leader of a drug trafficking cartel, anyone who used a child in drug trafficking, or anyone facing new drug-related charges who had previously been sentenced to execution or 15 years to life for drug-related offenses.

Under pressure from the judiciary and administration, however, the judiciary commission retracted part of their proposed amendments on July 9. It added the death penalty for nonviolent charges of “production, distribution, trafficking, and selling” of more than 100 kilograms of “traditional” drugs such as opium or two kilograms of synthetic drugs such as methamphetamines. The commission also restored the death penalty for possession, purchase, or concealing more than five kilograms of “synthetic drugs.” In both cases the death penalty would only apply where the accused had previously been sentenced to more than two years for drug-related offenses. On July 18, Hasan Noroozi, the commission’s spokesman, told IRNA news agency that the commission is adding “possession, purchase or concealing” 50 kilograms of “traditional” drugs to the offenses punishable by death.

On April 9, the commission proposed to apply the amendments retroactively, which would dramatically reduce the number of people currently on death row in Iran. In addition, on July 5, judiciary commission members asked the judiciary to suspend executions of drug offenders until parliament could vote on the bill.

A Human Rights Watch review of the Norway-based Iran Human Rights Organization’s database, which documents executions in Iran, shows that Ghezelhesar and Karaj Central prisons have not carried out any executions since the beginning of Ramadan on May 26, but that other prison authorities in Isfahan, Western Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, Sistan and Baluchestan, and Khorasan Razavi, have continued to execute people convicted of drug offenses. The group said that the authorities have executed at least 39 people since July 5 on drug-related charges.

In mid-July, Human Rights Watch interviewed via smartphone applications six family members of prisoners who are on death row. They said that they are hopeful that the new law would spare their loved ones from execution. The mother of a man executed in Khoram Abad prison in Lorestan province on June 24, said, “If authorities hadn’t executed my son today, [under the new law] he would have been sentenced to imprisonment.”

Iran has one the highest rates of executions in the world. According to Amnesty International, in 2016, Iran executed at least 567 people, the majority for drug-related convictions. In December 2016, Noroozi, the parliamentary judicial committee spokesman, urged parliament to amend the law, stating that 5,000 people are on Iran’s death row for drug-related offenses, the majority of them ages 20 to 30.

Human Rights Watch has repeatedly documented serious violations of due process, torture, and other violations of the rights of criminal suspects facing drug-related charges. Such flawed judicial proceedings heighten grave concerns about the application of the death penalty.

Under article 6(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Iran has ratified, countries that still retain capital punishment may apply the death penalty only for the “most serious crimes.” The United Nations Human Rights Committee, the independent expert body that interprets the covenant, has said that drug offenses are not among the “most serious crimes,” and that the use of the death penalty for such crimes violates international law. Human Rights Watch opposes capital punishment in all circumstances because it is inherently inhumane and irreversible.

“Parliament should resist any pressure to curb reforms to the drug law and move forward with a bill that better protects the right to life,” Whitson said. “This would be the first step in addressing the epidemic of executions in Iran and a move toward abolishing the death penalty.”

Source: Human Rights Watch, July 20, 2017


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Gopalkrishna Gandhi on why India should abolish death penalty

Abolish the death penalty
"Capital punishment is a macabre folly that swings between tragedy and idiocy."

The following text is an excerpt from: Abolishing the Death Penalty: Why India Should Say No to Capital Punishment; Gopalkrishna Gandhi, Aleph Books; Rs 270.

In its last and most defining and irreversible stage a death penalty case gets to be scrutinised for its wider, non-judicial ramifications, by politically wired brains. The death sentence when implemented is not a coin made of law’s pure gold but an alloy, in fact, a coarse alloy of many ores, of high, medium and low grade, that have passed through the smelteries of reason, emotion, pride, prejudice, a state’s hubris, a society’s moods that swing between pity for the victim and rage at the culprit in an unspooling of feelings that are as old as that of the Plebeians who ran amok in 44 BCE in Rome following Caesar’s assassination and killed Cinna the poet mistaking him for Cinna the assassin, the mob that bayed for Christ’s blood in Judea around 29 CE and all those "popular" upsurges down the centuries right down to our times demanding the death of men believed to have done harm to society and nation. And so the death penalty is also, somewhere in its DNA, a political murder. This is said not to debase lawfully passed sentences of death, but only to describe the syndrome in the fullness of its construction.

When executions were until not so long ago routinely carried out in public, the actual act was a public spectacle. Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray, Arthur Koestler and Camus are among the many who have written of the revulsion they felt on witnessing an execution. George Orwell’s essay "A Hanging" (1931) is a classic of bare description that takes the hood off the scaffold. But not every witness of executions suffered revulsion. Accounts have recorded the witnesses’ perverse and even prurient enjoyment of the spectacle provided by this public termination of an individual’s life. And there are many records, not all of them ancient or medieval, of executioners deriving a sadistic pleasure in the performance of their task.

The prevailing social attitude to the death penalty in India, coloured by revulsion over the 2012 gang rape of Nirbhaya (as she came to be called by the media) and rage over terrorist attacks cannot but influence, in less or more degree, the institutions of the state and those at its helm. While leaders can let the winds of opinion blow them off their feet, a few have tilted against the windmills of popular predilections.

François Mitterrand, trying after two failed attempts, in 1981, to contest for the office of President of France, declared himself, with the encouragement of the fervent abolitionist Robert Badinter, to be against the death penalty. This could well have brought him, in "guillotine France", his third failure. But, praise be to his tenacity and France’s perspicacity, it did not. One of the first things that President Mitterrand did on assuming office was to sign the abolition of capital punishment bill, making France the last European nation to abolish the death penalty.

On another continent, Nelson Mandela, likewise, stood rock-firm in his opposition to the death penalty. Under apartheid, the death penalty had been applied much more to blacks than to whites and Mandela could well have decided to keep the penalty alive and "return the compliment". But Mandela being Mandela said the death penalty was "a reflection of the animal instinct still in human beings" and as president of the new rainbow nation, invited it to look beyond the temptations of vengeance and the taste of vendetta. For a start, he asked his Cabinet to decide on abolishing the death penalty as a moral issue. But the Cabinet, comprising his own colleagues in the struggle, was unsure. It remitted the matter to the new Constitution Court which, under the sagacious chairmanship of Justice Arthur Chaskalson, gave, in 1995, the historic ruling that the death penalty was indeed unconstitutional.

Gopalkrishna Gandhi
Gopalkrishna Gandhi
The court’s unanimous decision of 7 June 1995 stated, "Everyone, including the most abominable of human beings, has a right to life, and capital punishment is therefore unconstitutional... Retribution cannot be accorded the same weight under our Constitution as the right to life and dignity. It has not been shown that the death sentence would be materially more effective to deter or prevent murder than the alternative sentence of life imprisonment would be."

The African National Congress applauded the death penalty ruling, saying, "never, never and never again must citizens of our country be subjected to the barbaric practice of capital punishment".

Both those political statesmen, Mitterrand and Mandela, greatly assisted by two non-political judicial intellects, Badinter and Chaskalson, led rather than allowed themselves to be led by inconstant public opinion. But more often, leaders and institutions move along the grain of prevailing public opinion. This is seen — and explained — as a sign of being democratic when in reality, it is a sign of moral unventuresomeness and intellectual feebleness.

The United States of America is a case in point. New York University School of Law’s Professor Anthony G Amsterdam, described as "the most extraordinary legal mind", has this to say of his country: "Our political and legal machines today are obsessed with the symbolic image of the victim — largely portrayed as white, middle class, mainstream, deserving, and desperately endangered — with the danger portrayed as predatory, parasitic, wilfully jobless, promiscuously multiplying people of colour. So, it is little wonder that American governments administer their criminal systems like colonial penal colonies."

A superficial view holds that advanced countries can be so evolved as to abolish the death penalty and countries not so developed need that punishment on their statute books to keep heinous crime in check. The USA, an advanced country, is yet to abolish the death penalty. Latin America, which does not belong to what used to be called the First World, has abolished it. Of the 140 countries in the world that have abolished the death penalty, there are several that are not "advanced" countries. And among the countries that have not abolished it is, as we have seen, the world’s only superpower, the United States of America. The country that ranks first in the 2015 Human Development Index, Norway, and the country that ranks lowest in it, Burundi, have both abolished the death penalty comprehensively.

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Source: daily O, Gopalkrishna Gandhi, July 19, 2017



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