Saturday, December 20, 2014

75% torture rate in Pakistan raises concern over executions: Reprieve

Concerns have been raised that the resumption of executions in Pakistan could result in the deaths of innocents, in light of a report which finds that police used torture in 76% of cases, often to extract bogus 'confessions.'

The report, produced by NGO Justice Project Pakistan, was based on nearly 2000 medico-legal certificates obtained by the organisation for those arrested in the city of Faisalabad between 2006-12.

Faisalabad last night (19 December) was the site of two executions, the first to take place in the country since 2012. Previously, a moratorium on executions had been in place. A change to the law made in the last few days now means that executions can take place with just 24 hours’ notice.

It has since emerged that Shafqat Hussain, who was tortured into ‘confessing’ and sentenced to death when he was 14 years old, could be executed in Karachi as soon as Tuesday.

The JPP report finds that in 1,424 of the 1,867 cases examined, medical evidence supports the claims of abuse made by the victims.

One case detailed in the report, that of 'Wasif' (not his real name), records that the police forced him to 'confess' by torturing him in a number of ways. These included the 'strappado,' a method used by the medieval Inquisition in which the victim is suspended from their arms in such a way that leads to slow dislocation. The torture was "so acute that it caused him to fall unconscious many times during the course of the four days."

Pakistan has the largest death row in the world, estimated at over 8000 people.

Commenting, Maya Foa, head of the death penalty team at legal charity Reprieve, which works with JPP, said:

"It is no exaggeration to say that the torture methods employed by Pakistan's police would be familiar to the Spanish Inquisition. But worse still, they are being used to extract phoney 'confessions' which in many cases lead to death sentences. As a result, many innocents may now be facing the hangman's noose, after the Pakistani Government abandoned its two year moratorium. Pakistan has the largest death row in the world, and the floodgates are now open. The horrific events in Peshawar last week deserve a response, but jettisoning due process and carrying out rushed executions is not the right one."

Source: Reprieve, December 20, 2014

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Human Rights: Two flogged in public for ‘mischief’ offences in Iran

Public flogging in Iran
Public flogging in Iran
NCRI - Two men have been publicly lashed in Iran for offences of disturbing public order and mischief.

The pair named only as K.A. and M.M. were each given 40 lashes in Chamestan County, in Mazandaran province.

Public floggings have soared in Iran in recent months in a bid to spread fear amongst the country's youth and suppress to prevent public expression of dissent.

The regime's State Security Force lashed a young man 45 times in public on the back of a pick-up truck while his hands and feet were chained in early December.

The barbaric punishment was carried out in a village in Fars province, with a population of fewer than 700 inhabitants.

The number floggings across is Iran is much higher than officially announced.

Source: NCRI, December 17, 2014


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Colorado: Parents Of James Holmes Plead For Him To Be Spared Death Penalty

James E. Holmes and attorney
DENVER (AP/CBS4) — The parents of James Holmes pleaded Friday for his life to be spared if he is convicted of killing 12 people and injuring 70 others after opening fire in an Aurora movie theater.

The plea incensed some survivors of the attack and relatives of people killed. They questioned the timing of the parents’ statement around the holidays, just weeks before the trial of Holmes is set to begin.

Robert and Arlene Holmes said in their statement released to the media that their son is mentally ill and they do not want him to be executed.

“He is not a monster. He is a human being gripped by a severe mental illness,” they wrote. Read the full letter below.

“We are Robert and Arlene Holmes and our son is James Holmes. We have spent every moment for more than two years thinking about those who were injured, and the families and friends of the deceased who were killed in the theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado. We are always praying for everyone in Aurora. We wish that July 20, 2012 never happened. Our son pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to the charges associated with these shootings.
“Defense attorneys for our son first stated in open court in May 2013 that James was diagnosed in Colorado with a serious mental illness. Prior to July 20, 2012, he never harmed anyone and he had no criminal history.
“We understand that if our son is found not guilty by reason of insanity, he could go to an institution that provides treatment for the mentally ill for the remainder of his life. This result would prevent any future harm to him and others. We realize treatment in an institution would be best for our son. We love our son, we have always loved him and we do not want him to be executed. We also decry the need for a trial.
“A lengthy trial requires everyone to relive those horrible moments in time, causing additional trauma. In the criminal justice system, the prosecution and defense can agree to a sentence of life in prison, without parole, in exchange for a guilty plea. If that happened, our son would be in prison the rest of his life, but no one would have to relive those horrible events at a trial the media has permission to televise. We do not know how many victims of the theater shooting would like to see our son killed. But we are aware of people’s sentiments.
“We have read postings on the Internet that have likened him to a monster. He is not a monster. He is a human being gripped by a severe mental illness. We believe that the death penalty is morally wrong, especially when the condemned is mentally ill.
“We are not alone in our sentiments. The Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights (MVFHR), an international organization of family members of murder victims and family members of the executed, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) formed the “Prevention, Not Execution Project” aimed at ending the death penalty for people with severe mental illness.
“Our family has not given interviews to the media because we do not want coverage of ourselves. We mourn the deaths and the serious injuries and emotional trauma of the others who were in the theater. The focus should be on the injured and their healing.”


Source: CBS Denver, AP, Sadie Gurman, December 19, 2014

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Judge allows Oklahoma to bar press from seeing executions

A federal judge in Oklahoma has allowed the state to press ahead with its restrictions on press access to executions, dismissing a legal challenge brought by the ACLU that would have opened up the entire lethal injection process to public scrutiny.

Joe Heaton, a US district judge for the western district of Oklahoma, on Friday threw out the lawsuit that had been backed by the Guardian, the Oklahoma Observer and journalist Katie Fretland. The judge found that the plaintiffs had failed to make the case that the press had a first amendment constitutional right to witness the complete execution process.

Heaton indicated that he was sympathetic to the plaintiffs’ argument, which he called “compelling”, that “a more open and expansive policy of access and disclosure may be desirable”. But he said reform in this area was not a matter for the courts but for decision-makers; that is, the elected members of the Oklahoma legislature.

The ruling means that when Oklahoma comes to make its next judicial killing, on 15 January, it will be able to do so with new restrictions on press access in place. The number of media witnesses will be reduced from 12 to five, the intravenous lines will be inserted into the prisoner before the press is allowed to witness the events, the audio feed will be turned off after the prisoner makes his final statement, and the prison authorities will be able to shut off all observation of the proceedings should the inmate fail to be unconscious within five minutes of the lethal chemicals being injected into him.


Source: The Guardian, Ed Pilkington, December 19, 2014

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Friday, December 19, 2014

Pakistan resumes executions after Peshawar school attack

One of those executed was convicted over an attack on Pakistan's Army HQ in 2009, the other over an assassination attempt on ex-leader Pervez Musharraf.

The UN had earlier urged Pakistan not to resume its executions.

Some 141 people, mostly children, died in the Taliban attack on the Army Public school in Peshawar.

Pakistan's military carried out operations against Taliban units in areas near the border with Afghanistan on Friday, saying it had killed 59 militants.

'Different crimes'

The two executions were carried out in the central city of Faisalabad late on Friday, officials said.

Pakistani media named the two executed men as Aqeel, alias Dr Usman, and Arshad Mehmood.

Usman was arrested during the raid on the Rawalpindi HQ and sentenced to death in 2011.

Mehmood was sentenced to death over the attempt on Mr Musharraf's life in the same city in 2003.

UN human rights spokesman Rupert Colville had earlier urged Pakistan not to resume executions.

He said: "To its great credit, Pakistan has maintained a de facto moratorium on the death penalty since 2008," he said, adding that those at risk of imminent execution were unconnected to the "premeditated slaughter" in Peshawar.

"We urge the government not to succumb to widespread calls for revenge, not least because those at most risk of execution in the coming days are people convicted of different crimes."

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif lifted the moratorium on executions in terror cases amid outrage at the massacre of the children.

The country's de facto foreign minister, Sartaj Aziz, said the Peshawar attack was his country's own "mini 9/11" and required a sea-change in its fight against terrorism.

Source: BBC, December 19, 2014

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Pakistan Executes Two Terrorists After Lifting Moratorium on Death Penalty

ISLAMABAD: Two convicted terrorists were today hanged in Pakistan just two days after the Nawaz Sharif government ended a moratorium on capital punishment in terror-related cases following the Taliban-perpetrated massacre at a school in Peshawar in which over 130 children were killed.

Aqeel alias Dr Usman, a former serviceman, was sentenced to death after being found guilty of involvement in the attack on Rawalpindi's Army General Headquarters (GHQ) in 2009. He was also convicted for the attack on the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team in the same year. Arshad Mehmood, also known as Mehrban, was convicted for an assassination attempt on former president and army chief Pervez Musharraf in 2003.

"Yes, two militants Aqeel alias Doctor Usman and Arshad Mehmood have been hanged in Faisalabad jail," Shuja Khanzada, Home Minister of central Punjab province, where executions took place, told AFP.

Four more executions will reportedly take place tomorrow in Kot Lakhpat jail in Lahore where a high alert has been sounded.

On Thursday, Pakistan's military chief Raheel Sharif signed death warrants for six terrorists on death row. Security officials said the six had been convicted by a military court and were awaiting execution.

The announcement came hours after the government warned prison officials of a possible jailbreak in the restive northwest province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa following the end of the moratorium.

On Wednesday, PM Sharif announced an end to the moratorium on the death penalty in terror-related cases after the Pakistani Taliban attacked a military-run school in Peshawar killed 148 people, mostly children.

The assault in the northwestern city is the deadliest ever terror attack in Pakistan and has shocked the nation.

Political and military leaders have vowed in response to wipe out the homegrown Islamist insurgency that has killed thousands of ordinary Pakistanis in recent years.

Pakistan imposed a de facto moratorium on civilian executions in 2008, though hanging remains on the statute book and judges continue to pass the death sentence.

Only one person was executed since - a soldier convicted by a court martial and hanged in November 2012.

Source: NCTV, December 19, 2014

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

China arrests police officer who oversaw case of teenager wrongfully executed in 1996

Huugjilt
BEIJING — A Chinese police officer who oversaw the case of a teenager wrongfully convicted of murder and executed in 1996 has been arrested in a case that has caught national attention, the official Xinhua News Agency said Thursday.

Feng Zhiming, now a deputy police chief in the northern city of Hohhot, was charged with torture to coerce confession, dereliction of duty and taking bribes, Xinhua said.

His arrest on Wednesday came two days after the Inner Mongolia Higher People’s Court overturned the conviction of Huugjilt, who was 18 years old when he was sentenced to death and executed over the killing of a woman in a public toilet in Hohhot. The court cited a lack of evidence in clearing Huugjilt, who used only one name like many ethnic Mongolians.

Although Chinese police have routinely used torture to extract confessions, especially in high-profile cases, this case has caused public outrage because it coincided with the Chinese government’s recently stated goal to obey the rule of law, and Huugjilt’s case has been made an example of Beijing’s efforts to correct past wrongs.

At the time of Huugjilt’s conviction, Feng was a deputy district police chief in charge of the case. According to the state media, Feng and his colleagues were rewarded for promptly solving the murder case following Huugjilt’s execution.

Huugjilt had told police he found the woman’s body after hearing a cry for help.

A convicted serial rapist and murderer confessed to the crime in 2005. He was never tried for the 1996 killing and has not been executed for the other murders. It took the judiciary another nine years to review the verdict against Huugjilt.

Source: The Associated Press, December 18, 2014

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Indonesia: AGO Adds Another Death Row Inmate to Imminent Execution List

President Joko Widodo
President Joko Widodo
Jakarta. The Attorney General’s Office said on Thursday that another convict on death row will soon be executed, bringing the total number of prisoners scheduled to face the firing squad to six.

The AGO previously announced it would execute five convicts before year’s end, most of whom were convicted of drug trafficking.

“There is one addition to the list of 2014 executions, but the number might increase or decline,” AGO spokesman Tony Spontana said.

“The latest information from the National Police stated that the convict must not be denied their last extraordinary legal action.”

Tony said previously that the condemned men were inmates at Nusa Kambangan, an island prison located just off the port town of Cilacap on the southern coast of Java.

There are 136 inmates currently on death row, according to AGO data, with 64 of them sentenced for drug trafficking, two for terrorism and the rest for murder or aggravated robbery.

Joko Widodo disappointed many campaigning against the death penalty earlier in December when he said he would not offer clemency to convicted drug traffickers.

“In international forums on human rights issues, the world frequently asked why Indonesia is still imposing death penalty, this is humiliating our nation,” said Indonesian Human Rights Monitor (Imparsial) executive director Poengki Indarti.

It was not clear on Thursday whether the six men had been made aware of their fate. Indonesian law requires only that an inmate is told of their execution 72 hours before they are shot.

Source: The Jakarta Globe, December 18, 2014

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Saudis behead Pakistani heroin trafficker

Public beheading in Saudi Arabia
Khan’s case brings to 83 the number of foreigners and Saudis executed in the kingdom this year

Riyadh: Saudi Arabia on Wednesday beheaded a Pakistani for heroin smuggling, the interior ministry said, in the kingdom’s latest execution of a foreigner.

Mohammad Gafour Hashim Khan was convicted of smuggling “a large amount” of heroin into the country, the ministry said in a statement published by the official Saudi Press Agency.

The sentence was carried out in Eastern Province.

Khan’s case brings to 83 the number of foreigners and Saudis executed in the kingdom this year, including 11 Pakistanis since October, according to an AFP tally.

In addition to amphetamines and other drugs, authorities seized almost 18kg of raw heroin during the calendar year that ended in October, the interior ministry said.

The government is battling narcotics “because of their great harm to individuals and society”, the ministry says, but foreign rights groups are critical of the kingdom’s judicial system.

Families and rights campaigners complain the trials are opaque and unfair, and accuse the Pakistani government of doing nothing to help its citizens, afraid of offending an important and hugely wealthy ally.

In recent years the Gulf has become an increasingly important market for illicit drugs, according to the United Nations office on drugs and crime.

Almost half of Afghanistan’s heroin production comes through Pakistan on its way to Europe and Asia.

In August and September alone, nearly 400 people including around 300 foreigners were arrested for possessing or dealing in heroin, according to the Saudi government.

Rape, murder, apostasy, homosexuality and armed robbery are also punishable by death under Saudi Arabia’s strict version of Sharia law.

Saudi Arabia had the third-highest number of recorded executions in 2013, behind Iran and Iraq, said Amnesty International.

The rights watchdog did not have reliable data from China which implemented the most death penalty sentences.

Source: Agence France-Presse, December 18, 2014

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Boston bombing suspect seen for the first time since 2013

D. Tsarnaev
BOSTON — Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was seen publicly in court Thursday for the first time since he was arraigned on 30 federal charges in July, 2013.

Tsarnaev was in court for the final pre-trial hearing before his trial, which is set to begin Jan. 5. Prosecutors and defense attorneys are discussing the ground rules for the trial, which is expected to take several months.

Security was tight and the court room was packed as people strained to be the first to get a look at Tsarnaev. Fourteen victims of the attacks sat together on one side of the galley. Members of the media and general public occupied 60 seats on benches.

Tsarnaev, 21, gave a small, seemingly nervous, smile to his lawyers upon entering the courtroom. He had a scruffy beard and a mopped head of wavy, uncombed hair. He wore a black sweater and open-necked collared shirt.

U.S. District Judge George O'Toole Jr. asked him four questions, inquiring whether he had elected to be absent in prior status conferences and whether his lawyers had kept him apprised of the proceedings.

"Yes sir," Tsarnaev said.

O'Toole also asked if he's been satisfied with his legal representation.

"Very much," Tsarnaev said. When O'Toole asked if he would like a private meeting with him to discuss his representation, Tsarnaev declined.

Thursday's hearing is the last chance to ask the judge for new ground rules for the trial. Tsarnaev's lawyers recently filed a new motion seeking, for the second time, to have the trial moved out of Boston, where they fear their client will not be treated fairly.

O'Toole rejected Tsarnaev's first request in September to move the trial, ruling that Tsarnaev's lawyers had failed to show that extensive pretrial media coverage of the bombings had prejudiced the jury pool to the point that an impartial jury could not be chosen in Boston.

Tsarnaev's lawyers previously said the trial should be moved to Washington, D.C.


Source: USA Today, G. Jeffrey MacDonald, December 18, 2014

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Texas ex-justice of the peace sentenced to death for revenge murder

Eric Williams
A Texas jury on Wednesday sentenced to death a former justice of the peace convicted of murdering a suburban Dallas prosecutor's wife in a revenge plot, with the judge saying he acted like some of the most notorious killers in recent U.S. history.

The same jury that convicted Eric Williams, 47, on Dec. 4 of murdering Cynthia McLelland sentenced him to death after deliberating for less than 4 hours.

Williams has also been charged with murdering District Attorney Mike McLelland, who was Cynthia McClelland's husband, and Kaufman County Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse.

Prosecutors said Williams wanted to get back at them for obtaining a theft conviction that cost him his job and law license.

After the verdict, Dallas County Judge Mike Snipes told Williams that he was never fooled by his lawyer-like demeanor in the courtroom, likening him to Charles Manson and Jeffrey Dahmer.

"The people of Kaufman County have been scared for a year. They do not have to be scared any more," Snipes said.

Hasse was gunned down outside the Kaufman County Courthouse on Jan. 31, 2013, and the McClellands were fatally shot inside their home on March 30, 2013.

Williams' estranged wife, Kim, who is also charged with capital murder and will be tried separately, told jurors on Tuesday that Eric Williams began forming a mental hit list of people involved in his prosecution.

She added that Cynthia McLelland was not on that list but her husband later told her he considered McLelland "collateral damage."

Williams never looked up from the table as the victim's family members told him how these murders impacted their lives.

Nathan Foreman, Cynthia's son, said that the loss of his mother is a hole that can never be filled.

"I believe it's important not to hate, I work on that daily. But I cannot forgive and I cannot forget," he said.

Source: Reuters, December 17, 2014

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Indonesia: AGO Says Executions Are Set for This Week

Pasir Putih Prison, on Nusakambangan Island,
Central Java, Indonesia, where the 3 Bali bombers
were executed by firing squad on Nov. 9, 2008.
Capital Controversy: The attorney general and president's tough stance on the death penalty has been heavily criticized

The execution of 5 death-row inmates is likely to be conducted this week, an official revealed on Monday, as activists and academics continue to condemn the plan.

The Attorney General's Office, which is tasked with carrying out the execution, has yet to reveal the identity of the inmates, saying only that they are now incarcerated in different prisons across Indonesia.

But AGO spokesman Tony Spontana said "it is almost certain" that there will only be 1 venue for the execution of the 5, Nusa Kambangan, an island prison located less than a kilometer off the port town of Cilacap on the southern coast of Java.

The execution will be carried out by a 10-member firing squad from the Central Java Police's Mobile Brigade Unit (Brimob) and the inmates could be executed within this week, Tony said.

On Monday, "the Attorney General [HM Prasetyo] is scheduled to receive reports from provincial prosecutors' office chiefs ... whose offices host inmates on death row," the spokesman said.

"The reports will include one from the Central Java Prosecutors' Office chief. This prosecutors' office actually don't have any inmates scheduled for execution [this week] but [will submit a report] because the executions will be conducted in Cilacap," Tony added.

He said the attorney general is planning to conduct a visit to Nusa Kambangan to inspect preparations for the execution over the next few days.

It is unclear when the 5 inmates are scheduled to arrive at the maximum security island prison.

The law says inmates must be informed of their execution 72 hours before it is carried out.

Plans for the execution was revealed earlier this month after President Joko Widodo denied their petitions for clemency.

Joko, according to the AGO, has pledged to refuse clemencies to drug offenders on death row, saying that the government will act tough on drug-related offenses.

According to the AGO, there are 136 inmates currently on death row, with 64 of them sentenced for drug trafficking, 2 for terrorism and the rest for murder and robberies with aggravated assault.

Starting next year, the AGO said it will execute at least 10 death-row prisoners in a bid to reduce the backlog.

Capital punishment is a sentencing option for Indonesian judges on several convictions, including drug trafficking, murder, sedition and terrorism.

Indonesia resumed executing prisoners last year, under the administration of former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Joko's decision to continue the legacy has sparked wide condemnations from local and international nongovernmental organizations, which have long pushed the country to end capital punishment.

The Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) said on Sunday that it will report the Indonesian government to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights over the plan.

He added that the executions violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Indonesia ratified in 2005.

The agreement limits the sentence of death for "only for the most serious crimes, in accordance with the law in effect at the time of the commission of the crime."

Senior lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis noted that by resuming the execution of prisoners, Indonesia will undermine its own attempts to save the hundreds of Indonesian migrant workers on death row abroad, saying that it was likely to "create a contradiction."

3 of the 5 inmates that will be executed this month were involved in drug cases, while the remaining 2 will be killed because they committed 1st-degree murder.

All 5 are male.

"We agree that [illicit] drugs must be eradicated and that traffickers are severely punished. But it doesn't have to be with the death penalty. Life in prison or life without parole are also severe punishments," Todung said on Monday.

Source: Jakarta Globe, December 17, 2014

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UN: Freeze Funding of Iran Counter-Narcotics Efforts

Public execution in Iran
The United Nations agency charged with combating illicit drug trafficking should withdraw its support for counter-narcotics police operations in Iran until the death penalty for drug offenses is abolished, 6 rights groups said in a letter published today. The groups made the plea after Iran's judiciary hanged 18 alleged drug traffickers within 24 hours on December 3, 2014, bringing the number of drug offenders executed in the country during 2014 to at least 318.

Reprieve, Human Rights Watch, Iran Human Rights, the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, Harm Reduction International and the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation said the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) should follow its own human rights guidance and impose "a temporary freeze or withdrawal of support" if "following requests for guarantees and high-level political intervention, executions for drug related offenses continue." The 6 organizations warned the UNODC of "the widening gulf between Iran's rhetoric and the realities of its justice system," and described the agency's decision to continue funding supply-side counter-narcotics efforts in the country as "ineffective if not counterproductive."

"As Iran executes alleged drug offenders in ever-greater numbers, it beggars belief that the UN sees fit to continue funding Iranian anti-drug operations," said Reprieve director Maya Foa. "How many more hangings will it take for the UN to open its eyes to the lethal consequences of its current approach, and make its counter-narcotics support conditional on an end to the death penalty for drug offenses?"

The UN agency's records show it has given more than $15 million to "supply control" operations by Iran's Anti-Narcotics Police, funding specialist training, intelligence, trucks, body scanners, night vision goggles, drug detection dogs, bases, and border patrol offices, the groups said. UNODC projects in Iran have come with performance indicators including "an increase in drug seizures and an improved capability of intercepting smugglers," and an "increase of drug-related sentences."

The United Kingdom, Ireland, and Denmark have all chosen to withdraw their support from Iranian counter-narcotics operations administered by the UNODC because of concerns that this funding was enabling the execution of alleged drug traffickers. When announcing its decision to do so, Denmark publically acknowledged that the donations are leading to executions.

The groups had previously written a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in May 2014 on the issue of UNODC counter-narcotics funding in Iran and Vietnam. In their letter, the groups expressed concern that UNODC continuing support of Iran's counter-narcotics operations was "lending legitimacy" to executions of drug offenders. In an August 2014 response, UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov responded that his agency sought progress through "engagement and dialogue," and that he was "gratified" by "potentially favourable developments regarding the application of the death penalty in relation to drug offenders in Iran."

Iran's anti-narcotics law imposes a mandatory death sentence for manufacturing, trafficking, possession, or trade of five or more kilograms of opium and other specified drugs, and 30 or more grams of heroin, morphine, or specified synthetic and non-medical psychotropic drugs, such as methamphetamines. International law requires countries like Iran that retain the death penalty to impose it for only the "most serious crimes," which does not include drug crimes.

Although international law says that all death sentences should be subject to appeal, Iran has apparently limited appeals in drug-related cases. Figures suggest Iran is executing those charged with drug offenses in increasing numbers, despite recent calls for reform by the chair of the country's Human Rights Council, Mohammad Javad Larijani, who said there were legislative efforts under way to end the death penalty for drug-related offenses.

The rights groups are not aware of any pending legislation in parliament that would end, or even reduce, the number of executions related to drug offenses. On December 16, the Iranian Students' News Agency reported that a high ranking official with the country's counter-narcotics agency opposed the elimination of the death penalty for drug traffickers, noting that any changes in the law would have to be made by the Expediency Council, an advisory body to the supreme leader, and not Iran's parliament.

Harm Reduction International and Human Rights Watch previously urged UNODC to freeze funding of drug enforcement programs to Iran, and said Iranian authorities should move quickly to end the death penalty for drug-related offenses. The 2 groups first met UNODC officials in Vienna in 2007 to discuss concerns regarding the execution of drug offenders in Iran.

Source: Human Rights Watch, December 17, 2014


Iran Criticized for Executing Drug Offenders

6 international human rights groups have petitioned the United Nations to freeze its counternarcotics aid to Iran until that country abolishes the death penalty for drug offenses.

In a jointly signed Dec. 12 letter released Wednesday by the groups, they argue that the freeze is justified because of "the widening gulf between Iran's rhetoric and the realities of the justice system."

Iran executes more prisoners than any other country except China, with 500 to 625 executed last year, according to United Nations estimates. At least 1/2 of the condemned were convicted of drug trafficking.

Yury Fedotov, chief executive of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, a Vienna-based agency that has provided millions of dollars to Iran's counternarcotics efforts, has been in discussions with Iranian officials about the executions, which are at odds with the agency's human rights guidelines.

Under international law, Iran and other countries with the death penalty are required to impose it only for the "most serious crimes," which do not include drug offenses.

Even though some senior Iranian officials have spoken out against capital punishment for drug crimes, there have been signs that the pace of executions has accelerated this year.

Iran, a conduit for opium trafficking from neighboring Afghanistan, has one of the world's harshest drug laws. It imposes mandatory death sentences for making, trafficking and possessing specified quantities of opium, opiates and other drugs, like methamphetamines.

On Dec. 4, Mohammad Javad Larijani, the secretary of Iran's Human Rights Council, said in an interview with the France 24 news channel that "nobody is happy" about the number of executions and that he would like to see Iran's drug punishment softened. "We are crusading to change this law," he said.

Rights groups say in their letter, which is addressed to Mr. Fedotov, that a few days before Mr. Larijani's interview, 18 convicted offenders had been hanged in Iran, and that this year at least 318 had been put to death, a pace that would surpass the 331 drug convicts executed in 2013.

"This increase in the execution rate belies Mr. Larijani's reassuring rhetoric and U.N.O.D.C.'s lauding of 'potentially favorable developments' on this issue," reads the letter by the groups.

The letter was signed by Human Rights Watch, Reprieve, Iran Human Rights, the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, Harm Reduction International and the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, named after an Iranian lawyer who was assassinated in Paris in 1991.

There was no immediate comment from Mr. Fedotov's office about the letter. Phone and email messages left with the agency's spokeswoman, Preeta Bannerjee, were not immediately returned.

Iran has given mixed messages on capital punishment. When the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, criticized Iran in March for what he called its failure to improve human rights - including the use of capital punishment - Mr. Larijani's brother, Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, the chief of the Iranian judiciary, chastised him for the remarks.

Source: New York Times, December 17, 2014

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Iraq: 150 women executed after refusing to marry ISIL militants

At least 150 women who refused to marry militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, were executed in the western Iraqi province of Al-Anbar, Iraq's Ministry of Human Rights said.

According to a ministry statement released Tuesday, ISIL militants carried out a number of attacks in Fallujah and buried the victims in mass graves in one of the city's neighborhoods.

"At least 150 females, including pregnant women, were executed in Fallujah by a militant named Abu Anas Al-Libi after they refused to accept jihad marriage," the statement said. "Many families were also forced to migrate from the province's northern town of Al-Wafa after hundreds of residents received death threats."

The ministry said many children died when their families were stranded in the desert after leaving their homes.

ISIL controls many areas in Al-Anbar and is attempting to take over Ramadi, the province's capital city.

The U.S. is leading an international coalition that has carried out a number of airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq and Syria since the militant group captured the northern province of Mosul back in June.

Source: Anadolu News Agency, December 18, 2014

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"Indonesia campaigns to save own nationals from execution overseas, but sees domestic arena differently": Indonesia foreign ministry

Andrew Chan (left) and Myuran Sukumaran (right)
Indonesia has asked that other nations respect its legal processes as it prepares to carry out the death penalty for the first time this year.

Five death row prisoners, reportedly Indonesians and Nigerians, are scheduled for imminent execution by firing squad after President Joko Widodo denied their requests for clemency.

He said drug offenders threatened to ruin Indonesia's future, and the death sentence would be "important shock therapy" to others.

Among the other clemency cases before him are those of Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, lead members of the Bali Nine smugglers.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say Mr Joko should commute the death sentences as soon as possible and abolish the death penalty.

Indonesia's foreign ministry spokesman Armanatha Nasir says Indonesia campaigns to save its own nationals from execution overseas, but sees the domestic arena differently.

"When we talk about death sentence there's the process of others, and domestically, there's our process," he told reporters.

"We respect their process abroad and so they should also respect ours."

Indonesia's Justice Minister Yasonna Laoly has said he feels the death penalty is a "dilemma" and while he respects the courts, he doesn't personally support it.

But his spokesman Ferdinand Siagian this week echoed the president's views.

"Drugs are hurting people from elementary school students to university professors," he told AAP.

"And so I agree that we must finish drug dealers or we're losing a generation.

"For now I don't see (any way for death row drug offenders to escape death penalty).

"If it's already in the process then the process will proceed."

Human Rights Watch Indonesia spokesman Andreas Harsono says the new president's hardline stance is a betrayal of his promises to better protect human rights.

What's more, the idea it was "shock therapy" was incorrect.

"There are many studies that show the death sentence is not going to deter the drug trade," he said.

"There's so much progress Indonesia had made with democracy ... but with so many missteps I don't think it's going to be very good for Indonesia's reputation as a rights respecting nation internationally."

Source: AAP, December 18, 2014

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Doctors Say Flaws Led to Suffering in Oklahoma Execution

Clayton Lockett
OKLAHOMA CITY — Clayton D. Lockett, whose botched execution in April led to a moratorium on the death penalty in Oklahoma, was most likely conscious, in intense pain and feeling the equivalent of “liquid fire” from the inappropriate use of drugs used to kill him, a Florida anesthesiologist testified here on Wednesday.

At a hearing in federal court on whether Oklahoma should resume executions on Jan. 15, the anesthesiologist, Dr. David Lubarsky of the University of Miami, was highly critical of the three-drug cocktail used by Oklahoma officials in the execution. One reason, he said, is that their administering of a much higher dose of the first drug, midazolam, does not increase its effectiveness.

The prolonged death of Mr. Lockett, who was described by some witnesses as seeming to regain consciousness, mumbling and writhing in pain on the execution table, revived debate about the reliability of lethal injection and about the drug combinations that states have tried as alternatives when the traditional barbiturates became scarce.

“People who are asleep don’t make an attempt to speak,” Dr. Lubarsky testified about Mr. Lockett’s behavior. “It is considered unethical to try this on human beings who cannot consent.”

Midazolam is often the first drug that anesthesiologists give to surgical patients because it reduces their anxiety. Dr. Lubarsky said that it hits a “ceiling,” relaxing patients but not keeping them far enough under to perform surgery or administer drugs like the second and third ones used in Mr. Lockett’s execution.

Oklahoma maintains that the problematic execution of Mr. Lockett, who was convicted of shooting a 19-year-old woman in 1999 and burying her alive, was an anomaly caused by an improperly set intravenous line.

Several of Oklahoma’s death row inmates and their families are suing the state in federal court, seeking an injunction to postpone their executions until the drug protocol can be revised.

Judge Stephen Friot opened the three-day hearing on Wednesday. Oklahoma has four executions scheduled from Jan. 15 to March 5, including that of Charles Warner, whose execution was supposed to immediately follow Mr. Lockett’s.

Also testifying Wednesday was Dr. Joseph Cohen, a pathologist hired by Mr. Lockett’s lawyer, who said there were at least 15 puncture wounds in the unsuccessful attempts to insert an intravenous line into the prisoner.

Dr. Cohen questioned the competence of the physician who oversaw the execution.

Anita Trammell, the warden for the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, who was inside the death chamber during Mr. Lockett’s execution, admitted in court that training that occurred as late as the day of the execution was not adequate.

She attributed problems inserting the intravenous line to Mr. Lockett’s being dehydrated and having been a former IV-drug user. She told the court that it had taken 50 minutes to get one line in place in a femoral artery and that there were usually two lines. Lawyers for the plaintiffs said multiple autopsies had not shown Mr. Lockett was dehydrated.

Source: The New York Times, Carol Cole-Frowe, December. 17, 2014

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Man tortured into manslaughter ‘confession’ at 15 among those set for Pakistan execution: Reprieve

A torture victim convicted of involuntary manslaughter at just fifteen years old will be among the first prisoners to be hanged in Pakistan this week, research from Reprieve and Justice Project Pakistan (JPP) has revealed, despite the Government’s pledge that those executed would be “terrorists” and those convicted of “heinous acts”.

Following Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s announcement yesterday that executions would resume in Pakistan, the names of six prisoners in Sindh for whom “black warrants” – execution warrants – have been issued have now been announced. Among the six is Shafqat Hussain, who was arrested in 2004 when he was 15 years old.

Mr Hussain was charged with the kidnap and murder of another local child and convicted on the strength of one piece of evidence: a forced confession made after nine days of police torture. When his case was reviewed by the Sindh High Court his conviction for murder was quashed and replaced with a conviction for involuntary manslaughter – accidentally causing death.

Reprieve and Justice Project Pakistan (JPP), who are representing Mr Hussain, have raised strong concerns about the fairness of his trial in Pakistan’s notorious Anti-Terrorism Courts. The organisations’ joint report Terror on Death Row reveals how Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Act, the legislation governing the courts, is routinely overused; for example, in the province of Sindh, home to Pakistan’s most populous city, 40 per cent of all prisoners were tried as “terrorists”. In more than 80 per cent of the cases analysed by JPP and Reprieve, however, there was no link to anything that could reasonably be defined as terrorism.

The decision to lift Pakistan’s six-year moratorium on executions was announced yesterday as part of the Government’s response to the school shooting that took place in Peshawar this week. Following the attack, Prime Minister Sharif said a strong response was needed to combat the “existential threat” posed by terrorism, and announced that the first people to be executed would be “terrorists” and those convicted of the most “heinous acts”.

Pakistan has the world’s largest death row, with over 8,000 people currently awaiting execution.

Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve’s Death Penalty Team, said: “It is crystal clear that Shafqat Hussain is simply not a terrorist. The events in Peshawar this week were absolutely tragic – but the execution of Shafqat and others like him, whose crimes bear no relation to terrorism, will do nothing to serve the Government’s stated aims of preventing further such attacks. Instead, the rush to start executing risks permitting huge miscarriages of justice to take place, including the executions of innocent people. The international community must do all it can to stop this knee-jerk reaction which will fundamentally undermine Pakistan’s criminal justice system without making the country safer.”

Source: Reprieve, December 18, 2014

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

George Stinney Jr., Exonerated 70 Years After Wrongful Murder Conviction As 14-Year-Old

George Stinney, Jr., 14, shortly before his execution in the electric chair in 1944.  Exonerated in December  2014.
George Stinney, Jr., 14, shortly before his execution in
the electric chair in 1944.  Exonerated in December  2014.
After seven decades, a black 14-year-old boy has been cleared of murder.

In 1944, George Stinney was convicted of murdering two white girls in Alcolu, South Carolina.

He was executed via the electric chair after his white lawyer called no witnesses and performed no cross-examinations.

Judge Carmen Mullen vacated the conviction against Stinney on Wednesday, WISTV reports.

In January, a judge agreed to hear new testimony and arguments in the case.

At a hearing that month, Solicitor Ernest "Chip" Finney III argued the conviction should stand.

"They weren't trying to railroad every black person associated with Alcolu and these little girls. They made a determination based on facts we don't have today that George Stinney should be detained," Finney said.

But an attorney arguing on behalf of Stinney said the state handled the case so badly that it merited another look.

"The state, as an entity, has very unclean hands," attorney Miller Shealy argued.

Source: The Huffington Post, Simon McCormack, December 17, 2014


George Stinney Jr. ‘exonerated,’ judge rules he did not receive ‘due process’

Wednesday, a South Carolina judge vacated Stinney’s conviction, which essentially clears his name. Stinney was convicted of murdering two white girls in Alcolu, South Carolina.

His trial lasted a few hours and no witnesses were called on his behalf. When he was sentenced to die by electrocution, no appeal was filed.

No physical evidence or trial transcript exists.

Below is the order from Circuit Judge Carmen T. Mullen:
This Court finds fundamental, Constitutional violations of due process exist in the 1944 prosecution of George Stinney, Jr. and hereby vacates the judgment.

According to WBTV’s Jeremy Turnage’s report, Judge Mullen wrote:
Given the particularized circumstances of Stinney’s case, I find by a preponderance of the evidence standard, that a violation of the Defendant’s procedural due process rights tainted his prosecution.
Defense lawyer Matthew Burgess told the Grio.com that Wednesday “is a great day in South Carolina,” because of the ruling.

“We’re very pleased that George Stinney has been exonerated and that the conviction against him has been vacated.”

Burgess said he’s talked with Stinney’s sister Amie and the family is “very happy.”

Ray Brown, who’s producing a film called 83 Days based on Stinney’s execution timeline, said he was overwhelmed by Wednesday’s ruling.

“It’s never too late for justice,” Brown said. “There’s no statute of limitations on justice. One of the things I can say about South Carolina and I can give them credit for — is that they got it right this time. During a period of time in our nation where we seem to have such a great racial divide, you have a southern state that has decided to admit they made a mistake and correct it.”

Brown called the judge’s ruling a “great statement” to the rest of the country, especially considering the recent grand jury decisions related to the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

Brown’s film will begin shooting in Atlanta in March. Actors Danny Glover and Carl Lumbly are attached to the project, and Charles Burnett is set to direct.

Source: The Grio, December 17, 2014

Related article (+ video)
- He was 14 years, 6 months and 5 days old -- and the youngest person executed in the United States in the 20th Century, April 9, 2011, The Raw Story. In a South Carolina prison sixty-six years ago, guards walked a 14-year-old boy, bible tucked under his arm, to the electric chair. At 5' 1" and 95 pounds, the straps didn’t fit, and an electrode was too big for his leg...

Saint Lucia Rejects UK Request to Scrap Death Penalty

Government officials in Saint Lucia have rejected a request by the United Kingdom to waive its death penalty, in exchange for assistance in solving crime.

Saint Lucia is part of the Commonwealth of Nations which encompasses some 53 countries, most of which were former British colonies.

Saint Lucia's Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony has described the UK Foreign Office request "improper," while the Island's Foreign Affairs Minister Victor La Corbiniere says that as a sovereign state, Saint Lucia will decide its position on capital punishment for itself. La Corbiniere added that he will not be swayed by the UK or the European Union on this matter.

The death penalty is rarely used in Saint Lucia, with the last hanging on the island taking place in 1995.

"We will determine whether or not we abolish the death penalty and my government is on record as indicating that we are not at this moment going to consider the abolition of the death penalty. So that is definitely out," he said.

The island's leading human rights advocate, Attorney-at-Law Mary Francis says the time has come to reconsider the national position on the death penalty as a human rights issue.

"In Saint Lucia we have a constitution that guarantees fundamental human rights and freedoms, but that's only on paper to the extent that we have a court system which is not functional, we don't have properly funded government legal aid," he said.

When it comes to the death penalty, Saint Lucians are divided. Many young women, like Sharon Joseph say the death penalty should remain on the books.

"The reason is that if you do your crime why now ask for mercy?" she asks.

Some older Saint Lucians believe each case should be weighed separately to determine the extent of punishment.

The British High Commission in Saint Lucia has said the death penalty has no place in the modern world.

Government officials say they are aware that the issue of capital punishment is a contentious one and they are in no rush to make a decision on the removal of the death penalty from the island's constitution.

Source: TeleSur, December 16, 2014

A New Opportunity for the UN to Move Forward the Global Abolition of Death Penalty

On the 2014 world day against the death penalty, Ban Ki Moon made a strong statement calling for global abolition. This declaration reflects a growing trend toward abolition, and yet 25 years after the adoption of the international treaty to abolish the death penalty, the level of ratification remains too low.

The United Nations’ commitment to eradicate the death penalty globally is quite evident. High Commissioners for Human Rights have consistently been calling on States to abolish and ratify the second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR OP2), which provides the best guarantee for sustainable and categorical abolition. 2014 was a particularly active year of UN engagement against the death penalty: in June, the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution which highlights abolition as a recurrent item of its work. In October, the OHCHR launched a specific webpage and a compilation of the most recent arguments and trends for global abolition. Two Special Rapporteurs, Christof Heyns and Juan Mendez, have also been quite vocal in calling for abolition. With 98 countries having abolished death penalty for all crimes, the global abolition movement has never looked so strong.

Despite these positive developments, the reality of the situation remains alarming in various ways:
  • Only 81 states have ratified ICCPR OP2
  • Several countries such as Indonesia or the Gambia have in recent years resumed executions after multiyear moratoriums
  • The latest Amnesty International report on death penalty highlights a 15% increase in executions around the world compared to the previous year
  • A small number of countries continue to hold the record for most executions carried out, namely China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia

Source: Oxford Human Rights Hub, Vincent Ploton, December 16, 2014

Many facing execution in Pakistan are ‘simply not terrorists’ – Reprieve

Many of the prisoners likely to be executed in Pakistan as the country resumes executions were convicted of crimes that bear no relation to a terrorism threat, Reprieve has said.

According to early media reports in Pakistan, executions could start being scheduled in the country within the next 48 hours, and will initially include people convicted on terrorism charges and “heinous crimes”. They could include a fifteen year old boy who was convicted of kidnapping, on the basis of a forced confession extracted after nine days of torture.

The decision to lift the country’s 2-year moratorium on executions is consistent with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s recent public stance against the “existential threat” of terrorism; concerns have been raised, however, about his government's sweeping use of anti-terrorism courts. In the province of Sindh, where Pakistan’s most populous city is located, nearly 40 per cent of the prisoners on death row were tried as terrorists in the special courts - apparently in the interests of securing swift convictions - despite many cases involving non-terror related crimes such as involuntary manslaughter. Trials in the anti-terrorism courts have been criticised as falling short of international standards.

Pakistan has the world’s largest death row, with over 8,000 people currently awaiting execution.

Maya Foa, head of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said: “Today’s announcement puts thousands of lives at risk. The prospect of executions in the next 48 hours should be cause for immediate action from countries with strong links to Pakistan, such as the US and the UK. Our research suggests that many of the individuals who would be first in line for execution are simply not terrorists, and that the law is being abused in a way that perverts justice and fails to keep anyone safe.

"The swift execution of large numbers of people, convicted in trials falling well short of basic standards, is not justice. The tragic events in Peshawar this week require a measured and reasoned response, not a knee-jerk reaction that could see thousands of lives wantonly put at risk.”

Source: Reprieve, December 17, 2014


Pakistan Prime Minister lifts moratorium on death penalty after Taliban attack

December 17, 2014: the Pakistani Prime Minister lifted the moratorium on the death penalty in terrorism-related cases, a day after Taliban gunmen attacked a school in Peshawar, killing 132 students and nine teachers, a government spokesman said.

Mohiuddin Wani said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had approved the decision of a ministerial committee to ensure implementation of death penalties for hardcore terrorists involved in heinous crimes. 

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif described the attack as a "national tragedy unleashed by savages". "These were my children. This is my loss. This is the nation's loss."

The terror attack in Peshawar saw nine Tehreek-e-Taliban insurgents storm the army-run school while around 500 children and teachers were believed to be inside. 

They moved from room to room during the eight hour attack in what is believed to have been an act of revenge for a major military offensive in the region. 

It came after a district government official confirmed a US drone strike in eastern Afghanistan killed 11 militants, including four Pakistan Taliban, on 16 December.

The Afghan Taliban issued a statement condemning the attack in Peshawar.

Sources: Reuters/Samaa.tv/sky.com, December 17, 2014