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

Monday, October 24, 2016

Kenya Spares the Lives of Everyone on Its Death Row

President Uhuru Kenyatta
President Uhuru Kenyatta
NAIROBI, Kenya — With a stroke of his pen, President Uhuru Kenyatta spared the lives of thousands of prisoners on Kenya’s death row on Monday by commuting their sentences to life in prison.

Kenyan law allows capital punishment and convicts are regularly sentenced to death, but the sentence is almost never carried out; the last execution was in 1987. In colonial times, the British authorities executed more than 1,000 Kenyans who were accused of fomenting revolt.

Kenyan news sites beamed images of Mr. Kenyatta leaning over his desk on Monday, surrounded by top officials, as he signed documents that spared the lives of 2,655 men and 92 women. Kenya’s last president, Mwai Kibaki, did something similar in 2009.

Mr. Kenyatta faces re-election next year. Some analysts said the mass reprieve on Monday may have been intended to make the president appear more compassionate as the election draws near. Mr. Kenyatta remains popular among members of his own ethnic group, the Kikuyu, and he enjoys support from other ethnic groups that belong to his political alliance. But opposition leaders say his government has allowed corruption to flourish.

Amnesty International, which has accused Mr. Kenyatta’s government of brutal crackdowns on protesters and of other human rights abuses, praised the reprieve, which covers everyone on death row in Kenya.

“The decision to commute death sentences brings Kenya closer to the growing community of nations that have abolished this cruel and inhuman form of punishment,” said Muthoni Wanyeki, the group’s regional director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes. “It must now be abolished for posterity.”

Source: The New York Times, October 24, 2016

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The Death Penalty, Nearing Its End

'Less than half of Americans say they support the death penalty.'
Although the death penalty is still considered constitutional by the Supreme Court, Americans’ appetite for this barbaric practice diminishes with each passing year.

The signs of capital punishment’s impending demise are all around.

For the first time in nearly half a century, less than half of Americans said they support the death penalty, according to a Pew Research poll released last month. While that proportion has been going down for years, the loss of majority support is an important marker against state-sanctioned killing.

At the same time, executions and new death sentences are at historic lows, and each year they go lower. In 2015 only 49 new death sentences were handed down, the lowest one-year total since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976.

Since there were about 14,000 murders around the country last year, it’s easy to imagine that the small number of newly condemned people shows that the justice system is focusing on the “worst of the worst.” But that’s wrong. In fact the crimes of the people sentenced to death are no worse than those of many others who escape that fate. Rather, nearly all of last year’s death sentences came from a tiny fraction of counties with three common features: overzealous prosecutors; inadequate public defenders; and a pattern of racial bias and exclusion. This was the key finding of a two-part report recently issued by the Fair Punishment Project at Harvard Law School.

Even in the most death-friendly counties, public support appears to be fading. In two of the worst — Duval County in Florida and Caddo Parish in Louisiana — local prosecutors lost elections at least partly due to voters’ concerns about their stance on the death penalty. In other counties around the country, prosecutors are finding that aggressive advocacy for death sentences isn’t the selling point with the public that it once was.

In some of the biggest states, death-penalty systems are defunct or collapsing. Earlier this month, the Florida Supreme Court struck down a terrible state law that allowed nonunanimous juries to impose death sentences — increasing the likelihood that innocent people and those with intellectual or mental disabilities would be condemned. A large number of Florida’s 386 death-row inmates could now receive new sentencing trials, or have their sentences thrown out altogether.

In California, which hasn’t executed anyone since 2006 even though more than 740 inmates sit on death row, voters will decide in November whether to eliminate capital punishment for good. A similar ballot initiative in 2012 was narrowly defeated. In 2014, a federal judge ruled that the state’s decades-long delays in capital cases violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. (The decision was overturned by an appeals court on technical grounds the following year.)

While capital punishment is used rarely and only in some places, only a definitive ruling from the Supreme Court will ensure its total elimination. How close is the court to such a ruling? In recent dissenting opinions, three of the justices — Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor — have expressed deep misgivings about the death penalty’s repeated failure to meet the requirements of due process and equal protection. Justice Breyer has said it is “highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment,” and has called for the court to consider whether it is constitutional at all.

The death penalty has escaped abolition before, but there are no longer any excuses: The nation has evolved past it, and it is long past time for the court to send this morally abhorrent practice to its oblivion.

Source: The New York Times, The Opinion Pages, The Editorial Board, October 24, 2016

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Voters should end the death penalty in California

Voters on Nov. 8 will decide the fate of the long-dormant death penalty in California. 

2 competing propositions address the controversial practice, which was last used by the state corrections system more than 10 years ago. 

Proposition 62 would repeal the death penalty and commute the sentences of those currently on death row to life in prison without possibility of parole. Proposition 66 would change death penalty case appeal processes and set a 5-year limit on state court reviews of such cases. 

Whether to continue or end this ultimate, state-sanctioned punishment is a tough question. The ground has been shifting in this debate nationally, however. While 30 states, including California, still have a death penalty, 10 states have abolished capital punishment since 2007. 4 other states have governor-imposed bans on inmate executions. 

The Desert Sun Editorial Board recommends voters approve Proposition 62 and reject Proposition 66 to bring an end to the death penalty here. It's time to end a system that has seen people of color and residents of particular areas of the state more likely to face this unfairly applied punishment. 

If both initiatives are approved Nov. 8, the measure with the most yes votes will prevail. 

Supporters of Proposition 62, including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter and ACLU California, argue that capital punishment has proven to be an ineffective, costly blunder for the Golden State, which has seen just 13 executions since 1978. 

The most recent inmate executed - Clarence Ray Allen, who murdered a woman in 1974 and arranged the murders of 3 people from prison later - was put to death in January 2006 at age 76 after having spent more than 23 years on death row. 

Death row inmates cost the state 18 times what those sentenced to life cost, yet this shouldn't just be about the dollars. 

Proponents of capital punishment say justice for society and closure for victims' families require that the ultimate penalty remain an option for the most violent, despicable criminals. That could be a compelling argument indeed, were it not for California's haphazard, legally challenged history when it comes to capital punishment. 

Waiting 23 years for a resolution by execution, having to go through the emotional highs and lows of appeals and hearings, cannot be the type of closure most families want. In fact, one of the co-writers of the ballot argument in favor of ending the death penalty is Beth Webb, the sister of a woman murdered in 2011. 

"California's death penalty system is a long, agonizing ordeal for our family. As my sister's killer sits through countless hearings, we continually relive this tragedy. The death penalty is an empty promise of justice. A life sentence without parole would bring real closure," Webb wrote. 

Backers of competing Proposition 66, including law enforcement associations, the California District Attorneys Association and DA Mike Hestrin, argue that the death penalty should remain an option when dealing with the most heinous crimes. Streamlining it via Proposition 66's changes would correct the problem of long delays, they say. 

The changes, however, are complex and ripe for legal challenges and potential for actually increasing delays in an already clogged legal system. 

Among these are the designation of Superior Court, where the cases originate, as the venue for initial appeals and limitation of successive appeals; a requirement that attorneys who take noncapital appeals also accept death penalty appeals; and placing an arbitrary, 5-year limit on the state court appeals process. 

While backers argue these moves would speed up the process, adding the burden of such appeals to the originating Superior Court system is just as likely to do the opposite as well as create a conflict of interest. In addition, compelling appellate lawyers not experienced in capital cases to take such cases could result in many dropping that line of litigation or end up with an innocent condemned convict having inexperienced counsel to his or her literally fatal detriment. 

Don't discount the odds of such an event. A 2014 study by University of Michigan law professor Samuel Gross estimated that 1 in 25 inmates sentenced to death across America from 1973-2004 was innocent. If California has a death penalty, it should be made as bulletproof as possible when it comes to questions about whether an innocent person might be condemned. 

The best solution for California is ending the death penalty and offering victims and society the closure of having the worst offenders spending life in prison without parole. 

Vote yes on Proposition 62 and no on Proposition 66. 

Source: Desert Sun Editorial Board, October 23, 2016

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The barbarism of capital punishment

Barbarism. There is no other way to describe the senseless bloodlust and spiteful vindictiveness that characterises what passes for the criminal justice system in Pakistan. 

In a judgment that will long be remembered for its sheer idiocy and mind boggling insensitivity, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has declared that paranoid schizophrenia is not a mental disorder, and that those suffering from it can indeed be executed by the state. In deciding thus, the Court has sealed the fate of Imdad Ali, who suffers from the disease and has been languishing on death row after being convicted of murder in 2002. On at least 2 separate occasions, in 2004 and 2012, medical experts confirmed that Imdad Ali is a victim of mental illness, and that his condition is severe enough for him to not even understand what he has been convicted of or the nature of the sentence that has been decreed by the court. 

The Pakistan Penal Code prohibits the punishment of those suffering from mental illness. Pakistan is also a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Medical experts around the world are unanimously of the view that paranoid schizophrenia is a very serious mental disorder. Yet, despite all of this, the Supreme Court has defied Pakistan's laws, its international obligations, and conventional wisdom by simply deciding that because the disease can be treated and managed, it does not somehow qualify as the type of disorder that could impede an execution. 

In order to arrive at this this determination, the court relied on definitions of schizophrenia provided in 2 English dictionaries, as well as a precedent from an Indian court case from 1988. The real irony of this is that even on these flimsy grounds (note the absence of reference to contemporary medical opinion) there is little substantive content that supports the Supreme Court's conclusions. Instead, the judges have simply changed the meaning of paranoid schizophrenia by definitional fiat. 

Condemnation of the Supreme Court's decision has been unsurprising and widespread. Yet, even as lawyers, doctors, and human rights groups continue to raise questions about the flaws in judicial process and reasoning that have brought Imdad Ali to the brink of execution, significant sections of the Pakistani populace have welcomed the decision. 

Once again, the medieval logic of an eye-for-an-eye has intruded upon the debate, with an army of armchair analysts and keyboard warriors frothily baying for blood; if someone is guilty of murder, they should be killed. It does not matter if they did not know what they were doing or lacked the mental faculties to understand the consequences of their actions; there is no room for empathy, compassion, or understanding in the justice system. 

The problems with this argument are numerous. Those who simply demand blood and vengeance every time a crime is perpetrated seem to give very little thought to the purpose of punishment itself. Is the whole point to wreak terrible retribution upon the perpetrators of crimes, is it to prevent further crimes, or is it to offer the chance for rehabilitation and reform? Can it truly be argued that depriving someone of their liberty for decades is less severe a punishment than execution? Can a purely retributive and reciprocal principle of justice even be implemented in a just and meaningful way, particularly in a context like Pakistan, where weak law enforcement and judicial institutions preclude the possibility of foolproof investigations and trials? Does the state even have the right to take lives in this fashion, given the well-established fact that innocents are sometimes executed for crimes they did not commit? Most importantly of all, in the context of Imdad Ali, what possible purpose is being served by killing a man who does not even understand what is going on around him? 

Capital punishment does not work. Evidence from around the world has shown this time and again. It does not deter crime, it is prone to abuse and severe miscarriages of justice, and it is often entirely disproportionate to the gravity of the offence committed. Yet, it continues to be championed as a panacea for all kinds of social ills in Pakistan. 

After a welcome moratorium on the death penalty that lasted for the better part of a decade, 425 people have been executed in Pakistan since 2014. This number includes people who were children when they were convicted of the crimes they allegedly committed, as well as others suffering from severe physical disabilities. The execution of these people (with thousands more death row prisoners slated to die in the years to come) has been justified in the name of national security, with the desire to punish terrorists serving as a basis upon which to reintroduce this form of punishment. How people accused of murder and other non-terror related offences can be executed on that basis is something that has yet to be clarified by the government and the courts. 

However, it is here that it becomes possible to see that the execution of people like Imdad Ali has nothing to do with justice, and everything to do with keeping up appearances. He must die, not because of adherence to some abstract principle of justice, but because the powers-that-be have decreed that capital punishment is a necessary tool in the fight against terrorism. 

To spare a life under these circumstances, no matter how legitimate the reason might be, would be to undermine the legitimacy of the whole exercise. To cast doubt on the rightness and justness of the state's right to execute people would be to potentially open the floodgates to further questioning about the utility and legitimacy of the death penalty. 

We live in a country where a video of a female reporter being assaulted by a security official in Karachi is welcomed with a chorus of cries lauding the latter for putting the woman in her place, and where religious minorities are routinely persecuted by mobs egged on by the calls emanating from the loudspeakers of their mosques. We as a society have come to revel in brutality, and the bloodlust that demands satiation through the execution of Imdad Ali has absolutely nothing to do with justice. 

Source: The Nation, Hassan Javid, October 23, 2016. Mr. Javid is an assistant professor of political science at LUMS.

Justice can't be blind

The facts are not in dispute in the case of 50-year-old Imdad Ali. He killed a cleric in 2001 and was sentenced to death for the murder but he was also certified as suffering from schizophrenia by government doctors. Since Imdad's condition means he cannot understand both his crime and the punishment handed out to him, he should not be awarded the death penalty. But a 3-member bench of the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Anwer Zaheer Jamali, rejected his appeal using the reasoning that schizophrenia is not a permanent condition and so does not fall within the definition of mental disorders. This is, to put it very mildly, an unenlightened view of mental illnesses. The Supreme Court relied on dictionary definitions of schizophrenia and a 1988 judgement by the Indian Supreme Court. Our understanding of mental disorders has progressed greatly in the last 30 years so that case was perhaps not the best precedent and it would have been better to rely on expert definitions rather than consulting a dictionary. The US National Institute of Mental Health calls schizophrenia a "chronic and severe mental disorder" and says "people with schizophrenia may seem like they have lost touch with reality." Since Imdad's schizophrenia is not in dispute, under this professional definition he should not be given a death sentence.

Pakistan's justice system has struggled to keep up with the times. When much of the world has made use of DNA testing to bring a greater degree of certainty in the guilt of accused criminals, we have been arguing about its merits. It was only in April of this year that Pakistan set up its 1st DNA testing lab. We have now shown ourselves to be similarly archaic in our understanding of mental disorders. It should be the duty of the state and the courts to provide defendants with every possible chance to prove their innocence, especially when the state has the power to take their lives. But, since the reintroduction of the death penalty, capital punishment has been handed out hastily and we are now seeing the consequences of that. Earlier this month, 2 brothers Ghulam Sarwar and Ghulam Qadri were successful in appealing their death sentences to the Supreme Court. The only problem was that they had already been hanged in Rahimyar Khan a year ago. How they were given the death penalty when all their appeals were yet to be exhausted will have to be explained and those who carried out the sentence made to face the consequences for what is essentially murder. Such cases do not get the attention they deserve because those given the death penalty are overwhelmingly poor and without the resources to properly fight their cases. They languish in jail for years - 15 in the case of Imdad - as the courts are too slow in taking up their appeals. That people who should not be imprisoned in the first place have to wait that long for verdicts is a denial of their rights to begin with. That they are then still executed only compounds the offence, turning it into a crime. Imdad, Ghulam Sarwar, Ghulam Qadri and many others like them deserve better from the justice system.

Source: Editorial, The News, October 23, 2016

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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Execution of Saudi prince brings praise for the monarchy

Public execution of a Burmese woman in Saudi Arabia (file photo)
Public execution of a Burmese woman in Saudi Arabia (file photo)
Saudi Arabia's rulers are not as popular as they used to be in the kingdom. With low global oil prices, officials have been forced to cut spending dramatically in a nation where most people depend on the government for salaries, education and other forms of welfare.

But the rare execution of a Saudi royal last week appears to have helped resurrect the monarchy's popularity - at least according to the reaction on social media. 

Prince Turki bin Saud al-Kabir, who was found guilty of shooting to death a Saudi citizen during a brawl, was executed last Tuesday as per a royal order by King Salman. He became the 1st member of Saudi royalty to be executed in the kingdom since 1975. 

That drove Saudis to launch a hashtag in Arabic on Twitter that roughly translates to "decisive Salman orders retribution for a prince," a reference to Saudi Arabia's deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. For days now, the hashtag has been trending in Saudi Arabia, with tweets sent by citizens, officials and royal family members praising the king for his "integrity." 

One video shows King Salman telling officials that "any citizen can sue the royal family and seek justice." The video has gone viral in the kingdom. 

Some on social media described the execution as "evidence of the justice which sharia law affirms," referring to the conservative Islamic codes that govern Saudi Arabia and other Muslim nations. Others said the ruling demonstrated "the king's integrity in treating all citizens equally" and that "nobody is above the law." 

Saudi courts have brought other royal family members, estimated to number a few thousand, to justice. In 1975, a prince who assassinated his uncle, King Faisal, was beheaded. 2 years later, a princess was executed for adultery. 

But other royals were pardoned at the last minute by victims' families. This time, though, the victim's family turned down an offer of "blood money," reportedly in the millions of dollars to pardon the prince. Then, both the kingdom's appeals court and the Supreme Court affirmed the death penalty. 

At a time when the monarch is implementing unprecedented austerity measures, even royal families welcomed the execution as decisive and fair. 

"This is the law of God Almighty, and this is the approach of our blessed nation," wrote Khalid al-Saud, a royal family member, according to Reuters. 

Another Saudi royal member, billionaire businessman Al Walid Bin Talal, recited a Koranic verse: "there is life for you in retaliation." 

Details of the prince's last hours were revealed on social media, another rare development for the conservative, often secretive kingdom. 

Mohammed al-Masloukhi, the Imam of Al Safa mosque, who was present while the victim's family was being offered the "blood money," described the prince's "heartbreaking last moments with his family members" who visited him for one last time in prison. 

Al-Masloukhi said the convicted prince then prayed, reciting Koranic verses until sunrise. He was executed 4 1/2 hours later. 

The execution, tweeted al-Masloukhi, was carried out in presence of the prince's father, who "broke down in tears" while the victim's father watched with "a fixed expression on his face." 

Source: Washington Post, October 23, 2016

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Iran: 14 Executed on Drug Charges at Ghezel Hesar Prison

Iran Human Rights (October 19 2016): 14 prisoners were reportedly executed today on drug charges at Karaj's Ghezel Hesar Prison (Alborz province, northern Iran).

According to close sources, Iranian authorities hanged 14 prisoners at Ghezel Hesar Prison on the morning of Wednesday October 18. 

The prisoners were reportedly transferred to solitary confinement on Monday in preparation for their executions. 

According to close sources, some of the prisoners were transferred to Ghezel Hesar from Karaj and Fashavieh (Tehran) prisons. 

The names of the prisoners who were executed have been reported as the following: 

From unit 2, hall 2 and 3 of Ghezel Hesar Prison: Abbas Karami (charged with 40 kilograms of narcotics, was imprisoned for five years before he was executed), Hamid Saber, Hamid Babaie (was imprisoned for nine years before he was executed), Hamid (Amir) Nazari (charged with 25 kilograms of heroin, was imprisoned for eight years before he was executed, Peyman Sabalani (was imprisoned for nine years before he was executed), Ganjali Chekezadeh (charged with two kilograms of crack, was imprisoned for ten years before he was executed), Reza Sabzi, and Khodamali Pirzadeh. 

From Fashavieh Prison (Tehran): Khashiar Ahani and Mehdi Geravand. Karaj Central Prison: Saeed Zakaria and Morteza Amini, both from hall 2, Shahin Akbari, from hall 5, and Ali Akbari Reigi, from hall 4. 

These executions have not been announced or confirmed by Iranian official sources, including the Judiciary or the media. 

The 14 prisoners were executed at a time when the death penalty for drug-related charges is under review in the Iranian Judiciary.

Source: Iran Human Rights, October 19, 2016

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'We might abolish the death penalty in 20 years': He Jiahong on justice in China

Chinese lawyer and crime fiction writer Prof He Jiahong
Chinese lawyer and crime fiction writer Prof He Jiahong
Born into China's cultural revolution, He Jiahong spent years working in the fields before studying law to win over his girlfriend's parents. Now he is a leading authority on miscarriages of justice, and a writer of hit detective novels to boot. 

The undead take on a central role in Prof He Jiahong's extraordinary narratives of courtroom incompetence. They haunt the commanding certainties of the trial process and the execution yard. 

But He is not a connoisseur of Halloween magic. As China's leading authority on miscarriages of justice and the author of a series of detective novels, the 63-year-old former prosecutor and acclaimed academic has exposed heart-stopping flaws in judicial procedures. 

His meticulous and engaging research exposed the infamous case of Teng Xingshan, who was executed in 1989 for murdering his mistress. 6 years later Teng's supposed victim, Shi Xiaorong, was discovered to be alive. 

In another case documented in He's latest book, Back from the Dead, She Xianglin was convicted of murdering his wife and imprisoned. 11 years later, she reappeared in her native village, astonishing her family. In both cases, the verdicts were belatedly overturned. 

At a time when nationalism is on the rise, He's critique of a justice system on the opposite side of the world might seem like an esoteric diversion. But his ability to develop universal criminal justice lessons from forced confessions, the pressure of public opinion and misinterpretation of scientific evidence have chilling echoes in a country that jailed the Birmingham 6 and the Guildford 4. 

Only this year, the UK's supreme court ruled that for the past 30 years British judges have been misconstruing crucial aspects of the joint enterprise guidelines, which may yet lead to scores, if not hundreds, of cases being reassessed and possibly retried. 

Britain and China's judiciaries, if not on the road to convergence, are sharing more and more legal experience through exchange visits and lectures. In May, Lord Neuberger, president of the UK's supreme court, led a judicial delegation to Beijing. Prof He is an adviser to China's supreme court and director of the Centre for Common Law in Beijing, which works in co-operation with the Great Britain-China Centre and the University of Oxford's Faculty of Law. 

In London this month to launch his book, He cuts a dapper figure in a neat blue suit, buttoned up at the neck. His English is crisp and fluent; his personal odyssey from agricultural labourer to pre-eminent legal scholar verges on the fantastical. 

He was born in Beijing in 1953. During the cultural revolution he was sent to work on a farm. "I believed in communism," he recalls. After a few years, though, he began to feel he had been fooled, and started writing a novel to prove he possessed talent. When he completed it, he was allowed to return to the capital, where he worked as a plumber. There he fell in love with a beautiful young woman. "She was a doctor; it was a very good job," he says. Her parents tried to separate them. 

They set up a challenge. "If I could pass a national exam for university ... they would be happy to meet me. I had had only 6 years of education," He recalls. "The examination was very competitive. I prepared for 6 months and passed." 

On enrolment at university, he randomly selected law. "I didn't know [about it]," he admits. "Under the cultural revolution there was no law." 2 years later, after finishing his course in record time, he married his girlfriend. They have been together for 35 years, and have a daughter and a grandson. 

He is an optimist. Accustomed to hard work on the farm, he believes the experience helped him power through academic challenges. "It's not a bad thing for people to have hard lives and frustrations when they are young,' he says. Of the cultural revolution, he is less forgiving: "My 2nd novel [published by Penguin] is entitled Black Holes. The cultural revolution was a black hole. It changed the lives of millions of people." 

The death penalty, real and fictional, has been a recurrent theme in He's work. Eventually, he hopes, its use may cease. Opinion polls conducted in 2002, he says, showed public support for executions running at around 93% of the population. It was considered a natural part of Chinese culture. 

"At the time, I said that we cannot abolish the death penalty. We have to respect public opinion. If you kill somebody then you should be killed. About 10 years later, I changed my mind," he says. "Public opinion can be changed with education. More and more people think that [considering human rights] the death penalty is not a natural role for human beings." 

Around 2005, the Chinese authorities introduced a criminal justice reform known as the "kill fewer, kill carefully" reforms. In 2014, an amendment to the criminal law further reduced the number of offences that carry the death penalty. 

Chinese death-row convicts are marched off to a nearby execution ground
Chinese death-row convicts are marched off to a nearby execution ground.
Support for capital punishment is now around 70-80%, and coming down. He has advocated abolishing it gradually over the next 2 decades. "In fact, we may not abolish the death penalty [straight away]," he suggests. "We might not use it. We would wait and see; if we don't use the death penalty for a number of years, then people in China would be persuaded. Then we may legally abolish the death penalty in 20 years. But it all depends on the situation ... the government is facing the threat of terrorists [militant groups from within the separatist Muslim Uighur ethnic group] and drug trafficking." 

The number of executions is a state secret. Figures are disputed. While as many as 12,000 people might have been killed in 2002, according to the Dui Hua Foundation, a human rights campaign group, the annual total estimated by foreign observers is more than 1,000 deaths. 

"We should not keep secret the numbers ... policy has been changing in the supreme people 's court in China," He says. "We should have stricter scrutiny of death penalties. We have to change the mentality of the decision makers. These wrongful convictions made [the authorities] have second thoughts." 

In 2007, the authorities decided to return to the supreme people's court the power to review any death penalty. It had previously been entrusted to lower courts because there were too many cases for the supreme court to consider. Trafficking in the organs of those who have been executed has also been banned. 

20 years ago, Back from the Dead could not have been published, He admits. "I started studying wrongful convictions in 2005. And at the time people thought it was wrong. It was difficult to have a dialogue openly in conferences at first. 

"Chinese people would say: 'We have some dirty things, but we should not let foreigners know.' That was quite natural. But the leaders of the judiciary have had to accept that we must deal with the problem more openly, and that wrongful convictions can teach us lessons," He says. 

"It is not a matter of viewing police or prosecutors as evil gangs. Mistakes can be genuine errors. The problems have a positive role in provoking judicial reform. I point out the loopholes ... perhaps other countries have better rules, but they still have miscarriages of justice one way or another. It's a challenge for all human societies." 

In terror trials, He points out, there may be greater public demand to convict and to use torture on top of all the other pressures. Beatings were widely misused in the 1980s and 90s. "Now we have rules against torture. You can't say it's very good, but it's better [at preventing] illegally obtained evidence," he says. "And interrogations are videotaped. These things help to prevent torture." 

Earlier campaigns against corruption were handled by the party's committees, which acted outside legal frameworks. "They ought to be restrained by criminal procedure law," He says. Chinese water torture, he points out, was not devised by the Chinese; it is originally from Vietnam. 

He practised as a defence lawyer for several years in the 1980s before transferring to academia. Inspiration for the 1st in his series of 5 detective novels, Hanging Devils, came from his research into miscarriages of justice. It is set on a state farm in a city in the north-east of China. 

The book's protagonist, Hing Jun, is a defence lawyer. "He has to travel up north to solve a wrongful conviction case. I had a problem with how to frame the story at first. In China at the time, defence lawyers had only 7 days to prepare the trial. It would not have been enough time to collect all the evidence. 

"Then we revised our criminal procedure so that defence lawyers would have 2 months to prepare a case [on appeal]. In 2012 we made further progress when the accused were given the right to a lawyer at the 1st investigation. Crime fiction is just a way to tell the story." 

Source: The Guardian, Owen Bowcott, October 22, 2016

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China's 'shocking' sentence: Hebei man who killed village chief after house demolition to be executed

Chinese police officers demonstrate standard execution procedures
Chinese police officers demonstrate standard execution procedures
A Chinese man who killed a village chief who arranged for his house to be demolished will be executed in the coming days. The ruling against 30-year-old Jia Jinglong was delivered to his lawyer on Tuesday.

Jia is from Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei Province in northern China. After his house was demolished in 2013, he killed the chief in February 2015 with a modified nail gun. 

His lawyer Wei Rujiu told US-backed Radio Free Asia that he received the verdict from the Supreme People's Court. It said that Jia's execution would take place within a few days, and that there was no chance of the decision being reversed. 

According to US-backed news Voice of America, Jia was renovating the house in preparation for his wedding but the relationship ended as a result of a forced demolition by village chief He Jianhua. 

The death penalty was approved by the Supreme Court in Henan on August 31, reported RFA. 

William Nee, researcher at Amnesty International, told HKFP that Jia's sentence is seen by many experts as harsh by Chinese legal standards. 

"Given the fact that China currently has the policy of "killing fewer, killing cautiously", this case seems shocking," he wrote in an email. 

He said that the short time period of 7 days between ratifying the sentence and execution is stipulated by law in China. 

"Many scholars have identified this short period as problematic if China were ever to come into compliance with international law on the death penalty, since under international law a person who has been given a death sentence should be given the chance to apply for pardon or have the sentence commuted. But China doesn't have this sort of mechanism," he said. 

Nationalistic tabloid the Global Times reported on Friday that several Chinese law experts had voiced their opposition to the immediate execution order. Zhang Qianfan, a law professor at Peking University, told the tabloid that the affair was also an institutional failure. "Any ordinary person could resort to the same means as Jia when facing unfair treatment," he said. 

'Extremely cruel murder' 

The tabloid cited a copy of the verdict it received as saying that the method of the murder was extremely cruel and caused severe social impact, and that the conviction was appropriate and accurate. 

Wei told RFA that over 200 mainland citizens signed a petition on WeChat requesting that the death penalty be commuted. He said there were 3 reasons for the petition: one was that Jia was himself a victim of ill-treatment from He Jianhua; the 2nd reason was that Jia had turned himself in, and the 3rd reason was that he did not hurt innocent people while committing his crime. If Jia is executed, other desperate people may not consider sparing innocent bystanders, and other criminals may think that turning themselves in is unsafe, said Wei. 

Although no recent reports of the case by mainland media could be found apart from the Global Times report, several posts about Jia's story were uploaded on WeChat by bloggers. 

Nee adds: "the fact that the local newspapers have not reported the death penalty ratification also shows how the authorities sometimes manipulate public opinion about the death penalty by widely publicising the most horrific cases, while staying silent or even censoring news about potentially controversial cases." 

Source: hongkongfp.com, October 22, 2016

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UK Home Office drugs policy may contribute to executions overseas

Hundreds of thousands of pounds of UK funding for international counter-narcotics operations may be contributing to higher numbers of death sentences and executions abroad, international human rights organisation Reprieve has found.

Reprieve has written to the Home Office - the lead department on international drugs policy - to highlight new evidence that UK support for programmes operating in countries including Pakistan and Saudi Arabia may be resulting in the arrest and sentencing to death of vulnerable, exploited individuals.

Britain has provided almost $200,000 in funding to a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) programme, along with training for anti-drugs officers in Pakistan. The UNODC recently highlighted the success of the programme in arresting three individuals following a drugs seizure in Karachi airport in September this year.

The individuals arrested could end up facing execution because Pakistan retains the death penalty for non-violent drugs offences. In the letter to the Home Secretary, Reprieve warns that those arrested under such circumstances “at worst tend to be vulnerable and exploited mules, not ‘kingpins.’”

Reprieve has documented cases in Saudi Arabia where drug ‘mules’ arrested and sentenced to death appear to have themselves been victims of trafficking. The UN Special Rapporteur on Migrant Workers, among other UN experts, has condemned Saudi Arabia’s practices in at least eight cases involving human trafficking victims sentenced to death for drug offences, all of whom still face potentially imminent execution.

Saudi Arabia also participates in the UK-funded UNODC ‘Container Control Programme’ (CCP) responsible for the recent arrests in Pakistan. An October, 2015 report by Reprieve found that those convicted of drug-related offences formed the largest single group of people executed in Saudi Arabia during the preceding year.

Reprieve’s letter warns that “UK funding for counter-narcotics programmes may be not only contributing to the death penalty and other human rights abuses, but even leading to the arrest and execution of some of the very exploited people it is seeking to protect.”

Reprieve is urging the Government to be more transparent by publishing a full list of all such support along with any human rights risk assessments that may have been undertaken.

Source: Reprieve, October 23, 2016

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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Belarus to host European Games in 2019

Alexander Lukashenko is the President of Belarus, in office since 20 July 1994.
Alexander Lukashenko is the President of Belarus, in office since 20 July 1994.
The 2019 European Games will take place in the Belarusian capital Minsk.

The Netherlands was originally chosen to stage the second edition of the multi-sports event, but pulled out days before the inaugural 2015 Games in Baku, Azerbaijan for financial reasons.

Minsk was the sole candidate for the 2019 edition, where about 6,000 athletes will compete across 20 sports.

Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko told the European Olympic Committee to "count on Belarus".

"We are not a superpower but we pay a lot of attention to sport," he added.

Baku spent $1.2bn (£700m) preparing for its hosting of the first European Games.

Despite calls by the Danish Olympic Committee to postpone the decision due to a lack of clarity over financing, the motion was passed easily with 43 Olympic committees voting in favour of Minsk.

In 2018, Scotland and Germany will co-host the inaugural European Sports Championships - another multi-sports event.

The championships in Glasgow and Berlin is to feature athletics, cycling, rowing, swimming and triathlon.

Source: BBC News, October 21, 2016

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Doubts Over Saudi-UK 'Assurances' on Juvenile Executions

Public execution in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia: Darkness at Noon

3 Saudi juveniles remain on death row, 1 year after the UK began seeking 'assurances' that they would not be executed. 

Abdullah Hasan al-Zaher, Ali al Nimr, and Dawood al-Marhoon were aged 15, 17 and 17 respectively when they were arrested for allegedly taking part in protests in the country's eastern province. All 3 face beheading after they were sentenced in the secretive Specialised Criminal Court, on the basis of 'confessions' they signed following torture. Last September, the death sentences of the 3 were upheld, and they could now be executed at any time. 

The UK has a close relationship with Saudi Arabia, and for the past year, the UK Foreign Office has sought regular 'assurances' from the Saudi government that the three would not be executed. Last month, Foreign Office Minister Tobias Ellwood told Parliament: "our expectation remains that they will not be executed." 

However, the 3 juveniles remain on death row, and their families say that they fear the executions could go ahead without warning. Speaking to Channel 4 last month, Ali al Nimr's father, Mohammed al Nimr, said that his son was "waiting to be called" to the "execution square." 

Concerns for the 3 juveniles have been heightened by recent reports of other rights abuses in the country. Earlier this week, it was reported that the Saudi authorities had executed a member of the royal family for the 1st time in 40 years; while Saudi blogger, Raif Badawi, is said to be facing a new round of 'lashes' as part of a flogging sentence handed down for his criticisms of the government. 

The British government has so far stopped short of calling for the 3 juveniles' death sentences to be scrapped - something that other governments, such as France, have done. Human rights organization Reprieve has written to the Prime Minister, Theresa May, asking her to request that Saudi Arabia commute the sentences. 

In January this year, several juveniles were among 47 prisoners executed en masse in the Kingdom. They included Ali al-Ribh, a teenager from the Eastern Province who, like Ali, Abdullah and Dawood, was arrested in school in the wake of protests. Last week, a UK Foreign Office minister said that she was "horrified" by news of the mass execution. 

Commenting, Maya Foa, a director of Reprieve, said: 

"It's appalling that Ali al Nimr, Abdullah al-Zaher and Dawood al-Marhoon could be beheaded at any moment for the so-called 'crime' of attending a protest. Saudi Arabia's 'assurances' that they won't execute these 3 boys count for nothing when the Kingdom has continued to behead juveniles and other prisoners, many of whom were tortured into bogus 'confessions.' Theresa May must call urgently for these death sentences to be scrapped."

Source: Reprieve, October 21, 2016

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U.S. on track for fewest executions since 1991

With public support for the death penalty at its lowest point in more than 4 decades, the U.S. is on track for its fewest executions in a quarter century. 

So far in 2016, 17 inmates have been executed, according to a database maintained by the Death Penalty Information Center. 3 additional executions are scheduled for this year. If all 3 proceed as planned, the year's 20 executions will be the fewest since 1991, when 14 were recorded. The U.S. has executed at least 28 people in each year since 1992. 

Just 5 states - Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Missouri and Texas - account for the 17 completed and 3 scheduled executions this year. This represents the fewest states to carry out executions in any year since 1983. In 1999, by comparison, 20 states conducted executions. 

1 reason for the national decline in executions has been a decrease in Texas, which is scheduled to execute 8 inmates this year, a 20-year low. Texas has long been the nation's leader in executions, carrying out nearly 5 times as many as any other state since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976. During that span, Texas carried out 538 executions, compared with 112 in Oklahoma and 111 in Virginia. 

Legal and practical challenges have prevented some states from carrying out executions this year. Ohio, for example, has not executed anyone since 2014 amid difficulties acquiring the drugs needed to conduct lethal injections. The state announced this month that it will resume executions next year, using a new protocol. 

The number of states with the death penalty on the books - currently 30 - also could decline this year. Voters in California and Nebraska will decide Nov. 8 whether to eliminate or retain their capital punishment laws. 

In California, which has the nation's largest death row, Proposition 62 would eliminate the death penalty and replace it with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment without parole. The measure would apply retroactively and, if approved, resentence the more than 700 people on death row to life without parole. A competing measure, Proposition 66, would retain capital punishment but change legal procedures related to death penalty appeals. (If both measures pass, the one with more "yes" votes will prevail.) 

In Nebraska, voters will revisit a May 2015 decision by the state Legislature to abolish capital punishment and replace it with a maximum penalty of life without parole for the crime of murder. Referendum 426 asks whether to retain or repeal the state law that eliminated the death penalty. 

A 3rd state, Oklahoma, will also vote on a proposal related to capital punishment. Question 776 would solidify the state's death penalty against legal or legislative challenges by adding provisions to the state constitution, including a declaration that capital punishment "is not cruel and unusual punishment." 

A Pew Research Center survey conducted Aug. 23-Sept. 2 found that 49% of Americans support the death penalty for those convicted of murder, compared with 42% who oppose it. While the share of supporters reached a 4-decade low, voters remain divided along party lines. Nearly 3/4 (72%) of Republicans favor the death penalty for those convicted of murder, compared with 34% of Democrats

Both major-party presidential candidates, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, favor the death penalty. The federal government has not executed anyone since 2003, carrying out just 3 executions in the modern era of capital punishment. 

Source: Pew Research Center, October 22, 2016

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Florida Supreme Court suspends death penalty

Florida's death chamber
Florida's death chamber

For the 2nd time this year, a court has ruled that Florida's death penalty statute is unconstitutional. 

This time, it was the Florida Supreme Court, handing down a pair of historic rulings on Oct. 14 that shifted Florida into the legal mainstream and are expected to cut the number of people sent to death row. 

Florida has not executed anyone since Jan. 7 because of uncertainty about its death penalty, and Friday's rulings are expected to extend that moratorium indefinitely. 

'A clear outlier' 

In the 1st case, the Florida high court threw out the death penalty given to a Pensacola killer, Timothy Lee Hurst, because jurors had not unanimously recommended it. Their vote was 7-5. 

In the 2nd case, the court ruled that the Florida Legislature botched its rewrite of the statute this year. The problem: The new law required just 10 of 12 jurors to agree on a death sentence. 

"The Florida Supreme Court said today that is has to be unanimous under Florida law," said Stephen K. Harper, a death penalty specialist at Florida International University College of Law. 

Until the Oct. 14 rulings, Florida was 1 of 3 states that did not require a unanimous jury recommendation in death penalty cases. 

The high court said that made the state "a clear outlier." 

Called historic 

As a consequence of last Friday's rulings, Florida currently has no death penalty. 

Former Circuit Judge O.H. "Bill" Eaton Jr. called the rulings historic, pointing out that for the 1st time in 44 years, no inmates will be sent to Florida's death row without all 12 members of a jury agreeing that that is the right punishment. 

In the Hurst case, the high court ruled that the defendant must be given a new sentencing hearing. 

Still unclear, though, is what will happen to the other inmates on Florida's death row and to murderers given the death penalty under the new statute, which was signed into law March 7 by Gov. Rick Scott. 

Blow to Bondi 

Some attorneys had urged the court to automatically convert all Florida death sentences to life in prison, but the recent opinions did not order that. 

The new rulings were a blow not just to the Florida Legislature but also to Attorney General Pam Bondi, who had defended the old and new laws. 

Both of the Oct. 14 rulings were a consequence of an opinion handed down Jan. 12 by the U.S. Supreme Court. It ruled that Florida's death penalty was unconstitutional because it required a judge - not a jury - to decide whether a defendant should be put to death. 

Bondi had argued that the error was harmless, but in that January ruling, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that the court disagreed but left it to the Florida Supreme Court to hash out who, if anyone, was harmed. 

Huge backlog? 

The Florida Supreme Court answered that question last Friday, but only in part. Hurst was harmed, the court wrote, so he should be resentenced. 

It was silent about all other death penalty cases. 

Belvin Perry Jr., former chief judge of the Orange-Osceola circuit, predicted that all 385 death-row inmates would now file paperwork, arguing that they, too, were harmed. 

It might mean a huge backlog for the Florida Supreme Court and for trial courts, he said. 

But Harper and Eaton predicted the rulings could apply to far fewer cases, primarily those with active appeals and those that have not gone to trial. 

All 3 legal experts faulted members of the Florida Legislature. Eaton said they had been warned repeatedly since 2000 that they needed to rewrite the statute to require unanimous jury recommendations. 

Opposed by speaker 

The next speaker of the Florida House, Richard Corcoran, attacked Friday's ruling as "a miscarriage of justice ... and dangerous for our state." 

"We will take a close look at today's rulings and consider our options going forward," he said in a statement. 

A spokeswoman for Scott wrote in an email that his office was reviewing the rulings. That was the same message from the office of outgoing Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner and his successor, Joe Negron. 

A spokesman for Bondi wrote the same thing, adding, "In the meantime Florida juries must make unanimous decisions in capital cases as to the appropriateness of the death penalty." 

Source: Florida Courier, October 21, 2016

Bondi's office looks for clarity on death penalty

Florida Supreme Court: Jury must unanimously agree on death penalty

Attorney General Pam Bondi has asked the Florida Supreme Court to clarify a ruling last week that struck down a portion of the state's death-penalty law, arguing that failing to do so "will only generate confusion."

In a pair of opinions issued last Friday, the court found that a statute, passed in March in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision in a case known as Hurst v. Florida, was unconstitutional "because it requires that only 10 jurors recommend death as opposed to the constitutionally required unanimous, 12-member jury."

Bondi's request for clarification came in the case of Larry Darnell Perry, who was convicted in the 2013 murder of his infant son. An appellate court had asked the Florida Supreme Court to decide whether the law passed in March applied to cases that were already under way.

In last Friday's 5-2 decision in the Perry case, the court said that the law was unconstitutional because it did not require unanimous jury recommendations and "cannot be applied to pending prosecutions."

The state contends that death penalty prosecutions can continue without a change in the law, so long as trial courts require unanimous jury recommendations to comply with last week's ruling.

But the Supreme Court majority did not address the issue of "severability," which would allow portions of the law that are not deficient to remain intact, Senior Assistant Attorney General Carol Dittmar wrote in the 11-page request filed Thursday.

"This omission unnecessarily invites continued litigation. The language leaves open the possibility that defense attorneys will assert that no valid death penalty law exists in Florida, demanding that trial judges strike notices of intent to pursue capital cases and refuse to impanel capital juries," she wrote.

However, "the state maintains that after severing the constitutional defect, current capital prosecutions should still be conducted as long as the trial courts ensure that the jury's final recommendation is unanimous," Dittmar continued.

The arguments "will no doubt be rejected by some trial courts and accepted by others," leading to more litigation in "an already overburdened system," Dittmar wrote.

"...This court's finding of a constitutional flaw will only generate confusion, absent some clarification as to trial court's authority to cure the legislative error," she argued.

But defense lawyers maintain that, a decade ago, the Supreme Court asked the Legislature to address the issue of unanimity. They say it's now the Legislature's job --- not the court's --- to fix the law.

"It's not clarification to ask the court to rewrite the statute," said Martin McClain, who has represented over 200 defendants facing the death penalty.

Like Bondi, legislative leaders and prosecutors --- who pushed for 10-2 jury recommendations in death-penalty cases over the repeated warnings of defense lawyers --- contend that the statute does not have to be changed immediately for prosecutions to move forward.

But an Ocala judge on Monday put on hold the penalty portion of a murder trial, saying the court needed direction from the Legislature before proceeding.

Arguing for the state in the request for clarification, Dittmar wrote that the flaw in the statute "is easy to fix" through "accurate jury instructions and simple interrogatories" and "does not require any substantive rewriting of the law."

But defense lawyers say that allowing trials to proceed without changing the statute could be even more problematic.

Relying on judges to craft jury instructions in different cases "is a situation that will cause havoc," said 5th Judicial Circuit Public Defender Mike Graves, whose office represents Kelvin Lee Coleman in the Ocala murder trial and who argued Coleman's case Monday. A jury late last week found Coleman guilty of 2 counts of 1st-degree murder.

"We literally could have dozens and dozens of different procedures, different jury instructions on the issue of death in individual cases. That, I think, would cause absolutely unnecessary complication in review," Graves said. "I don't for the life of me understand what their hurry is."

The state's death penalty has been in limbo since January, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Florida's sentencing system was unconstitutional because it gave too much power to judges, instead of juries. Following that decision, the Florida Supreme Court indefinitely put on hold two executions, which are still pending.

Of the 31 states with the death penalty, Florida is 1 of just 3 --- including Alabama and Delaware --- that have not required unanimous jury recommendations for death to be imposed. Delaware's high court has halted that state's death penalty following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in January in the Hurst case.

The Hurst ruling did not address the issue of unanimity, which became a flashpoint during this year's legislative session as Florida lawmakers sought to repair the state's death penalty sentencing process to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Defense lawyers repeatedly told lawmakers that Florida's "outlier" status regarding unanimity jeopardizes the state's death penalty because the U.S. Supreme Court considers "evolving standards of decency" when considering the issue.

A Senate proposal originally required unanimous jury recommendations, but lawmakers ultimately struck a deal --- backed by Bondi and prosecutors --- in which at least 10 jurors were required to favor death for the sentence to be imposed.

"Refusing to make a steady, reasoned review of the situation is what led to the chaos our court system is now dealing with. Lives are literally at stake. Have patience. Take a breath," Pete Mills, an assistant public defender in the 10th Judicial Circuit who is chairman of the Florida Public Defender Association's death penalty steering committee, said in a telephone interview Friday.

"If the Court attempts to fix this on their own, it could be a violation of the separation of powers recognized in our state's Constitution," Mills said. "They run the risk of misinterpreting what the Legislature will do. The Legislature might have bigger plans."

Incoming Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican who will take over as head of the chamber after the November elections, told The News Service of Florida this week that there was "no ambiguity" regarding the need for unanimous jury recommendations following the state Supreme Court opinions.

Negron, a lawyer, said that lawmakers could deal with the issue during next year's 60-day legislative session, which begins in March.

Bernie McCabe, the state attorney in the 6th Judicial Circuit in Pasco and Pinellas counties, said he believes prosecutors can move forward because the state Supreme Court, in the decisions last week, "has established the procedures necessary if you're going to seek the death penalty."

But McCabe also said that the attorney general's concern about clarification is valid.

"We have cases pending that need to be resolved, and there is perhaps confusion over the proper mechanism over how to resolve them," he said.

McCabe said he is trying 2 cases in which he is seeking the death penalty that are at a critical stage.

"I think we can go ahead. Others will perhaps disagree," he said. "I can see where it might be helpful if the Supreme Court just came out and said, OK, judges here's what you do, and go ahead and do it."

Source: news4jax.com, October 21, 2016

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