"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, January 23, 2017

Bahrain: 2 Face Execution Despite Torture Allegations

3 Executed in a Similar Case on January 15

2 Bahrainis appear to be at imminent risk of execution despite the authorities' failure to properly investigate their allegations of torture, Human Rights Watch said today. Both Mohamed Ramadan and Husain Ali Moosa have disavowed confessions that they allege were the result of torture and that were used as evidence in a trial that violated international due process standards.

The January 15, 2017 executions of three other Bahrainis in a similar case have raised concerns that King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa will approve the executions of Ramadan and Moosa, who face the death penalty for a February 2014 bombing that resulted in the death of a policeman. Human Rights Watch analysis of their trial and appeal judgments found that their convictions were based almost exclusively on their confessions, which both men retracted.

"Bahrain should not under any circumstances execute 2 more young men, especially where there is credible evidence of confessions obtained through torture and unsound convictions," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

On December 29, 2014, Bahrain's 4th superior criminal court convicted Ramadan and Moosa of the premeditated murder of 'Abd al-Wahid Sayyid Muhammad Faqir, a policeman who died from injuries caused by an improvised explosive device in Muharraq on February 14, 2014. The court convicted 10 other Bahrainis of involvement in the bombing and sentenced them to between 6 years and life in prison.

Ramadan and Moosa's lawyer, Mohamed al-Tajer, told Human Rights Watch that he was unable to speak with his clients during pretrial detention. The 1st time he was able to speak with them was on the 1st day of their trial on July 24, 2014, he said.

An examination of the trial record indicates that the key evidence used to convict Ramadan and Moosa was their confessions, which their lawyer argued in court should have been inadmissible because the court did not thoroughly investigate the men's torture allegations. The trial court dismissed this argument, stating that "the defendant's [Moosa's] confession is overall consistent, which confirms and proves that his confession is consistent with the truth and facts of the case." On May 27, 2015, Bahrain's First Supreme Criminal High Appellate Court upheld the death sentences, saying that it was "persuaded that these confessions and statements were free of any taint of coercion of any kind, using in this its discretionary authority."

Human Rights Watch reviewed copies of the reports from Dr. Mohamed Nour Fowda, the forensic doctor employed by Bahrain's public prosecutor's office, who examined Ramadan and Moosa on March 2, 2014. The reports do not refer to the men's allegations of torture, stating only that their purpose is to assess the nature and cause of any injuries. The report on Ramadan concludes that the bruising on his legs was the result of "collision ... with an object," and the report on Moosa concludes that marks on his wrists were "the result of handcuffs." The trial court judgment makes no reference to either forensic report. Al-Tajer, who has defended many prominent opposition figures and rights activists, told Human Rights Watch that their absence probably relates to the considerable evidentiary weight that judges in Bahrain place on confessions.

United Kingdom-based human rights organization Reprieve provided copies of these reports to Dr. Brock Chisholm, an honorary lecturer at St Georges Medical Hospital Medical School, University of London, and an expert in the diagnosis and treatment of torture victims. Chisholm wrote that the report on Ramadan "fails in almost all aspects of what is required in a forensic investigation of possible torture. ... is in complete violation of the internationally recognised Istanbul Protocol and should therefore be completely disregarded."

Chisholm listed a range of failures, including the absence of details of the report's author's qualifications or independence, the presence of a police officer during the investigation, the absence of a lawyer during the investigation, the failure to document full details of Ramadan's injuries, and the fact that "no causation is explored or rationale given for the injuries within the report and no attempt was made to obtain any elaboration from the individual concerned." Chisholm said of the Bahraini authorities' forensic report on Husain Moosa that, "there are clear violations of the Istanbul Protocol and compelling reasons to suspect that sufficient independence was lacking." The Istanbul Protocol is the United Nations manual detailing best practices on the effective investigation and documentation of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.

Ramadan's wife, Zainab, told Human Rights Watch that her husband looked "pale, skinny, weak, and shaken" when she met with him at what she described as a strictly monitored visit approximately 10 days after his arrest on February 18, 2014. She said that after his transfer to Jau prison month after his arrest, he told his family that officers at the Criminal Investigations Directorate and Riffa police station tortured him to make him confess to his involvement in the bombing.

The trial court judgment says the case against the defendants "was also proven" in reports from the Crime Scene Division and Criminal Investigations Lab, but it cites no physical or other evidence linking any of the defendants to the bomb or to the 2 devices - a Nokia mobile phone and a remote control - that the judgments says "could have been used" to detonate the bomb.

On January 17, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said it was "appalled" by the January 15 execution of Sami Mushaima, Ali al-Singace, and Abbas al-Sameea, charged with the murder of 3 police officers, citing their alleged torture and the fact that "their lawyers were not given access to all the hearings against them nor allowed to cross-examine prosecution witnesses during court hearings." France condemned the executions, while the UK and the European Union issued statements reiterating their opposition to the death penalty.

The UN Human Rights Committee, which interprets the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Bahrain has ratified, has said that "in cases of trials leading to the imposition of the death penalty scrupulous respect of the guarantees of fair trial is particularly important" and that any death penalty imposed after an unfair trial would be a violation of the right to life. Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty.

On April 11, 2016, Tobias Ellwood, UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office minister for the Middle East and Africa, wrote in response to a question by UK Member of Parliament Tom Brake about Ramadan's alleged torture that UK embassy officials had been in contact with Bahrain's Interior Ministry ombudsman over the case, adding that the ombudsman's office had said that, "whilst there have been a number of complaints raised with his office in the case of Mr. Ramadan, there have been no allegations of mistreatment or torture."

On July 14, 2016, Ellwood acknowledged in a letter to Reprieve that this was incorrect and that there had been "some confusion over the nature of the complaints made to the Ombudsman." He attached to his letter a June 15, 2016 memo from Bahraini Ombudsman Nawaf al-Ma'awda which states: "Given ongoing concerns, I plan to initiate a full, independent investigation into the treatment both Mohamed Ramadan and Hussain al-Moosa from the point of their arrest to throughout their detention." On December 7, 2016, Ellwood informed Reprieve that the complaint had been passed to Bahrain's Special Investigations Unit, which is responsible for investigating and prosecuting the criminal liability of security or other government officials allegedly involved in the torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of detainees. It is unclear what stage the investigation is at. Based on information in the ombudsman's three annual reports, it has referred 138 cases to the SIU since July 2013. Of these, the Special Investigations Unit has successfully prosecuted only 1
torture case.

"Investigations into torture should be conducted before trials not after them," Stork said. "Similarly, the UK, France, Germany, and the EU should publicly condemn this unfair trial and oppose these sentences before Bahrain assembles its firing squad."

Source: Human Rights Watch, January 22, 2017

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Turkish parliament approves presidential system

President Tayyip Erdogan
President Tayyip Erdogan
The Turkish parliament has backed a plan to strengthen the powers of the presidency, paving the way for a referendum on the issue in spring which, if passed, could allow President Tayyip Erdogan to stay in office until 2029. Erdogan says the reform will provide stability in the European Union candidate country at a time of turmoil and prevent a return to the fragile coalitions of the past. His opponents fear it will herald increasingly authoritarian rule.

The constitutional reform bill was approved overnight with 339 votes in the 550-member assembly, parliament said on its official Twitter account on Saturday. The legislation needed at least 330 deputies to support it in order to go to a public vote. Erdogan, speaking for the first time since parliament's vote, called on his supporters to work "day in and day out" throughout the referendum campaign. "My people will give the final decision... I believe this referendum period will conclude with the will of our people," Erdogan said at an opening ceremony in Istanbul. Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag, along with other ruling party politicians, took to Twitter after parliament's decision, and voiced support for the changes.

"A new door in Turkish history and in the lives of the Turkish people has been cracked open today. With our people's 'yes' vote, this door will be completely opened," Bozdag wrote on Twitter. The leader of the main opposition CHP, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, said after the voting that his party would fight the changes in their referendum campaign.

"This is a betrayal by the parliament of its own history. Our people will certainly thwart the game that was played in parliament... We will go from door to door and explain this to our people," Kilicdaroglu said. The reform would enable the president to issue decrees, declare emergency rule, appoint ministers and top state officials and dissolve parliament - powers that the 2 main opposition parties say strip away balances to Erdogan's power.

Erdogan assumed the presidency, a largely ceremonial position, in 2014 after over a decade as prime minister with the ruling AK Party, which he co-founded. Since then, pushing his powers to the limit, he has continued to dominate politics by dint of his personal popularity.

With the reforms, the president will be allowed to retain ties to a political party, potentially allowing Erdogan to resume his leadership of the AK Party, in a move that opposition parties say will abolish any chance of impartiality. The plans envisage presidential and general elections to be held together in 2019 with a president eligible to serve a maximum 2 5-year terms. Critics accuse Erdogan of increasing authoritarianism with the arrests and dismissal of tens of thousands of judges, police, military officers, journalists and academics since a failed military coup in July.

Erdogan and the government say the extent of the crackdown is justified by the nature of the threat to the state from July 15, when rogue soldiers commandeered tanks and fighter jets in a violent bid to seize power. Erdogan on Saturday also revived the question of reintroducing the death penalty, which some of his supporters had called for in the wake of July's coup attempt.

"I believe this issue (death penalty) will be debated in parliament again after the referendum period. Once it passes parliament, let me say again that I will approve it," Erdogan said. The restoration of the death penalty, which Turkey formally abandoned in 2002 as part of its European Union accession talks, would likely spell the end of Turkey's talks to join the bloc. Turkey has also been hit by a spate of deadly bombings and gun attacks by Islamic State and Kurdish militants over the past year and a half.

Source: Business Recorder, January 21, 2017

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Two Drug Convicts Escape From Nusakambangan Prison Island, Indonesia

Patrolling the strait between Nusakambangan island and the mainland.
Patrolling the strait between Nusakambangan Prison Island and the mainland.
Jakarta. Two convicted drug offenders reportedly escaped from Batu Prison on Nusakambangan Island in Cilacap, Central Java, on Saturday afternoon (21/01).

Batu Prison warden Abdul Aris confirmed the incident and said a joint team is currently searching for the two, identified as 43-year-old M. Husein and 40-year-old Syarjani Abdullah.

"Beside the prison wardens, the search also involves the Cilacap Police, Cilacap Military District Command, local Navy base, Kopassus [Special Forces Command] and local residents," Abdul said.

The team is conducting the search on both land and sea.

The two are believed to have escaped at around 2.00 p.m. because they were last seen performing the noon prayer at the prison mosque.

Security personnel have scanned surveillance camera footage recorded between 1.20 p.m. and 4.00 p.m., but found no signs of the two men.

Officials have also distributed photos and other details of the escapees in the hope that members of the public may identify them.

"Hopefully, we can find them soon," Abdul said.

One of the men, M. Husein, hails from Punti Matangkuli village in Matangkuli district, Aceh. He was sentenced to 13 years' imprisonment for his involvement in the drug trade.

Fellow escapee Syarjani Abdullah used to reside in Pasar Minggu, South Jakarta, before he was sentenced to life imprisonment for a similar offense.

Source: Jakarta Globe, January 21, 2017

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China cracks down on tools used to get around web filters

Concerned that a borderless, global Internet could weaken their political control.
A Chinese technology regulator has announced a 14-month campaign to root out services that allow people in the country to circumvent the government's internet censorship.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology says it forbids the use of virtual private networks (VPNs) or leased lines that allow users and businesses to access blocked overseas websites without permission.

The ministry said Sunday it also will inspect and "clean up" the market of internet service providers.

Numerous foreign and domestic companies in China use VPNs to conduct business, and private citizens often use the technology to access banned websites such as Google, Facebook and Twitter.

China's government has waged a long-running campaign to deter VPN use, blocking access to VPNs and regularly disrupting the channels.

Consolidating its ability to censor the Internet


China is consolidating its ability to censor the Internet by drafting rules requiring businesses that serve domestic Internet users to register their Web addresses inside the country, a move seen as targeting Chinese companies but that has raised concerns among foreign businesses.

In its most draconian interpretation, the proposed requirements could also further limit access within the Chinese network, analysts said. That appears to be the latest step by the ruling Communist Party to erect cyber barriers in the name of what some officials call "Internet sovereignty."

"This expands control over domestic Internet operators and contributes to the gradual buildup of the capability underpinning Internet sovereignty," said Rogier Creemers, an expert on Chinese media policy at the University of Oxford.

Concerned that a borderless, U.S.-led global Internet could weaken its political control, China's government has repeatedly issued cyber regulations that have drawn criticism from Western trade groups.

Following pushback from the White House last year, China dropped a provision in a cybersecurity law that would require companies to keep Chinese user data at facilities in China, allowing the government access to personal information.

Sources: Associated Press, January 23, 2016; Jakarta Post, March 31, 2016

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Despite fiscal crisis, several crime bills raised anew in New Mexico legislature

Despite a Democratic-controlled Legislature, which historically in New Mexico hasn't taken up a tough-on-crime mantle, a handful of bills have been introduced to toughen punishments - including a reintroduction of the death penalty in certain cases.

Many of the bills pre-filed before the start of the session Tuesday are repeats from the last 2 years, when Republicans had control of the House and were able to give the bills some traction before most died in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

Gov. Susana Martinez has expressed support for the death penalty for convicted cop and child killers and "3-strikes" laws, but some lawmakers warn the state's funding crisis will make it more difficult to pass them.

"Even in affluent years, there is always a discussion about money. Increased penalties cost money to house prisoners, but when you go ahead and talk to the community, the community does not feel safe," said Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque.

There were numerous high-profile crimes in the last 2 years, including the killing of 4 New Mexico law enforcement officers, the shooting death of a young Albuquerque girl caught in a road rage incident, and the shooting death of an innocent bystander, a popular Albuquerque teen, at a party.

Critics of increased penalties say financial concerns are valid and point to studies that say increased penalties don't show a deterrent effect on crime - especially the death penalty.

One of the largest studies of the deterrent effect of tougher penalties shows that the strength of the penalty has less effect, if any, than the certainty of receiving a punishment, and deterrent effects are greater on minor crimes and much less for serious crimes.

"The tendency is to increase penalties as a form of public policy, and it simply doesn't deter crime, and it adds stress to an already stressed system," said Rep. Antonio "Mo" Maestas, D-Albuquerque. "We need evidence-based policies to ultimately lessen the crime."

He is particularly opposed to the death penalty, which is a very expensive process, but he said even less expensive policies like the 3-strikes laws are also expensive - and outdated.

Governor's agenda


In a speech earlier this month to Albuquerque business leaders, the governor called on lawmakers to pass bills increasing penalties for child abuse and driving while intoxicated and reimpose the death penalty - which the state abolished in 2009 - for individuals convicted of killing children or law enforcement officers.

"We should give prosecutors and juries the option to impose it," she said.

But Martinez did not mention how the stiffer penalties would be funded, as her proposed $6.1 billion budget plan for the coming year would extend budget cuts for the state's judicial branch and provide only a small funding increase for the state's prison system.

Legislators can propose bills until about halfway through the session, Feb. 16 this year.

So far, Rehm, a former sheriff's deputy, and House Minority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, together have filed half of all crime-related bills.

The 2 have doubled up on bills that would expand the state's 3-strikes law, adding to the current list of crimes applicable for the enhancement.

The 3-strikes law allows prosecutors to seek a mandatory sentence of life in prison, which in New Mexico is 30 years without the chance for parole.

Gentry's bill, House Bill 54, is the version passed by the House last year. It would remove the requirement that the convictions be for crimes that caused great bodily harm, meaning prosecutors could try to get a habitual offender enhancement for some of the defendant's previous felonies even if no one was seriously injured.

The bill also would add to the list of qualifying charges, among others, involuntary manslaughter, shooting at a building, homicide by vehicle, aggravated arson or battery on a police officer, and injury to a pregnant woman by vehicle.

Rehm's bill, House Bill 13, retains the requirement that any qualifying crimes have resulted in someone's great bodily harm, and it would add some but not as many charges as Gentry's for consideration.

"Mine is more restrictive. He's casting a wider net," Rehm said.

Source: Albuquerque Journal, January 22, 2017

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Georgia Rep. Brett Harrell helps launch conservative anti-death penalty group

Georgia's death chamber
Georgia's death chamber
State Rep. Brett Harrell, R-Snellville, joined other conservatives on Thursday to launch a new statewide group aimed at ending the use of the death penalty in Georgia.

Video from the Georgia Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty's launch shows Harrell advocating for the use of life without parole over the death penalty. While some other speakers called for abolishing the death penalty, Harrell himself did not specifically call for that.

"The death penalty, I believe, is both constitutional and may be morally applied," Harrell said during the press conference. "That said, as a person of faith, I view the death penalty first from a standpoint of protecting the innocent rather than having a primary purpose of punishing the guilty.

"And with that in mind, we've evolved as a society in this nation, and in this state, to be able to protect the innocent through life without the ability of parole."

The legislator was joined by other Republicans and Libertarians, including former Fifth Congressional District GOP Chairman David Burge, former Athens-area Right to Life President Charles Jones, Foundation for Economic Education Chief Operating Officer Richard Lorenc, America's Future Foundation Atlanta Chapter chairwoman Jennifer Maffessanti and Mercer University College Republicans immediate past chairman Austin Paul.

Another Gwinnett native, Marc Hyden, also spoke a the group's launch. Hyden, a Collins Hill graduate, is Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty's national advocacy coordinator. He explained that the group is made up of conservatives who "feel the death penalty is inconsistent with our core values."

"The death penalty in its simplest form inherently and repeatedly risks innocent lives," Hyden said.

Harrell cited studies about the cost of keeping someone on death row, sometimes for decades, versus the cost of keeping someone in jail for life without the possibility of parole, saying the latter option was the more affordable one.

"As someone who is skeptical of large government, I like to make sure that the government is as efficient and as small as possible," he said. "And we've seen repeatedly since the re-institution of the death penalty in the '70s that people have been tried, convicted and sentenced to death row, and I believe 156 now have been exonerated, including 6 from Georgia.

"So the government has failed to provide an efficient, effective and accurate system in that regard."

Harrell also pointed to his position as a person of faith as a reason why he was concerned about the death penalty. He pointed to the Latin phrase "Imago Dei," a term often used in the pro-life movement that means "Image of God," as one basis for his belief that life without parole is a better alternative to the death penalty.

Pro-lifers take the stance that a person become the image of God when they are conceived and that a person's life should be preserved whenever possible, Harrell explained.

"As I pondered that, and you think throughout the life, even with someone who is the most heinous criminal and done the most repulsive and despicable thing you can imagine, as you ponder that, at what point is the Imago Dei, is the image of God, removed from that terrible person's soul," he said. "And the answer is clear: It is not."

Source: Gwinnett Daily Post, January 22, 2017

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UAE: Death penalty for Obaida killer upheld by Dubai appeals court

Dubai courts
The death sentence for the man who kidnapped, raped and murdered 8-year-old Obaida Al Aqrabawi has been upheld by Dubai Court of Appeal.

The boy's mother was in court on Sunday morning eager to hear the outcome of the killer's appeal. When it was announced at 11am, she let out a sigh of relief as female friends and family hugged her.

Nidal Ali, 48, from Jordan, walked into the courtroom after the judge gave the verdict. He asked the guards: "What, what?"

"Death, death," one guard answered.

Ali kidnapped Obaida, a Jordanian, on May 20 last year while the boy was playing outside his father's garage in a Sharjah industrial area. His body was found 2 days later in Al Warqa, Dubai.

Ali admitted to drinking excessive amounts of alcohol that day and strangling the boy, but denied sexual assault and kidnapping, saying the boy went willingly into his car.

A psychological evaluation ruled out any mental illness, as was claimed by the defence, and stated the killer was aware of his actions at the time of the murder.

The report said the patient "suffers from antisocial personality disorder and alcohol dependence, but it does not affect his perception nor does it hinder his ability to distinguish [right from wrong]. He is fully aware and responsible for his actions".

"The killer was admitted to Rashid Hospital's psychiatric section, where he was examined by a medical committee for a week," the report said. "He also underwent a personality test by psychiatrists and their clinical diagnosis was consistent with the committee's findings."

Results of a CT scan on the rapist were normal, as were the results of an electroencephalogram, which showed no signs of any epilepsy.

Ali was sentenced to death by Dubai Criminal Court on August 15. He was also found guilty of drinking alcohol without a licence and driving under the influence.

In response to statements from the defence, Dubai Attorney General Essam Al Humaidan tweeted he would not rest until the death penalty was brought against Ali.

The case will be referred to the Court of Cassation. If it is upheld it will be referred to the Dubai Ruler or the President to approve the execution and set a date.

Source: The National, January 22, 2017

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Sunday, January 22, 2017

Pakistan to debate relaxing infamous blasphemy law

A debate over the misuse of Pakistan's blasphemy law is set to begin next week. 

The law, which carries a death penalty for insulting anything related to Islam and the prophet Muhammad, is often used as a way to settle personal scores against Christians.

The law's been used to hold mother of five Asia Bibi on death row since 2010. 

She was arrested after an argument erupted between her and a group of Muslim women when they became angry at her for drinking the same water as them.

The group accused her of insulting Muhammad - a claim which she denies.

In December, a Christian shopkeeper was arrested and charged with blasphemy after page torn from the Qu'ran was found outside his house by a rival shop owner.

The Christian shopkeeper - who is illiterate - could face a death sentence.

In a move praised by human rights campaigners, Pakistani politicians will discuss ways to install checks and balance on the rules.

But Beth Fuller from Christian persecution watchdog Open Doors told Premier that any changes might not go far enough.

She said: "One of the changes that they have talked about making to these laws is to change the punishment from a mandatory death penalty to life imprisonment which is obviously still a very severe punishment.

"It's difficult to see how these laws could be changed significantly at the moment. But if they are we would welcome that and it would be fantastic to see the change it would make to lives of Christians in Pakistan."

Pakistan ranks as the 6th worst country in the world when it comes to the persecution of Christians, according Open Doors.

Source: premier.org.uk, January 20, 2017

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Taiwan: Review calls for death penalty to be thrown out

Taipei
International human rights experts yesterday presented a report recommending the abolition of capital punishment, work to relieve prison overcrowding, liberalizing policy over drug users and decriminalizing adultery.

The report listed 78 observations or recommendations for government consideration, following 4 days of meetings in Taipei this week regarding the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

The review was the 2nd of its kind since the covenants were adopted by Taiwan in 2009.

The ICCPR panel was chaired by Manfred Nowak of Austria, former UN special rapporteur on torture, while the ICESCR panel was chaired by Eibe Riedel of Germany, former vice chairman of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Nowak urged President Tsai Ing-wen to take decisive steps by introducing a moratorium on executions, with the aim of full abolition of the death penalty in the near future.

"The committee is also concerned about overcrowding of detainees in the prison system, which leads to a variety of human rights problems, such as poor hygiene, a lack of privacy and increased violence," Nowak said in presenting the report at the Ministry of Justice building yesterday.

"We recommend the government constructs new prison facilities and reduces the number of detainees by liberalizing some of the harsh policies regarding drug users," he said.

The committee recommended legislative changes to reduce the length of criminal proceedings and to provide adequate reparation in cases of excessive detention, Nowak said.

The government should also take steps to decriminalize adultery, as it has a disproportionately negative affect on women and is a violation of the right to privacy, Nowak said.

Nowak said that "Taiwan can show it could be a pioneer in the Asia-Pacific region to combat discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity."

The ICESCR report said that while the government had taken steps to recognize the status of Pingpu as Aborigines, it is concerned that the classification of Aborigines into 3 categories - "mountain people," "plains people" and "Pingpu" - is a legacy of the Japanese colonial period and does not correspond with the present situation of 16 official Aboriginal groups.

"The committee recommends that the government apply the classification of indigenous peoples as identified by themselves, and guarantees them full and equal participation and representation," it said, adding that the government should "develop effective mechanisms to seek free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples on development programs that affect them."

Miloon Kothari of India, a former UN special rapporteur on housing, said that government policies must move away from an emphasis on economic development and favoring businesses to the detriment of marginalized groups, poor people and Aborigines, as they have led to land expropriation.

Minister Without Portfolio Lin Mei-chu, who co-chaired yesterday's event, said that capital punishment remains in force because most Taiwanese support it and there has been no decline in the number of executions in recent years.

Groups opposing and affirming same-sex marriage staged protests at the event.

Source: Taipei Times, January 21, 2017

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Obama's overlooked last-minute commutation lifts death sentence for disabled inmate

President Barack Obama
"Obama commuted more sentences than the last 13 presidents combined.”
President Barack Obama’s commutation of Chelsea Manning’s sentence for leaking classified information got the most interest from the media on Tuesday, but a commutation in a capital case is getting the attention of lawyers advocating for better administration of the death penalty.

Obama commuted the death sentence of Abelardo Arboleda Ortiz to life in prison without the possibility of parole, according to Politico and this list published by the Washington Post.

Ortiz and two others had been convicted of killing a drug dealer in 1998. The other men did not receive death sentences.

Arboleda Ortiz is intellectually disabled, but his trial lawyer didn’t investigate that disability and didn’t tell jurors about his client’s disadvantaged life, according to a statement by the inmate’s new lawyer, Amy Gershenfeld Donnella. His sentence was harsher than that of his co-defendants, though he wasn’t even on the same floor where the murder occurred, she said.

“Mr. Arboleda Ortiz’s case epitomizes the broken federal death penalty system,” Donnella said. “He is an intellectually disabled person of color with an IQ of 54 who was never able to learn to read, write, or do simple arithmetic, and could not even tie his shoes until he was 10 years old, as noted by the government’s own expert. …

“Mr. Arboleda Ortiz’s case highlights several of the glaring problems that plague the federal system no less than state systems: dreadful lawyering by defense counsel; disproportionate sentencing even among co-defendants; significant racial, economic and geographic disparities in the choice of those who will be tried capitally; and procedural constraints that make it virtually impossible to correct a conviction or sentence imposed, even in violation of the Constitution, when new evidence comes to light.”

Obama also commuted the sentence of a second death-row inmate, Dwight Loving, to life in prison without parole, report the Marshall Project and the Houston Chronicle. Loving was convicted in 1989 by a military court for killing two cab drivers in Texas.

The Marshall Project asked the White House why Obama decided to commute the sentences of the two death-row inmates, but the publication did not receive a response.

➤ Related article: Obama commutes 330 more sentences, surpasses total of last 13 presidents combined”, ABA Journal, January 19, 2017

Source: ABA Journal, Debra C. Weiss, January 18-19, 2017

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Saturday, January 21, 2017

Barack Obama commuted death sentence of former Ft. Hood soldier before leaving the Oval Office

President Barack Obama
FORT HOOD, Texas (KWTX) President Barack Obama has commuted the death sentence of a former Ft. Hood soldier who was convicted in 1989 of the shooting deaths of two Killeen taxi drivers.

Then Army Pfc. Class Dwight Jeffrey Loving was sentenced to death in a 1989 court martial for robbing and killing Pvt. Christopher Fay, who was moonlighting as a cab driver to earn extra pay, and Master Sgt. Bobby Sharbino, also a cabbie.

Fay, 20, was assigned to the 13th Corps Support Command and Sharbino was retired.

Testimony at court martial showed Loving asked Fay to drive him to a remote location on post where he shot and robbed him.

Loving then used the same tactic to rob and kill Sharbino.

Both men’s bodies were found on Dec. 12 and Dec. 13, 1988 in their cabs.

Unhappy with the amount of money he took in the first two robberies, Loving tried the tactic again when cab driver Howard Harrison, of Kempner, encountered Loving.

Harrison, however, was injured in a struggle with Loving but eventually was able to disarm the bandit and escape without further injury.

FBI Texas Rangers and U.S. Army CID agents arrested Loving the next day after he and his girlfriend spent the previous evening socializing with friends at Killeen night clubs.

In all the robberies netted Loving less than $100.

Loving, 48, a native of Rochester, N.Y., has been on death row at the Ft. Leavenworth since his conviction.

Loving undisputed video confession was presented during the court martial, during which he explained how he enjoyed shooting one of the men so much he re-cocked his handgun and shot the cabbie in the head again.

On June 3, 1996, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Loving’s conviction and sentence, then again in 2001.

In 2008 the high court refused a re-hearing on the issue.

The court set a Dec.10, 2008 execution date for Loving, which would have marked the first military execution since 1961.

Source: kwtx.com, Paul J. Gately, January 21, 2017


President Barack Obama commutes sentences of 2 of high-profile military prisoners


Chelsea Manning
Chelsea Manning
President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of a pair of high-profile military prisoners and pardoned a controversial former Marine Corps general on Tuesday as one of his last acts before leaving the Oval Office.

Among the 209 commutations and 64 pardons announced by the White House were Chelsea Manning, serving 35 years for leaked sensitive Army documents related to the Iraq War; Dwight Loving, a soldier on death row convicted of murder in 1988, and James Cartwright, convicted of lying to the FBI about the release of sensitive intelligence information to reporters five years ago.

Cartwright received a pardon, effectively erasing the crime from his record. Manning, who has served seven years of a 35-year sentence, will be released in May.

Loving had his sentence reassigned to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

All of the 273 decisions were announced without further explanation from the White House. The majority of the decisions were for lower-level drug offenses, an issue that has been among Obama’s top executive actions in recent years.

Manning’s case had been among the most closely watched as Obama’s time in office grew shorter, with advocates pushing for her release. She has attempted suicide several times in the last year, and her imprisonment has raised problematic questions about the military’s responsibilities to deal with her requests for gender reassignment surgery.

Manning, an Army intelligence analyst known as Bradley Manning at the time of her 2010 arrest, made public hundreds of thousands of military documents, including military reports from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and diplomatic cables from American embassies around the world.

She admitted to the crime and was sentenced without a plea deal. In the intervening years, she and her advocates have pressed Obama for leniency, noting that investigators found no evidence the leaks put lives in danger.

Cartwright was similarly accused of mishandling classified information to reporters about covert cyberattacks on Iran's nuclear facilities. He admitted to the leak and to lying to FBI investigators, and was due to be sentenced later this month. He could have faced up to five years in prison.

Instead, the presidential pardon will remove the threat of jail time for him.

Loving was a soldier stationed at Texas’ Fort Hood Army base in 1988 when he robbed two convenience stores and murdered two taxi drivers during a crime spree.

Only six men are on military’s death row, including Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist who killed 13 people at Fort Hood in 2009. The military has not executed any prisoners since 1961.

Source: Military Times, Leo Shane III, January 17, 2017

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Arkansas: No hunt for lethal drug

Potassium chloride
Arkansas' prison spokesman said Friday that he is "unaware of any efforts" to find a new supply of an execution drug that expired at the start of the new year.

The Department of Correction has not restocked its expired batch of potassium chloride, spokesman Solomon Graves said, adding that the state's remaining supply of execution drugs remains unchanged. Graves declined to comment further.

In September 2015, Gov. Asa Hutchinson set execution dates for eight men on death row. However, their executions were placed on hold due to a legal challenge, lodged by the eight men and another inmate, of the state's three-drug "cocktail" method of execution, which is pending a review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Potassium chloride is the third and final drug used in executions; it causes cardiac arrest and death. The first drug, midazolam, is an anesthetic and is followed by vecuronium bromide, a muscle relaxer.

In emails sent last fall, Graves detailed the expected expiration dates of the state's supply of execution drugs: potassium chloride this month, followed by midazolam in April and vecuronium bromide in March 2018. The drugs would expire at the end of the month, Graves wrote, "unless otherwise specified."

Graves specified this week that the batch of potassium chloride expired Jan. 1.

Arkansas has not executed an inmate since 2005, due to legal challenges and its difficulty in obtaining execution drugs.

The Legislature passed Act 1096 in 2015, amending the execution statutes to allow for the usage of either a three-drug cocktail or a single dose of barbiturate. If lethal injection is struck down by the courts, the law authorizes executions by electrocution.

Within months of the law's passage, Hutchinson scheduled the series of executions, to begin in the fall of 2015. None were carried out after the Arkansas Supreme Court issued a stay over the prisoners' court challenge.

The state's high court this summer upheld the state execution law, but agreed to continue the stay so that the prisoners could take their case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The prisoners are asking the U.S. justices to review their previous decision upholding the use of midazolam in Oklahoma executions.

Midazolam has been accused of causing several botched executions in other states, including Oklahoma, with reports of condemned prisoners heaving and gasping before death.

While the deaths of the inmates were on hold this summer, the state's supply of vecuronium bromide expired, but a new batch was acquired less than two weeks later.

Thirty-four men are on death row in Arkansas.

Source: arkansasonline.com, John Moritz, January 21, 2017

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