Death Penalty Information
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Members of press face death penalty over publication charges
Editor-in-Chief of Al-Share' Weekly Nayef Hassan, the paper's managing
editor Nabeel Subei and Mahmoud Taha, a reporter, appeared on Saturday
before Chief Judge of the State Security Penal Court Ridhwan Al-Namer at
the first hearing for a lawsuit filed against the newspaper by the Defense
At the hearing, the press members demanded that the court adjourn the
hearing so that they can appoint a lawyer to defend them. The judge then
accepted their request and adjourned the trial until December 8.
The 3 journalists were summoned last Wednesday to appear before the court
after the prosecution investigated them regarding the lawsuit by the
Defense Ministry against them for publishing a story about voluntary
fighters who support the army in the Sa'ada fighting. The indictment
demanded that the 3 pressmen be executed under new legal provisions.
Referring Al-Share' Weekly to State Security Court provoked protests at
domestic and international levels because the court specializes in
terrorism and not in publication or press issues.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) warned last August that
the lawsuit filed against the newspaper, followed by a raid on the
newspaper's head-office, is a dangerous assault on the independent press
in Yemen. The federation condemned charges filed by the Yemeni government
against the weekly, accusing it of threatening national security.
It also criticized the government for trying the newspaper in a state
security court, which is usually concerned with terrorism, adding, "If
convicted, the suspected journalists will be executed."
"We are shocked to see Yemeni authorities resorting to penal prosecution
and directing charges to members of the press, and such charges may risk
the lives of innocent journalists," Aidan White, IFJ Secretary-General,
said. "This issue has a terrible effect, as the media will fear publishing
any reports criticizing the government or the army in order to keep its
The Defense Ministry filed a legal action last July against Al-Share'
weekly after the newspaper published a series of stories and reports about
clashes between the Yemeni army and Houthi followers in the northern
province of Saada.
On July 30, ten armed men riding in a car with military plates raided the
newspapers office in search of chief editor Hassan, who was unavailable in
his office at that time. The armed men threatened to kill him in the
presence of newspaper employees.
Representing 600,000 journalists in 114 states, IFJ announced its support
for the protests staged by the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate (YJS), which
warned that referring the case to penal prosecution is a dangerous
precedent that may have bad consequences for journalists. According to the
syndicate, this precedent may have a negative impact on the constitutional
and legal pillars upon which the journalistic profession has been built
since the establishment of a unified state. "This may lead to abolishing
the constitutional and legal protection of freedom of press and
expression," the syndicate went on to say.
Marwan Dammaj, YJS Secretary-General, had earlier demanded that the Yemeni
government respect the rule of law, ensure legal protection for Al-Share
reporters and arrest the perpetrators who stormed the newspaper's office.
"The newspaper published an article about voluntary tribal leaders who
joined government troops in the fight against Houthi supporters. The paper
also wrote about corruption and the malicious desire of those who want
confrontations between the government and Houthis to last for a longer
period of time in order to serve their personal interests," Nabeel Subei
told the media. It also published reports about groups from the Aden-Abyan
Islamic Army, an active terrorist group in Yemen, who backed the army in
the fight against Houthis. These groups were training volunteers on how to
fight the so-called Sa'ada rebels."
In an unprecedented step, the case file was referred to penal prosecution
instead of press and publication prosecution. According to Article No. 176
of the Yemeni Penal Law, the Defense Ministry filed numerous charges
against Hassan, Subei and Taha, accusing them of harming national security
and stability, influencing the Yemeni army's morale and divulging military
Owned by prominent journalists Nayef Hassan and Nabeel Subei, Al-Share is
an independent weekly that issued its zero issue on the 3nd day of last
June. The papers first issue included reports about the Hashid fighters in
Sa'ada, thereby drawing the attention of readers and researchers seeking
facts about events there.
As the paper devoted a large amount of space for information about
developments, conflicts and complicated relations in Sa'ada, especially
the way army and tribal leaders deal with soldiers and volunteers, this
has helped increase its popularity among readers, particularly those
interested in the Sa'ada crisis.
Observers of the situation consider the issue a distinctive effort by the
newspaper and its reporters, who they believe outperformed other private,
independent and party-affiliated papers in covering developments in the
In an article titled "Bismarck", a name given to Sa'ada volunteers who
back the army in the fight against Houthi loyalists, the newspaper
reported that a large number of these volunteers were killed by the army,
while others fell victim to friendly fire. The newspaper mentioned that
the number of Bismarck fighters exceeded 9,000, most of who came from the
The paper's 1st issue included various subjects related to the Saada
crisis, such as Bismarck in Sa'ada', 'Bismarcks victims', 'Youths with
happy lives', 'The difference between fighters and leaders', and 'Hashid
is a threatening force'. The distinctive issue disclosed human
catastrophes and war crimes against humanity in the northern governorate
that has undergone repeated wars since June of 2004.
(source: Yemen Times)
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Suspended death sentences exceed immediate executions for 1st time
The number of suspended death sentences handed down this year in China
surpassed that of immediate executions for the first time, reflecting the
policy of "applying the death penalty to only a small number of extremely
serious offenders", the Chief Justice Xiao Yang said on Friday.
Xiao attributed the shift towards what he called a more prudent use of the
death penalty to the supreme court's resumption of the right to review all
death penalty decisions made by lower courts.
That right resumed on Jan. 1, 2007, ending the court's 24-year absence in
approving many of China's execution verdicts.
"Generally, this significant reform has registered smooth progress in the
transitional period," said Xiao, president of the Supreme People's Court
(SPC), at a national work conference on judicial reform. He did not
provide any statistics concerning death sentences.
He said the reform ensured that "all defendants were equal before the law"
and unified the "judicial scale" in applying death sentences.
"It also strengthens the protection of human rights in the judicial
field," Xiao said, adding "those who could be absolved will not be given
any capital punishment and those who need not be executed immediately will
not get immediate executions."
"The court should ensure that the death penalty would only be imposed on
those who have committed extremely serious crimes" with extreme social
impact, he said.
Doing so had made immediate execution cases drop steadily, he said.
In China, death sentences fall into two categories: immediate execution or
a two-year reprieve.
All capital cases where the death sentence does not require immediate
execution should include a 2-year reprieve, according to an SPC document
released earlier this year.
"Death sentences with a reprieve can ... punish the guilty but also reduce
the number of death penalties," it says.
The SPC reviewed all capital cases until 1983. The provincial courts were
subsequently given final authority for cases involving crimes that were
considered to seriously endanger public security and social order.
The practice of provincial courts handling both death sentence appeals and
conducting final reviews, however, drew sharp criticism in the wake of
some highly-publicized miscarriages of justice.
Since the SPC regained the right of review, it has overturned a large
proportion of death sentences.
In the review of death sentences, some cases need lower-level courts, or
even prosecutors and police, to provide supplemental material and
evidence. Some cases require police to investigate suspects who are
identified by the accused.
Early this month, Jiang Xingchang, vice president of the SPC said: "As
people's courts across China have been strictly controlling and cautiously
applying the death penalty over the past dozen years, the number of death
penalty cases has kept declining and reached its lowest point last year."
Figures from the Beijing No 1 and No 2 intermediate people's courts
indicate that, in the first 5 months of 2007, the number of death
sentences dropped 10 % from last year.
More judges and judicial staff have been added to the SPC team that
exercises death penalty review rights. The supreme court has recruited
experienced lawyers and law school teachers as senior judges.
Open court sessions have become mandatory since July 2006, when a second
hearing of a death sentence is defended by a people's procuratorate.
Previously, most appeals -- even involving the death penalty --were not
heard in open court because of a lack of qualified personnel, and errors
in handling death sentences were not uncommon in China.
More than 1,900 more judicial staff were planned to be hired in June for
open court trials for 2nd hearings of death sentences, which are intended
to be a 2nd line of defense to prevent injustices and ensure that
judgments stand the test of time.
(source: Xinhua News)
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Harper government 'washed its hands, just like Pontius Pilate'
The Ottawa Citizen
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
PARIS - The Council of Europe, the continent's top human rights watchdog, harshly denounced the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper yesterday for its decision to stop seeking clemency for Canadians on death row in American jails.
The council's secretary general, Terry Davies, likened the Harper government to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who "washed his hands" of the decision to crucify Jesus Christ because a mob demanded Christ's execution.
In a provocative interview, Mr. Davies also said Canada is effectively "subcontracting" the death penalty, just as the U.S. government has dispatched suspected terrorists to Third World countries, where they can be interrogated under torture.
He urged the federal government to reverse its decision and to press U.S. authorities to return Albertan Ronald Smith, the murderer at the centre of the controversy, from his Montana prison cell to serve the rest of his life behind bars in Canada.
"I'm very disappointed to learn that the Canadian government is not taking some action to get this man returned to Canada, where he should serve a life sentence. We certainly don't want a man like that walking the streets," Mr. Davies said.
"But to execute him is degrading. It's reducing authorities to the same level as people who kill people. Killing people is wrong. And the European view is we won't get down in the gutter with the people who commit murders.
"I'm just amazed that the Canadian government would wash its hands, just like Pontius Pilate."
Mr. Davies said the Harper government, which doesn't advocate the return of capital punishment, is essentially saying that the death penalty is acceptable as long as it doesn't happen on Canadian soil.
"In effect, what I think is that the people in government in Canada are subcontracting the death penalty, exactly the same way the United States of America has sent people to places like Afghanistan, where they are subject to torture and inhuman and degrading treatment in order to get them to give evidence when Americans themselves couldn't do it in America and no Europeans would do it."
Mr. Harper said the decision not to seek clemency for Mr. Smith, who is facing execution by lethal injection for killing two men in 1982, is consistent with his government's tough stand on crime.
"The reality of this particular case is that, were we to intervene, it would very quickly become a question of whether we are prepared to repatriate a double-murderer to Canada," Mr. Harper said.
"In light of this government's strong initiatives on tackling violent crime, I think that would send the wrong signal to the Canadian population."
The council, which promotes human rights and democracy on behalf of its 47 member countries, was created in 1949 at the suggestion of former British prime minister Winston Churchill.
Canada, the U.S., Mexico, Japan and the Holy See are observers at the council, which issues public declarations and initiates investigations into alleged human rights abuses among member countries.
Louise Arbour, the former Supreme Court of Canada judge who is now the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, and rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have already denounced the Harper government's refusal to intervene in the Smith case.
Mr. Davies said he doesn't have the jurisdiction to order an investigation, but didn't rule out the possibility that a member of the council's assembly, made up of deputies from national parliaments, could initiate a probe.
He said Canada is well known in Europe for being far more "civilized" than the U.S. because of its strong defence of human rights and opposition to the death penalty. "I would not say you could lose your reputation, but you could certainly damage it."
Today, Canadian and Bulgarian officials will head to council headquarters in Strasbourg for mediation over the future of Michael Kapoustin, jailed in Bulgaria on fraud charges since 1996. The Harper government wants him returned to Canada
Duma Leaves Punishment on Table
'The State Duma concluded its 4-year term last week, leaving a stack of
important legislation -- including that of banning the death penalty --
"That bill concerning the ratification of the sixth protocol banning death
penalty had been discussed thoroughly several times but we did not gather
sufficient votes to deal with the problem," Pavel Krasheninnikov, chairman
of the parliamentary committee on civil and criminal legislations, told
"It will be wrong to say that the State Duma has relegated the bill to the
background despite the fact that it was not voted on. But there is logical
possibility that the next legislative chamber will consider and prepare it
for another round of votes. Certainly it should be one of its priorities,"
The next legislative chamber to be formed after the December 2nd
parliamentary vote will be tasked with tackling all unaccomplished tasks
as well as correcting laws that have not functioned as intended, in
addition to new legislative responsibilities.
Commonly referred as the State Duma, the lower house consists of 450
members, is elected every four years, and is responsible solely for
enacting legislation for the country.
A prominent lawmaker admitted that the majority of deputies in the State
Duma were unprepared to commit themselves to getting death penalty
completely abolished -- although President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly
called for its abolition.
Speaking at the Valdai International Discussion forum in Sochi, Putin said
that he considers the death penalty "senseless and counterproductive".
"The senseless nature of the death penalty has been proven by the
thousand- year history of mankind and modern civilisation, toughening of
punishment by itself up to the death penalty is not a panacea, is not the
most efficient instrument in the struggle against crime," Putin stressed.
"The most efficient weapon in the struggle against the crime is the
inevitability of punishment -- everybody knows that -- and not the cruelty
of punishment. This is the first thing. Secondly, I am deeply convinced,
that by using the death penalty in relation to its citizens, even
criminals, the state educates its citizens in cruelty and brings forth new
cruelty on the part of citizens in relation to each other and in relation
to the state itself. And this is also harmful and counterproductive,"
"In my opinion, the power to impose the death penalty should not be given
to any government. The death penalty exists for the primary purpose of
controlling criminally notorious people. But the threat of the imposition
of the death penalty is the ultimate threat," Professor Jeffrey T. Renz of
the Law faculty at the University of Montana told IPS, from Missoula.
Countries that have adopted the death penalty -- whether Rome after the
Catalinarian conspiracy or the States of the United States -- have always
used it as a tool of oppression, he said.
"There are other ways to protect ourselves from the murderers of say,
north Ossetia and the Caucasus region and from the Saddam Husseins of the
world. We may imprison them without contact with the outside world for the
rest of their lives. I think that the former Soviet republics recognized
this when nearly all either abolished the death penalty or imposed a de
jure or de facto moratorium on its use," he added.
From a western standpoint, Russian society is no longer democratizing,
The Commissioner for the Council of Europe (CE), Thomas Hammarberg,
repeatedly cautioned that his organisation was not planning to wrap up its
monitoring mission in Russia until Moscow finally bans the death penalty.
The CE monitors the fulfillment of Russia's obligations, undertaken 10
years ago when the country joined the organisation.
Russia is the only European country yet to ban the death penalty, although
it promised to do so upon accession to the organisation.
Renz stresses that Russia should immediately repeal the death penalty and,
as part of its constitution, prohibit its use by the federation or any
"Countries who wish to participate in the Council of Europe, or have
relations with the European Union and the OSCE, for example, may freely
decide to enhance human rights or forego the benefits of membership," he
Amnesty International (AI) believes that the death penalty is not
acceptable under any circumstances in democratic world.
"Every execution is an affront to human dignity and a grave abuse of human
rights. The world is steadily turning against capital punishment," Piers
Bannister, a coordinator of the Death Penalty Team at AI, told IPS in an
133 countries have now abolished the death penalty in law or in practice.
"These countries have realised the risks inherent in the use of the death
penalty," Bannister said.
"It can be used against those innocent of the crime for which they were
condemned and it is often used after unfair trials or disproportionately
against ethnic minorities, the poor or other disadvantaged groups," he
AI regularly campaigns for those guilty of grave human rights violations
-- such as Saddam Hussein -- to be held accountable for their actions.
However, AI believes that any punishment inflicted upon them should only
be administered after a full and fair trial that adheres to international
standards and that, whatever the appalling nature of the crimes of which
they are accused, they should not be subjected to cruel, inhuman and
degrading treatment or punishment.
"Nothing that we are aware of prevents Russia from abolishing the death
penalty," Bannister says.
Russian authorities have repeatedly stated that President Putin strictly
opposes the death penalty, but that the population may not be ready to
accept the full abolition of the death penalty.
Many countries, Bannister explained, have abolished the death penalty
despite a large portion of the population allegedly being in favour of it.
(source: IPS News)
Abolition of death penalty linked to stability
Sonele Daas sits on death row in Lebanon's central Roumieh prison, found
guilty of murder almost one decade ago. The 60-year-old Bangladeshi had
traveled to Lebanon to work and send wages home to his family. However,
after a dispute with a fellow compatriot, Daas was arrested, tried and
convicted by a Lebanese court for his friend's subsequent death.
Today Daas still does not understand Arabic, has lost touch with his
family and is entirely dependent on others for help, explains Jihane
Morad, a young social worker for the Association for Justice and Mercy
(AJEM), a grassroots organization with a daily presence in the prison
offering social services and legal aid. "He doesn't know who his lawyer
was" she says, "so we have agreed to review his case."
Daas is one of 40 men in crowded Roumieh prison currently sentenced to die
by shooting or hanging. Since Lebanon's independence in 1943, 54 people
have been executed by the state, many of them after the end of the Civil
War in the 1990s.
During an enormous national anti-death penalty campaign backed by over 50
civil society organizations a few years ago, a poll conducted by the
leading ban activist, Walid Slaybi, determined that 74 % of Lebanese
lawmakers were in favor of abolition.
The next step, recalls Slaybi, was to present a draft law on abolition,
already signed by a number of deputies, to Prime Minister Fouad Siniora on
July 12, 2006. However, that day the Israel-Lebanon conflict broke out.
"Now with the political crises today, the Parliament does not meet. Under
these conditions we cannot present it - but it is ready," says Slaybi.
Lebanon's last series of executions have been high profile and especially
controversial, enacted in the wake of national public outrage over the
In 1998 there was a public hanging in Tabarja town square of 2 thieves,
Hassan Abu Jabal and Wissam Issa, who had killed the owners of a house
they had broken into. Hundreds of people and television cameras watched at
dawn as the gallows briefly malfunctioned and the lifeless bodies were
then left on display for over an hour.
"This was a big trauma for the children of the village," recalls Marie
Daunay, president of the Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH). "It was
horrible - the kids were playing at hanging each other afterwards at
The executions coincided with the first known public protest in Lebanon
against the death penalty, says Slaybi, when he, Ogarit Younan, a lawyer,
and around 30 others staged a sit-in that morning in the town square.
After a brief halt of executions under former Prime Minister Salim Hoss,
who virulently opposed the death penalty, the murder of 8, mostly
Christian co-workers by a Shiite man, Ahmad Mansour, sparked widespread
sectarian anger in 2004. Careful to appease the various political parties,
Mansour was executed by hanging.
The state also executed by firing squad Remi Zaatar, a Christian, and
Badih Hamade, a Sunni, both on death row for unrelated murders.
Since then there have been no executions. "However those who are condemned
are always living in fear that they might be executed," says Morad.
"Many are receiving psychiatric treatment because of this constant fear."
In 1998 Nehmeh al-Haj, a 44-year-old from the Beirut area, was arrested by
Syrian intelligence agents and taken to Anjar, near the Syrian border. He
says he was interrogated with torture for up to a month, denied a lawyer
and forced to sign a confession that he murdered 2 Syrian laborers in
Lebanon. He was then turned over to Lebanon and transferred to Roumieh
prison. His trial, 6 years later, was based on his signed confession in
Anjar, and despite his allegations of torture, he received the death
Haj's case is presently adopted by CLDH and has been reported to the
United Nation's Human Rights Council. "If you study the cases of people
sentenced to death [in Lebanon]," explains Daunay, "with most of them you
will find big contradictions with international law. Their rights during
the trial were not respected. So if you don't respect the rights of the
accused, you cannot be sure that the decision is right."
Human rights advocates complain Lebanon's court trials are often
expedient, the accused lacks adequate counsel (defense lawyers for death
penalty cases are scarce and they usually work for without payment), the
appeals process is limited and torture to obtain a confession is
Lebanon is a signatory to international laws governing civil and political
rights, and against torture. "Lebanon as a state signs everything, but
nothing is implemented," says Daunay.
Death penalty abolitionists were hoping Lebanon would repeal the death
penalty in accordance with international laws governing the UN special
tribunal set up to try the suspects in the killing of former Premier Rafik
Hariri in 2005.
But the UN and the Lebanon reached an understanding that the tribunal,
which has power to impose penalties leading up to life imprisonment, would
have precedence over Lebanese national law where the death penalty would
still be valid.
With widespread public outrage over the Lebanese Army casualties in Nahr
al-Bared refugee camp at the hands of Fatah al-Islam last summer, in
addition to the current political crises, passage of a death penalty the
ban now seems somewhat remote.
But with the abolitionist campaigners having succeeded in getting
accidental death struck off the list of charges to merit the death
penalty, Slaybi believes the campaign will ultimately triumph. "If there
is stability in Lebanon - then the death penalty will be eliminated," he
says with conviction.
(source: Daily Star)
Friday, November 16, 2007
A judge cites the physician's dyslexia in banning him from participation in
state lethal injections. His role has been cited in several death penalty
By Henry Weinstein, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
A doctor who was barred from taking part in executions in Missouri because
of concerns his dyslexia would interfere with his ability to administer
lethal injections is helping the federal government carry out death
sentences in Indiana, according to court documents.
The physician has been the target of more than 20 malpractice suits, was
barred from practicing at two hospitals and was publicly reprimanded by a
state agency for failing to disclose those suits to a hospital where he
treated patients, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The newspaper
identified the doctor as Alan R. Doerhoff of Jefferson City, Mo.
Last year, U.S. District Judge Fernando J. Gaitan Jr. of Kansas City, Mo.,
banned Doerhoff from participating "in any manner, at any level" in lethal
injections in Missouri.
The judge said earlier he was "gravely concerned" that the doctor
responsible for "mixing the drugs which will be responsible for humanely
ending the life of condemned inmates, has a condition [dyslexia] which
causes him confusion with regard to numbers."
Federal officials, however, have made Doerhoff part of the execution team at
the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., according to court papers filed on
behalf of several inmates there. All condemned federal prisoners are
executed at that prison.
Among those executed there was Oklahoma City bomber Timothy J. McVeigh.
Doerhoff's role is to place intravenous lines in condemned inmates, monitor
their levels of consciousness and sign death certificates, according to the
Doerhoff did not respond to requests for comment, and Justice Department
spokesman Erik Ablin declined to comment.
Traci Billingsley, U.S. Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman, said the agency does
not comment on pending litigation and does not make public the names of
staff involved in lethal injections.
Washington attorney Paul F. Enzinna, one of the Indiana inmates' lawyers,
also declined to comment.
Doerhoff's role in federal executions emerged in one of several challenges
to lethal injection filed in courts around the country.
Thirty-seven states and the federal government use a three-drug cocktail to
execute prisoners: the fast-acting sedative thiopental, a paralyzing drug
and a heart-stopping drug.
Although ostensibly more humane than prior execution methods, lethal
injection is often performed by untrained, unqualified prison employees
using inadequate equipment, creating an unnecessary risk of excessive pain
in violation of the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment, the
The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear a challenge to Kentucky's executions
by lethal injection on Jan. 7.
During the court challenges, officials have cloaked Doerhoff's identity in
extraordinary secrecy. In the Missouri case, he was referred to as "John Doe
One" and allowed to sit behind a screen during a deposition so that lawyers
for condemned inmate Michael Taylor could not see him being questioned.
In the latest challenge, Roane vs. Gonzales, filed in Washington, the
inmates' lawyers refer to Doerhoff as "Protected Person No. 2." About a
dozen lines in the October brief were redacted.
Doerhoff was cited as "Dr. Doe" in a friend-of-the-court brief filed Tuesday
in the lethal injection challenge before the Supreme Court.
"The most well-known example of a jurisdiction entrusting its execution
administration to an incompetent individual is the infamous 'Dr. Doe' in
Missouri," says a brief written by lawyers from the death penalty clinic at
UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law.
The brief contends that even though Doerhoff had played a key role in more
than 50 executions, he had not followed written instructions but
instead "varied the amount of thiopental he gave inmates on a whim, without
The Missouri doctor also said that he had cut the thiopental dosage he gave
inmates by half because a change in drug packaging forced him
to "improvise," the brief said.
"The federal government chose to rely upon the only person in the country
who has been explicitly barred by a federal court from participating in
lethal injection executions," said the brief, written under the supervision
of Tyler L. Alper, associate director of the death penalty clinic.
Fordham University law professor Deborah Denno, an expert on capital
punishment methods who is closely following the challenges to lethal
injection, said that Gaitan, an appointee of President Reagan, issued his
order after "a thorough and detailed examination of Dr. Doerhoff's shocking
lack of knowledge of the basic tenets of the drugs and procedures involved
in a lethal injection execution, Dr. Doerhoff's admitted challenges with
dyslexia that affected his ability to mix and measure the drugs, as well as
his record of more than 20 malpractice suits and revoked privileges at two
Denno said the revelations about Doerhoff illustrated "the need for
transparency in the identity of executioners" so that their records could be
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Thursday, November 08, 2007
Hanging and the conscience vote
The Jamaica labour Party promised that should they form the next
government, they would resume hanging. The intoxication of politicking
might have added glibness to their speeches, but, now that they're in
power, they want to fulfil that undertaking. Capital punishment is still
on our books but the previous government was unable to execute anyone
because, simply put, the Privy Council (our final appellate authority) has
placed time limits on executions and specificities regarding a mandatory
death penalty. Additionally, there is international pressure for us to
place a moratorium on executions.
In preparation for bipartisan agreement on the removal of obstacles to
issuing minister of State in the Ministry of National Security, Senator
Arthur Williams, death warrants (hanging people), while on a recent tour
of the St. Catherine Adult Correctional Centre, reportedly said that
Parliament will be asked to vote by conscience (and not by collective
responsibility) on the resumption of hanging.
All that sounds simple and straightforward in theory, but I wonder if
there can be a genuine conscience vote on such a contentious and vexed,
politically charged topic in our current atmosphere of escalating
atrocious multiple murders. Can Members of Parliament representing a
nation of frightened, angry and frustrated people vote their conscience?
Or, will they feel pressured and vote based on popular anecdotal
(unscientific) opinions, the need to assuage anxieties and political
Many people sanction legal and illegal state killings. Generally,
extrajudicial killings are not random occurrences; they are driven by fear
and our flawed legal system. Scared citizens surreptitiously inform on
their suspected tormentor(s) - gunmen and/or terrorists. Desperate people
are, therefore, willing to employ illegal means to get rid of suspected
criminals. So, we can fully expect that most will endorse the resumption
Not really effective
Those clamouring for the death penalty are sick and tired of murders,
worried for their own safety or closely associated with murder victims.
However, according to worldwide studies and experiences, executing
convicted murderers has not proven effective in reducing murder rates.
Interestingly, in the United States of America, (in 2006), the average
murder rate among 'death penalty' states was 5.3 per 100,000 population;
but for 'non-death penalty' states it was only 2.9 per 100,000 population.
Our Members of Parliament must ask themselves several soul-searching
questions before that conscience vote. Is our judicial system so perfect
as to ensure that innocents will not be hanged? Will everyone accused of
murder receive equal legal representation, or will those that can afford
high-powered defence teams have a better chance of acquittal? When we look
at the end of our rope, will we not typically see a deprived young man
from the inner city who has been given an expensive firearm by someone
that will always remain free to inculcate more victims?
Before they vote their conscience, they must ask if our country has done
enough to rescue our underprivileged, marginalised young men from the
clutches of the greedy, power-hungry individuals that have made victims of
us all. Many of our anti-social youngsters have little respect for their
lives and for the lives of others because their circumstances have
sentenced them to a life of violence, ignorance and frustration. How can
we, therefore, teach respect for life by taking it?
A supposedly Christian country such as ours should never consider killing
anyone. And, to clarify a point raised by Observer columnist Anthony Gomes
(May 9, 2007) the (1992) Roman Catholic Catechism - under item 2266 -
condoned capital punishment (as a means of state self-defence), the 1997
definitive edition delegitimised it.
(source: Jamaica Gleaner)
The execution was bloodily botched. And in the confusion Afghans top
Once the shooting began, it took more than f5 minutes to kill the last of
the 15 condemned men.
Stumbling blindly into one another in the darkness, hooded, shackled and
handcuffed, some had somehow survived the automatic fire from a ten-man
firing squad at almost point-blank range.
However, when the final coup de grace had been applied and the night was
silent again, it was clear that one man was missing. Timur Shah, perhaps
Afghanistan's most infamous criminal, sentenced to die for kidnap, rape
and murder, had escaped in the mle that was the country's 1st official
execution for 3 years.
"It was a grotesque mockery of justice," Sam Zia-Zarifi, Human Rights
Watch research director for Asia, said. "It was cruel and inhuman. The
legal systems in even the wealthiest nations are incapable of providing
justice when it comes to capital punishment. Afghanistan certainly can't."
The slaughter occurred at 9.30pm on October 7 on the eastern outskirts of
Kabul. Only now can the full story be told. The condemned prisoners were
killed in a chaotic, group turkey shoot. And Timur Shah had escaped with
the complicity of corrupt guards.
A 16th man remained alive, hidden among mutinous prisoners in the
notorious Policharki jail in the capital.
The bodies of the slain were so badly mutilated that in some cases
identification was impossible.
The Afghan Attorney-General is investigating claims that some paid for
their execution places to be taken by low-level prisoners.
A senior prosecutor charged with observing the execution, Sarbeland (he
goes by a single name), saw the whole event at first hand. He is the first
witness to describe it publicly in detail. Interviewed by The Timesin the
Attorney-Generals office in Kabul, he said that from the moment he arrived
at Policharki that afternoon, procedures were a shambles.
"I confirmed the condemned prisoners matched the photographs in their
files," he said. "But one was already missing. He had taken refuge among
another group of prisoners in a different wing who put up resistance when
we tried to get him back."
This prisoner, Khayoum, a convicted murderer, still remains at large
within the jail. Authorities, who clearly have lost control of some areas
of the prison, are still puzzling over how best to seize him without
triggering a bloodbath.
The thousands of Soviet-era executions within Policharki had always
occurred in a specialised wing of the jail. The Afghan authorities,
perhaps with the current level of the prison unrest in mind, instead drove
the condemned men in 2 vehicles to Pulegun. Here they ran into their next
The site was near an Afghan national army camp, and the soldiers wanted
nothing to do with the execution and ordered them away.
After hours of failed negotiations, the condemned men were driven to Dog
Fort, a desert site at the foot of a mountain, where dogs were taught to
sniff out mines.
The prisoners were unloaded in darkness and made to stand near a 4ft
(1.2m) earthen wall. After their sentences were confirmed, their hands
were released, one by one, to sign their wills, before being tied again.
(Many were illiterate and signed by thumb-printing the document.)
It was obvious at this point to Mr Sarbeland that Timur Shah was receiving
different treatment. He had only a narrow blindfold while the other
prisoners were hooded. His hands were tied in front of him, the others'
A row then broke out when the condemned men asked to be uncuffed so that
they could pray one last time.
As this went on, Mr Sarbeland said, Timur Shah stepped a few feet away,
ostensibly to urinate. Instead he flung himself over the low wall. Other
prisoners started to run. The shooting began.
"It took between 5 and 10 minutes for them to kill everybody," Mr
Sarbeland said. "Then we went to look for Timur Shah. We searched over a
mile radius, but found nothing."
The bodies were collected. With multiple close-range gunshot wounds, many
had their faces blown off and were unidentifiable. Foreign diplomats
suggested later that some of the bodies had also been bayoneted, though Mr
Sarbeland denied this.
Among the dead, whose crimes ranged from murder to rape and robbery, was
Reza Khan, one of those responsible for the killing of 4 journalists on
the road between Jalalabad and Kabul in November 2001.
3 prison guards have been arrested for complicity in Timur Shah's escape.
Leading the investigation, Mr Sarbeland discovered that one set of
leg-shackle keys was missing perhaps given to Shah before he leapt over
The Afghan public has been little disturbed by the controversy. Tired of
criminality, many people say that there should be more executions.
The only other official execution since the Taleban was ousted was in
2004 when Abdullah Shah, a military commander, was shot after being jailed
on 20 counts of murder
Before the removal of the Taleban in 2001, executions were considerably
more frequent. The group's strict interpretation of the Koran meant that
the methods of the often public killings were brutal. 3 men convicted of
sodomy in 1998 were ordered to be buried alive under a pile of stones.
They were allowed to live if they survived for 30 minutes.
(source: The Times)
Monday, November 05, 2007
Thursday, November 01, 2007