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

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Catholics on Left and Right Find Common Ground Opposing Death Penalty

Death Row, Polunsky Unit, Livingston, Texas (more photos here)
As the editor of The National Catholic Reporter, a national biweekly, Dennis Coday reads his competitor, The National Catholic Register. But he does not have to agree with it.

The Reporter is seen as somewhat liberal in theology and politics. The Register, a competing biweekly with a confusingly similar name, is popular with more theologically traditional Roman Catholics, who often fall to the right politically.

But last year, seeing the amount of attention that The Register was giving to arguments opposing the death penalty, Mr. Coday came up with an idea: Maybe the 2 newspapers could collaborate on an editorial calling on Catholics to oppose the death penalty.

"What struck me the most was Oklahoma Archbishop Paul Coakley came out strongly against it," Mr. Coday said. "And his comments were covered by The National Catholic Register."

Indeed, The Register had covered Catholic death-penalty opposition last May, after the botched execution of an Oklahoma inmate, Clayton Lockett, and again in July, after the protracted execution in Arizona of Joseph R. Wood III, who took nearly 2 hours to die.

Eventually, Mr. Coday got three other publications, including The Register, to join him. On March 5, "Catholic Publications Call for an End to Capital Punishment" ran on the websites of The Reporter; The Register; Our Sunday Visitor, which is considered conservative; and the Jesuit magazine America, which is considered liberal. The editorial was written principally by Mr. Coday, with the involvement of the four editorial boards.

The editorial was an unusual show of unity among publications that speak for often antagonistic niches of Catholic public thought. Editors at the publications agreed, in interviews this week, that such a joint effort would be unlikely on other topics, like same-sex marriage or abortion.

With the death penalty, the time seemed right. According to last year's major Pew survey, support for the death penalty is slipping nationally. At the same time, different branches of Roman Catholicism are uniting behind a message that has been consistently delivered by Pope Francis and his predecessors Benedict XVI and John Paul II.

"We, the editors of 4 Catholic journals," the editorial begins, "urge the readers of our diverse publications and the whole U.S. Catholic community and all people of faith to stand with us and say, 'Capital punishment must end.'"

"The Catholic Church in this country has fought against the death penalty for decades," it says. "Pope St. John Paul II amended the universal Catechism of the Catholic Church to include a de facto prohibition against capital punishment. Last year, Pope Francis called on all Catholics 'to fight ... for the abolition of the death penalty.' The practice is abhorrent and unnecessary."

The Register's editor, Jeanette De Melo, said that when Mr. Coday first broached the idea last fall, they could not quite make it work.

"The Register's take on the death penalty," Ms. De Melo said, "is to talk about it in broader context of the life issues," like abortion and euthanasia. "We wanted to contextualize it last fall in that broad context."

Ms. De Melo said that she and Mr. Coday could not agree on an editorial that brought in so many contentious issues. But when, in January, the Supreme Court agreed to take up the case of Glossip v. Gross, which challenges Oklahoma's use of lethal injection, she thought that maybe it was time for an editorial solely on capital punishment.

"Since the Supreme Court took up this case," Ms. De Melo said, "it seemed maybe we could look at it in a narrower context. I felt it was important to stand on something we can stand together on, these diverse publications with diverse audiences. We do agree this should end."

Some readers questioned Ms. De Melo's decision to join with more liberal publications. On March 16, she wrote her own editorial, placing her death penalty opposition in the context of issues that are important to conservatives.

"Euthanasia, abortion, war and capital punishment differ in moral weight, but they all threaten human dignity, and we must work to end them," Ms. De Melo wrote.

The church now teaches that the death penalty could be justified only for self-defense in the narrow sense of preventing a killer from committing a future killing. So in the modern state, the argument goes, with effective prisons and life sentences to keep killers off the street, there is no morally valid reason to use it. According to the Catholic theorist Robert George, who teaches at Princeton, capital punishment is not as bad as abortion or euthanasia, but it nonetheless needs to end.

"Although I do not regard capital punishment to be on a moral par with the deliberate killing of innocent persons - including killing unborn babies by abortion and killing elderly or handicapped persons in euthanasia - I believe that the abolition of killing as a punishment will promote a culture of life," Professor George wrote in a Feb. 19 letter to the governor and legislature of Kansas.

Coming from Professor George, who is admired by the Catholic right, the letter was another indication that on this particular issue, a unified position may be emerging.

Not everyone agrees. The Rev. John McCloskey, a conservative priest, wrote this month that "the Catholic Church's Magisterium does not and never has advocated unqualified abolition of the death penalty." He invoked Augustine and Thomas Aquinas in support of the death penalty, as well as Pope Pius XII.

Then there are the 59 % of white Catholics who, according to the Pew survey, favor capital punishment - 4 points higher than the average for all American adults.

Matt Malone, who edits America magazine, said Catholic journalists were starting to reach across these political divides. He pointed to a symposium his publication hosted in December, which drew journalists from the Register, the liberal Catholic magazine Commonweal, U.S. Catholic, and the conservative magazine First Things, popular with Catholics.

"I think it's part of a general trend where we're less afraid to reach out to each other and do things than we used to be," Father Malone said.

Greg Erlandson, the publisher of Our Sunday Visitor, said that Catholics needed to keep talking to one another, lest they become as dysfunctional as the secular world.

"The ideological polarization that has paralyzed American political life has seeped into the church, unfortunately," Mr. Erlandson said. "So something like this" - the joint editorial - "is an important signpost for the church."

Source: New York Times, March 29, 2015

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Defense moves into spotlight in Boston Marathon bombing trial

The Boston Marathon finish line minutes before the blast.
The Boston Marathon bombing trial shifts sharply in tone next week when prosecutors rest their case against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and turn proceedings over to his lawyers, who have already admitted he planted explosives at the finish line in April 2013.

One of Tsarnaev's lawyers, death penalty specialist Judy Clarke, opened the trial on March 4 with a blunt statement to the jury that "it was him" who killed 3 people and injured 264 in the attack.

Clarke contended, however, that the 21-year-old played a secondary role to his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, in planning and executing the plot.

Her goal: Persuade jurors in federal court in Boston that Tsarnaev deserves a sentence of life in prison rather than the death penalty.

It is an argument the defense team, which includes death penalty specialist David Bruck and Boston's top court-appointed lawyer, Miriam Conrad, will not be able to make in earnest until the jury decides if Tsarnaev is guilty.

Until then, they are left to poke holes in the prosecution's case and work in as many allusions to 26-year-old Tamerlan's influence as the judge will allow, according to legal experts.

The jury got a taste of the approach in the past week when an FBI agent who searched Tsarnaev's college dorm room described finding metal BB pellets, which were packed into the bombs that ripped through the crowd. Prosecutors also said the brothers practiced shooting with BB guns. 3 days after the April 15, 2013 attack, they fatally shot a police officer.

Conrad asked the agent, Kimberly Franks, if the search had turned up actual firearms or just BBs. Franks testified that no guns were found.

When a 2nd FBI agent described finding the Tsarnaevs' Cambridge, Massachusetts, apartment empty, Conrad noted it had not been vacant when agents arrived 4 days after the bombing.

"You're not aware of the fact that Tamerlan Tsarnaev's wife and child were there at the time when the search team arrived?" Conrad asked FBI special agent Christopher Derks. Derks replied that he had been down the street when agents blasted the door open early on April 19, 2013.

By that time, Tamerlan had died of injuries sustained during a gunfight with police.

Questions like that, legal experts said, are intended to plant doubt in the jury's mind about the strength of government's case.

"Impeaching the quality of the investigation can help support their view that it was the older brother who was running the show," said Mark Pearlstein, a former federal prosecutor in Boston who has faced Conrad in criminal cases.

LONG EXPERIENCE

The defense team has long experience representing clients in death penalty and terrorism cases.

Clarke and Bruck rose to national prominence two decades ago when they defended a South Carolina woman, Susan Smith, who a jury found guilty of killing her 2 sons but spared her a death sentence after Clarke argued that her actions reflected deep depression rather than malice.

The pair's research unveiled Smith's troubled history of sexual abuse and attempted suicide, some of the mitigating factors that lawyers use to persuade a jury to consider a more lenient sentence.

Clarke went on to defend "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski and 1996 Atlanta Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph. She also served as a defense consultant to al Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui, one of the conspirators in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

All 3 ultimately pled guilty and are serving life sentences.

Conrad defended Rezwan Ferdaus, who in 2012 pleaded guilty to planning to fly an explosive-laden remote control plane into the U.S. Capitol, and Aftab Ali Khan, who was deported from the United States after pleading guilty to helping transfer about $5,000 from his native Pakistan to a man who tried to set off a car bomb in New York's Times Square in 2010.

One major difference between those cases and Tsarnaev's is that prosecutors have not agreed to a plea deal, instead trying to put the ethnic Chechen, who immigrated to the United States a decade before the attack, to death.

But the same skills that have allowed the defense team to secure plea deals could help them persuade the jury to sentence Tsarnaev to life in prison without possibility of parole, legal experts said.

In either case, the lawyers need to present the same sort of "mitigation" evidence, said Barry Scheck, co-director of the New York-based Innocence Project, which uses DNA evidence to exonerate convicted people.

In a delicate balancing act, Tsarnaev's attorneys have taken care not to appear belligerent towards the bombing victims, declining to question any of them.

That could help protect their credibility in the jury's eyes, said Scheck, who said he has known Clarke for three decades: "You have to trust the messengers as much as you trust the message."

Source: Reuters, March 29, 2015

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Iran: 12 prisoners secretly executed in a day

The Iranian regime's henchmen secretly hanged at least 12 inmates on Thursday (26 March 2015) in prisons in cities of Shiraz and Mashhad.

A group of 5 prisoners were hanged in a prison in the city of Mashhad in northeast Iran while another 6 were collectively hanged in Pirnia Prison in the city of Shiraz in southern Iran. 

On the same day, another prisoner was also hanged in Adelabad Prison in the same city.

In Shiraz, the prisoners were transferred to solitary confinements two days prior to the Iranian New Year (Nowruz), therefore, the victims spent the New Year's day in isolation awaiting execution.

The religious dictatorship ruling Iran has refrained from publishing any report or information on the prisoners.

The growing number of executions, including many carried out in secret, are just trivial examples of the nationwide repression that continues to take place in Iran since Hassan Rouhani became president of the clerical regime.

Mr. Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, reported on March 25 that some 1000 executions had been carried out during the past 15 months in Iran. 

Prior to that, on March 16, he told a news briefing in Geneva: "There is a lot of concern amongst the Iranian society that the nuclear file may be casting a shadow over the human rights discussion."

The U.N.'s special investigator added that the human rights situation and repression in Iran has worsened since Hassan Rouhani became president.

Source: NCRI, March 29, 2015

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Final hearing tomorrow for migrant worker tortured and sentenced to death in the UAE

The Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi will tomorrow give a final verdict in the case of an Indian migrant worker who was sentenced to death on the basis of a ‘confession’ extracted under torture.

Ezhur Gangadharan, a father of three who works in the UAE to support his family in Kerala, India, was arrested in 2013 in connection with the rape of a minor at the school where he worked for 32 years. Upon arrest, Mr Gangadharan was repeatedly tortured by police. He was reportedly told that if he did not confess to committing the crime, the abuse would continue. The injuries Mr Gangadharan sustained were detailed in two medical reports submitted at trial. There was no physical or DNA evidence linking Mr Gangadharan to the crime. A number of other Indian nationals were also detained in relation to the offence.

In 2014 the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi vacated Mr Gangadharan’s death sentence because the lower court had not considered his torture at the hands of police. The Supreme Court asked the lower court to reconsider his case, but it refused and eventually upheld its original decision, despite a wealth of contradictory evidence that rendered the original verdict unsafe. The use of torture is prohibited absolutely by international law, including the Convention Against Torture (CAT) and the Arab Charter on Human Rights (ACOHR), both of which the UAE is fully signed up to.

In detention, Mr Ganghadaran was denied access to a lawyer and an interpreter when being questioned by the Police and Public Prosecution. At trial, Mr Gangadharan’s lawyer was cautioned for drawing the Court’s attention to the lack of an adequate interpreter and that police officers were intimidating the defendant.

Tomorrow’s sentencing hearing in Abu Dhabi’s highest court will signal an end to Mr Gangadharan’s final appeal, after which a pardon will become the only way to prevent his execution. Mr Gangadharan is one of nearly 80 migrant workers facing the death penalty in the UAE, which has faced sharp criticism for its failure to adequately protect migrants who make up nearly 90% of the labour workforce. The hearing comes just weeks after a leading expert on migrant workers was denied entry to Abu Dhabi.

Maya Foa, Director of the death penalty team at Reprieve which is assisting Mr Ganghadaran, said: “It is right and entirely understandable that victims and their families seek justice, especially in a case of this nature. But scapegoating Mr Ganghadaran, a man from one of the UAE’s most vulnerable and marginalised groups of people who was tortured into giving a ‘confession’ and then subjected to a wildly unfair trial, is not justice of any sort. The Indian government should not allow this gross injustice against one of its nationals to go unchecked. It should demand an immediate investigation into Mr Ganghadaran's torture and a halt to these unfair proceedings.”

Source: Reprieve, March 29, 2015

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Indonesia: Philippines working to save Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso from firing squad

Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso
The Philippine government is exhausting all efforts to save a Filipina from execution in Indonesia over a drug smuggling conviction, an official said Saturday.


Abigail Valte, deputy presidential spokeswoman, told state-run dzRB radio Saturday, "the government is doing everything within the legal framework of Indonesia to be able to push for her case."

Referring to an earlier pledge by Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, who recently visited Veloso in prison, Valte said, "the Philippines will continue to push other legal avenues."

Veloso, a single mother of 2 who sought work in Malaysia as a maid, was arrested while smuggling 2.6 kilograms of heroin at Yogyakarta airport, Java island, in April 2010.

Her family has insisted that the drugs seized from Veloso's luggage were secretly placed there by a relative.

Her earlier plea for clemency was rejected by Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who has adopted a tough stance on drug traffickers while the country faces a "drug emergency."

In a statement Saturday, del Rosario said a 2nd appeal for judicial review is being considered, expressing his confidence that executions would not occur within the next 2 weeks.

Indonesian authorities have been preparing to move Veloso to the Nusa Kambangan prison island, where 9 other drugs convicts -- including 8 foreigners -- have already been transferred awaiting execution by firing squad.

Indonesia's attorney-general office has said that the executions will be delayed as the inmates' lawyers continue exploring available legal avenues.

The death penalty was resumed in 2013 after a 5-year gap, according to Amnesty International. Earlier this year, 6 drug offenders -- including 5 foreigners -- were executed despite diplomatic pleas.

In February, Indonesia and the Philippines agreed to strengthen collaboration in exchanging information on intelligence materials, methods of drug trafficking and their possible routes, and new forms of illegal drugs.

Source: aa.com.tr, March 27, 2015

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Iran: Execution of 4 Prisoners in Maragheh Prison

According to the report of Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), 4 prisoners with drug related charges has been executed in Maragheh prison on February 27.

These prisoners were Bahram Ashtari, Atef Ranjbar, Karim saadaat and Vali Najafniya and were sentenced to death for drug related charges.

An informed source told HRANA's reporter, "27 prisoners are in death row in Maragheh prison, who would be executed in the Iranian New Year".

Source: HRA News, March 27, 2015

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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Bill to abolish Delaware death penalty clears Senate panel

A bill to abolish Delaware's death penalty cleared its 1st legislative hurdle Wednesday, with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee releasing it for debate and a vote by the full Senate.

The legislation, which was the subject of an hour-long hearing, mirrors a bill that passed the Senate in 2013 by only one vote before dying in a House committee.

The legislation would remove execution as a possible punishment for 1st-degree murder, leaving life in prison without the possibility of parole as the only sentence.

The bill would not apply to the 15 inmates currently on Delaware's death row, who would still be subject to execution.

Chief sponsor Sen. Karen Peterson, D-Stanton, who also led the failed repeal effort 2 years ago, said opponents believe that the death penalty is arbitrary, discriminatory against minorities, costly to taxpayers and ineffective as a deterrent to crime.

"We keep killing people to teach them that it is wrong to kill people," Peterson said. "It's not working."

Peterson specifically rejected arguments from opponents of the legislation that the death penalty serves as a deterrent to attacks on law enforcement officers and prison guards.

Of the 13 people who signed up to speak on the measure, 12 were supporters of the repeal effort, including clerics representing several Christian and Jewish congregations in Delaware.

Brendan O'Neill, head of the state public defender's office, said death penalty cases are costly to taxpayers, to the tune of $2.6 million in defense costs in fiscal 2014.

"If we pass this bill, we won't have all of these expenses," O'Neill said, noting that death penalty cases require 2 defense trial attorneys, expert testimony on mitigating circumstances as arguments against imposing a death sentence, and costly and lengthy appeals.

Lewes Police Chief Jeffrey Horvath, representing the Delaware Police Chiefs Council, was the only person to speak against the bill. Horvath suggested that some of the statistics used by death penalty opponents in support of the repeal effort, including the number of death row inmates who have been "exonerated," are false or misleading.

"Being removed from the death penalty does not equate to innocence," Horvath noted, saying many former death row inmates are serving life in prison.

He also said cost should not be a factor in the argument over capital punishment.

"The death penalty is reserved for the most shocking crimes against real people. ... These are not minimal crimes, and saving money should not be the priority for getting rid of the death penalty."

Attorney General Matt Denn says he is not opposed to capital punishment in appropriate cases, but that state law should be changed to require a unanimous jury recommendation before a judge can impose a death sentence.

Source: Associated Press, March 27, 2015

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Why freedom feels so elusive to death row exonerees

Debra Milke: 22 years on Arizona's death row
Released after spending 22 years on Arizona's death row, Debra Milke called her exoneration 'bittersweet.' Legal experts say the plight of exonerees such as Milke has played into how juries view the ultimate sanction.

Until this week, Debra Milke, who spent 22 years on Arizona's death row, remained a ward of the state. After a Maricopa County judge on Monday dismissed all charges related to the 1989 murder of her son, Christopher, a deputy removed an ankle monitor.

At that moment, Ms. Milke became a member of an exclusive club no one would voluntarily attend - one of the few who were walked by the US justice system to the threshold of state-sponsored death only to be fully released after courts found their conviction wrongful.

The Milke case, which comes amid a string of death-row exonerations from North Carolina to Louisiana, has put renewed focus on what is for many one of the most troubling parts of the death penalty regime in the US: The living, walking proof that there are flaws in the system. Just weeks before Milke's ankle monitor was removed, a Louisiana death row inmate, Glenn Ford, walked away from prison a free man.

Such stories of injustice have given Americans new insights into what University of North Carolina political scientist Frank Baumgartner, a death penalty critic, has called a "system built on false promises for everyone."

Moreover, the difficulty exonerees face in getting compensated or even finding a job and an apartment - in short, to get their life back - has contributed to a gnawing concern among many Americans regarding less the ethics of the death penalty, but the justice system's ability to fully correct life-and-death mistakes.

"The fact that there's innocent people in prison or death row has transformed people's understanding of the death penalty," says Mr. Baumgartner, author of "The Decline of the Death Penalty and the Discovery of Innocence." "Your opinion about the death penalty in the abstract is one thing, but meeting exonerees changes the death penalty from an abstract principle to a very practical issue of: Can the government do it right every single time?"

Among the public, there appears to be a growing awareness of the imperfectness of the legal system. March's 2 death-row exonerations come after a record 125 Americans were absolved in 2014 of the crimes for which they had been convicted.

To be sure, prosecutors - as well as many ordinary citizens - take a skeptical view of many of the now 151 death-row inmates who have been cleared of charges since the 1970s.

Ray Krone: The 100th death row inmate exonerated in the
US since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.
"In many cases, the view is, 'We know who did it, it was him, and he got away with it" - that's what an exoneree has to live with in their hometown," says Ray Krone, who in 2002 became the 100th death row inmate exonerated in the US since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

Mr. Krone, who was released after DNA evidence conclusively showed another man committed the murder for which he was convicted, says that he had it "relatively easy" upon his release, given the deep support of his family and his Pennsylvania hometown.

But even Krone, who was known in the press as the "Snaggletooth Killer," struggled with his freedom. He was detained trying to cross into Canada after his name was flagged in an FBI database as a convicted murderer. Fortunately, he says, he had a magazine with a cover story about his release that proved enough to allow Canadian authorities release him. His legal battles for remuneration also took a toll, he says. "I wouldn't trade 10 years for $2 million, but, remember, they didn't give that money to me. I had to fight to take it from them."

Once released, many exonerees have to deal with moving back to small towns where neighbors and police harbor skepticism. Then there is the difficulty of escaping the memories of being wrongfully imprisoned just yards from the death chamber.

"Psychological research of the wrongfully convicted shows that their years of imprisonment are profoundly scarring," according to a 2009 report by the Innocence Project, which uses DNA testing to seek the release of innocent inmates. "Many suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, institutionalization and depression, and some were victimized themselves in prison. Physically, they have aged ahead of their peers, and often their health has suffered from years of sub-standard prison health care."

Going forward, many of those who are exonerated based on wrongful convictions also enter a sort of fugue state.

Henry McCollum has just learned from a judge that
all charges against him were dismissed.
For example, Henry McCollum, who spent 31 years on death row in North Carolina before being released last September, referred to his post-prison bedroom as a "cell" in an interview in March with The New York Times. Mr. McCollum and his half-brother Leon Brown were exonerated, based on DNA evidence, of the 1983 murder of a child.

Since their release last September, writes the Times, "both men have clung to a minimal existence, absent substantive remuneration, counseling or public aid in transitioning back to society." The 2 men were each given $45 upon their release and lived on charity. They recently received a bank loan that allowed them to move into an apartment.

In various studies, including the recent book "Life After Death Row," exonerees say trauma and anger from false imprisonment compounded by lack of guidance and help after release often leads to a sense of unresolved displacement and isolation.

"We all have different types of pigeonholes we put people in - whether it's religion, sexual orientation, there's always some kind of label," says Mr. Krone. "But for an exoneree, there's no mark on a job application, there are no benefits, there's no tax write-offs, in large part because the justice system can't admit it made a mistake."

That certainly appears true in the case of McCollum and Brown.

As North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory mulls whether to give the men a pardon, and thus compensation worth $1.5 million, the prosecutor who put them on death row hasn't changed his opinion. "There is no doubt in my mind that they're not entitled to a pardon, and there is no doubt in my mind that they're not entitled to compensation by the taxpayers," Joe Freeman Britt, who prosecuted the pair, told the Times.

Support for the death penalty has hovered at around 63 % of the American public since 2000, according to Gallup.

4 % of death row inmates may be innocent, according to work published by University of Michigan law professor Samuel Gross. Questions remain whether the US has ever executed an innocent person in the post-1976 era, but the Death Penalty Information Center has a list of 10 people who were "executed but possibly innocent."

Conversely, many prosecutors object to the assumption that exonerees are automatically innocent.

In Milke's case, for example, the failure of prosecutors to acknowledge shoddy detective work in the trial was cited by the judge as the reason for her release. It's always been known that Christopher Milke was killed by 2 men currently on death row, but the question of whether his mother was a conspirator won't soon go away, even though the lead detective has been discredited. Prosecutors have offered no apologies, and Milke is suing for remuneration.

Indeed, even cases steeped in scientific surety, such as DNA proof that someone else committed the crime, are often questioned by governors, who in many states have to pardon a former inmate before they can receive compensation.

25 states have specific compensation statutes for exonerees, but many require the defendant prove their innocence. That's a high bar for many former death row convicts, especially those convicted largely on circumstantial evidence.

Earlier this month in Louisiana, a court exonerated Mr. Ford, who had been convicted in 1983 for killing an elderly woman, after determining that there had been unconstitutional suppression of evidence and lingering concerns about the inexperience of his defense counsel. Now dealing with serious health problems, Ford has met opposition from the state attorney general in his attempts to obtain compensation for his wrongful conviction and lost freedom. "My sons, when I left, was babies ... now they grown men with babies," Ford said earlier this month as he left the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

This photo of Glenn Ford was taken by his lawyer
on March 11, 2014— Ford's first day of freedom after
30 years in prison—near St. Francisville, LA (Gary Clements)
Yet Ford, for one, found an unlikely ally: the prosecutor who helped convict him in 1983. In a column published Friday in the Shreveport Times, A.M. Stroud III questions whether a justice system run by fallible humans can fairly adjudicate death. The case was also shadowed by race, as Ford, a black man, was convicted by an all-white jury. He was released after a confidential informant provided evidence that another man committed the murder for which Ford was convicted.

"Glenn Ford deserves every penny owed to him under the compensation statute," Mr. Stroud writes. "This case is another example of the arbitrariness of the death penalty. I now realize, all too painfully, that as a young 33-year-old prosecutor, I was not capable of making a decision that could have led to the killing of another human being."

Such admissions of prosecutorial doubt are rare, and are often met with official incredulity. "We do not understand Mr. Stroud's opposition to our request that the Louisiana judiciary review the record in this case and make a factual determination in this matter," spokesman Steven Hartman said in an e-mail.

At issue, according to the attorney general's office, is Ford's failure to prove that he did not illegally possess items stolen in a robbery that ended in the murder.

Jacksonville, Fla., prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda, who has headed several death penalty prosecutions, told the Monitor last year that exonerations are part of the system's safety valve, but shouldn't be seen as an argument for abolition. Mr. de la Rionda pointed to 1 serial killer against whom Florida did not seek the death penalty. The man eventually killed 2 more people in prison.

But the question of innocence, as embodied by death row inmates set free, continues to agitate the death penalty debate. For one, capital convictions in 2014 marked a 40-year low, suggesting to some experts that juries and prosecutors are responding at least in part to concerns about the potential for wrongful convictions. Moreover, death penalty exonerees have testified in front of lawmakers and governors in all 6 of the US states, including Illinois and Maryland, that have abolished the death penalty in recent years.

Even if Milke wins her lawsuit and receives compensation for her 2-decade imprisonment, her ability to reengage with society likely hinges on perhaps a death row exoneree's greatest challenge: acceptance of all that's been lost.

"I live with an abiding sense of loss and a chunk of my heart is gone, but Christopher's spirit is with me always, which is a comfort to the remaining pieces of my heart," Milke said in a statement after her release.

Source: Yahoo news, March 27, 2015

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One year since Hakamada's release, how much has really changed for Japan's death row inmates?

Execution chamber at Tokyo Detention Center
Exactly 1 year ago today, 78-year-old Hakamada Iwao walked out of the Tokyo Detention Centre after a District Court in Japan granted him a temporary release and retrial. Hakamada -- the world's longest serving death row prisoner -- had spent more than half his life on Japan's death row. His conviction had been based on a "confession" he made under repeated torture, and with evidence that the court ruled could have been fabricated.

Yet, despite the fact that this high-profile case shook people's confidence in Japan's prison and justice systems, 1 year on, little has changed. Japan's criminal justice system is still deeply flawed and conditions on death row remain inhumane.

Solitary confinement

When Hakamada emerged from detention into the glare of the media spotlight on 27 March last year, what news cameras captured was not an image of jubilation, but of a slightly stooped elderly man wearing a blank expression. After more than 45 years confined alone in a 5 square metre cell, Hakamada left prison mentally ill. His speech makes little sense and he often withdraws into himself. At other times, he suddenly flies into a temper.

Hakamada began showing signs of disturbed thinking and behaviour back in 1980, when the Supreme Court confirmed his death sentence. His lawyer reported that it was difficult to communicate with him, which made meetings with him ineffective. Conversations with his sister, Hideko, and letters he wrote also showed disordered thinking.

"After more than 45 years confined alone ... Hakamada left prison mentally ill."----Hiroka Shoji

In Japan, death row prisoners are kept secluded from the outside world, which in addition to solitary confinement also means little contact with family members. Hakamada lived under such conditions for not just years, but decades.

Mental health ignored

Hakamada is not the only inmate to have become mentally ill while on death row. Matsumoto Kenji, facing execution since 1993, also saw his mental health slip while detained. This was on top of an intellectual disability that he was born with.

Like Hakamada, Matsumoto began showing signs of irrational thought following detention. In 2008, a supporter said he received a letter from Matsumoto in which he claimed to have received prize money from the Japanese Prime Minister and the US President, events that had not taken place. Because of his mental disability, his lawyers said that he is unable to understand and participate in the legal proceedings in his case, nor can he help them prepare appeals in his defence.

International law and standards clearly state that the death penalty should not be used on people with mental or intellectual disabilities. Yet, Japan has no effective safeguards to stop this from happening, so that prisoners like Matsumoto with pre-existing intellectual disabilities are still condemned to death. And the prison conditions that have caused so much damage to Hakamada and Matsumoto's mental health remain unchanged.

"International law and standards clearly state that the death penalty should not be used on people with mental or intellectual disabilities."----Hiroka Shoji

Need for change

In a public statement following his release, Hakamada said: "It is absolutely unacceptable for a nation state to kill its people."

His case raises potent questions. For example, can locking someone up in a cramped cell, alone for decades ever be justified? Does the Japanese criminal justice system as it stands guarantee fair trials and provide enough safeguards against forced confessions? And if the risk of executing the innocent is always present, will there ever be enough safeguards? Experience from the great majority of countries in the world shows that the answer is no.

In the past year, Hakamada has shown signs of improvement. Now living in Shizuoka, Japan, with his sister, Hideko, he has become more open to having conversations with her. Occasionally, a smile even breaks through.

"It is absolutely unacceptable for a nation state to kill its people."----Hakamada Iwao

Hakamada's case still sits with the high court pending a ruling on a retrial, but for now, he is back home. Reforms to the justice system and improvements in conditions on death row are needed to be sure, but the ultimate change must be an end to the death penalty. My hope is that reform in Japan will not come too late for Matsumoto and others like him still on death row.

Source: Amnesty International, March 27, 2015

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Iran: 7 prisoners hanged

Public execution in Iran (file photo)
At least 7 prisoners were hanged on Thursday in a prison in the southern city of Shiraz.

The prisoners who had been arrested on drug related charges were hanged in the city's main prison known as Adelabad prison.

The victims had been transferred to Isolation last Thursday, a day before the Iranian New Year and hanged in secret this week.

Many prisoners have been hanged secretly during the last few months in prisons across Iran.

According to a report, a group of 4 men also were hanged last month in a prison in the city of Maragheh, in northwestern Iran.

They were identified as Bahram Ashtari, Atef Ranjbar, Karim Sadat and Vali Najafnia.

Some 1,400 individuals have been executed in Iran under Hassan Rouhani. The victims included political prisoners, women, juvenile offenders and citizens of Afghanistan.

The U.N.'s special investigator on Iran said on March 16 that the human rights situation and repression of Iranian women and activists has worsened since Hassan Rouhani became president in 2013.

Dr. Ahmed Shaheed said in Geneva: "in my view the overall situation has worsened, as indicated by the surge in executions."

He lamented that Iran executes more people per capita than any other country in the world.

"There is a lot of concern amongst the Iranian society that the nuclear file may be casting a shadow over the human rights discussion," Shaheed told the news briefing.

Mr. Shaheed, a Muslim and former foreign minister of the Maldives, has not been allowed to visit Iran since taking up the independent post.

Source: NCR-Iran, March 27, 2015

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Friday, March 27, 2015

Indonesia: Executions near as Supreme Court rejects petition

Australians Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, Frenchman Serge Atlaoui
and Brazilian Rodrigo Gularte, (bottom row) Nigerian Raheem Agbaje Salami,
Filipina Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso, and Nigerian Silvester Obiekwe Nwolise.
Attorney General M. Prasetyo praised the Supreme Court’s (MA) decision to reject a second case review petition filed by Philippines national Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso, adding that the decision helps clear the way for the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) to carry out a second batch of executions.

Prasetyo said that the AGO would announce the date of the executions after the Supreme Court issued rulings on two other case-review petitions filed by two other drug convicts; Serge Areski Atlaoui of France and Martin Anderson alias Belo of Ghana.

Atlaoui is currently challenging his death penalty verdict, which stems from a November 2005 arrest where he was found in possession of 138.6 kilograms of methamphetamine, 290 kg of ketamine and 316 drums of drug-making ingredients at a factory in Cikande, Tangerang, Banten. Anderson was sentenced to death after being arrested with 50 grams of heroin in Kelapa Gading, Jakarta, in November 2003.

“From the very beginning we were prepared to conduct the executions, but we also must respect the legal process. The executions will be conducted as soon as we hear the result of the legal process of [the two other convicts],” Prasetyo said on Thursday.

Prasetyo added he hoped both appeals would be rejected so the AGO could proceed with the executions.

“I think the Supreme Court has the same spirit as us and we have to appreciate what it has ruled [on Veloso],” Prasetyo added.

Separately, Supreme Court spokesman Suhadi confirmed the rejection of Veloso’s case-review petition, saying the panel of three justices — comprising Timur Manurung, Andi Samsan Nganro and Mohammad Saleh — ruled Wednesday that Veloso’s petition failed to meet the requirements for a case review as stipulated in the Criminal Code (KUHP).

“The arguments [of the bench] are that the petition failed to meet requirements for a case review,” Suhadi said on Thursday.

Veloso was sentenced to death after she was found guilty of attempting to conceal 2.6 kg of heroin at Adisucipto International Airport in April 2010 in Yogyakarta.

Veloso, Anderson and Atlaoui are three of 10 convicts who are set to be executed in the near future on the isolated Nusakambangan prison island near Cilacap, Central Java.

The other drug convicts facing imminent executions are Bali Nine duo Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan of Australia, Rodrigo Gularte of Brazil, Zainal Abidin of Indonesia and Raheem Agbaje Salami of Nigeria. Also slated to be executed are three convicted murderers of Indonesian nationality: Syofial alias Iyen bin Azwar, Harun bin Ajis and Sargawi alias Ali bin Sanusi.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has reportedly declined multiple phone calls from Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who has very publicly pleaded with Jokowi to spare the lives of Sukumaran and Chan.

Abbott told reporters on March 5 he made such an appeal to Jokowi by phone and had been unsuccessful.

Indonesian Ambassador to Australia Nadjib Riphat Kesoema on Thursday brushed off intimations of a kind of snub.

“The President was too busy,” the AP quoted the ambassador as telling reporters in the Australian capital of Canberra.

“Because, as you know, the President’s first priority is his own people, to the provinces. Not only in Java, in Kalimantan or Sumatra, but also in Papua. So he is making a lot of trips,” he said.

“I’ve certainly put in a request because the government and the people of Indonesia need to know that this is important to us,” Abbott said in early March.

Source: The Jakarta Post, March 27, 2015


Failed death row appeal 'good news' for Bali pair: Jakarta

Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso
Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso
The failure of a death row Filipina to win a judicial review of her controversial case is "good news", says an Indonesian official organising her execution and those of two Australians.

Bali Nine members Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan await their fate on Nusakambangan island while Jakarta observes the final legal appeals of some of the 10 drug offenders it wishes to put to death at the same time.

To hasten the process, Attorney General H.M. Prasetyo has ordered the Supreme Court to fast-track the cases of those who have applied for last-minute judicial reviews.

Filipina Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso's case has been rejected after a matter of days.

It usually takes three months to consider such applications but Veloso's was distributed to three judges on March 20 and rejected on Wednesday.

The attorney-general's spokesman Tony Spontana said on Friday this was "good news".

"It's in accordance to our hopes and understanding that the judicial review would be rejected," he told reporters.

He was pleased the court had dispensed with her bid quickly and found no evidence to support a review.

"Certainly Mary Jane is finished with her process," he said.

Veloso was considered to have a good chance for a review and it was thought this would delay the executions of all 10 prisoners for some months.

The 30-year-old single mother says she thought she was coming to Indonesia in 2010 for a job as a maid and didn't know there was heroin in her suitcase.

She did not finish high school, speaks only Tagalog and did not have a qualified translator to explain proceedings at her trial.

Supreme Court spokesman Suhadi denies judges have been pressured by Mr Prasetyo's negotiations to ensure the fastest turnaround of the judicial review applications.

Veloso's was handled particularly quickly because the lead judge had a light caseload, he said.

"We know each other's duties and they're not intervening," he told AAP.

"If there's been co-ordination, the manner is more non-judicial."

A further two prisoners - Frenchman Serge Atlaoui and Ghanian Martin Anderson - are seeking judicial reviews.

Chan and Sukumaran have an appeal in the administrative court, that if won, would see their lawyers argue the blanket rejection of clemency did not follow due process.

President Joko Widodo is denying clemency to all death row drug offenders, regardless of rehabilitation or other factors, believing it will shock Indonesia out of its drug problem.

An expert witness for Chan and Sukumaran's defence could not attend court on Wednesday and was re-scheduled for Monday.

Source: AAP, March 27, 2015

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Indonesia prepares to transfer Philippines drug convict for execution

Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso
(Reuters) - Indonesia is preparing to move a Filipina death row inmate for execution after she lost her appeal in the Supreme Court earlier this week, the attorney general's spokesman said on Friday.

The planned executions of Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso and nine other mostly foreign drug traffickers has drawn international criticism after repeated pleas for mercy from the United Nations and various governments have gone unheeded by President Joko Widodo.

Veloso will be moved from the city of Yogyakarta to the maximum security prison on Nusakambangan Island in Central Java, where the rest of the group awaits execution by firing squad.

"We can say that (Veloso's) case is done," the attorney general's spokesman Tony Spontana told reporters.

"There will be preparations to move her soon because the plan to execute all (10 convicts) at once hasn't changed."

The attorney general's office has yet to announce a date for the executions.

Four other foreign nationals in the group have also lodged last-minute appeals against their death sentences, forcing the attorney general to hold off on the executions until all legal processes are seen through. 

Two Australian prisoners are among those appealing their sentences. The Australian government has been pursuing an eleventh-hour campaign to save their lives, but Widodo has refused to budge, ramping up diplomatic tensions between the neighbors.

Indonesia has harsh penalties for drug trafficking and resumed executions in 2013 after a five-year gap.

Source: Reuters, March 27, 2015

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

U.S. Military: Death penalty rarely used for desertion conviction

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl
Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl
Army charges Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl with desertion

The Army announced Wednesday that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who disappeared from his unit in Afghanistan in 2009, has been charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, offenses which could send him to prison for life.

What punishment could Bergdahl face?

Military authorities will have to weigh a range of factors, including what Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl did, the effect on his fellow soldiers and what's best for the U.S. military as a whole.

The Department of Defense broke the law when it traded Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for 5 Taliban prisoners in May, the Government Accountability Office said in a legal opinion issued Thursday.

While the death penalty is a possible punishment in cases of desertion or misbehavior before the enemy - the charges leveled Tuesday against Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl - that sentence has rarely been imposed.

"On the books, it is an option," said Noel Tipon, an attorney in Hawaii who specializes in defending servicemembers facing Article 32 hearings and courts-martial.

But it would be an "unlikely event" for a case to be referred as capital where a death was not directly involved, he said.

Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the death penalty may be imposed for either desertion or misbehavior before the enemy - but only during times of declared war.

When the Army announced the charges against Bergdahl, it did not address the issue, saying only that his maximum penalty could be life in prison.

The only U.S. service member to be executed for a purely military offense - desertion - since the Civil War was Edward D. Slovik, who was executed by firing squad in January 1945 in France.

In a letter to Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Slovik pleaded for leniency. But the American forces were rife with desertions at that time, and Eisenhower wanted to stem the tide by making the private's execution an example.

Congress issued formal declarations of war on Germany and Japan for World War II, which clearly created a "time of war" in regard to the UCMJ's requirements.

But the Authorization for Use of Military Force passed by Congress and signed by President George W. Bush on Sept. 18, 2001, is a slightly different creature than a "declaration of war."

Tipon said it is "unclear" whether the 2001 authorization rises to the level of a declared war in regard to application of the death penalty.

He said it's the prerogative of the court-martial convening authority to decide whether the charges will be referred as capital.

Desertion could lead to the death of soldiers left behind in certain extraordinary cases.

"I understand that argument," Tipon said. "Sure, if something had gone wrong, then it could have led to the death of other soldiers, other servicemembers."

But without Bergdahl being directly involved in one of those soldiers' deaths, the convening authority would not likely refer it as a capital case, he said.

"The decision to refer something capital, especially in a case where an action didn't lead to the death of another individual as a result of that misconduct, is undertaken very soberly and very deliberately," Tipon said.

Some soldiers who served with Bergdahl say some soldiers died in the search for Bergdahl after he walked off his post in Afghanistan in June 2009. Some of his platoon mates have publicly held him responsible for those deaths.

"That might be a game changer for the powers that be who are making the decision whether or not to refer capital," Tipon said. "But again, that's such a tough call to make because typically a death-penalty-eligible case is for murder. It isn't 2nd- or 3rd-order effects, as they say in the military, of what the misconduct was."

Some in the military law community have questioned whether desertion still meets society's expectation of a capital crime.

Navy attorney Lt. Cmdr. Rich Federico wrote a 2013 paper in the Berkeley Journal of Criminal Law calling for Congress to abolish the death penalty for unique military, nonhomicide offenses.

Since the military revamped its death penalty policies in 1984, no servicemember has been tried capitally for a crime that wouldn't carry a death penalty in a civilian court, according to Federico.

The last servicemember to walk away from his unit in a combat zone was Marine Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun, who disappeared from a U.S. military base in Iraq in 2004 and who abandoned his Marine unit at Camp Lejeune in 2005. In February, he was found guilty of 2 counts of desertion and sentenced to 735 days in prison, reduction of rank, forfeiture of pay and allowances and dishonorable discharge.

Federico argued that crimes like desertion do not fit "the modern civilian view that the death penalty must be limited to a narrow class of defendants who commit ... the most serious crimes and whose extreme culpability makes them the most deserving of execution."

Source: Stars & Stripes, March 27, 2015

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Michael Portillo inspires Oklahoma to consider execution by nitrogen

As US states look for alternatives to lethal injection Oklahoma is on the verge of becoming the 1st to allow for asphyxiating death row inmates

Oklahoma is moving forward with plans to become the first US state to allow executions using nitrogen gas after being inspired by a BBC documentary in which Michael Portillo suggested it was the most painless way to implement capital punishment.

States where the death penalty is imposed are scrambling for alternative methods as pharmacies that provide drugs for lethal injection increasingly refuse to do so on ethical grounds.

Later this week Oklahoma's Senate will vote on allowing death by "nitrogen hypoxia". The proposal has already been approved by a large majority in its lower house and it would become the state's first back-up option if lethal injection drugs run out.

Mike Christian, the Republican state politician behind the plan, has said his opinion on using nitrogen was "solidified" after he saw a 2008 BBC Horizon documentary called How to Kill a Human Being in which Michael Portillo, the former British Cabinet minister, searched for the most humane execution option.

In the film Mr Portillo, who as an MP voted both for and against the death penalty, said: "After some investigation I think I've come up with a perfect killing device, an entirely humane way of killing a prisoner who is under sentence of death. It's nitrogen, which renders him at first euphoric, and then makes him unconscious pretty quickly and he dies entirely without pain."

Mr Christian said recently: "I believe it's revolutionary. It's probably the best thing we've come up with since the start of executing people by government. You can pick up nitrogen anywhere they use it. Industrially, you can pick it up at a welding supply company."

Condemned prisoners would be asphyxiated by putting a mask on them which would be used to replace oxygen with inert nitrogen. Supporters say the person would experience brief euphoria, lose consciousness after about 10 seconds, and their heart would stop beating within 2 minutes. According to Amnesty International no US state has ever used nitrogen gas to execute an inmate and it had no reports of the method being used in other countries.

Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Oklahoma, said: "We would be experimenting on the condemned using a process that has been banned in many states for the euthanasia of animals."

In Oklahoma, where three people were scheduled to die next month, executions are already on hold following a botched lethal injection last year. Clayton Lockett, convicted of murder, took 43 minutes to die.

The US Supreme Court is reviewing the state's lethal injection procedures after remaining death row inmates claimed they were inhumane.

Earlier this week Utah approved the firing squad as its back-up method if it runs out of lethal injection drugs.

Source: The Telegraph, March 27, 2015

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Pakistan: Prisoner executed in Faisalabad

A convicted murderer has been executed in the Central Jail Faisalabad on Thursday morning.

Muhammad Afzal, a resident of Sialkot, had been remained on death row for around 2 decades.

He was found guilty of shooting a man, Muhammad Saleem, dead in 1995 over an old rivalry. and awarded the death sentence by district and session courts on May 25, 1995.

The review petitions of the accused were turned down by the higher and superior courts. President of Pakistan had also rejected his mercy appeal.

The last meeting of the condemned prisoner with his family had been arranged on Wednesday.

Some 8,000 condemned prisoners are still in a death row in various jails across the country.

Earlier the ruling PML-N government had lifted the moratorium on the death penalty on Dec 17, 2014, in terrorism related cases only, in the wake of a Taliban attack at the Army Public School in Peshawar, which claimed 141 lives, most of them children.

Later, the government completely reinstated capital punishment for all offences that entail the death penalty.

The United Nations, the European Union, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have urged the government to re-impose the moratorium on the death penalty.

Source: Dawn, March 27, 2015

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Vietnam: Amended law reduces eligibility for death penalty

The proposal to reduce the number of crimes subject to the death penalty in an amended Penal Code sparked heated debates at a conference held yesterday in southern Hoa Binh City.

The National Assembly's Judicial Committee had proposed the amendment and its deputy head, Duong Ngoc Nguu, said the number of crimes subject to the death penalty in the amended Penal Code would be reduced from 44 to 22, with plans to lower it even further to 15.

Deputy Minister Dinh Trung Tung from the Ministry of Justice said the death penalty will only apply in cases involving crimes of extraordinary brutality and illegal drug dealings.

While agreeing with the government's effort to cut back on the use of the death penalty, Deputy Chief of the Police Department Lt. General Nguyen Phong Hoa argued that further consideration should be given to other crimes, such as drug trafficking.

"The situation is dire on the border front. Some nights, we get reports of up to 60 drug trafficking operations. Traffickers in these cases were armed and ready to open fire on law-enforcement forces," the deputy chief said.

Minors, pregnant women, mothers of children aged under three and elderly people aged 70 or above were not to be subjected to capital punishment, he said.

The amended Penal Code aims to remove the death penalty for an additional 7 types of crime other than corruption.

Associate Professor Dr. Nguyen Tat Vien, a member of the Steering Committee for Judicial Reform, said, "In light of rampant corruption across the country, maintaining the death penalty for crimes related to corruption and bribery is necessary."

The Supreme People's Court Deputy Chief Justice Nguyen Son agreed and noted that the move confirmed the Government and the Party's resolute stance in the fight against corruption.

The amended Penal Code also proposed the criminalisation of additional activities, including manipulation of public opinion polling, violations of freedom of speech and freedom of the press and obstruction of the citizens' right to access information and carry out peaceful protests.

Source: news.asiaone.com, March 27, 2015


Vietnam considers scrapping death penalty for 7 crimes

The abolition of the death penalty has been proposed for 7 crimes under the current Penal Code, Deputy Minister of Justice Dinh Trung Tung said in a seminar on Tuesday, citing an amendment to the code.

Meanwhile, another amendment has been proposed to include three new crimes in the code, Tung said.

The deputy minister released the information at a seminar held by the National Assembly Justice Committee in the northern province of Hoa Binh to discuss a number of basic orientations for amending the Penal Code.

One of the major amendments to the Penal Code is to limit the scope of capital punishment, Tung told the seminar.

He said the board drafting amendments to the code has advised that the death penalty be scrapped for seven crimes, including plundering property, destroying important national security works and/or facilities; disobeying orders in the military; surrendering to the enemy which is applicable in the army; undermining peace, provoking aggressive wars; crimes against mankind; and war crimes.

Besides, capital punishment has been recommended to be maintained only for the crime of "illegally trading in narcotics" and be abolished for all the other drug-related charges, Tung said.

He told the seminar that death sentences should be applied to offenders who have committed especially serious crimes that infringe upon human life - such as murder in a cruel manner, murder and robbery, murder and rape, or murder for mean purposes - or pose serious threats to social order and safety and to the development of society, as possibly seen in drug-related cases.

If the amendments are approved, the number of crimes subject to the death penalty in Vietnam will be reduced to 15 from the current 22.

Death should be maintained for corruption convictions

Most of the seminar attendees agreed to these proposed amendments, but emphasized that they should not be extended to corruption-related crimes, which the country is trying to prevent and fight.

Speaking at the event, Associate Professor Dr. Nguyen Tat Vien, a standing member of the Central Steering Committee for Justice Reform, said, "There have many opinions saying that the death penalty should be abolished for corruption or embezzlement charges, but I think that such an abolition should not be approved given the current situation."

Nguyen Son, deputy chief judge of the People's Supreme Procuracy, also said that maintaining death sentences for corruption crimes is one of the ways to prove the resolve of the Party and State to combat corruption.

3 new charges proposed

In the spirit of respecting and ensuring full enforcement of human rights as well as citizens' basic rights and obligations specified in the 2013 Constitution, another amendment has been proposed to include three new charges in the Penal Code, Deputy Minister Tung said.

The new charges include infringing upon citizens' voting rights in referendums held by the State; altering referendum results; and infringing upon the right to freedom of speech, the right to freedom of the press, and citizens' rights to demonstration, Tung said.

In addition, heavier penalties have also been suggested for a number of existing crimes mentioned in the code, including infringement upon citizens' places of residence; infringement upon other persons' privacy or the safety of their letters, telephone and/or telegraph; illegally forcing laborers or public employees to leave their jobs; infringement upon citizens' rights to assembly and association, rights to freedom of belief and religion; and infringement upon the rights to complain and/or denounce, the official said.

Lethal injection for death penalty

In terms of execution methods, Vietnam switched from firing squad to lethal injection in November 2011, under Decree 82/2011 by the government.

However, the new execution method took years to implement due to a failure to import the needed drugs from the European Union, which banned the exportation of lethal injection drugs because it considers capital punishment a violation of human rights.

The Vietnamese government then issued Decree 47/2013 to amend Decree 82, allowing domestically produced drugs to be used for executions.

Decree 47 took effect on June 27, 2013 and the 1st execution by lethal injection was carried out in Hanoi on August 6, 2013.

Source: Tuoi Tre News, March 27, 2015 

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