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

Monday, February 20, 2017

Malaysia: Hundreds of thousands expected to join mass rally calling for greater Syariah laws

A muslim woman is caned in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, in October 2016.
A muslim woman is caned in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, in October 2016.
HUNDREDS of thousands of protesters are expected to throng the streets of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia this afternoon in what could be the country’s largest call to strengthen the Syariah justice system, as the Muslim-majority nation reaches a major crossroads over its secular laws.

Amid a backdrop of rising Islamic sentiments and fractured race-relations, the country’s pious northeastern state of Kelantan is closer to realising its decades-long pursuit of enforcing strict Islamic Syariah laws for criminal offences, threatening to worsen religious ties in a polarized multiracial nation.

Next month, lawmakers will debate a controversial bill, known as “Hadi’s Bill”, to amend Act 355 of the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965, proposing harsher punishments to replace current sentences that have long been implemented under the civil system.

Traditionally, Malaysia’s Syariah courts focused on family and marital affairs, and handed out minor fines amounting to several thousands of ringgit and relatively light prison sentences for moral offences, which are hardly enforced.

The religious courts are restricted to imposing punishments of up to three years’ jail; RM5,000 fine or whipping of no more than six strokes — also referred to in the country as the “3-5-6” penalties — for offences against Islam.

However, if passed, the bill is tipped to grant punitive powers to the Syariah courts and allow its judges to impose up to a hundred lashes, hundred thousand ringgit fines (US$21,000) and 30-year jail sentences on Muslims convicted of the same moral offences and other victimless crimes. Save for the death penalty, the amendments will be enshrined under state jurisdiction in the Federal Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land.

Among others, examples of punishable crimes under the proposed amendments include pre-marital sex, alcohol consumption, failure to attend Friday prayers or fast during Ramadhan. If implemented, the new laws threatened to throw modern Malaysia back into a medieval plot-setting where punishments were carried out in public, in full view of an onlooking crowd, similar to what is done in the self-autonomous region of Aceh, Indonesia.

Spearheading the Islamic law reforms is the hard-line Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) and its president Abdul Hadi Awang, an influential Islamist political movement headed by ulamas and religious clerics that fell out with the country’s opposition bloc over the disputed “Hudud” aspect of Islamic jurisprudence, which lies at the core of the issue.

The United Malays National Organisation or Umno, the ruling party led by Prime Minister Najib Razak who is faced with a massive corruption scandal and declining favour among voters, is seen to be banking in on the reforms.

In its bid to shore up political support, Umno, which has ruled the country for more than half a century via the rural Malay voter bank, has shown keenness in backing the demands of the hardline Islamists as Najib mulls calling for snap polls as early as the second half of the year.

Showing their solidarity for PAS’ flagship cause, Umno top brass and grassroots members are expected to join the much-talked-about rally in Padang Merbok, a landmark field in the capital that could fit up to 50,000 people.

Medieval and barbaric punishments
Sharia Law: Medieval and barbaric punishments
Nasrudin Hassan, a senior PAS politician and director of the Himpunan RU355 (Act 355 Rally), said at least 200,000 people, from different political backgrounds will attend the protest.

He said the mass rally, which will be one of the biggest rallies to ever be held in the country, has received approval from police and will see 21 speakers talk between 2pm and 11pm on Saturday. The organisers will deploy at least 2,500 volunteers to ensure order and security while the authorities corderned off the area to traffic.

Even though Padang Merbok can only handle between 40,000 to 50,000 people, the police and city hall officials will cooperate by holding roadblocks in the surrounding area to allow us to accommodate the crowd,” he said, as quoted by Utusan Malaysia.

“We are also encouraging the rally-goers to bring their own prayer mats and mineral water bottles. We also remind bus drivers to come early to avoid congestion.”

Race-relations, biased implementation and economic impact

While the proposed laws apply only to Muslims, critics argue that they could extend to others while a sizable number of law experts have labeled the bill “unconstitutional” and open to abuse.

Malaysia’s 30 million populace is Muslim-majority, but nearly 40 percent profess other faiths such as Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism.

Past debates on the bill have also triggered much controversy and created major fissures on both political fronts.

It has led to divisions in the multiracial ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) pact – with protests from Umno’s non-Muslim allies for its support of the bill – as well as in the opposition, whose parties split with PAS in 2015 over disagreements regarding hudud.

Malaysia’s Muslim conservatives, however, insist that such laws are mandatory, not just for religious adherents but for all of Malaysia.

Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, the president of the People’s Justice Party (PKR), said the opposition party was concerned with the motion due to its ambiguity on the matter regarding the scope of punishments.

“Since the proposals involve criminal laws that conflict with Islamic laws, the proposed punishments have to be absolutely certain. Whatever amendments that deal with punishments must be precise in their meaning.

“Any proposed amendments need to be absolutely aligned with Islamic laws. We also need to consider whether the amendments fit into the framework of the Federal Constitution,” she said in the party’s official stance on the matter.

She added PKR’s position is predicated on the condition that any debate on the RUU355 motion and its amendments to existing laws is to acquire further explanation and guarantee from the Prime Minister, and to ensure that the amendments “must comply and fulfill Islamic principles of justice and fairness, and do not contradict the text and the spirit of the Federal Constitution.”

In a Facebook posting, lawyer and activist, Nik Elin Nik Rashid, said the country would be treading on dangerous ground where the courts can mete out harsh punishments for trivial issues that normally concern women.

“It can get more dangerous if fatwas issued are allowed to become laws. Because its an offence to not follow a fatwa,” she said.

Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim, a former Secretary-General of Malaysia’s Finance Ministry and adviser to the G25 group of prominent Malays, urged the prime minister not to support the bill, saying the proposed laws will carry deep ramifications for the economy.

“If you support the bill, investors in and outside the country will see this as a political game (used) by you to evade your responsibilities and what is urgent to restore the country’s economy,” he told the prime minister in a statement which was forwarded to the Asian Correspondent by a G25 member.

“RUU355 will divide people and raise concerns over the future of this multi-ethnic state. When people are not sure about the future of Malaysia, our economy will lose its strength and the people will become victims due to a leadership that infuses politics and religion.”

Source: Asian Correspondent, A. Azim Idris, February, 18 2017

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Iran: $300,000 Prize for the Execution of Salman Rushdie by IRGC Affiliated Companies and Other Regime Institutions

A fatwa calling for Salman Rushdie's assassination was issued by Ayatollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, on 14 February 1989.
A fatwa calling for Salman Rushdie's assassination was issued by
Ayatollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, on 14 February 1989.
NCRI - According to the terrorist Quds Force Tasnim news agency on February 19, participants in the fourth exhibition called digital media of the Islamic Revolution, on the occasion of the anniversary of Khomeini's apostasy verdict against Salman Rushdie, determined the award of more than one billion Toman for his death.

Tasnim further reminded a quote from Khomeini in this regard who at the time said: “I fear 10 years from now, some analysts want to question this verdict against diplomatic principles.” So to prevent disremembering of that verdict was the main reason that participants in this exhibition determined the one billion Toman award for anyone who kills Rushdie.

The prize of one billion and eighty-one million Toman ( almost 300000 dollars) is funded by by more than 40 governmental and non-governmental institutions.

It is noteworthy that last year also the Iranian regime’s state media had reported that 40 state-run media outlets have jointly offered a new $600,000 bounty for the head of British author Salman Rushdie. The announcement was made to coincide with the anniversary of the fatwa issued by Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic.

Mansour Amini, the head of the Saraj Cyberspace Organization and the Secretary of the Third Exhibition of Islamic Revolution’s Digital Medias announced on February 17, 2016 the names of the outlets that contributed money to the fund. The state-run Fars News Agency, which is closely affiliated to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), was among the largest contributors. Amini said that Fars has devoted one billion Rials, or nearly $30,000.

Cyberban also allocated one billion Rials, while Tehran Press News allocated 300 million, or nearly $10,000 and Saraj Cyberspace Organization and the Headquarters for Advocating Virtue each allocated 500 million Rials for the potential assassination.

Shahin Gobadi of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) stated: “This once again clearly shows that terrorism is intertwined with the very existence of this regime as one of the pillars of its survival.

The mere fact that even the so-called media in this regime allocate a budget for terror manifests that all of the regime’s institutions are geared toward its ominous objectives. It’s simply ludicrous to think that one can reach out to some parts of the ruling theocracy to bring about moderation.”

Khomeini issued the fatwa against Rushdie on charges of blasphemy on February 15, 1989 to cover up the defeat of his goals in the Iran-Iraq war and in order to create crisis to divert attention from the regime’s problems and people’s demands following the Iran-Iraq war.

The regime’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei and other officials have reiterated this fatwa on a number of occasions over the past 27 years. Khamenei underscored its validity on October 20, 2015.

Source: NCRI, February 19, 2017

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Alabama: The weak sedative behind botched executions

From alleged botched executions in Oklahoma and Alabama to a split decision before the U.S. Supreme Court, a single sedative -- just 1 of the ingredients in a lethal cocktail -- defines much of the recent uncertainty around the American death penalty.

Midazolam was first introduced 4 decades ago. It's a common sedative used before minor dental or medical procedures, such as colonoscopies.

It's popular and inexpensive - $95 per 10mg wholesale. The World Health Organization lists it as one of the essential drugs needed for a basic health-care system.

But in the past four years midazolam also has been used in large doses - 100 mg to 500mg - for the darker and unhealthy purpose. Prison systems in Alabama and at least 5 other states have used it to sedate death row inmates to mask the pain of the drugs they are then given to stop their hearts and breathing.

Inmates in Alabama and other states say in lawsuits that midazolam's use amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. They say the drug isn't strong enough to block the burning pain caused by the other drugs. It has resulted in a half-dozen botched executions in Alabama and elsewhere, they claim.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2015, however, in a 5-4 decision declared midazolam's use in an Oklahoma case wasn't cruel and unusual punishment. Justice Sonia Sotomayor in a dissent wasn't convinced midazolam prevents pain and likened the risk to being "burned at the stake."

Despite the nation's top court saying it is okay for prisons to use midazolam, three states have now abandoned its use in recent months. Alabama isn't among them despite lawyers for two inmates who were executed last year with midazolam claiming those executions were botched.

The Alabama Attorney General's Office is now awaiting a decision by the Alabama Supreme Court to set an execution date for Robert Melson - the man convicted in the 1994 triple slayings of employees at a Popeye's restaurant in Gadsden. Melson's attorneys filed a motion to the Alabama Supreme Court on Feb. 8 urging them not to set any execution dates yet until the question of the constitutionality of the method of execution with the use of midazolam is resolved, particularly after the Dec. 8 execution of Ronald Bert Smith was "badly botched."

The Attorney General's Office declined to comment for this story.

Prison systems in Alabama and other states began turning towards midazolam as an alternative to sedate inmates after drug manufacturers of sodium thiopental and pentobarbital began cutting off supplies because they didn't want their drugs associated with executions.

Alabama was caught by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration trying to bring in black market supplies, according to previous reports. The Alabama Department of Corrections also had no luck after contacting four other states to see if they could share their supplies, and also a few dozen pharmacies to see if they would compound pentobarbital.

So in 2014 Alabama announced it would substitute midazolam into its lethal injection cocktail.

What is midazolam?

"It is a class of sedative hypnotics known as benzodiazepine, the most famous of which is valium. ... It's (valium is) a close cousin," said David A. Lubarsky, chair of the Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative Medicine and Pain Management at the University of Miami.

What is midazolam designed to do?

"It is intended to relieve anxiety and when used as part of an anesthetic to reduce the requirement of other drugs. But it is not indicated as a sole drug for an anesthetic state," Lubarsky said.

It can be used as a sedative for minor medical procedures but not for surgery or an execution, Lubarsky said.

What won't midazolam do?

"You can knock someone out you just can't do anything to them ... The thing with midazolam it does not depress your sensations sufficiently to allow you to do surgery," Lubarsky said.

"If there's movement the inmate's not asleep, or not sufficiently asleep," Lubarsky said. "Nobody moves if they are properly anesthetized with midazolam or any drug," he said.

Even during procedures such as colonoscopies midazolam is used in combination with another drug to knock the patients out, Lubarsky said.

Gasping for breath

In several executions over the past 4 years around the nation, witnesses have seen inmates struggle on the gurneys after being injected with midazolam and before being given the other drugs.

In the Dec. 8 execution in Alabama the inmate, Ronald Bert Smith, moved around for 13 minutes, appearing to gasp for breath, snort, and move his arms. A correctional officer performed two unconscious tests before the other lethal drugs were administered. Prison officials said the execution was conducted according to its protocol. It's unclear whether Smith was given more than the initial dose of 500 mg of midazolam during his struggle.

One of Smith's lawyers later called it a "botched" execution.

An awakening

Nobody moves if they are properly anesthetized with midazolam or any drug," Dr. David Lubarsky

The definition of being anesthetized is being insensate, unconscious, and immobile, said Lubarsky, who has testified in inmates' midazolam lawsuits around the country.

An inmate can get to sleep with midazolam, Lubarsky said. But a very high urgent tone, adrenaline surge, or pain can produce an awakening, he said.

"You just won't stay asleep in the face of a painful stimulus, which is why it (midazolam) is not indicated as a single drug for anesthesia because it doesn't work," Lubarsky said.

Lubarsky noted the July 23, 2014 execution of inmate Joseph Wood in Arizona that took nearly two hours. Wood was given a total of 760 grams of midazolam combined with narcotics on top of that.

"All these drugs that we give are balanced against the condition of the day," Lubarsky said. "Meaning if someone is hyper acute and hyperaware and has their adrenaline going because they are about to die they don't succumb to these drugs that are not complete anesthetics."

Not enough on its own

Midazolam has no place for use in executions, Lubarsky said. "You could concoct some regimen using midazolam that would be okay but only as part of a regimen and not as a sole drug," he said.

Before midazolam most states used pentobarbital or sodium thiopental as the sedative, which provide a deeper level of anesthesia, Lubarsky said. The problem with that drug was that it didn't last long enough to get an execution, he said.

After manufacturers began refusing to provide sodium thiopental and other drugs for executions, prisons turned to midazolam, which lasts a little longer than sodium thiopental but doesn't provide a level of anesthesia sufficiently deep at any point in time, he said.

"So it's complicated," Lubarsky said. "State correctional facilities are trying to simplify what it takes anesthesiologists years to learn and to execute flawlessly."

Paradoxical affect

Alabama inmates also have suggested that they also could have a "paradoxical" reaction to midazolam.

Lubarsky explained that a paradoxical reaction is where midazolam produces in the patient the opposite of its intended effect. Instead of sedation the person becomes excited, hyperactive and even combative, he said.

Doctors don't fully understand why that occurs, but it occurs with between 1 to 11 % of people taking midazolam, Lubarsky said. It depends on personal characteristics, particularly those with sociopathic and violent tendencies, he said.

"I image imagine people who are being sentenced to death have all those characteristics," Lubarsky said.

Lubarsky said he is not a "die-hard" opponent to executions. But he said it should be done right. "We're not doing it right and it's important that we're better than the people we're trying to execute."

Move away from midazolam?

Alabama is among a half dozen states that have used midazolam in executions - either in combination with 2 or 3 other drugs, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The other states are Florida, Oklahoma, Ohio, Virginia and Arizona.

But in the past few months 3 of those states - Arizona, Ohio and Florida - have abandoned or are considering abandoning midazolam's use in executions.

In court actions in the past 3 months Ohio and Arizona have moved away from the use of midazolam and it appears Florida also is looking at a replacement for the drug. (what are the replacement options?)

A federal magistrate judge on Jan. 26 declared the use of a 3-drug cocktail - including midazolam - Ohio planned to use for executions is unconstitutional, according to Cleveland.com. "The Court concludes that use of midazolam as the 1st drug in Ohio's present 3-drug protocol will create a 'substantial risk of serious harm' or an 'objectively intolerable risk of harm' as required by (Supreme Court precedent)," the judge wrote.

Arizona in December became the 1st to move away from the use of midazolam. In an agreement filed in December in an on-going federal lawsuit by a group of Arizona death row inmates the Arizona Department of Corrections agreed that it "will never again use midazolam, or any other benzodiazepine, as part of a drug protocol in a lethal injection execution."

Arizona's move away from midazolam began last summer when the state said it could no longer get a supply of the drug and suggested the prisoners' lawsuit was now moot. But attorneys for the prisoners, however, questioned what would happen if Arizona later obtained a supply of that drug and worked for a permanent agreement.

In December the Orlando Sentinel reported that records showed that Florida no longer has a supply of midazolam hydrochloride. Instead, the state has been purchasing the hypnotic drug etomidate as a replacement.

Alabama, however, has shown no sign that it plans to back off its current protocol. State prison officials have denied that either of Alabama's 2 executions since the new lethal injection cocktail was put into place were botched. They say both went according to protocol and both inmates did not respond to consciousness tests after midazolam was administered, but before the other drugs were given.

Courts so far have denied the Alabama prisoners' midazolam claims. Some of the lawsuits also have been dismissed because judges ruled the Alabama prisoners did not suggest a less painful form of execution available to the state - a requirement when contesting methods of execution. The judges have rejected inmates' suggestions of firing squad, hanging and gas, saying those are not available under Alabama law.

Attorneys for death row inmate Robert Melson who may be next up on the gurney, however, say no executions should be allowed until the lawsuits challenging use of midazolam are settled.

"There are serious constitutional issues surrounding the method the State intends to use to carry out Mr. Melson's death sentence. Given the events of Ronald Smith's execution, it is premature to set an execution date for Mr. Melson when questions about the method used to carry out that sentence have not yet been resolved."

Source: al.com, Kent Faulk, February 19, 2017

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Activists Want Texas' Death Penalty Abolished as Executions Decline

Texas death row
Data from the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty shows fewer inmates were executed in 2016 than in 2015 - a trend the group says continues to go down.

"I think it's time to get rid of it," said Brian Stolarz, defense attorney.

Opponents of the death penalty say juries are becoming more aware of the risk of a wrongful conviction.

"We also see juries in cases demanding higher standards of evidence. There have been 157 people nationwide and 13 here in Texas who were wrongfully convicted and released from death row," said Kristin Houle, executive director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Defense attorneys say the political climate has changed and so have minds.

"We have a case with no physical evidence, no science at all in the case. Just witness interviews, witness statements and other things, and a man who was innocent was going to die," said Stolarz.

2 bills have been filed at the state capitol; 1 would get rid of the death penalty for people convicted under Texas' law of parties and the other would abolish the death penalty altogether.

Additionally, fewer prosecutors are seeking capital punishment "because they have the option of life in prison without parole and also because many of them don't want to burden their counties with the exorbitant expense of a death penalty trial," said Houle.

Some argue the state ought to practice restorative justice - where those convicted have a chance to repent and rehabilitate.

"Even people who have done bad things cannot be judged on that one bad thing alone. People are greater than the one bad thing they do," said Stolarz.

So far, 18 states plus DC have abolished the death penalty.

Source: twcnews.com, February 19, 2017

Lawmaker wants state funds for death penalty attorneys

The Walls Unit, Huntsville, Texas
The Walls Unit, Huntsville, Texas
A Republican Texas lawmaker is trying to pass a bill that would create and fund a statewide office of appellate attorneys to represent death row inmates.

Last week, Rep. James White, R-Hillister, filed House Bill 1676 to create the Office of Capital Appellate Defender. The state-funded office would represent inmates sentenced to death who can't afford their own lawyer in their direct appeals to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals - the time when convicts can raise issues from their trial. Currently, the convicting court appoints an approved lawyer for this step of the appeals process and the prosecuting county pays the bill.

White, who represents 5 rural counties in East Texas, said the bill is one way to help struggling counties that have had to raise property taxes while dealing with unfunded state mandates, such as paying for indigent defense. And as chairman of the House Corrections Committee and representative of the district that houses most of Texas' death row inmates, he wants to ensure the state is being thorough when handing down the harshest penalty it can impose.

White has estimated the office would cost $500,000 a year, which could put the bill in jeopardy as lawmakers work to tighten the state's budget for the coming biennium.

Source: The Texas Tribune, February 19, 2017

Conference held in Austin to abolish the death penalty

A group of Texans wanting to get rid of the penalty heard a different perspective on the act of executing someone during a conference Saturday in Austin.

The Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty brought together people who think it's unfair - and should go away.

The group invited journalists who have witnessed executions to explain why it's an important issue to discuss.

"Whether you're for it or against it, whether that coverage takes place is extremely important. I think that a lot of people who are advocates either for it or against it don't know the back story as far as what goes into the reporting on the death penalty, how sometimes the stories can be pretty dark, pretty looming, very graphic in a lot of ways," said Ryan Poppe.

Democratic lawmakers have filed bills in the Texas House and Senate to abolish it. However, Poppe says it will likely see the same fate as past bills to do the same.

It likely will not even come up for a vote.

Source: KXAN news, February 19, 2017

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Indonesia court sentences 4 to death for drug trafficking

Meth bust, file photo
The panel of judges at Tangerang District Court has handed down the death penalty to 3 Taiwanese citizens and one Indonesian for trafficking 60 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine.

The defendants have been identified as Chen Alin, Achen, Alang and Suprapto. 

Alin and Achen, through their lawyers, said that they had not decided on further action while Alang and Suprapto said they would appeal.

"For their offenses, the defendants are sentenced to death. The defendants have been proven guilty of jointly committing acts of crime," said presiding judge Tuti Hariyati said on Friday, as quoted by wartakota.tribunnews.com.

The death sentence was imposed as the panel of judges did not find any mitigating circumstances for the defendants.

Joko Priyatno, the lawyer for Alin and Achen, said his clients were not part of the drug ring that smuggled the meth as Alin came to the country as a technician and Achen as a driver. 

Edi Rustandi, Alang's lawyer, said that his client only possessed 1.06 kg of crystal methamphetamine not 60 kg.

Alin and Achen were arrested at Sun Plaza, South Tangerang, in May, in possession of 6 kg of meth. 

They said that they obtained the meth from Suprapto. 

The police then raided Suprapto's house at Paramount Cluster Alicante residential area and found 54 kilograms of meth.

Source: The Jakarta Post, February 19, 2017

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Hamas sentences 3 to death for spying for Israel, upholds 3 more rulings

Hamas militants executing alleged collaborators with Israel in August 2014
Hamas militants executing alleged collaborators with Israel in August 2014
All were convicted of treason, and some charged with causing the death and injury of Gazans

Authorities in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip have sentenced 6 men to death for "collaborating" with Israel, the Palestinian Safa press service reports. 

3 of the sentences were new while the other 3 were sentences that were upheld following appeal. 

The Associated Press reports that Sunday's sentences bring the number of people on death row to 10, and several others are appealing the same conviction. 

According to the Safa report, all were convicted of treason, and some of the men were charged with causing the death and injury of Gazans through their actions. 

Hamas authorities believe that 1 of the convicted, born in 1968, began working with Israel in 1991, said Safa. 

3 of the accused were from Jabalya, in the northern Gaza Strip, and the others were from Gaza City and Khan Younis. 

Under Palestinian law, those convicted of collaboration with Israel, murder and drug trafficking face the death penalty. 

Execution orders must be approved by the Palestinian president before they can be carried out, but Hamas no longer recognizes the legitimacy of Mahmoud Abbas whose 4-year term ended in 2009. 

In the past, Hamas has come under fire from human rights groups for executing suspected collaborators without a trial. 

Sometimes Gazans are accused of being collaborators based on mere rumor and at other times those who fall out of favor with Hamas are deemed collaborators and executed. 

Source: 124news.tv, February 19, 2017

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Retired Philippine police officer says Duterte ordered 'death squad' hits

"Human rights groups have documented about 1,400 suspicious killings in Davao during Duterte's time as mayor."
"Human rights groups have documented about 1,400 suspicious killings
in Davao during Duterte's time as mayor."
MANILA -- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte operated a "death squad" while mayor of Davao city, giving cash and orders for police and assassins to murder criminals, according to a former policeman who said he was involved in the clandestine killings.

In remarks contradicting his earlier denial of the existence of such a "death squad", Arturo Lascanas said he was one of the ringleaders of the group that began operating when Duterte became mayor of the southern Philippine city in 1988.

Duterte has repeatedly denied involvement in vigilantism or summary executions, either as president or during his total of 22 years as Davao mayor. His police chief has denied there was ever a death squad in Davao, describing it as fiction created by the media.

On Monday, Lascanas asserted that the Davao death squad was no myth and he was one of those who carried out secret killings of drug dealers and criminals at Duterte's behest.

"It is true, the Davao death squad, or DDS, really exists," Lascanas told reporters at the Senate in Manila, the capital.

"When Mayor Duterte sat down as mayor for the first time, we started what is called 'salvaging' of people, these people are suspects committing crime in Davao."

He added: "We implemented the personal orders of Mayor Duterte to us."

Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said Lascanas' claims were politically motivated and allegations of extrajudicial killings ordered by Duterte had been proved false by numerous independent agencies.

"Our people are aware that this character assassination is nothing but vicious politics orchestrated by sectors affected by the reforms initiated by the Duterte administration," Andanar told CNN Philippines.

Lascanas is the second man to go public with explosive claims of involvement in illegal killings allegedly ordered by Duterte, the hugely popular president nicknamed "the Punisher", whose ruthless approach to tackling crime has won public approval.

Lascanas' comments differed from those he made at a Senate hearing in October, however, when he denied the existence of a Davao death squad.


He said he had decided his "obedience and loyalty" to Duterte must end and had promised God that he would confess.

His account was similar to that of hit man Edgar Matobato, who testified in September to watching Duterte shoot a man dead and give orders for police to kill criminals.

Human rights groups have documented about 1,400 suspicious killings in Davao during Duterte's time as mayor and critics say the war on drugs he unleashed as president has the same hallmarks.

Trigger-happy Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte
Trigger-happy Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte
More than 7,700 people have been killed in the latest crackdown, some 2,500 in what police say are shootouts during raids and sting operations.

Many of the rest are under investigation and activists believe large numbers of extrajudicial killings have taken place.

Lascanas said death squad members in Davao received 20,000 to 100,000 pesos ($398 to $1,990) per hit, depending on the target's value. Some members, he said, were former Communist rebels.

He confessed to the unsolved murder of a Davao radio show host who was staunchly critical of Duterte.

Lascanas detailed his involvement in the bombing of a mosque and the killing of the family of a suspected kidnapper. The victims included a pregnant woman, a small boy and an elderly person.

Both attacks were ordered by Duterte, he said.

"This is how it began, all the killings we did in Davao, whether we bury or we throw in the sea, we are being paid by Mayor Duterte," he said.

Source: Reuters, Karen Lema and Neil Jerome Morales, February 20, 2017

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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Murderers with mental illnesses may be spared execution in Ohio

Ohio lawmakers are considering a bill that would prohibit executing offenders who suffer from a serious mental illness, under certain conditions.

A bill introduced this week by state Sens. John Eklund, R-Chardon, and Sandra Williams, D-Cleveland, would take death sentences off the table for those who show they suffered from a serious mental illness at the time of the crime. Likewise, inmates on Death Row would have a mechanism for being re-sentenced to life in prison if they can show they suffered from major depression, schizophrenia or another serious mental illness at the time they committed their crimes, according to Senate Bill 40.

Individuals with intellectual disabilities and juveniles are currently exempt from capital punishment.

"No less than juveniles or the mentally disabled, persons with serious mental illness lack the culpability normally associated with death penalty offenses even if they cannot meet the exacting standards of 'not guilty by reason of insanity' - a defense which if proved, prohibits any punishment on the offender," according to the Ohio Alliance for the Mental Illness Exemption, which is urging support of SB40.

In April 2014, the 22-member Ohio Supreme Court Death Penalty Task Force recommended the most sweeping overhaul to capital punishment the state has seen in 30 years. Among its 56 recommendations in a 76-page report: prohibit executions of mentally ill prisoners.

Ohio adopted its current death penalty statute in 1981. It has executed 53 men since executions resumed in 1999. Mental Health America estimates that 20 % of all death row inmates suffer from a severe mental illness.

Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said 46 of the 138 inmates on Death Row are receiving mental health treatment and 22 of the 46 are designated as seriously mentally ill. Data on how many of them had the mental health issue at the time of their crimes was not available.

State Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miami Twp., who supports ending capital punishment, said "I understand that repealing the death penalty is a controversial issue, but I hope we can come to a consensus that at the very least those people with serious mental illnesses should not be executed."

The Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association has been an ardent supporter of maintaining the death penalty.

Megan Testa, a forensic psychiatrist and a member of the Ohio Psychiatric Physicians Association, said the association backs SB40 because it establishes procedures for considering reduced culpability for offenders suffering for severe mental illnesses when they commit crimes.

Source: Dayton Daily News, February 18, 2017

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Pakistan: Flawed justice system: 10% of death row convicts children

"A system rigged against the very people it sought to protect."

Around 10 % of Pakistan's death row convicts are feared to be juvenile offenders, who have been sentenced to death in a clear violation of the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance, 2000 (JJSO) and the international obligations.

This has been claimed in a report titled 'Death Row's Children: Pakistan's Unlawful Executions of Juvenile Offenders', has been compiled by human rights law firm Justice Project Pakistan (JPP). The report was launched in Islamabad on Friday.

The study highlights the complete violation of JJSO's section 12 which prohibits "the sentencing of juvenile offenders to death, or labour during their imprisonment".

"In Pakistan despite prohibiting the sentencing and imposition of the death penalty against juvenile offenders, hundreds of suspected juvenile offenders have been put to death so far.

"Many of the alleged juveniles sentenced to death prior to the notification continue to be denied an inquiry into their claim of juvenility by provincial home departments and the courts," the report says.

According to the report, at least 6 juvenile offenders have been executed since December 2014 - when the government lifted a 6-year de facto moratorium on death penalty - despite credible evidence showing them to be underage at the time of the alleged crime.

The government has consistently maintained that no executions of juvenile offenders have taken place. However, juvenile offenders continue to be executed due to lack of implementation of protective safeguards and protocols particularly whilst conducting age determination investigations.

Challenges impeding course of juvenile justice

The report has attributed dismal lack of birth registrations in the country as one of the major reasons behind poor juvenile justice in Pakistan.

Pakistan is among the countries which have the lowest rate of birth registrations. It is estimated that there are nearly 10 million children - below the age of 5 years - who are currently unregistered. This figure is growing by nearly 3 million every year.

"Pakistan's failure to fulfill the right to birth registration for its children means that the criminal justice system is marred by a high risk of wrongful arrests, detention and executions of child offenders," says the report. It says juvenile suspects fail to produce any authentic documentation to prove their exact date of birth.

Resultantly, it becomes impossible for the police to determine the exact age of the juvenile and therefore they treat him just like adult prisoners. They are kept along with prisoners who are double or triple their age until a plea of juvenility is raised at the trial stage, it says.

Furthermore juveniles, who lack proper documentation, find it almost impossible to challenge the arbitrary assessments. "An absence of comprehensive guidance on how and when to determine age of an accused person has marred a significant number of trials of juvenile offenders with confusion."

When contacted, an official of the Ministry of Human Rights - while requesting anonymity - said, "It is just 1 example of violation of child rights law in Pakistan. However, there are several other such laws which are being violated everyday due to which children are becoming victim of cruelty and brutality."

Flawed system

During the launch event for the report on Friday, parliamentarians said that it highlighted an important issue which needs to be addressed immediately.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) MNA Asad Umar said that below a certain age, someone cannot be held accountable for their decisions and actions.

Noting how "deeply flawed Pakistan's criminal justice is", he said that the death penalty needs to be exercised with "extreme caution".

Senator Farhatullah Babar, who is also a member of the human rights' committee of the upper house, said there was a need to implement birth determining protocols to protect juvenile offenders.

He urged that the country should move from a security state to a welfare state.

Sarah Belal, the executive director of JPP said that the juvenile justice system did not do children any good if it appeared to be rigged against the very people it sought to protect.

Source: Express News, February 18, 2017

State of juvenile prisoners on death row in Pakistan highlighted

Aftab Bahadur was sentenced to death, implicated in a triple murder case when he was a young man of 14 years of age. After languishing in the jail for 24 years he walked to the gallows on June 10, 2015, and was hanged by the neck till the time he was dead at the age of 38 years.

Outside the gate of the jail was the man, on whose testimony he was declared guilty of the crime, which he never committed, weeping bitterly and crying for mercy, pleading pardon for Aftab Bahadur, shouting that he gave a wrong statement under coercion.

All his wailing failed to prevent a 'judicial murder'! This was one of many more such cases we have seen in the history of Pakistan. Not many months ago the Supreme Court declared 2 persons, real brothers in fact, as innocent of the alleged murder for which they were awarded death sentence. They were acquitted of the crime they allegedly committed and orders were passed for their 'honourable release' from jail.

The release orders only got a response from the jail authorities that the 2 brothers have been hanged to death 2 years ago!

We have seen the number of executions jump to one of the highest in the world since the government of Pakistan lifted the moratorium on death penalty in the backdrop of the horrifying incident of terrorist strike on the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar. However, as the result of lifting of the moratorium we have seen few terrorists being executed while a large number of other convicts have been taken to the gallows, as if the authorities were in too great a hurry to finish the job!

And we saw some juvenile prisoners also meeting the same fate in this execution spree.

The Justice Project Pakistan (JPP), a non-governmental organisation (NGO) engaged in efforts to restore the moratorium on death penalty, released 1 of its reports today (Friday) at a local hotel, highlighting the state of juvenile prisoners on death row in Pakistan.

It was a well attended launch and the participants included the members of the Parliament, both from the Lower as well as Upper House, diplomats based in Islamabad and a large number of people from different walks of life.

According to the press release issued by the JPP after the function the report launched on the occasion indicates that the juvenile justice system in Pakistan has failed to protect its juveniles from being sentenced to death. The report documents the fundamental weaknesses in the country's juvenile justice system including inadequate legislative protections, scant birth registration, and lack of age determination protocols that leads to countless juveniles being sentenced to death and eventually executed.

Speaking on the occasion the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf MNA, Asad Umar stated that "below a certain age, you cannot be held accountable for the decisions that you make." He added that the death penalty has to be exercised with "extreme caution" given how "deeply flawed Pakistan's criminal justice is."

Commenting on the lack of retrospective force of the Presidential Notification for the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance (JJSO), Mr Umar expressed his "complete shock and horror that a legally binding presidential order is being violated."

The PPP Senator, Mr Farhatullah Babar, while praising the report observed that, the issues highlighted in the report posed an urgent need for to address the low rates of birth registration as well as implementing age determination protocols to protect juvenile offenders. He also called for reducing the number of crimes punishable by death in Pakistan (currently 27). The Member of the Senate Committee on Human Rights said that while Pakistan is a security-driven society, it needs to strive to become a welfare-driven society, as guided by Article 38. Sen. Babar also advised that the findings of the report be shared with parliamentarians to sensitize them to the cause of human rights.

Commissioner, National Commission of Human Rights, Chaudhry Shafique questioned the point of the government ratifying international human rights treaties, if the judiciary was unwilling to implement the obligations contained in them.

Child Rights Commissioner Ms Farzana Bari and the parliamentarian Ms Nafisa Khattak, Shafqat Ali of the Ministry of Human Rights, activist Ms Valerie Khan, Director of Conflict Law Centre at the Research Society for International Law Oves Anwar, founder of SPARC, Mr Anees Jilani also spoke at the launch.

Like 160 countries in the world, Pakistan has enacted legislation, specifically the JJSO, prohibiting the sentencing and imposition of the death penalty against juvenile offenders - persons who commit crimes before turning eighteen years of age.

JPP has analyzed 140 reported cases, since the beginning of the operation of the JJSO in 2000 to 2016, wherein a plea of juvenility had been raised by an accused person. 4 different types of evidence were taken into account, including a statement under S. 342 of the Criminal Penal Code, medical evidence, birth certificates and school leaving certificates, noting where judges had placed reliance on each, and where they had rejected each.

The report revealed the executions of Aftab Bahadur, Shafqat Hussain, Ansar Iqbal, Muhammad Sarfraz, Faisal Mehmood and Muhammad Amin - all juveniles at the time of arrest - proves this claim to be blatantly false.

Zafarullah Khan, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Law stated at the Pakistan's 5th periodic review at the UNCRC that "minors were tried under the Special Court Law, separately from majors." Yet, nearly 17 years after the JJSO was promulgated, the government has failed to install separate juvenile courts.

Ms Sarah Belal, the Executive Director of JPP said that the juvenile justice system does not do our children any good, if it appears to be rigged against the very people it seeks to protect. This report, and its findings underscore the urgent need to pass the pending Juvenile Justice System Bill so fewer minors will face the gallows.

Source: thenews.com.pk, February 18, 2017

Related article: Pakistan: Executing Children, February 16, 2017

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Kuwait rejects European Parliament’s criticism over executions

Execution in Kuwait
Execution in Kuwait
Criticisms based on “inaccurate reports published by private organisations and media institutions.”

Manama: Kuwait has expressed reservations over European Parliament’s criticism of the execution of convicted murderers last month.

“Integrity and transparency are the major characteristic of Kuwait’s judiciary and all defendants are provided with defence attorneys as guaranteed by Kuwaiti laws,” Jassem Al Budaiwi, Kuwait’s Ambassador to Belgium said.

The European Union on Wednesday said that it “deeply deplores” the executions in Kuwait and called for “a moratorium on the death penalty as a step towards its abolition,” the diplomat was quoted as saying by Kuwait News Agency (Kuna) on Friday.

However, Al Budaiwi said that while he understood the motives behind the European Parliament’s statement, he urged the European lawmakers to understand the principles of Kuwait Criminal Law, which did not clash with Kuwait’s obligations vis-a-vis the international community.

The diplomat added that European Parliament’s mention of alleged human rights issues in Kuwait was based on “inaccurate reports published by some private organisations and media institutions.”

“The European Parliament did not contact the official authorities for information, resulting in a report that does not reflect the bright image of the State of Kuwait in terms of human rights, an image that is internationally appreciated.”

“All judicial and government institutions in Kuwait are operating in a transparent manner, and the human rights watchdogs in the state have full access to information and sources they need,” Al Budaiwi said.

The ambassador played down the impact of the European Parliament’s non-binding decision on the European-Kuwait ties, which he described as “historic and distinguished.”

Kuwait’s foreign ministry has recently affirmed that seven people were executed for committing murders, and the death penalty’s verdicts were based on criminal law.

Kuwait on January 25 executed seven convicts two Kuwaitis (Shaikh Faisal Al Abdullah Al Sabah and Nasra Al Enezi), two Egyptians, a Bangladeshi, a Filipina, and an Ethiopian, after they were found guilty in cases of premeditated murder, rape and theft.

The death penalty, by hanging, was carried out in application of the verdicts pronounced by courts and upheld by the Court of Appeals and the Court of Cassation and endorsed by the Emir.

The convicts were allowed final visits one day before the execution by relatives in the cases of the Kuwaitis and by representatives from their diplomatic missions for the foreigners. 

Shaikh Faisal was sentenced to death in October 2011 after the Criminal Court found him guilty of the murder of his nephew Shaikh Basil Salem Sabah Al Salem Al Sabah in June 2010.

Shaikh Basil, 52, was the grandson of Kuwait’s 12th Emir, Shaikh Sabah Al Salem Al Sabah, who ruled from November 24, 1965 to December 31, 1977.

The Kuwaiti authorities had ruled out any political motives behind the murder as Shaikh Basil did not hold an official position. The death sentence was upheld in 2013.

The Kuwaiti woman, Nasra Al Enezi, was sentenced to death for setting ablaze a wedding camp in 2009, killing 57 women and children.

The Bangladeshi, Mohammad Shaha Mohammad, was sentenced to death in 2009 for kidnapping, rape and theft in Jahra.

The Filipina, Jakatia Pawa, was convicted in 2008 of premeditated murder while the Ethiopian was also convicted of murder in 2008.

One Egyptian, Sayyed Radhi Jumaa, was convicted in 2008 for premeditated murder while the other Egyptian, Sameer Taha Abdul Majed, was sentenced to death in 2009 for murder and theft.

Source: Gulf News, February 18, 2017

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