Sept. 18


Left goes against its grain, wants noose for killer

A day after the Supreme Court commuted the death penalty of Govindachami, the sole convict in the Soumya murder case, the Left in Kerala has found itself caught in an ideological war of its own making.

On one hand, the CPM-led state government announced its plans to seek a review or revision of the Supreme Court verdict and seek the death sentence for the convict. However, this is contrary to the Left's pre-declared stand against capital punishment, which had them pitching for legislation to remove the death penalty from the Constitution.

CPM Politburo member M A Baby, a staunch opponent of capital punishment, stated that the Left was against the death penalty. "In general, the Left is opposed to capital punishment and we feel it should be removed from our system and Constitution through legislation.

"The Left believes that capital punishment is highly primitive and should be done away with," said Baby. "This is not a specific stance for Govindachami alone. We would have held the same view even if Nathuram Vinayak Godse, who killed Mahatma Gandhi, was on trial today."

Rejecting Baby's view, Kerala's Law Minister and CPM Central Committee member A K Balan said: "We will approach the court seeking maximum punishment under Section 302 (murder). There is no point in going for life imprisonment for Govindachami, as he has already been sentenced for a life term once," said Balan. Despite their opposite views, both Baby and Balan reiterated that there was no contradiction in the stance of the party and the Kerala government on the issue. Balan added that the party and the government are seeking death for Govindachami considering the grave crime he committed. Balan, who is in Delhi to attend a 3-day CPM Central Committee meet, will meet legal experts on what the immediate and best mode of approach in the court will be - to finalise whether the government should file a review petition or a revision petition. Since capital punishment is only for rarest of rare offences, the government's attempt will be to ensure the court awards punishment to Govindachami for murder, too.

As if sensing the dilemma within Left parties, BJP state chief Kummanam Rajsekharan lambasted the government, accusing it of foul play. Meanwhile, CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan tried to downplay the controversy, insisting that there was no irony in the matter.

"The CPM has demanded that Govindachami be given maximum punishment as per the existing law. As of now, there is capital punishment in the law. Hence, the government will demand the same," he said. "The Left's stance is not specific to this particular case. There is no need to link the 2."

The CPM had finalised its stance on doing away with capital punishment after earlier discussions within its Politburo and Central Committee.



Tragic story of death-row maid caught up in Asia's war on drugs ---- Mary Jane Veloso says she was duped into smuggling heroin into Indonesia as she fled an attempted rape in Dubai

She has become a cause celebre in both the country of her detention and that of her birth. Condemned to death on drug-smuggling charges, she was temporarily reprieved hours before her execution, but still languishes on death row in an Indonesian prison. And last week the skies darkened again over Mary Jane Veloso, a Filipino maid whose plight has captured the imagination of 2 populations that know all about the vulnerability of migrant workers.

After the Philippines' president, the newly installed Rodrigo Duterte, visited Jakarta, it was reported that he had given his Indonesian counterpart, Joko Widodo, the go-ahead to execute her. Duterte has begun a ferocious and bloody war on drugs in the Philippines. That change of political direction has, it seems, led to yet another twist in the tortured tale of a woman who lost control of her life from the moment she entered Indonesia in 2010, hoping, she has said, to take up a job in domestic service.

Born to an impoverished family in the northern city of Cabanatuan, Veloso married at 17 but later separated from her husband. She moved to the United Arab Emirates in 2009 to earn money for her 2 young sons in the Philippines.

Veloso says that she had to flee Dubai after an attempted rape and was then duped into smuggling drugs into Indonesia. Her case has become the focus of sympathy in both the Philippines and Indonesia, where many families have loved ones working abroad, often in poor conditions with abusive employers. Before the original date set for her execution last April, more than 200,000 signatures from 127 countries were collected for a #SaveMaryJane petition.

Veloso says that a woman called Maria Kristina Sergio, the daughter of one of her godparents, told her to move to Indonesia for a maid's job in 2010. In an account that Sergio disputes, Veloso says the woman gave her new clothes and a bag that she says she was unaware had 2.6kg (5.7lb) of heroin sewn into it. "We're poor and I wanted to change our life, but I could never commit the crime they have accused me of," Veloso wrote last year in a letter to the then president, Benigno Aquino.

Her legal team launched 2 appeals in Indonesia, 1 that argued she did not have a competent translator, and a 2nd saying she was scammed. Both were rejected.

As her April 2015 execution date approached, protesters in the Philippines and Indonesia rallied to save her and hundreds of people held vigils outside the Indonesian embassy in Manila. Even world boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao made a public plea for her life.

2 days before Veloso's execution date, her family was allowed a visit. She explained to her sons that she would not be coming home. Her youngest child, 6-year-old Mark Darren, said he would try to think that "Mama is in heaven".

Then Indonesia shot dead 8 people, including 2 Australians, part of the Bali 9 heroin-smuggling ring, four Nigerians, a Brazilian and an Indonesian. But not Veloso, although several newspapers in the Philippines reported she was dead. The hashtag "maryjanelives" trended on Twitter across the Philippines and Indonesia.

The reprieve was down to an unexpected turn of events in her homeland. Veloso???s alleged trafficker, Sergio, had handed herself in to police hours before the execution. And Aquino, invoking a regional treaty that compels nations to co-operate on transnational crime, asked Indonesia to keep Veloso alive. He said she was needed to testify in the case against Sergio and another man, now accused of trafficking, illegal recruitment and fraud.

Indonesia's president insisted that the execution was merely postponed, but the campaign for clemency had new grounds for hope.

A year on, the accession of Duterte to the presidency has again changed the dynamics of Veloso's case. Duterte's first 3 months in office have been dominated by a bloody crackdown that has left 3,526 drug dealers and addicts dead, most of them in extrajudicial killings by vigilante groups, actions that were publicly encouraged by Duterte before he was elected.

Senator Leila de Lima, who has been leading a senate hearing into the killings and is 1 of the main domestic critics of Duterte, said that she was "sad and heartbroken that the president will throw away all our efforts to save a life just like that, when it is still in his power to request the holding off of the execution". But it was no surprise, she added, that Veloso's life might seem of no worth to an administration that had adopted judicial or extrajudicial executions as "government policy".

Even Duterte has said that fighting for Veloso's life would sit badly with his drugs crackdown. "It would have left a bad taste in the mouth to be talking about having a strong posture against drugs and here you are begging for something," he told reporters, adding that he told Widodo he supported the death penalty in Indonesia. Capital punishment was outlawed in the Philippines in 2006.

Veloso's legal team told the Observer it was very concerned. "Mary Jane is a victim of dire poverty, of lack of real opportunities for a decent job, of pernicious drug and human trafficking. The law may be the law, but it should not be blind or deaf to reality," lawyer Edre Olalia wrote in an email. "As the leader of this nation and as the pater familias of all Filipinos, President Duterte is expected to rise to his bounden duty and fight for her, and fight hard as he does for all victims of this transnational infection."

Widodo's reported conversation with Duterte has reinvigorated public interest in Veloso's case and the office of Indonesia's attorney general said last week that she would not be killed in the next wave of executions. The judge in the case involving Sergio said that she would fly to Indonesia this month to get a deposition from Veloso in her prison cell. Veloso's supporters believe that a trial can vindicate her, if it can prove she was used as a pawn.

"Winning the case will codify Mary Jane's innocence and erase all doubts that she should be spared from execution," said Garry Martinez, chair of Migrante International.

Ruperto Santos, a prominent Roman Catholic bishop in the Philippines, said that "conflicting reports regarding the actions of President Duterte" on the Veloso case were regrettable. "Let us continue to pray for her, that her life be spared."

(source: The Guardian)

A service courtesy of Washburn University School of Law

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