Sept. 22


Lawyers to campaign for abolition of capital punishment in Japan

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations will launch a campaign next month for the abolition of capital punishment, arguing that even the worst offenders stand a chance of reintegration in society.

It will ask its members to approve the move at a meeting on Oct. 7.

The JFBA has recently conducted a flurry of research into the death penalty, including hearing from a wide range of people and comparing Japan's system with that in other countries.

Japan stands out among developed nations in clinging to the punishment, as more than two-thirds of nations have either abolished the death penalty or uphold a de facto moratorium on its use. The United States is the only other advanced nation that executes prisoners, although campaigners say it is tending toward abolition.

There have also been serious concerns about wrongful conviction resulting in execution in Japan, underscored by the exoneration of four death row inmates in the 1980s in retrials and the freeing of another in 2014 after he spent 48 years behind bars.

"If an innocent person or an offender who does not deserve to be sentenced to death is executed, it is an irrevocable human rights violation," said Yuji Ogawara, a Tokyo-based lawyer who serves as secretary general of a JFBA panel on the death penalty.

The proposal will be submitted to the federation's annual human rights meeting in the city of Fukui for formal adoption.

The federation is targeting abolition of the death penalty by 2020, when the U.N. Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice will be held in Japan.

In its 2011 declaration, the federation urged the government to initiate a public debate on the death penalty, but stopped short of clearly calling for its abolition.

Since then, the federation has explored the matter by organizing symposiums and hearing from lawmakers, Justice Ministry officials, journalists, diplomats and faith representatives.

It has also sent delegations overseas to research foreign penal systems, including in Britain, South Korea, Spain and the United States.

"There are still lawyers who support the death penalty, but I think we have developed an environment that enables us to seek its abolition," said Ogawara, who was involved in drafting the proposal.

The federation wants the death penalty to be replaced with other options such as life without parole.

But it argues that even life without parole needs to include the possibility of release in cases when prisoners achieve rehabilitation. Failure to offer that possibility would be inhumane, the group says.

Ogawara said those who commit crimes are often the socially disadvantaged who stand a good chance of rehabilitation with the right approach.

"The penal system should contribute to promoting social reintegration of offenders, rather than satisfying the desire for retribution," he said.

It is also important to give victims of crime and their families better support, the JFBA says in its proposal, adding that continued assistance is a "primary responsibility of society as a whole."

In 2014, the U.N. Human Rights Committee urged Japan to "give due consideration to the abolition of the death penalty."

The government justifies its policy by citing a survey that found more than 80 % of people in Japan support executions.

Critics say the questionnaire was flawed.

Moreover, critics have assailed the secrecy surrounding executions in Japan, with neither death-row inmates nor their lawyers and families given advance notice of hangings.

It also remains unclear what criteria authorities use in deciding when inmates are to die.

Japan hanged 2 death-row inmates in March, bringing to 16 the total number of people executed since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came to power in December 2012.

(source: The Japan Times)


Christian pastors face death penalty if convicted in Sudan

Last December, 2 evangelical pastors from the Church of Christ in Sudan were taken from their churches and thrown into jail. Last month, the Rev. Abdulraheem Kodi and the Rev. Kuwa Shamal Abu Zumam were charged with numerous offenses, including waging war against the state, espionage and undermining Sudan's constitutional system.

Their trial has begun. They could get the death penalty if they're found guilty.

2 other men, Czech missionary Petr Jasek and Darfuri human rights activist Abduelmoneim Abdulmwlla, have also been detained. They, too, are accused of conspiring against the state, provoking hatred against or among sects and spreading false information.



How Mexico Saves Its Citizens From U.S. Executions

The Mexican government runs a fund to train poorly resourced American defense lawyers.

This piece was reported through The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization that covers the U.S. criminal-justice system.

When the body of 25-year old Lesley Hope Plott was found lying in a ditch in Russellville, Alabama, in February of 2013, police had little trouble zeroing in on a suspect: hours earlier, a nearby church???s security camera had recorded her being beaten and stabbed by her estranged husband, Angel Campos Nava.

Born in Mexico, Nava, 36, had come to the United States years earlier. He had already been convicted of assaulting Plott on 2 earlier occasions. A murder conviction could result in the death penalty. It was up to Rebecca Thomason, Nava's lawyer, to convince the Franklin County district attorney to instead seek a life sentence, or, failing that, to convince a jury to spare his life. It didn't help that Nava was undocumented, and they were in Alabama, a state with some of the harshest anti-immigration laws in the country.

Then, Thomason received a call offering her something few lawyers in death penalty cases get: money, training, and advice, courtesy of the Mexican government. Nava's case had caught the attention of the Mexican Capital Legal Assistance Program, created by Mexican officials in 2000 to save the country's citizens from execution in the United States.

One of the program's chief purposes is to help defense attorneys construct a biography of the accused - to humanize them. Poverty, family dysfunction, and developmental disability, are frequent themes in their clients' lives. When presented as part of a defense, such themes can encourage mercy among jurors and dissuade them from handing down a death sentence.

To that end, the program arranges for lawyers to go to Mexico to track down school and hospital records and stories about their clients' lives, either paying for their travel costs or advising them on how to request money from local courts. Under the program, Mexico pays American lawyers up to $220 an hour to track potential death penalty cases around the country - watching court decisions and news stories from the moment of arrest, all the way through the last minute scramble before an execution - and advise court-appointed lawyers like Thomason.

Since 2008, the program has provided these attorneys with an average annual budget of around $4 million to track as many as 135 cases at a time, according to the program's filings with the Department of Justice. That comes out to roughly $29,000 per case, per year. By contrast, the Equal Justice Initiative, which represents numerous inmates on Alabama's death row, has reported that many of them were sentenced to death after their attorneys' fees were capped at $1,000 for out-of-court trial preparation.

More resources and training translates into more compelling stories, as defenders plead for mercy for their clients. Monica Foster, a lawyer in Indianapolis who worked with the program for several years, explained that she would connect defense attorneys with officials in Mexico, who would help them travel to their clients' hometowns, many of which were often inaccessible by paved roads. "We'd help them you take that story and meld it into a complete package of 'How did this person end up in [the United States] and why should a jury feel compelled to extend mercy to them?'"

Houston-based attorney James Stafford was appointed to represent Mexican immigrant Francisco Castellano in 2005 for the murder of Castellano's niece. "When you're court-appointed you have limited resources in terms of what the court will give you to develop a defense," Stafford said. "It creates a team approach, where you have people at your disposal who can do research, talk to witnesses, etc., instead of it being a 1-man shop."

Stafford says the program's help finding mitigation evidence led to his success getting a district attorney to drop the death penalty and allow a plea for a life sentence. Such a scenario is not uncommon. In a 2008 Hofstra Law Journal article, Greg Kuykendall, the Tucson, Arizona-based director of the program, claimed that it had a 95 % success rate in keeping roughly 300 Mexican nationals from being executed. Such numbers are difficult to verify, however, because the program tends not to share much about its work publicly; Kuykendall was not granted clearance by the Mexican government to be interviewed for this story. Mexican Embassy spokesman Ricardo Alday told The Atlantic, "Mexico in no way condones or sympathizes with any criminal behavior for which some of its citizens have been accused," but the country's government "opposes the death penalty as a matter of principle and has a strong policy of protecting its nationals abroad including in the United States."

The program reflects how widespread international opposition to the death penalty is having an impact in the United States. It also highlights a complaint routinely made by defense attorneys - that they are not given enough resources to do their jobs effectively - by showing what often happens when they do have those resources: they avoid the death penalty.

* * *

The United States and Mexico have a long, contentious history when it comes to the death penalty. In the 1920s, American journalist Alma Reed campaigned to save the life of a 17-year-old Mexican on death row in California, earning herself an audience with the country's president, Alvaro Obregon. Writing on the current defense program in the Arizona Journal of International and Comparative Law, lawyer Michael Fleishman has noted that, since then, Mexico's largely Catholic population has come to consider American executions of their citizens a "tool of the bully to the north" and a sign of "Yankee imperialism."

In the 1970s, as the U.S. Supreme Court struck down and then revived the death penalty, the United States saw a lull in executions. But when they resumed, some invariably involved Mexican nationals, and the country's government began giving money and advice to defense lawyers in the United States - a precursor to the current program. This, inevitably, sparked the occasional flare-up. In 1994, a Mexican migrant worker named Aurelio Barajas was sentenced to death for the murder of a convenience store clerk in Idaho. Mexico helped fund his appeals, which eventually led prosecutors to negotiate down to a life sentence once his lawyer produced evidence that suggested he was mentally incompetent to stand trial, and showed that the psychologist who examined him did not speak Spanish.

At times, capital punishment has joined a broader set of tensions over U.S. immigration policy towards Mexicans.

"Imagine an American in a small town in Mexico accused of killing someone ...We are going to use the same force the United States would in such a case to help one of our own," Laura Espinosa, a deputy consul in Salt Lake City, told The Los Angeles Times at the time. In response, Idaho solicitor-general Lynn Thomas complained about "foreign governments bankrolling the opposition with unlimited resources."

At times, capital punishment has joined a broader set of tensions over U.S. immigration policy towards Mexicans. In 1997, a mariachi band played "Beautiful and Beloved Mexico" at a bridge over the Rio Grande river to greet the returning body of Irineo Tristan Montoya, a Mexican national who had been executed in Texas for stabbing to death a driver while hitchhiking. "Steel walls along parts of the border, increasingly restrictive immigration laws, violence and discrimination faced by many immigrants in the United States - Montoya has come to represent all such insults," the Associated Press reported at the time. 5 years later, shortly after the 2002 execution of Mexican citizen Javier Suarez Medina in Texas for the murder of a police officer, Mexican president Vicente Fox refused an invitation to George W. Bush???s ranch in Crawford, Texas.

Sandra Babcock, the American lawyer who in 2000 became the first director of Mexico's formal program to help capital defendants, saw the country's involvement in capital defense as proof that her own country was falling down on its obligations to defendants. "I think it's shameful," she told The Texas Observer. "There's extreme poverty and here we have the wealthiest country in the world that cannot provide adequate resources and competent legal counsel to people who are facing the loss of their lives." The help didn't always lead to success: 10 Mexican nationals have been executed in the United States since 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center (in addition to 22 citizens of other countries).

In some cases, foreign consulates have not been informed that citizens of their nations were were facing the death penalty in the United States. Mexico, the United Kingdom, Paraguay, and Germany have all argued that they might have been able to help their citizens avoid a death sentence had they been informed. These complaints came to a head in 2004, when Mexican lawyers convinced the International Court of Justice in The Hague to rule that, in more than 50 death penalty cases, the United States had violated the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations by failing to notify Mexico when its citizens had been arrested. That ruling led to Medellin v. Texas, a U.S. Supreme Court case in which the state, represented by then-Solicitor General Ted Cruz, argued that the international court's ruling had no power over the states. The court ruled 6 to 3 in favor of Texas, noting there was no federal law making that treaty binding on the states.

Since then, the Mexican government has lobbied Congress to pass a law requiring states to notify Mexican consulates when their citizens are arrested. In a 2014 letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, Mexican Ambassador Eduardo Medina Mora wrote, "I respectfully submit that the United States would not countenance the same treatment of U.S. citizens by another signatory??? to the Vienna Convention.

* * *

Shortly after Rebecca Thomason was appointed to defend Nava in 2013, the program flew her to Texas and California for training. At one session in Houston, she met Charlie Goff, an anthropologist who runs a language and culture school in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Goff flew to Alabama and discovered that a court-appointed interpreter had been using a Spanish dialect unfamiliar to the defendant, who spoke little English. "Nobody else could talk to him," Goff said. He convinced Nava to share details about his background. He said he was from El Terrero, a tiny village in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero.

So Thomason and Goff planned a trip (El Terrero is on the U.S. State Department's travel warning list. Before Thomason left, the local district attorney, Joey Rushing, joked darkly that he would create a GoFundMe page to raise money if she was kidnapped). There are no hotels in El Terrero, so the defense team stayed with Nava's extended family. "I think she had probably never seen poverty like that ... Open sewage, dirt streets," Goff said of Thomason. She learned about Nava's upbringing - "the drunken father, the angry mother taking a piece of firewood and hitting the kids." It became clear to her why her client would have been desperate to leave.

When Thomason returned to Alabama, she met with Rushing, the district attorney, and was candid about the mitigation evidence she would bring before the jury. "I told him how many people lived in one little bedroom, how when he was a child he was beaten," Thomason said. "He tried to pretend like it didn't get to him, but it got to him."

Rushing - who, like other district attorneys interviewed for this story, expressed no qualms about Mexico's involvement - shared this information with the victim's family. They agreed to support his decision, in June 2015, to let Nava plead guilty and avoid the death penalty.

Nava is currently serving a life sentence. He will be up for parole in 2028. If let out, he will immediately be deported to Mexico.

(source: The Atlantic)


U.N. Secretary General condemns death Penalty

United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon has condemned death penalty, saying that studies have proven that those who are poor, mentally disabled, and/or are minorities are at higher risk of receiving the death sentence, regardless of guilt or innocence

The Secretary-General pointed out during a high-level panel discussion, that the death penalty is not applied fairly and It is used disproportionately against minorities.

He said it was absurd that many innocent people are put to death every year.

He urged world leaders, legislators and justice officials to stop executions immediately and with a view to "abolishing the death penalty completely."



Take more balanced view on death penalty, Vivian urges world leaders

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan called on world leaders to take a "more balanced perspective" of the death penalty, as he explained Singapore's approach to capital punishment.

Speaking at a meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, he pushed back against calls for all countries to abolish the death penalty.

"This debate is a heated, painful and emotional one but I just ask members... to respectfully reflect on the views expressed, the diversity of the circumstances and the impact on the ground. And to give to each state its sovereign right to choose the most appropriate judicial approach so that we can adopt a more balanced perspective on this complex issue," he said yesterday.

At the opening of the meeting, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon had urged all countries to cease capital punishment: "I am gravely concerned that some countries are suddenly resuming executions. Others are considering reintroducing the death penalty. We have to keep up the fight for the right to life."

Dr Balakrishnan stressed that - as then Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam did in 2014 - the debate was not about taking lives versus not taking lives. "I think our starting shared position has to be that all human life is sacred... The immediate question that confronts all of us is whether the death penalty, within the proper context and in strictly limited circumstances, plays any role in protecting the sanctity of life."

He outlined Singapore's approach and said it had been pivotal to making the country safe: "In our view... capital punishment for drugs-related offences and for murder has been a key element in keeping Singapore drug free and keeping Singapore safe. Singapore is probably one of the few countries in the world which has successfully fought this drug problem. We do not have slums, we do not have ghettos, we do not have no-go zones for the police."

(source: Straits Times)


Public execution at sports stadium

This morning, 22 September, an inmate was hanged in public at the Neyriz sports stadium in Fars Province (south Iran).

Public Relations of the Fars province's Department of Justice announced: "Thursday morning September22 an inmate called Saeed T. was executed after due process of law.

Also Thursday morning September 22, more than 10 prisoners on death row in Gohardasht (Rajai-Shahr) Prison in Karaj, north-west of Tehran, have been transferred to solitary confinement.

Names of some of the prisoners from Ward 2, called the Daralqran are as follows:

Hatem Karim

Ali Hatami Zadh

In addition, Hossein Karami and Mohammad Jafari also have been moved to solitary confinement in Ward 6 of Gohardasht Prison.

One of the prisoners called F. Hatami who has been already more than 13 years in prison is also among death row inmates.

(source: NCR-Iran)

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