Oct. 14


Europe's last dictatorship brings back the death penalty----Belarus has resumed sentencing people to death, just 8 months after the EU dropped sanctions, a study has found.

The last European country to retain capital punishment has resumed sentencing people to death since EU sanctions against its president were dropped this year, according to a landmark investigation.

In recent months Belarus has executed 1 person and condemned 4 more to death, with more cases pending in which capital punishment is likely, according to investigators with the Paris-based human rights organisation FIDH, and the Viasna human rights centre in Minsk.

Described by investigators as a "scandal at the heart of Europe", about 400 people have been executed in Belarus since independence in 1991 - more than 1 a month.

The human rights report documents the physical and psychological abuse used to extract confessions and the shocking conditions in which death row inmates are kept and later executed.

Interviews with local journalists and lawyers reveal a practice shrouded in secrecy, with statistics on the numbers killed by the state closely guarded by Belarus's government.

The time and locations of the executions, as well as the places of burial, are also kept classified, with the bodies of prisoners never released to families.

Sacha Koulaeva, head of the FIDH's eastern Europe and central Asia desk, said the abolition of the death penalty in Belarus was an achievable goal if the European Union put pressure on the government. "We would like to mobilise the international community to call for Europe to be a death penalty-free zone," she said.

Koulaeva said evidence suggested international intervention had already proved effective: while the EU was negotiating lifting sanctions between 2013 and 2015, executions almost stopped.


Sanctions were imposed on Belarus by the EU and US after the 2010 presidential election, during which protests were violently put down and opposition figures jailed by the intelligence services. The sanctions affected 170 people, including President Lukashenko himself. Brussels suspended them for four months in October 2015 after Mr. Lukashenko was re-elected peacefully (though in distinctly dubious circumstances). It agreed to drop them altogether in February this year, citing "improving EU-Belarus relations". There is evidence that as Mr. Lukashenko warmed to the West he has cooled towards Russia, hitherto his close ally, though it remains a member of the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union. In particular, Minsk has hosted Ukraine peace talks and remained neutral over the conflict.

Maya Foa, a director at the UK human rights group Reprieve, said the report showed the EU needed to do more to end the practice.

"The EU and member states are regularly vocal about their opposition to the death penalty, and this is now more important than ever," she said. "Executions are on the rise around the world and it is critical that the EU not only stands by its 'strong and principled opposition to the death penalty', but actively advances this principle in its diplomatic and trading relationships with executing states."

In response to the report's finding, members of the EU mission to Belarus, including the deputy head, Jim Couzens, called for an immediate moratorium on the practice.

The death penalty was introduced in Belarus during Soviet rule as a punishment for murder, "economic crimes" (such as producing counterfeit money, bribery and speculation), as well as "counter-revolutionary acts" including treason and espionage. Since 1991, the government has continued to apply several clauses of the Soviet-era criminal code, the last of the former USSR countries to do so.

Alexander Lukashenko, who assumed office in 1994, has broadened the powers of the president over his 22 years in office, earning Belarus the nickname of Europe's "last dictatorship".

The authorities and state media outlets enthusiastically defend the use of the death penalty by claiming its use reduces crime. However, new analysis by the FIDH and Viasna shows this justification to be false: in 2015, the internal affairs ministry reported 4,018 counts of serious crime, an increase of 17% on 2014.

Andrei Paluda, coordinator of the campaign against the death penalty led by Viasna, told researchers the conditions in which inmates are held had deteriorated. He spoke to witnesses who have worked in Belarus's death row facilities, who described cells just 3 metres large, fitted with video cameras to watch inmates at all times.

A former staff member of Pretrial Detention Centre no 1 in the centre of Minsk,told Viasna: "From the very beginning, they face maximum security restrictions ... The rules prohibit them from lying or sitting on the plank beds from 6am to 10pm. They usually walk around the cell all day long."

Another former staff member said death row inmates were kept in complete isolation and treated as if they are no longer "among the living". Those condemned to death are kept without any information about their execution date, a practice Koulaeva described as "cynical" and one that distresses the prisoners.

The report also reveals the trauma inflicted on the families of those sentenced to death.

Though the Belarusian criminal code stipulates that one family member must be notified in the event of an execution, it does not specify how. In most cases, families learn that an execution has been carried out only upon the delivery of personal belongings after death.

Tamara Sialiun, whose 27-year-old son Pavel was convicted of 2 counts of murder and mutilating a dead body in 2012, told investigators that the first she knew of her son's execution was when a package arrived containing his prison uniform. He had been shot in the head.

"After everything that happened, I received a notification from the post office to pick up a parcel from Minsk. It was the robe and boots of my son. When I got home, I just didn't know what to do," said Sialiun, 1 of 3 women interviewed. She has since filed a complaint to the UN human rights committee over the treatment she and her son received.

Koulaeva said the report painted a vivid portrait of the process by which men were being convicted and killed, a process she described as deeply flawed and carried out with "total disregard to international obligations".

"The conditions in which this action takes place are terrible," she said. "[It is] a terrible ritual, and a terrible thing to witness."

(source: The World Weekly)


58% of Serbs Vote to Bring Back the Death Penalty - Poll

If a referendum on the need to bring back the death penalty was held today a record 58 % of Serbs would say "yes," according to the latest poll conducted by the public advocacy group Serbia Against the Death Penalty.

The rash of shocking crimes recently committed in Serbia, like the rape and murder of a 3-year-old girl, would certainly make anyone see red. In an interview with Sputnik, sociologist Sandra Radenovic said, however, that the public wrath was in large part excited by the local media's sensationalist coverage of such incidents which he described as a new tactic all too eagerly embraced by Serbian media.

"They are breaking the most elementary norms of journalistic ethics by constantly bombarding people with all sorts of grisly details. We emotionally react to this of course and immediately think about what we would do to this bastard. The problem is, however, that in our thoughts, we become just like him or even worse," Sandra Radenovic told Sputnik. Virtually every 3rd citizen of Serbia voted for capital punishment with only 11 % saying a flat "no."

The death penalty was abolished in Serbia in 2001 but it remains very much alive in the minds of the people who fear criminals feel no compassion for murderers, child molesters and drug dealers. They simply want them dead, criminologist Zlatko Nikolic said.

Compassion is something that comes to us as we become socialized. It doesn't "turn off" our innate instinct of self-protection though and we are ready to fight for our kids, to stay alive, for our home and our sources of food and water. The mere fact that while answering the pollsters' questions, people do not consider compassion means that the basic instincts they are endowed with at birth prevail," Nikolic added. Sandra Radenovic still sees this as a sign of the demoralization of Serbian society.

"The issue of the death penalty is an ethical or, rather, bioethical issue. It's about the value of human life, whether some people's lives have less value than others," she said. Zlatko Nikolic pointed to the selective and very slow judicial process as a reason why so many people voted for the return of capital punishment.

"The Anglo-Saxon judicial system we have today with all these endless negotiations with criminals is a sign of a weak state, that's why people want to take the law into their own hands. Uncertainty is killing your heart and soul. If you see someone who caused you harm being tried forever you start asking questions. In Serbia and just about anywhere else people don't understand why the courts take so much time handing down sentences. But, as lawyers say, 'it's better to let 100 guilty people walk then execute someone who is innocent,'" Nikolic said.

He added that at the start of her 1st term as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher bent under public pressure and brought back the death penalty. This didn't help as the average crime rate never changed.

(source: sputniknews.com)


Supreme Court upholds acquittal of man sentenced to death

The Supreme Court upheld Thursday a High Court decision that Hsu Tzu-chiang, who has repeatedly appealed convictions for kidnapping, extortion and murder of a real estate businessman in 1995, was not guilty of all the charges.

Hsu was declared innocent by the High Court last year in the ninth retrial of his case, in which he was accused of playing a role in the September 1995 kidnapping and murder of Huang Chun-shu, a real estate broker, whose kidnappers originally demanded a ransom of NT$70 million (US$2.2 million).

The High Court overturned the conviction last year, as the ruling in his 9th retrial found that there were major flaws and inconsistencies in the evidence and testimonies.

Hsu is 1 of 3 men sentenced to death in 2000 for the murder.

The 2 other suspects - Huang Chun-chi and Chen Yi-lung - were found guilty of being the main perpetrators, and were each given the death penalty.

During their trials, the 2 men said Hsu also participated in the kidnapping.

The High Court upheld District Court rulings on Huang and Chen, and the Supreme Court rejected their appeals in 2000, making their death sentences final. Extraordinary appeals were filed on the behalf of the pair and Hsu in the following years.

Activists and Hsu's lawyers criticized Hsu's conviction on the grounds that it was based on the confessions of his co-defendants.

(source: The China Post)


Questioning capital punishment

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations' recent call to abolish capital punishment should serve as a catalyst for informed and broad public discussions. Both the Justice Ministry and the lawyer group have an important role to play in making necessary information available to ensure those discussions are meaningful. The ministry's responsibility is especially heavy - the secrecy surrounding this nation???s death penalty system is often blamed for the lack of public discourse on the issue.

The bar federation adopted a resolution calling for ending capital punishment at its Oct. 6 meeting in Fukui for promoting protection of human rights, with 546 of the 786 participants supporting it. Some lawyers who support capital punishment criticize that it is unreasonable for the organization not to accept letters of attorney from members who could not attend the meeting. Still, the declaration by the organization comprising some 37,600 Japanese lawyers and hundreds of registered foreign legal professionals is significant. The federation in the past always stopped short of calling for an outright end to death penalty, although at a similar meeting 5 years ago it called for starting broad discussions on abolishing capital punishment and requested that the justice minister suspend executions.

A key factor behind the move is an international trend. According to Amnesty International, 102 countries had abolished the death penalty as of the end of 2015, a sharp increase from 60 in 1996, and another 38 countries have not carried out executions for 10 years or longer. Of the 35 OECD member countries, only Japan, the United States and South Korea retain capital punishment as an institution, although South Korea's last execution was in 1997. In 2014, the United Nations Human Rights Committee urged Japan to "give due consideration in the abolition of the death penalty."

Since the current Abe administration came to power in December 2012, a total of 16 inmates have been executed. The bar federation calls for abolishing capital punishment by 2020, when the U.N. Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice is to be held in Japan.

More fundamental factors behind the resolution are inherent problems in the death penalty system, including its vengeful nature as criminal punishment and its cruelty. While noting that even the worst offenders stand a chance of reintegrating with society, the federation charges that if an innocent person or an offender not truly deserving death is executed, the human rights violation is irrecoverable. The risk of false charges and convictions have been highlighted by the fact that 4 inmates on death row were exonerated in retrials in the 1980s and by the freeing in 2014 of Iwao Hakamada after spending 48 years behind bars. He had been sentenced to death for the 1966 murders of 4 people on the strength of evidence apparently fabricated by the police.

Supporters of the death penalty refer to the sentiments of crime victims and their family members - who are inclined to think that killers deserve execution - as well as public opinion that favors capital punishment. In the 2014 version of a survey conducted every 5 years by the Cabinet Office, 80.3 % of respondents said the death penalty is unavoidable, while only 9.7 % called for abolishing the system.

At the same time, 40.5 % of those who endorsed the death penalty system said it can be abolished in the future "if the situation changes." Of all the respondents, 37.7 % said the death penalty should be scrapped if life imprisonment without parole is introduced. Currently, a person serving a life sentence has a chance of being paroled after serving at least 10 years in prison. The JFBA's declaration proposed introduction of either life imprisonment without parole or granting parole only after the inmate has spent 20 to 25 years behind bars - in place of hanging.

But discussions about capital punishment should not just focus on substituting stricter varieties of life in prison. The Justice Ministry should not only provide sufficient information about Japan???s system but study and disclose criminal punishment policies and public opinions on the death penalty in other countries. This kind of information is indispensable for informative discussions.

The government should gather and provide information as to whether capital punishment is an effective deterrent to crime, including through comparison of examples of countries that maintain the death penalty and those that have abolished it. Relying just on public opinion endorsing capital punishment to justify its existence does not stand up to reason.

Another point to consider is whether the treatment of death row inmates is humane enough. Such prisoners in Japan are kept in solitary confinement and their communication with people outside is tightly restricted. Currently, the ministry doesn't give advance notice of executions to the inmates nor to their lawyers and relatives, and it is not clear what criteria is used in deciding when a prisoner is to be executed.

Since the introduction of the lay judge system in 2009, it is now possible for ordinary citizens to take part in handing down a death penalty. That alone calls for more public discussions on capital punishment. Relevant authorities and parties should not dismiss the JFBA's call but use it as material for the public to think about the issue, irrespective of which position they take on the matter.

(source: Editorial, The Japan Times)


Public Defender Challenges Execution Order Against Iranian Child Bride for Alleged Crime Committed as Juvenile

The execution order against Zeinab Sekaanvand Lankarani, who was married off at 15-years-old to the man she allegedly killed 2 years later, is being challenged by her public defender. Lankarani, imprisoned at Urmia Central Prison in northwestern Iran, is accused of killing her husband when she was 17 years old.

"Zeinab admitted to the murder while she was being interrogated, but in court she denied it and said her husband's brother carried out the crime and told her to take the blame," Rita Tootoonchi, Lankarani's court-appointed lawyer, told the International Campaign for Human Rights on October 12, 2016. "In the Appeals Court I presented evidence that showed Zeinab may not have been the murderer ... Zeinab is right-handed, but the direction of the knife wound showed that it had to have come from the opposite hand."

"I am hoping my request will be accepted and the execution will be postponed by the Supreme Court after considering the fact that she was under 18 years old at the time of the crime," she added.

Tootoonchi also told the Campaign that she had not been in contact with her client since she was informed by judicial authorities on October 3 that Lankarani's execution would be carried out "within the next few weeks, unless the victim's family agrees to stop it."

"I asked the victim's family to pardon Zeinab and told them that it's not really clear that she was the murderer. She may have had an accomplice who actually made the blows. But unfortunately the victim's family have not agreed and they want retribution," she said.

"All I can do at this point is ask the court to consider Article 91 of the Islamic Penal Code, so that maybe then her life could be spared. Unfortunately, Zeinab does not have anyone to look after her case, and the victim's family has not pardoned her, unfortunately," added Tootoonchi.

According to Article 91: "... if mature people under 18 years do not realize the nature of the crime committed or its prohibition, or if there is uncertainty about their full mental development, according to their age, they shall be sentenced to the punishments prescribed in this chapter."

According to the International Covenant on Civil Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it is illegal to execute someone for crimes committed under the age of eighteen. Iran is party to both treaties. Nonetheless, Iran remains one of a handful of countries still putting juveniles to death. Lankarani was born in Maku, in Kurdistan Province. She was arrested on March 1, 2012 and charged with killing Hossein Sarmadi, who she was married off to 2 years earlier at the age of 15. She was sentenced to death on October 22, 2014 by Branch 2 of the Urmia Criminal Court. The ruling was later confirmed by the Supreme Court, the Kurdistan Human Rights Network reported on October 4, 2016.

According to official Iranian statistics, tens of thousands of girls under the age of 15 are married off by their families each year in Iran. The United Nations has categorized child marriage as a human rights violation. Civil and children's rights activists in Iran have opposed religious conservatives who advocate child marriage.

(source: Iran Human Focus)


Iran Holds the Highest Number of Executions Per Capita in the World

The mayor's office in Paris' 1st district hosted an exposition into executions in Iran on October 10, The World Day Against the Death Penalty.

The exposition, organized by the Support Committee for Human Rights in Iran (SCHRI), featured speeches from politicians, human rights activists and witnesses of human rights violations from Iran.

It focused, most notably, on the 1988 Iranian Massacre but also the continued execution of political prisoners which has been denounced by the U.N. Secretary General.

Jean-Francois Legaret, the mayor of Paris' 1st district, said that there is "a battle to fight against the death penalty and other barbaric acts in Iran".

He stated that the West must not negotiate with Iran's barbaric regime.

Henri Leclerc, Honorable President of the League for Human Rights, said that the West could not let Iran's extensive use of the death penalty go unchallenged and warned that "unpunished crimes will recur."

During 1988, the Iranian Regime murdered 30,000 political prisoners; mainly members of the People's Mojahidin Organization of Iran (PMOI). Further evidence of the Iranian Regime's role in the massacre was revealed in August after an audio recording of Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri admonishing a Death Committee was leaked online.

Speaking of the 1988 Massacre, Leclerc said: "It is a crime against humanity when we know that thousands were executed while they were in prison. This must be denounced and we must act. We have sufficient materials. I hope that the U.N. conducts an investigation which brings those responsible to trial."

Leclerc said that the victims "died for liberty around the world; these men, women, and children have a right to justice. If we leave such crimes unpunished, it is our future that will truly be tragic."

The speakers emphasized the importance of bringing those responsible for the 1988 Massacre before an international court to account for their "crimes against humanity".

Jacques Boutault, the mayor of Paris' 2nd district thanked the Iranian Resistance and those who fought to bring human rights to Iran. He highlighted that the Iranian regime is complicit in Syrian Civil War and called on the French government to denounce Iran's crimes in Syria.

Iran holds the highest number of executions per capita in the world and executed 1,000 people in 2015 alone.

(source: iranfocus)


CJ nominee David Maraga says MPs to decide fate of death penalty

The Chief Justice nominee, Justice David Maraga, has stated that the responsibility of withholding or abolishing the death penalty rests with Parliament.

Speaking when he appeared before the National Assembly's Justice and Legal Affairs Committee for vetting, Justice Maraga, who was nominated for the position by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), said that as the Chief Justice, he would not have any powers to decide the fate of death penalty since it has to be abolished through an Act of Parliament.

"The world is moving away from the death penalty and this issue is also being debated in other countries. It is a fundamental issue but can only be dealt with by the Parliament; the court can only come up with principles of law within the given legal framework," he said.

(source: citizentv.co.ke)


Kenya takes death penalty debate to the people

The 2nd and final leg of the Kenyan national public debate on capital punishment has begun.

The debate is to solicit views from Kenyans on the administration of capital punishment and management of capital offences.

The public discussion, which is being spearheaded by the Power of Mercy Advisory Committee (POMAC) and National Crime Research Centre (NCRC), will be conducted in 28 counties countrywide, within the next 2 months.

The debate provides a platform for Kenyans to express their opinions on capital offences and what form of punishment capital offenders should be subjected to.

According to the Kenyan law, 5 types of offences attract capital punishment. These are: murder, treason, and robbery with violence, attempted robbery with violence and oathing with intent to commit a felony.

After the debate, the committee will document findings of the public views and make appropriate recommendations.

The 1st public dialogue took place in June in the first 19 counties.

In 2009, former President Mwai Kibaki commuted the sentences of all those on death row to life imprisonment. The decision affected over 4,000 prisoners and at the time was said to be one of the largest commutation of death sentences anywhere in the world.

According to the Kenya Prisons Act, executions are to be carried out by hanging. The last hanging in Kenya took place in 1987 after the plotters of the August 1982 coup attempt were sentenced to death.

(source: iol.co.za)


Filipino fit to enter plea, stand trial: Insp

A 36-year-old Filipino charged with murder is fit to enter his plea and stand trial, the Magistrate's Court heard on Wednesday.

Inspector Azaman Hamat, prosecuting, informed Magistrate Jessica Ombou Kakayun on the outcome of a report obtained from Hospital Mesra Bukit Padang on Ismail Rasad.

Ismail was referred to the psychiatric centre months ago following a request from his counsel to observe his mental condition.

Azaman, however, applied for another mention date since the medical report has not been received yet.

The court fixed Nov 23 for mention of the case.

Ismail, a Bajau holding the IMM13 document, is accused of committing the offence on one Md Adzmar Alex, 19, also a Bajau holding the IMM13 document at 11.30pm on May 1 at Kampung Rampayan.

No plea was taken from him under Section 302 of the Penal Code which carries the death penalty on conviction.

Ismail was represented by counsel Timothy Daut.

(source: Daily Express)

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