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

Thursday, October 27, 2016

94% of hangings in Pakistan not ‘terrorism’ cases – new figures

New figures have shown that 94% of prisoners recently hanged in Pakistan had nothing to do with terrorism – throwing doubt on claims that an executions drive which began in the country nearly two years ago is designed to combat ‘terrorism.’

The figures, collated by human rights organizations Reprieve and the Justice Project Pakistan, show that since lifting its moratorium on executions in December 2014, Pakistan has hanged some 418 prisoners, overtaking Saudi Arabia to become the world’s third largest executing nation after China and Iran.

Pakistani officials have repeatedly said that the executions drive is necessary to prevent terrorism; in July 2015, an aide to the Prime Minister told Reuters: “You've seen the number of terrorist attacks going down drastically… One of the reasons is fear. Fear of being executed.”

However, today's figures show that the proportion of executed prisoners whose cases could reasonably be linked to terrorism is lower than ever. Since March 2015 – when the authorities announced that they would expand executions for crimes beyond terrorism – just 6%, or one in 15, of the prisoners executed could reasonably be linked to terrorism. Some 94% of those who were hanged since March 2015 were convicted in non-terror related cases. 

The 418 people executed so far have included vulnerable people such as juveniles, people who were tortured into signing fake 'confessions’, and the mentally ill. The figures are published a day after the authorities handed down a warrant for the hanging of Imdad Ali, a prisoner who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. The warrant says Mr Ali will be hanged on Wednesday (2nd), despite an international prohibition on the execution of mentally ill people. Medical assessments have described Mr Ali as “insane”, and he does not fully understand that he faces execution.

Nearly 30,000 people have signed a petition calling on Pakistan’s President, Mamnoon Hussain, to grant mercy to Mr Ali, while the UN, UK, and a group of Pakistani psychiatrists have also raised concerns.

Commenting, Maya Foa, a director at Reprieve, said: “These latest numbers show that the Pakistani government is using 'terrorism' as a smokescreen to execute vast numbers of prisoners – including innocent scapegoats, juveniles and mentally ill prisoners like Imdad Ali. Imdad faces the noose despite clear evidence that he is severely mentally ill. President Hussain has the power to prevent this serious breach of Pakistani and international law – he must grant mercy to Imdad, and undertake an urgent review of Pakistan's broken death penalty system.”

  • Reprieve's collated figures are available on request.
  • In July 2015, the Prime Minister's special assistant for law, Ashtar Ausaf Ali, told Reuters: "You've seen the number of terrorist attacks going down drastically... One of the reasons is fear. Fear of being executed." That report can be seen here
  • More information about Imdad Ali is available on the Reprieve website.

Source: Reprieve, October 27, 2016. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. 

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Iran: 12 executions in Karaj, Shiraz, Ahvaz and Salmas prisons

Darkness at Noon: Collective hanging in Iran (file photo)
Darkness at Noon: Collective hanging in present-day Iran (file photo)
Anti-human regime of mullahs hanged 12 prisoners in the central prisons of Karaj, Shiraz, Sepidar of Ahvaz and Salmas during days 23 to 25 October. 

One of the five prisoners that were hanged collectively on Tuesday morning, October 25 was a 25-year- old youth by the name of Saeed Pour-Hassan. 

On the day before, three prisoners in Shiraz and two young brothers in Abadan from Arab minority were hanged in the Sepidar prison of Ahvaz. 

In fear of the people’s wrath, repressive SSF (State Security Force) were stationed in various locations in the Salich district of Abadan strictly controlling the people.

Also on October 23, two Kurd prisoners were hanged in in the prison of Salmas.

Meanwhile, Bahram Ghasemi, the regime’s foreign ministry spokesman, described the recent European Parliament resolution about Iran as being “inaccurate” and based on “false information and reports”. He called repression and killing of the Iranian people as an internal issue and said, “We have not and will not allow any individual or country to speak or judge about our internal issues.” (state-run News Network, October 24)

The Iranian Resistance calls all the Iranian people and particularly the brave youths to protest against the brutal death penalty. It reiterates any dealing with the mullahs’ regime should be contingent upon improvement of human rights situation, especially halt of executions.

Source: Secretariat of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, 26 October 2016

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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Nebraska anti-death penalty group wants radio ad featuring secretary of state off the air

An anti-death penalty group is crying foul over radio advertisements in which the secretary of state tries to "clarify" ballot language that will decide the fate of capital punishment in Nebraska.

Retain a Just Nebraska sent a letter to the Nebraska Broadcasters Association asking it to stop running a pair of public service announcements produced by Secretary of State John Gale.

Darold Bauer, campaign manager for the group, said the radio announcements fail to say that the Nebraska Legislature repealed the death penalty and replaced it with life in prison without parole. Research shows that public opinion changes "drastically" based on whether or not the alternative of life imprisonment exists, he added.

"The current ad ... is nothing more than a state sponsored political ad which violates the trust of the public, the intent of numerous campaign laws, and may be a violation of state and federal law," Bauer wrote.

Gale declined to comment Tuesday.

Jim Timm, director of the Nebraska Broadcasters Association, said the organization will not discontinue the ads. The scripts were written by Gale and carefully reviewed so as not to sway voters either way on the issue, he added.

"I approved them to make sure they are not steering people to vote one way or the other," Timm said Tuesday. "They are trying to inform and educate as to what will be on the ballot."

Timm pointed out that the public service ads are available to radio stations statewide to broadcast as they see fit. The $3,500 campaign does not come with a guarantee that the ads will air a minimum number of times.

The Legislature voted to repeal the death penalty in 2015. Supporters of capital punishment launched a successful petition drive to put the question to voters in the Nov. 8 general election.

"It's easy to get tripped up over the language," Gale said in the release. That's because the ballot language asks voters if they want to retain or repeal the legislation that abolished the death penalty.

In the ads, Gale explains "a vote to retain abolishes the death penalty, a vote to repeal preserves the death penalty." Bauer also criticized Gale's campaign for not including an online component that would more likely reach younger voters and for not including a Spanish-language version

Source: Omaha World-Herald, October 25, 2016

Statement by Darold Bauer, campaign manager, Retain a Just Nebraska In response to Secretary of State John Gale’s Decision to Pull Radio Ads

“The assurance of life imprisonment is an essential part of the ballot language, and critical to voters.”

OMAHA - “Upon learning of the public service announcements, we requested late yesterday that they be immediately taken off the air. The assurance of life imprisonment in place of the death penalty is critical to voters, and is mentioned repeatedly in the ballot language. Failing to mention that fact in these ‘PSA’s’ effectively made the Secretary of State an advocate on one side of the debate, with taxpayer money.”

“The ads failed to mention what the ballot question clearly states: that the elimination of the death penalty in Nebraska leaves in place life imprisonment. That is a matter of fact of the ballot language, and of critical importance to voters.”

“Decades of research has shown that voters’ opinion of the death penalty changes drastically based on whether or not the assurance of life imprisonment exists.”

“In addition, as Secretary Gale correctly realized, the radio ads caused more problems and confusion for Nebraska voters by failing to include that fact that Nebraska has life imprisonment. We appreciate his willingness to listen to our concerns and take action.”

“To avoid any continued confusion, we strongly recommend and request that all media outlets take the time to accurately describe the choice voters have before them:

“A vote for ‘Retain’ removes the Death Penalty and replaces it with life imprisonment with no possibility of parole.”

“We also suggest that where possible, media outlets include the entire ballot language. And to always include the exact purpose of the law passed by the Nebraska Legislature”:

The Purpose of Legislative Bill 268, passed by the First Session of the 104th Nebraska Legislature in 2015, is to eliminate the death penalty and change the maximum penalty for the crime of murder in the first degree to life imprisonment.

The exact ballot language:

A vote to “Retain” will eliminate the death penalty and change the maximum penalty for the crime of murder in the first degree to life imprisonment by retaining Legislative Bill 268, passed in 2015 by the First Session of the 104th Nebraska Legislature.

A vote to “Repeal” will keep the death penalty as a possible penalty for the crime of murder in the first degree by repealing Legislative Bill 268, passed in 2015 by the First Session of the 104th Nebraska Legislature.

The Purpose of Legislative Bill 268, passed by the First Session of the 104th Nebraska Legislature in 2015, is to eliminate the death penalty and change the maximum penalty for the crime of murder in the first degree to life imprisonment. Shall Legislative Bill 268 be repealed?

Source: Retain a Just Nebraska, October 2016

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Saudis reject Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion’s demand to release Raif Badawi to join family in Canada

Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Canada and Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion
Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Canada and Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion.
'If we asked Canada to send...a Canadian citizen, in Canadian jail, to Saudi Arabia, do you accept that?' the Saudi ambassador asks.

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016 12:00 AM.  Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Canada shot down a call from Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion to release imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi and allow him to join his family in Canada, saying Mr. Badawi’s case had nothing to do with relations between the two countries.

Mr. Dion (Saint-Laurent, Que.) told reporters on Oct. 18 that it would be “unacceptable” for Mr. Badawi to be flogged by Saudi authorities, following reports that another round of the punishment could be meted out against the Saudi national soon.

Mr. Badawi was arrested in 2012 on charges of insulting Islam through his blog, and sentenced to 10 years in prison, a hefty fine, and 1,000 lashes. The first 50 lashes were delivered in January 2015, causing outcry in many Western countries over both the form of the punishment and what Amnesty International and others called a crackdown on free expression.

Mr. Badawi’s wife and children were given asylum in Canada.

Evelyne Abitbol, who runs the Montreal-based Raif Badawi Foundation, told the Canadian Press last week she feared Mr. Badawi could soon be subjected to another round of lashes as part of his sentence. The remainder of the 1,000 lashes has been put off several times. Ms. Abitbol told the new agency her fear was based on information from a “private source,” the same source who alerted Mr. Badawi’s loved ones to the lashes beginning in 2015.

Mr. Dion told the press in the foyer of the House of Commons that he condemned flogging as a form of punishment, and that another round of the punishment would be unacceptable. He said he insisted that the Saudi government show clemency to Mr. Badawi, and allow him to join his family in Canada.

Mr. Dion noted that since Mr. Badawi is not a Canadian, the government was treating his plight as a humanitarian case, not a consular one. Government officials in the past have suggested that means their hands are to a certain extent tied.

In an interview Oct. 20, Saudi Ambassador Naif Bin Bandir AlSudairy said he had no information about whether Mr. Badawi would soon be subjected to more flogging.

“Mr. Badawi is a Saudi citizen, [and] has nothing to do with the relations between Canada and Saudi Arabia,” he said.

Raif Badawi, sentenced to 1,000 lashes for blasphemy.
Raif Badawi, sentenced to 1,000 lashes for blasphemy.
When asked whether the Saudi government was considering Mr. Dion’s request to give Mr. Badawi clemency, and allow him to come to Canada, he said: “As the Saudi government, if we asked Canada to send…a Canadian citizen, in Canadian jail, to Saudi Arabia, do you accept that?”

He then confirmed that his government was not considering letting Mr. Badawi come to Canada.

When asked to respond to Mr. AlSudairy’s comments, and whether more flogging would harm bilateral relations, Mr. Dion’s office said his position on the matter had not changed since he spoke on the 18th.

Managing relations with Saudi Arabia is a difficult task for Mr. Dion. His government has often publicly touted the value of maintaining diplomatic ties with all countries, even those at odds with Canada or those with poor human rights records.

The Liberal government has faced strong criticism for approving a sale of armoured vehicles by General Dynamics Land Systems Canada to the Saudi National Guard. Amnesty International and others warn the vehicles could be used against civilian targets in Saudi Arabia or in neighbouring Yemen.

Throughout the controversy, the Saudi Embassy in Canada has done its best to maintain relations with Mr. Dion and open up somewhat to the political press, including by inviting the foreign minister and some journalists to the ambassador’s residence for dinner in March.

Mr. AlSudairy said he didn’t know whether another round of punishment to Mr. Badawi would harm bilateral relations.

Conservative foreign affairs critic Peter Kent (Thornhill, Ont.) said he agreed with Mr. Dion’s position on Mr. Badawi’s release.

Canada’s relationship with Saudi Arabia is “complicated,” he said, calling the country an ally in the fight against the militant group known as Daesh and ISIS, and a trading partner.

He said Mr. Dion should “speak out” for Mr. Badawi’s release, and use an upcoming vote on Saudi Arabia’s membership in the UN Human Rights Council as leverage to help secure his release.

Source: The Hill Times, October 26, 2016

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Anti-death penalty group outlines human costs of Nebraska's capital punishment

As the clock ticks down on Nebraska voters' decision on whether to retain the Legislature's decision to repeal the death penalty, the anti-death penalty campaign on Tuesday zeroed in on wrongful murder convictions.

Retain A Just Nebraska, the organization that wants voters to replace the death penalty with life in prison for 1st-degree murder convictions, held a morning news conference Tuesday with a member of the wrongfully convicted Beatrice 6.

Ada JoAnn Taylor and attorneys Jeff Patterson, Bob Bartle and Herb Friedman, who represented 5 of the the Beatrice 6, talked to reporters about the human cost of the death penalty.

Taylor and 5 others spent a collective 70 years in prison for the 1985 murder and rape of Helen Wilson of Beatrice before they were exonerated by DNA evidence in 2008. 1 of the 6, Joseph White, died on the job at an Alabama steel mill in 2011.

Taylor's son was 14 months old when she was taken away in the middle of the night after a cold-case investigation led to her arrest in 1989. She didn't see him again until 10 months ago. And she has never seen her grandchildren.

In a federal civil rights trial in June, jurors heard evidence of what caused the wrongful convictions -- and about everything they lost when they were sent to prison, Patterson said.

"This evidence led a jury to award our clients over $28.1 million," he said. "It was compensation to right a wrong of the worst miscarriage of justice in Nebraska history."

The productive years from age 25 to 45, when many people start careers, get married, watch children grow, were stolen from Taylor and co-defendant Tom Winslow when they were convicted of 2nd-degree murder and from White, who was sentenced to life for 1st-degree murder.

"Money cannot possibly make up for the human cost of a wrongful conviction," Patterson said.

Taylor, Winslow and 3 others -- Debra Shelden, Kathy Gonzalez and James Dean -- entered pleas in the case. White pleaded not guilty and was convicted after a trial.

"The threat of the death penalty was terrifying and overwhelming," Taylor said Tuesday. "I came to believe that I must have been guilty even though I had nothing to do with Mrs. Wilson's murder."

Taylor, who spent 19 years, 7 months and 26 days locked up, told her story for TV and online ads. At the news conference, she said she was told nearly every day she was in the Gage County jail that she would be the first woman on death row unless she pleaded guilty.

She had a mental illness, borderline personality disorder, she said, and she began having dreams and visions at the time that she was involved in a crime she knew nothing about. Ultimately, she developed a delusion that she was the one who suffocated Helen Wilson.

In fact, said Patterson, some of those delusions are still present.

With enough pressure, he said, everybody has a breaking point. The county attorney and the Gage County sheriff knew Taylor was at risk for psychotic lapses when under stress, he said.

Dean, who was sentenced to 10 years for aiding and abetting second-degree murder and released after serving about five, insisted at the time that he was innocent, the attorneys said Tuesday. But he was so nervous and distraught -- and having anxiety attacks because of the threat of the death penalty -- that a reserve sheriff's deputy who was also a psychologist was brought in to counsel him.

The deputy told Dean he was repressing his memory, and if he just relaxed, his recollection of what happened in Wilson's home would come back to him in dreams, Patterson said.

"Almost immediately, James started having dreams about a murder he knew nothing about," he said Tuesday.

Gonzalez and Winslow also knew they weren't guilty, but they entered guilty pleas in the case, Patterson said.

"Threatening suspects with execution may resolve cases, but is it the kind of resolution we can afford?" he asked.

Taylor is 53 now, and said she is speaking out for those who don't have a voice. She is still trying to reconnect with family members with whom she lost contact.

"Just trying to be a typical, normal housewife, per se," Taylor said.

Despite her exoneration, some people continue to believe she and the others are guilty, she said. "It's hard."

The 5 living people who were convicted of killing Wilson felt they were being tried again during the federal trial accusing Gage County, Deputy Sheriff Burdette Searcey and Reserve Deputy Wayne Price of violating their civil rights, Patterson said.

"All of them felt the trial exonerated them from Mrs. Wilson's murder, as much as it did convict the Gage County authorities for what they did," he said.

Source: Lincoln Journal Star, October 26, 2016

Tour speakers include Ohio man formerly on death row

During the 20 years he spent on death row, Joe D'Ambrosio became filled with despair as he lost one appeal after another.

D'Ambrosio was innocent. It started to look as though he would be executed for something he didn't do, and no one was paying attention to him.

"Once you're convicted, no one listens to the man in the orange jumpsuit," D'Ambrosio said. "No one listens to the dead man walking. They all say they didn't do it."

The Ohio man was eventually exonerated, but he now spends much of his time speaking against the death penalty. The only purpose of capital punishment is to keep society safe from the criminals who've been convicted, he said. Life without parole serves the same purpose. Those people will never see the outside of prison.

"When you leave, you leave in a pine box," he said.

If authorities find out later that someone serving a life sentence was innocent, they can release him, D'Ambrosio said.

D'Ambrosio was one of several people who spoke on Tuesday night at St. Mary's Cathedral at a gathering presented by the Nebraska Catholic Conference. The speaking tour also visited Omaha on Monday and will conclude today in Lincoln.

Nebraska's 3 Catholic dioceses organized the tour to help persuade the state's voters to uphold the abolition of the death penalty on Nov. 8.

Gathering signatures against the Nebraska repeal
Gathering signatures against the Nebraska repeal
D'Ambrosio, who lives in North Ridgeville, Ohio, was 26 when he went to prison, sentenced to death for the 1988 murder of Tony Klann of Cleveland. Prosecutorial misconduct led to his conviction.

Defenders of the death penalty say it's a deterrent to crime. D'Ambrosio, who got to know a lot of criminals, says it is not.

"Actually, most of the guys that are on 'The Row' would rather be executed than put in prison for the rest of their lives," he said in an interview. People serving a life sentence always have to worry and look over their shoulder. The next guy sentenced to prison might be a friend or relative of the person the inmate killed.

D'Ambrosio, who will turn 55 on Dec. 1, was released from prison in 2010 thanks to the efforts of the Rev. Neil Kookoothe, who is also on the Nebraska speaking tour.

Kookoothe, who is a lawyer and nurse as well as a Catholic priest, said the death penalty does not prevent crime.

He said many people who commit violent acts are under the influence of alcohol or drugs or are consumed with rage. People in that condition are not going to stop and ask themselves if they'll get the death penalty before they take action, Kookoothe said. No government, especially "a democracy as great as ours," should be in the business of taking people's lives, said Kookoothe, who works at a parish in North Olmsted, Ohio.

Kookoothe said he can counter any pro-death-penalty argument except the one that cares only about vengeance. People who seek capital punishment simply out of revenge should admit it, he said. But we, as a people, should not be killing criminals for that reason, Kookoothe said.

Another person on the speaking tour is Marietta Jaeger-Lane, whose 7-year-old daughter, Susie, was kidnapped from a Montana campground and killed in 1973.

Executing a person solves nothing, Jaeger-Lane said. All it does is make another victim and victimize the killer's family. By killing people, a government takes on the mindset that the murderer had, which "degrades and demeans all of us," Jaeger-Lane said.

Executions are done in our name "as citizens of the state," using our tax dollars, she said. People need to step up and protest if the practice violates their values, said the former Michigan woman, who now lives in Punta Gorda, Fla.

The man who killed her daughter, David Meirhofer, would not confess to that murder and others as long as prosecutors were seeking the death penalty, Jaeger-Lane said.

Exactly one year after killing her daughter, Meirhofer called Jaeger-Lane in the middle of the night to gloat. Jaeger-Lane, whose faith was strengthened after her daughter's death, told Meirhofer she was praying for him. She kept him on the phone for an hour and a half because he was "my only connection with Susie."

During the conversation, Meirhofer let his guard down and revealed enough information that the FBI was able to catch him.

Jaeger-Lane argued for life without parole, which was implemented by the Montana Legislature the year Meirhofer was sentenced.

Meirhofer committed suicide the same day as his guilty plea. Jaeger-Lane has since become friends with his mother.

Jaeger-Lane, who speaks all over the world, believes that life is sacred.

She regularly spends time with prisoners just to let them know that someone cares about them.

Most crimes are committed by people under the influence of alcohol or drugs, she said. When they've sobered up, "they're really very nice guys," she said.

Source: The Independent, October 26, 2016

Nebraska politicians can't agree on the death penalty - now voters get to decide

After the conservative state repealed capital punishment and the governor unsuccessfully tried to keep it, a bid to bring it back again will go to the public

When Nebraska last year became the 1st conservative state to repeal the death penalty in more than 40 years, change came through a vote that saw ideological opponents of capital punishment unite with pragmatists worried about cost and effectiveness.

But it was not an outcome that the state's governor, Pete Ricketts, was ready to accept. In a contentious tug-of-war, Ricketts vetoed a bill passed by the state legislature before the lawmakers overrode him by a 30 to 19 vote.

Within a few weeks, death penalty supporters gathered enough signatures to introduce a ballot measure. Ricketts is bankrolling that effort, to the tune of $300,000.

This bid to bring back capital punishment again will go to a public vote on 8 November, as both sides escalate their spending and their rhetoric in an ideological battle over the penalty, even though the sparsely populated state of less than 2 million people rarely carries it out.

"I think a lot of people, that rubbed them the wrong way - but you know, that's the democratic process and now the voters get to decide," Dan Parsons, a spokesman for the anti-death penalty group Retain a Just Nebraska, said of the governor's contributions.

Retain a Just Nebraska, which Parsons says has raised $2.7m, began airing a television commercial this week featuring Ada JoAnn Taylor, one of the Beatrice 6.

Gathering signatures against the Nebraska repealTaylor spent more than 19 years in prison as 1 of 6 people wrongly convicted of the rape and murder of a 68-year-old woman in Beatrice, Nebraska, in 1985. "After my arrest I was threatened with the death penalty and told I'd be the 1st woman on death row in Nebraska nearly every day that I was in the Gage County jail until I agreed to plead guilty," she told a press conference on Tuesday.

She was taken away from her 14-month-old son and had to give him up for adoption. They did not meet again for 26 years. Taylor said that anxiety about possibly being executed caused her to become delusional: "The threat of the death penalty was terrifying and overwhelming, I came to believe I must have been guilty."

The governor has countered in a newspaper column that "checks and balances in Nebraska ensure that the death penalty is used sparingly and applied justly, and rapid advancements in DNA technology will help to ensure accuracy in future cases."

Ricketts' father, Joe, has also given $100,000 to Nebraskans for the Death Penalty, the Omaha World-Herald reported. The group did not respond to requests for comment. Joe Ricketts is a billionaire who founded the online broker TD Ameritrade. The Ricketts family owns the Chicago Cubs baseball team.

"This is an internal political fight between Governor Ricketts and the legislature," said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. "He has staked his political prestige on overturning the repeal of the death penalty."

Voters in California and Oklahoma will also decide death penalty questions on 8 November. Confusingly, the ballot language in Nebraska means that selecting "retain" will abolish capital punishment and "repeal" will keep it, raising the possibility that some votes will be cast erroneously.

Nebraska has executed three people since capital punishment was reinstated nationwide in 1976 and none since 1997, when Robert Williams, convicted of multiple murders, died in the electric chair. Its death row consists of 10 people. Across the country, 17 people have been executed this year in 5 states, but the punishment is in decline - the US is on track for the fewest judicial killings in a year since 1991.

Parsons cited a disputed study by a Creighton University economist, which claims that Nebraska's death penalty costs on average an extra $14.6m annually compared with life without parole.

"Fiscal conservatives - whether you're Republican or Democrat - I think most people in Nebraska don't like wasting tax dollars," he said. Colby Coash, a Republican state senator, was one of the conservatives who voted for the repeal, calling the practice unjust.

In a speech last year he said his stance was informed by seeing the suffering of the sister of a murder victim who waited in vain for 30 years for her brother's killer to be executed. In the end, the death row inmate died of cancer.

Coash also recalled feeling uneasy when, as a college student in Lincoln in 1994, he went to the state penitentiary for a late-night execution. People gathered outside to celebrate in what he described as a carnival-like atmosphere, with a band playing, people drinking beer and grilling food and a New Year's Eve-style clock counting down the minutes until midnight.

"You wouldn't have been able to tell the difference between what I was participating in at 11 o'clock at night and what you might see an hour before a [college] football game," he told the audience. "At midnight, everybody cheered ... and fireworks shot off."

A report in the New York Times put the crowd at about 2,000. Harold Otey was executed in the same electric chair used in Nebraska's previous execution, 35 years earlier. "Mr Otey made no final statement, but mouthed 'I love you,' to his 3 chosen witnesses after he was strapped into the chair,' the report said. "Sweat poured off his head and soaked his shirt. Minutes later, 4 2,400-volt jolts of electricity coursed through his body. After the 3rd jolt, smoke rose from his left leg."

Even if voters decide in favor of the punishment, other hurdles pose considerable challenges to future executions in the state.

Now committed to the lethal injection method, it is far from clear that the state would even be able to source suitable drugs. As BuzzFeed reported, last year Nebraska spent $26,700 on a feckless attempt to import drugs from a dubious source in India. The shipment never left the country because the drugs were likely illegal to import into the US and would have been seized by federal authorities.

"Even if the voters restore the death penalty, there's no guarantee that the statute is even constitutional" in the light of a US supreme court decision in January on the role of juries in sentencing in Florida, Dunham said. "There's a very significant prospect that Nebraska's death penalty statute would be declared unconstitutional because the ultimate sentencing decision there, the weighing of aggravating and mitigating circumstances, is made by a 3-judge panel" rather than a jury, he said.

Source: The Guardian, October 26, 2016

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Pakistan sets execution date for ‘insane’ prisoner

Authorities in Pakistan have handed down an execution warrant to a death-row prisoner who is severely mentally ill. 

Pakistan's interior ministry today handed down a so-called ‘black warrant’ confirming that it plans to hang Imdad Ali, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, next Wednesday (2nd). Mr Ali was sentenced to death in 2008 over a shooting, following several years in which his family struggled to pay for medical treatment. Since then, a series of medical assessments have confirmed his illness, with one doctor describing him as “insane”, and saying that his condition is “chronic and disabling.”

Despite this, last week saw Pakistan’s Supreme Court dismiss an appeal by Mr Ali’s lawyers, commenting that schizophrenia is “not a mental disorder.” This afternoon, authorities at the jail where Mr Ali is held confirmed that a warrant has been issued for his execution on November 2nd. 

The execution of mentally ill people is prohibited under Pakistani and international law, and today’s development comes amid mounting criticism of plans to hang Mr Ali. UN human rights experts have called on the government to halt Mr Ali’s execution, while the UK's Foreign Office has said it is “very concerned” about the case. A group of Pakistani psychiatrists has also urged the authorities to commute Mr Ali’s sentence. Over 20,000 people have signed a petition calling on Pakistan’s President, Mamnoon Hussain, to grant mercy to Mr Ali.

Under international law, the President has a duty to review death penalty cases. Article 45 of Pakistan’s Constitution grants the President powers to “grant pardon, reprieve and respite, and to remit, suspend or commute” death sentences.

Commenting, Maya Foa, a director at Reprieve, said: “It’s appalling that the Pakistani authorities are pushing ahead with their plans to execute Imdad. Experts agree that Imdad is severely mentally ill – meaning his hanging would be a grave breach of Pakistani and international law, and an indelible stain on Pakistan’s reputation. It is the President of Pakistan’s constitutional duty to review death penalty cases and to use his power to grant mercy in cases such as Imdad’s – where not to do so would result in a gross, irreparable miscarriage of justice. The President must use his power to pardon Imdad, and prevent this outrage from going ahead.”

Source: Reprieve, October 26, 2016. Reprieve is an international human rights organization.

Imdad Ali, a severely mentally ill prisoner in Pakistan,
is at imminent risk of execution

There's no time to lose: Imdad Ali, a severely mentally ill prisoner in Pakistan, is scheduled to be executed at dawn on Tuesday (November 2nd) after the Supreme Court ruled that his execution could go ahead despite prison doctors confirming that he has severe paranoid schizophrenia. The Supreme Court argued that the execution could proceed because paranoid schizophrenia is "not a mental disorder".

Imdad Ali's mental health deteriorated in the years prior to his arrest over a 2002 shooting, but his family was unable to afford the treatment which could have prevented the tragedy. Imdad's delusions are so severe that he is not even aware that he is about to be executed.

Reprieve's supporters already helped to temporarily postpone Imdad's execution once while the Supreme Court considered the case, but now that his appeal has been rejected, Imdad once again faces the noose at dawn on Tuesday. The execution of the mentally ill is contrary to both Pakistani and international law.

Executing a man so ill that he can understand neither his crime nor punishment is not justice. Only the Pakistani government can now stop this grave injustice – so please sign our petition calling on President Hussain to halt the execution of this severely mentally ill man.

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Saudi Arabia: Final hours of executed Saudi prince recounted

Prince Turki Bin Saud Bin Turki Bin Saud Al Kabeer
Prince Turki Bin Saud Bin Turki Bin Saud Al Kabeer
Victim’s father refused to accept blood money from Prince Turki’s family, insisting on execution

Manama: The Saudi prince who was executed on Tuesday for the murder of a friend met his family for around four hours in a highly emotional goodbye, a witness has said.

Recounting the last hours of Prince Turki Bin Saud Bin Turki Bin Saud Al Kabeer, the imam of Al Safa mosque in the capital Riyadh said that the convict and the family were crying throughout their meeting held late on Monday at the prison.

“The family was called in to bid the prince goodbye and during the time spent together, you could see only tears and hear only expressions and sighs of sadness,” Mohammad Al Maslookhi posted on his account on the Twitter microblog, Saudi news site Al Marsad reported.

“Turki then offered prayers and read from the Holy Quran until dawn. At around 7am, the warden took him to a place where his last will was written for him as he could not use his own hand, He then made the ablution and at 11am, he was taken to the mosque. In the meantime, the immediate family of the victim Adel Al Muhaimeed who was shot dead in a group brawl three years ago, were kept at their home and had their mobile phones switched off. When they arrived to the square designated for carrying out the execution, senior members of the larger family tried to intervene with Adel’s father to pardon Turki and accept diya (blood money). However, the father said he would not forgive and insisted on the execution of his son’s killer.”

Following the Dhohr (noon) prayers, a member of Turki’s family tried to convince the father to accept blood money and set him free, but the attempt failed.

Islamic law treats homicide and unintentional homicide as a civil dispute between people, and not a corrective punishment by the state to maintain order.

When the victim’s family grants a pardon for blood money or unilaterally, the state is not allowed to prosecute.

In the cases of death, injury, and damage, the prosecutor is the victim or the victim’s family and if the family or heir accepts the diyah (blood money or the financial compensation paid to the victim or heirs of a victim), the killer is pardoned.

“The execution was carried out immediately after the Asr (afternoon) prayers at 4.13pm and Adel’s father showed no expression afterwards. However, Turki’s father cried profusely over his son. Adel’s family left the square under a heavy guard,” Al Maslookhi said.

 Related article: Execution of Saudi prince brings praise for the monarchy, October 23, 2016

Source: Gulf News, October 20, 2016

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Ben Quilty launches exhibition of Myuran Sukumaran paintings for Sydney Festival

Artist Ben Quilty surrounded by works painted by Myuran Sukumaran
Artist Ben Quilty surrounded by works painted by Myuran Sukumaran.
With 24 hours left before he faced death by firing squad, Myuran Sukumaran could have been forgiven for wallowing in self-pity and regret. Yet Sukumaran, one of nine Australians arrested for heroin smuggling in 2005, spent his last day of life on the Indonesian island of Nusa Kambangan wielding a paint brush.

His friend and mentor, the Archibald Prize-winning artist Ben Quilty, says Sukumaran was determined to leave an artistic legacy and take a stand against the death penalty.

"The last day on the 28th of April, 2015, Myuran made four or five paintings," Quilty says. "And he was up all night, as much as he could, with his family around him, supporting him, bringing him food. And he just painted and painted and painted till the end."

The artworks painted by Sukumaran the day before he was executed last year will be exhibited at Campbelltown Arts Centre as part of the 2017 Sydney Festival.

Myuran Sukumaran: Another Day in Paradise features more than 100 death-row paintings by Sukumaran as well as works created by seven artists in response to his execution.

One of the new works by Abdul-Rahman Abdullah features a dove nesting inside a circle of 3665 eggs, representing each day of the more than 10 years Sukumaran was imprisoned until his execution in 2015.

Sukumaran was a prolific painter during his incarceration in Bali's Kerobokan jail and on Nusa Kambangan. He painted portraits of himself and friends inside prison as well as his family including a series of pictures of his grandfather on his death bed in Liverpool Hospital.

"By that point in Myuran's prison life, he was very well-respected and trusted inside the prison and they allowed him to have a Skype for several days with his grandfather," Quilty says.

It is one example of Sukumaran's dramatic transformation from heroin smuggler to model prisoner who was entrusted to run language and art classes for inmates and even have keys to the jail's medical facility, Quilty says.

The exhibition dwells on Sukumaran's rehabilitation as well as the death penalty and treatment of prisoners in Australia, according to co-curator Michael Dagostino. "The whole idea of rehabilitation and redemption doesn't really figure in our justice system."

Click here to read the full article

Source: Canberra Times, Andrew Taylor, october 26, 2016

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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Iran: Ten hanged over drug, murder, rape charges

Iranian authorities hanged 5 prisoners early Tuesday morning for alleged drug related offenses, but Iranian official sources are silent about these executions.

5 prisoners were reportedly hanged early morning on Tuesday October 25 for alleged drug related offenses. Close sources say the execution sentences may have been carried out at either Karaj Central Prison or nearby Ghezel Hesar Prison.

Iran Human Rights is aware of the names of 3 of the prisoners: Saeed Pourhassan, Mehrshad Kalhori, and Milad Beigdeli. 

These 3 prisoners along with the other 2 were reportedly transferred to solitary confinement cells at Karaj Central Prison on Saturday October 22 in preparation for their execution.

"If they gave us until 2 in the afternoon, we could have stopped Saeed's execution. [Mehrshad Kalhori and Milad Beigdeli] had claimed to authorities that Saeed was guilty, but they wrote a letter retracting their claim stating that their confessions were false and given out of spite. They thought if they gave the names of others to the authorities that they all would be issued light prison sentences. We gave the letter to authorities and pleaded with them to postpone Saeed's execution for several hours. But, they threw the letter away and even attempted to run us over with a car," the brother of Saeed Hassanpour tells Iran Human Rights.

Iranian official sources, including the Judiciary and the media, have been silent about these 5 executions.

4 Executed for Drug Trafficking, Murder

2 prisoners with drug related charges were reportedly hanged at Salmas Prison (West Azerbaijan province, northwestern Iran) and 2 prisoners with murder charges were reportedly hanged at Sepidar Ahwaz Prison (Khuzestan province, western Iran).

According a report by the the state-run news site, Rokna, 2 brothers charged with murder were hanged at Sepidar Ahwaz Prison on the morning of Monday October 24. The report identifies the prisoners as "Hassan" and "Mohsen".

According to the Kurdistan Human Rights Network and information received by Iran Human Rights, 2 prisoners, identified as Bakhtiar Khaledi and Shoresh Mizrapour, were hanged at Salmas Prison on Monday October 24 for alleged drug related offenses.

3 Prisoners Executed in Southern Iran

3 prisoners were reportedly hanged in Shiraz on kidnapping and rape charges. The exact location of the executions is not known at this time.

According to a report by the Judiciary in the Fars province, the executions were carried out on the morning of Monday October 24. The report says one of the prisoners was initially arrested on drug related charges.

The report identifies the prisoners as Reza N., Mohammad A., and Hashem P. Their execution sentences were reportedly issued by branch 4 of the criminal court in Fars and were confirmed by Iran's Supreme Court.

Source: iranhr.net, October 25, 2016

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Singapore: An innocent man may soon be hanged under mere circumstantial evidence

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29 year old Prabagaran A/L Srivijayan has been condemned to death. The only thing that will prevent the execution is if the President pardons him, or if an appeal, which has been made to the court and is under consideration, actually succeeds.

Caught at the Checkpoint

Prabagaran was arrested by Immigration and Checkpoints Officers in Woodlands on April 2012 for attempting to bring in 22.24 grams of heroin. The drugs were found in a black bundle inside the centre arm-rest console next to the driver’s seat.

Under Singapore’s laws against drug trafficking, if any unlicensed controlled drug is found in a vehicle, it is presumed to be in possession of the owner of the car, or of the person who was driving the vehicle. If the person is unable to give a satisfactory and convincing account that he was not aware that the drugs were in his car, he is guilty of drug trafficking.

Prabagaran has consistently denied that he was aware of the drugs in the vehicle. He borrowed the car he was driving through a friend’s contact because he was afraid that the motorcycle he usually rode on to commute to work would be re-possessed by the shop in Singapore that he bought from. Prabagaran was told through his younger brother that the reason the motorcycle shop wanted to do this was because he did not make good on his payment installments.

To avoid trouble with the motorbike shop, Prabagaran picked up a car belonging to his friend’s (Balu) contact (Nathan) at about 4:30 in the morning of 12th April 2012. At first Prabagaran had asked Balu if he could borrow his motorcycle but because the road tax for Balu’s motorcycle had expired, Balu contacted his friend Nathan to lend him a car instead.

After buying breakfast at MacDonald’s in which he left the car unlocked and unattended for a short period of time, he made his way to the Woodlands checkpoint where he was arrested.

The Court’s Decision

The case was heard in the High court and Prabagaran was sentenced to death. An appeal was filed at the Court of Appeal and the same conviction was upheld. In his grounds of decision, Justice Choo Han Teck said

I find the story of the accused implausible to have even created any doubt in my mind as to his knowledge of the drugs in his possession. The reason for borrowing ‘Nathan’s’ car (through ‘Balu’) was strange and illogical. The fear that his motorcycle would be repossessed does not justify leaving it in ‘Nathan’s’ house and taking ‘Nathan’s’ car to work instead. No explanation was given as to how that helps against the repossession of the motorcycle by the shop. There was no elaboration as to how long he intended to keep ‘Nathan’s’ car or how long he intended to leave his motorcycle at ‘Nathan’s’ house.

Justice Choo was also not convinced that Prabagaran needed to contact two people just to borrow a vehicle to enter Singapore from Malaysia. He said there was no evidence that both Balu and Nathan believed that the motorcycle would be re-possessed by the shop should Prabagaran ride it into Singapore.

Although Prabagaran testified that he had left the car unlocked and unattended when he went into McDonalds to get his breakfast, Justice Choo did not find any evidence that someone else had planted the drugs in the car during that time. He suggested that it would have been “utterly senseless” for someone else to plant the drugs inside the car.

Wrongful Conviction?

The problem with the High court and the Court of Appeal’s judgment is that Prabagaran’s conviction is based entirely on his testimony and the accounts of government officials involved in the case. All the other parties and witnesses mentioned by Prabagaran were not produced in court, nor were their statements taken by the authorities.

According to Prabagaran’s lawyers, Balu’s and Nathan’s testimonies would have a material bearing on Prabagaran’s defence. Their testimonies would have been necessary to corroborate Prabagaran’s account.

Even though Prabagaran gave information about both Balu and Nathan, including their contact details, the authorities did not follow up on these leads. Prabagaran even identified both Balu and Nathan from photographs provided by the authorities.

This is not the first time that the judiciary has sentenced individuals to death based on circumstantial evidence that is not corroborated by important witnesses.

Malaysian Cheong Chun Yin was initially sentenced to death by the courts even though he cooperated with the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) officers and gave them the name, physical description and phone numbers of the man who could have been responsible for handing the drugs to him without his knowledge, a man who had gone by the name of Lau De. However, the CNB did not make any effort to investigate.

According to the presiding Judge Choo Han Teck, “It was immaterial that the CNB did not make adequate efforts to trace Lau De or check on his cell-phones. The absence of any trace of Lau De was not taken as evidence in favour of or against either accused.”

Accused drug trafficker Vignes Mourthi was executed based on an unreliable witness statement

Another convicted drug trafficker, Vignes Mourthi was hanged based on highly questionable evidence. The court obtained a note produced by the prosecution’s key witness Sgt Rajkumar. The note was apparently a record of a conversation that had taken place between Mourthi and Sgt Rajkumar, which stated that Mourthi knew that the packages contained heroin. It was hand written, undated and unsigned.

However, while giving testimony during the trial as the prosecution’s key witness, Sgt Rajkumar was facing investigations for rape, sodomy and bribery by the authorities. In view of this fact, the credibility and integrity of Sgt Rajkumar was (and still is) highly questionable.

Judiciary’s rationale is deeply troubling

Coming back to Prabagaran’s case, the Court of Appeal presided over by 3 judges decided that it was unnecessary for the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) to conduct more investigations on the leads which Prabagaran had provided. The two individuals Nathan and Balu could have made use of Prabagaran by hiding the drugs in the car. But the court did not think it was necessary to pursue this line of inquiry. It said

The CNB has to assess the value and the viability of making any particular investigation in each case. It has to make judgment calls on the usefulness of any information given to it.
It has to consider its resources and its statutory powers of investigation. For instance, it cannot be expected to traverse the globe to investigate merely because an accused person mentions the names of ten persons in ten different countries together with their contact numbers.

It is evident that the court of three judges has not shown sufficient regard for Prabagaran’s life in arriving at this position; CNB has also not given its rationale for not choosing to pursue such an important lead. The court’s justification of their inaction is deeply troubling.

Prabagaran is a Malaysian and the offence took place during a journey from Johor to Singapore. In fact, a large number of Singapore’s drug trafficking cases involve both these countries. There was no need for CNB officers to “traverse the globe”, as the court had remarked disparagingly, to uncover the facts of this case. It was certainly not difficult or resource intensive for CNB officers to pursue leads which Prabagaran had provided information. Even if it was, someone’s life is at stake. Are the lives of impoverished migrants worth so little to the court?

Even if a court finds an accused’s statement to be unbelievable, it still has a responsibility to ensure all possible leads are pursued to get to the bottom of the matter. Its judgments should not leave a shred of doubt in anyone’s minds about the guilt of the accused.

The death penalty is an irreversible punishment. A life taken cannot be given back. Singapore’s courts cannot be injudicious and heedless towards accused persons on death row, as it has been in Prabagaran’s case and other cases before it.

Unfortunately, Prabagaran will become another tragic statistic among the dozens of working class migrants who are sentenced to death for drug trafficking, an offence which disproportionately affects those afflicted by economic hardship, social marginalisation and difficult family circumstances.

Source: Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign, October 25, 2016

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