Saturday, November 1, 2014

URGENT ACTION: Cleric Sentenced to Death after Flawed Trial in Saudi Arabia

Prominent Saudi Arabian Shi’a Muslim cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr has been sentenced to death on vague charges and after a deeply flawed trial. His conviction must be quashed and he should be released immediately in relation to these charges. 

View the full Urgent Action, including case information, addresses and sample messages, here. 

Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr was sentenced to death by the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh, the capital, on 15 October for a list of offences including “disobeying and breaking allegiance to the ruler”, “calling to overthrow the regime”, “calling for demonstrations”, “inciting sectarian strife”, “questioning the integrity of the judiciary”, “meeting with and supporting wanted suspects”, and “interfering in a neighboring state’s affairs” (in reference to Bahrain). 

Evidence for the charges that Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was convicted of came from religious sermons and interviews attributed to the cleric. Amnesty International’s review of these texts confirms that he was exercising his right to free expression and was not inciting violence. A number of charges, including disobeying the ruler, should not be offences at all as they criminalize the peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression and other human rights. Other charges are vague and have been abused here to punish the exercise of human rights. 

The trial that commenced at the Specialized Criminal Court on 25 March 2013 was also deeply flawed. The cleric was denied the most basic needs to prepare for his defense, including regular access to his lawyer and a pen and some paper to respond to the charges. Key eyewitnesses were allowed not to testify in court in violation of Saudi Arabian laws, and his lawyer was not informed of the dates of a number of court hearings. 

Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, who is the Imam of al-Awamiyya mosque in al-Qatif, eastern Saudi Arabia, was arrested without an arrest warrant on 8 July 2012 when security officers forced his car to stop and shot him when he refused to accompany them. He spent most of his detention in solitary confinement in military hospitals and in al-Ha’ir Prison in Riyadh. He has been paralyzed in one leg because of the incident leading to his arrest and needs urgent medical attention to remove a second bullet in his back. 


Saudi Arabians in the Kingdom’s predominantly Shi’a Eastern Province have long claimed discrimination and harassment against them by the authorities. Inspired in part by protests that swept the Middle East and North Africa region in 2011, they organized demonstrations to protest at the harassment, arrest, and imprisonment of members of the Shi’a community for, among other things, celebrating Shi’a religious festivals, breaching restrictions on building Shi’a mosques and religious schools, and expressing support to protestors in Bahrain. 

View the full Urgent Action here. 

Name: Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr (m) 
Issues: Death penalty, Freedom of expression, Unfair trial 
UA: 271/14 Issue Date: 31 October 2014 
Country: Saudi Arabia 

Please let us know if you took action so that we can track our impact! 

EITHER send a short email to with "UA 271/14" in the subject line, and include in the body of the email the number of letters and/or emails you sent. 

OR fill out this short online form to let us know how you took action. 

Thank you for taking action! Please check with the AIUSA Urgent Action Office if sending appeals after the below date. If you receive a response from a government official, please forward it to us at or to the Urgent Action Office address below. 


Please write immediately in English, Arabic or your own language: 
* Calling on the Saudi Arabian authorities to quash the conviction and death sentence of Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr and release him immediately in relation to these charges; 
* Urging them to provide him with adequate medical treatment; 
* Urging them to establish immediately an official moratorium on all executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty in Saudi Arabia. 


King and Prime Minister 
King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud 
The Custodian of the two Holy Mosques 
Office of His Majesty the King 
Royal Court, Riyadh 
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 
Fax: (via Ministry of the Interior) 011 966 11 403 3125 (please keep trying) 
Salutation: Your Majesty 

And copies to: 
President, Human Rights Commission 
Bandar Mohammed ‘Abdullah al-Aiban 
Human Rights Commission 
PO Box 58889, Riyadh 11515 
King Fahad Road 
Building No.373, Riyadh Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 
Fax: 011 966 11 461 2061 

Minister of Justice 
His Excellency Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulkareem Al-Issa 
Ministry of Justice 
University Street Riyadh 11137 
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 
Fax: 011 966 11 401 1741 
011 966 11 402 0311 
Salutation: Your Excellency 

Also send copies to: Ambassador Adel A. Al-Jubeir, Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia 
601 New Hampshire Ave. NW, Washington DC 20037 
Fax: 1 202 944 5983 I Phone: 1 202 342 3800 I Email:

Please share widely with your networks:

UA Network Office AIUSA │600 Pennsylvania Ave SE, Washington DC 20003 
T. 202.509.8193 │ F. 202.509.8193 │E. │

China: Man who killed toddler in parking row executed

Han Lei (photo: AP)
A Chinese man who killed a two-year-old girl after a row with her mother over a parking space was executed on Friday, a court said.

Han Lei was convicted of taking the child from her pram and throwing her to the ground after her mother refused to make way for him to park his car in Beijing in July last year.

He and a friend in the vehicle drove away and the toddler died two days later of her injuries, provoking widespread public outrage.

Han, now 40, was sentenced to death two months after the incident, and appealed against the penalty without success.

China's Supreme Court approved the sentence and he was executed on Friday, the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People's Court said on a verified microblog account.

Han had reportedly told prosecutors last year he felt so guilty and distressed that he wanted to die, according to previous Chinese media reports.

"I caused such a calamity for the child... please make sure that I am sentenced to death," he was quoted as saying. "I don't want to live any more."

Han was sentenced to life in prison in 1996 for stealing a car but was released 2012 after the sentence was commuted, the reports said.

Source: Agence France-Presse, October 31, 2014

Related articles:
- China toddler death: Suspect trial begins, BBC News, Sept. 5, 2013
- Chinese Man Sentenced to Death for Killing Toddler, AP, Sept. 2013
- China: Beijing Baby Killer Appeals for Light Sentence, CRI English, Oct. 8, 2013
- China: Death penalty upheld for Beijing road-rage baby killer, SCMP, Nov. 29, 2013

Friday, October 31, 2014

Accused Colorado Cinema Gunman's Lawyers Want Second Sanity Exam Barred

James Holmes and attorney
Defense lawyers in the Colorado theater massacre case want a 2nd court-ordered sanity examination undergone by accused gunman James Holmes barred from his upcoming murder trial, court documents on Thursday showed.

Public defenders filed "a motion to strike" or limit the opinions and testimony of the psychiatrist who conducted the testing. The disclosure was made in a ruling by the judge that suppressed the full contents of the pleading.

Holmes, 26, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to shooting dead 12 moviegoers and wounding dozens in a suburban Denver cinema during a midnight screening of the Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises" in July 2012.

Prosecutors have charged Holmes with multiple counts of 1st-degree murder and attempted murder, and said they will seek the death penalty for the California native if he is convicted.

After invoking the insanity defense, Holmes underwent a mental examination last year, but Arapahoe County District Court Judge Carlos Samour ordered a second evaluation, siding with prosecutors who argued the first report was flawed.

The conclusions reached by both evaluators have not been made public.

While the contents of the latest defense motion are sealed, it suggests that the second evaluator deemed Holmes was sane when he went on the shooting rampage. Defense lawyers have said he was in the grips of a psychotic episode at the time.

Colorado defense lawyer and legal analyst Mark Johnson said since prosecutors rejected the first evaluation and the defense objected to the results of the second examination, it appears there is a split among the professionals about Holmes' sanity.

"It's certainly shaping up as a battle between the court-appointed experts," said Johnson, who is not involved in the case.

In a separate motion that was made public, the defense said statements Holmes made during the second evaluation should be withheld from jurors because they could violate his right against self-incrimination.

Defense lawyers noted in the pleading that prosecutors oppose that motion, although their formal response has not been filed.

Jury selection is set to begin in January, which Samour said last week could take up to 4 months.

Samour also told lawyers for both sides to be prepared to make their opening statements on June 3, and that the trial will last between 4 and 5 months.

Source: Business Insider, October 31, 2014

Iran: 55 executed in less than two weeks

Public execution in Shiraz, Iran, September 2014
Head of Supreme Human Rights Council in Iranian regime’s judiciary says executions are part of fighting narcotics and world should be grateful to us for that

NCRI - Along with the anti-human crime of throwing acid into the faces of defenseless women in Iran, the wave of executions in the cities across the country has increased.

In the span of 12 days (October 18 to 29) at least 55 prisoners have been executed in Iran. The real figure is much larger as the Iranian regime does not provide information on every execution being carried out in numerous prisons throughout the country.

A group of 17 prisoners were secretly hanged on Monday (October 27, 2014) in city of Taybad in northeastern Iran and 47 others are on death row. These executions followed the hanging of a group of eight inmates on October 18 in the same prison

Ten more prisoners were secretly hanged in the central prison in the western city of Orumiyeh, including Ebrahim Choupani, a severely mentally disturbed prisoner who was hanged on October 29.

Four other prisoners were also hanged early in the morning of October 27 in the same prison after another group of five were hanged on October 18 in a different prison in the city known as Darya.

At the insistence of regime’s officials, Rayhaneh Jabbari, a 26-year-old student and decorator was executed on October 25 in Gohardasht Prison in the city of Karaj after suffering seven and a half years of imprisonment. Mohammad Ghorbanzadeh, a male prisoner, was also hanged along with Rayhaneh.

In Rasht, according to the official website of Gilan’s province’s judiciary, nine people were executed between October 18 and 25 in that province, including a citizen of Afghanistan who was hanged on October 18.

A group of six prisoners were secretly hanged on October 23 in Adel Abad Prison in the city of Shiraz and two prisoners, including Dadkhoda Narouei, were secretly hanged in city of Kerman’s Shahab Prison.

On October 19, Fardin Ja’afarian, 18, was hanged in Tabriz. At the time of his arrest and alleged crime he was 14. This unlawful hanging severely violates many international conventions, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

On that same day, a group of eight prisoners were hanged in Ghezel Hessar Prison in Karaj. Also, on October 21, eight other prisoners were transferred to isolation to await their execution.

The Iranian regime - known by the people as the “Godfather of ISIS” - faced with the people’s wrath and revulsion of the intensifying suppression in the country and particularly following the recent wave of throwing acid onto Iranian women and girls, has resorted to a surge in executions to increase intimidation and fear in society

The executions are carried out with the approval and insistence of the most senior officials of this regime.

Reacting to reports by international bodies condemning the violation of human rights in Iran, Sadegh Larijani, the head of the regime’s Judiciary, said: “The more they attack us on the issue of human rights, the more resolute we become in carrying out the verdicts,” to state-run affiliated to the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) on October 15.

In an interview with CNN, Mohammad Javad Larijani, the head of the regime’s Supreme Council for Human Rights, brazenly said: “The report by Ahmed Shaheed [The UN Rapporteur on Situation of Human Rights in Iran] is neither credible nor objective. Yes, we do have executions in Iran, but the majority of them relate to narcotics and all the world, including the United States, and other Western communities, benefit from Iran’s combat against narcotics. Therefore, the Western world should appreciate Iran’s unilateral unrelenting war with narcotic crimes.”

Once again, the Iranian Resistance emphasizes that turning a blind eye to the international community regarding the catastrophic situation of human rights in Iran, will only embolden the criminals ruling that country. The only way to confront this savagery is through the adoption of a firm policy with regard to the religious dictatorship ruling Iran.

New details of Iranian regime torturing Reyhaneh Jabbari revealed by her uncle

Reyhaneh Jabbari
NCRI – In the first public remarks from a close relative of Reyhaneh Jabbari, new details of the Iranian regime torturing her physically and psychologically, starting immediately after her arrest in 2009, have been revealed.

During a press conference in Berlin on Wednesday, Ms. Reyhaneh Jabbari’s uncle, Fariborz Jabbari, described her execution as "state terror".

He said, "Reyhaneh was physically and psychologically tortured by security officers a number of times during her imprisonment and forced her to make coercive confessions."

He said that even moments before her hanging "prison officials asked Reyhaneh to say in front of the camera that Morteza Abdullali Sarbandi [the Iranian regime’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security official who was killed] did not try to sexually assault her, but she refused to do so until the last minute."

Fariborz Jabbari stressed that "Numerous cases of violations of human rights have taken place since Reyhaneh was arrested up until she was executed and even continued during her burial,” according to German broadcaster, Deutsche Welle .

He added: "Although Reyhaneh’s case was not political, the way judges and security authorities handled the case was suspicious, especially since the girl was tortured in solitary confinement since the early days of her arrest, in order to exert pressure on her to make false confessions."

Jabbari stressed that "there were no relationship between Reyhaneh and the man killed, and she met him only three times during her work as a decorator when he asked her to do design work at his medical office."

He added, "Although Sarbandi was a doctor, he was not working in that field, but was in the business of trading instruments and medical devices."

He said it was not clear to the family if Sarbandi had still been working for the intelligence ministry.

Reyhaneh’s uncle said her family was not informed about the timing of Reyhaneh’s execution and her lawyer was not allowed to meet with her before execution.

Her mother Mrs. Sholeh Pakravan was only allowed to see her face for a moment after she had been executed, he said.

Source: NCRI, October 31, 2014

Iranian official blames Western media for woman's execution

Iranian Human Rights Commissioner Mohammad Javad Larijani named Western media campaigns as one of the chief reasons that the Iranian judiciary failed to obtain consent from the family of the victim in the Reyhaneh Jabbari case.

Larijani, who is in Geneva to attend the Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review, told CNN on October 30 that Reyhaneh Jabbari's case was investigated for 7 years. The case was brought before several judges who were never convinced by her claim of self defence.

"All the judges that sat on her case in the past 7 years have ruled that she has committed premeditated murder and her claims of self defence were not convincing," Larijani said.

Jabbari was arrested at the age of 19 for the murder of Morteza Abdolali Sarbandi. She was hanged last Saturday after a series of mediation sessions with the family of the victim failed to yield a consent from the deceased's kin to forego their right to Qesas and release her from execution.

Human rights activists had launched a campaign to stop her execution, drawing widespread media attention to Jabbari's case.

Source: Radio Zamaneh, October 31, 2014

US Supreme Court late night rulings on death row fates

In an 11th-hour reprieve, the US Supreme Court put a murderer's execution on hold this week, a rare moment when a defense was able to slow, if only temporarily, the inexorable wheels of justice.

Hundreds of miles from the grim cell blocks of America's death row prisons, the lofty halls of the Washington court conceal a small but efficient bureaucracy of execution.

The court's 9 justices are regularly called upon to make last-ditch life or death decisions, supported by a discreet body of clerks in touch with cases ongoing in states around the country. Danny Bickell is the court's "emergency application clerk" - informally known as the "death clerk" - and handles all Supreme Court business relating to individual executions.

He operates confidentially and does not give interviews but is known to keep tabs on capital cases and to remain in constant touch with defense teams representing death row inmates.

If a last minute appeal is lodged, it is Bickell who is charged with knowing exactly where the 9 justices are at any given time, so that, if necessary, they can order a stay in execution.

2 hours before the condemned man was to breathe his last, the judges ordered his execution be postponed, pending a ruling on whether he had received an appropriate defense.

Death penalty lawyer Rob Owen, a professor of law at Northwestern University, told AFP that defense teams do not try to surprise Bickell or the Court on the eve of an execution.

"His role is to have a complete picture of what`s happening, to find out what litigation is going on in the lower courts," he said.

"When it arrives at their door step, I want them to already know," he said. Each of the nine Supreme Court judges has a geographic zone, and his or her office examines any last minute death penalty appeal that originates in a state from this "circuit."

"For each execution, one of the clerks in the relevant circuit was in charge of coordinating the execution," said Jay Wexler, who served as a clerk to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg from 1998 to 1999.

The clerks would deal with huge case files, often at home late at night, then call the relevant judge on a secure line. The judge could then decide whether to mobilize the court.

"I would say 99.9 % of the time the circuit justice is going to refer the application to the full court, and all 9 justices are going to act," Bickell told lawyers in 2012, according to the New York Times.

William Jay, who clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia on the circuit that includes Texas, the state with the most executions, said the justices usually act quickly and as a body.

"Often the inmate is in the execution chamber, and someone is waiting for a phone call, usually the death clerk to the lawyer of the state," he said.

"The state has the power to proceed if it hasn`t been ordered to stop," he explained, adding that in only very few cases do the judges order a stay of execution."You knew when the execution was scheduled," said Wexler, and as it got closer, "you knew they would increase the frequency of litigations."

Jay said these last minute applications could backfire on a defendant: "After three denied petitions, the State might understandably assume it is a tactic to delay."

But defense lawyer Owen said: "I will plead guilty to the charge that I do everything to save my client's life, that's my duty.

"Some people think that's tactical, but if you're filing at the last minute, you are gambling, you have almost no chance to win.

"It is not to our advantage to surprise the Supreme Court at the eve of an execution."According to the Death Penalty Information Center, a non-profit watchdog, the court might approve three applications for stays each year, out of around a thousand presented.

A very serious complaint, such as of police corruption, defense incompetence or doubts about the legality of the cocktail of drugs in a lethal injection, can delay an execution - but not often.

"It's a very lonely, very long and difficult night," admitted Wexler.

Some judges are more likely to grant a stay than others. Liberal justice Elena Kagan always calls for a delay, while Scalia has done so in only 4 % of cases, according to Bickell in the Times.

5 of 9 judges must vote for a stay for it to pass.

"Most of the time it's bad news," said defense attorney Brian Kammer, whose client Troy Davis was executed on September 21, 2011 in Georgia.

"Giving my clients that news is very difficult, heartbreaking."

Source: AFP, October 30, 2014

Arizona Death Penalty Still in Limbo After Botched Execution

After it took 2 hours and 15 doses of lethal-injection drugs for the state to execute convicted murderer Joseph Wood in July, the state's death penalty procedure is still in limbo.

A lawsuit in federal court, filed by both current death-row prisoners and a legal group representing media organizations, challenges various aspects of the state's lethal-injection protocol. At a status conference today, Judge Neil Wake suggested there may be no way right now for the state to execute anyone.

As Wake put it, "There seems to be a great deal of uncertainty, to put it in a great understatement."

When the state executed Wood in July, it was using a new combination of drugs, due to a shortage of the usual lethal drugs.

Federal public defender Dale Baich, who represented Wood, has referred to the execution as "an experiment that failed."

Reporters who witnessed the execution described Wood gasping for air hundreds of times, although Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan says Wood was unconscious the entire time and never in pain.

However, as Wood failed to die, his attorneys attempted to get a judge to halt the execution. Wood's condition continued to deteriorate as attorneys were on the phone with the federal judge, and Wood eventually died before the judge made his ruling to let the execution continue.

It wasn't revealed to Baich until later that it had taken 15 doses to kill Wood, and Baich insists that his reading of the execution protocol says that only one additional dose is permitted.

Governor Jan Brewer ordered an independent investigation into the execution, and an assistant Arizona attorney general said today that the report is due in mid-November.

The lethal injection policy could change based on that report, but the assistant AG conceded that no executions will be scheduled until the investigative process is complete.

Although the state has more of the drugs used to kill Wood, Wake found it hard to believe that the state would attempt that type of execution again.

Thus, Wake suggested the state doesn't have a way to execute anyone, even if it wanted to.

Wake voiced reservations about this lawsuit moving forward, but attorneys for the various plaintiffs in the case explained they all have something at stake here, even though there's no imminent execution. The First Amendment Coalition of Arizona, representing media organizations, is seeking the release of information related to the state's executions, while the prisoners want a court-ordered ban on Arizona using its current lethal-injection protocol, among other things.

"Arizona's improvised and unprecedented 2-hour execution of Joseph Wood has laid bare fundamental flaws in Arizona's attempts to implement its lethal injection statute," the complaint states (See the full complaint embedded below.) "Without significant changes, ordered and supervised by this Court, Defendants will continue to abuse its discretion and violate the Constitution, with a substantial risk of imposing more experiments in human execution with similarly ghastly results, and of doing so without outside public knowledge or meaningful media scrutiny."

Source: Phoenix New Times, October 30, 2014

Texas sets execution date for mentally ill killer Scott Panetti

Scott Panetti
Texas is preparing to execute a mentally ill man who dressed as a cowboy at his trial and attempted to subpoena Jesus Christ, John F Kennedy and the Pope.

On Wednesday, a day after Miguel Paredes became the 10th – and at the time it was thought final – Texas prisoner to be put to death this year, the state gave Scott Panetti an execution date of 3 December. The 56-year-old shot his parents-in-law to death in 1992 in front of his estranged wife and their three-year-old daughter.

Long and complex legal battles have taken place since he was convicted in 1995 as a succession of courts have ruled Panetti is competent to be executed even though there is no question that he is mentally ill and suffers from paranoid delusions.

A schizophrenic man who had been hospitalised 14 times before the murders of Joe and Amanda Alvarado in the Texas Hill Country, he insisted he represent himself at trial, where his only defence was insanity. He said that during the crime he was under the control of a hallucination he called “Sarge”. He wore a purple cowboy suit, rambled incoherently, fell asleep and made a threatening gesture at the jury. Court documents show his standby attorney described Panetti as “bizarre”, “scary” and “trance-like” and that the trial was a “judicial farce”.

The jury convicted him of capital murder and sentenced him to death. The Wisconsin native later filed a federal appeal arguing that he had been incompetent both to stand trial and to represent himself.

At a district court evidentiary hearing, experts testified that Panetti believed the state was “in league with the forces of evil” and wanted to kill him “to prevent him from preaching the Gospel”. One another occasion a doctor testified that Panetti was delusional, believed his planned execution was a satanic plot and talked “about the conspiracies between the Bushes and large corporations and demonic forces”.

Yet courts have found Panetti competent to be executed on the basis that legal standards require only that prisoners know that they are going to be executed, and why, and that “awareness … is not necessarily synonymous with ‘rational understanding’”.

Source: The Guardian, Tom Dart, October 30, 2014

We're Going to Execute a Man Who Subpoenaed Jesus While Representing Himself Wearing a Purple Cowboy Suit

A Supreme Court decision in Scott Panetti's case should've made it harder to kill delusional prisoners - but it won't save him.

4 years before he murdered his in-laws in Texas, Scott Panetti buried some furniture in his yard. The devil, he claimed, was in it. After he was arrested and charged with the killings, Panetti, who has a history of severe mental illness, represented himself at his capital trial wearing a purple cowboy suit. He called himself "Sarge" and subpoenaed Jesus, among other notables. He lost, of course. The jury found him guilty and sentenced him to death.

The case made its way though the appeals courts, eventually reaching the United States Supreme Court, which in 2007 ruled that the state of Texas hadn't adequately evaluated whether Panetti's mental condition allowed him to fully understand the nature of his punishment - a constitutional prerequisite for the death penalty. The court stayed the execution and sent the case back for further proceedings.

Panetti was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, delusions, hallucinations, and manic depression - and hospitalized 14 times.

Seven years later, Panetti's illness hasn't gone away, but the Supreme Court has given Texas the green light to kill him. The court's decision, announced on October 6 without comment, upheld a 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that Panetti was sane enough for execution. The appellate court's decision, in turn, was based in part on the opinion of a Florida psychiatrist who has deemed at least 3 Florida death row inmates with long and well-documented histories of mental illness to be sane enough for the needle.

The details in this story, gleaned from hundreds of pages of court documents and other official filings, indicate that Scott Panetti was no malingerer. He began showing signs of serious mental illness in 1981, back when he was still a teenager. By 1992, he had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, delusions, auditory hallucinations, and manic depression, and had been hospitalized 14 times.

In 1990, for instance, he was involuntarily committed after swinging a cavalry sword at his wife and daughter and threatening to kill his family. He made good on the threat 2 years later, when he shaved his head, donned camo fatigues, broke into his in-laws' house and shot them both at close range in front of his estranged wife and infant daughter. After turning himself in, Panetti blamed the crime on Sarge, one of his recurring hallucinations. God, he said, had ensured that his victims hadn't suffered.

Panetti refused to cooperate with his lawyers, who he claimed were conspiring with the cops. In jail, he went off his meds, apparently convinced, as a Gnostic Nazarene, that he'd found a spiritual cure.

At the trial, serving as his own lawyer, Panetti rambled incoherently through his defense. Among the hundreds of people he sought to subpoena were not only the Messiah, but John F. Kennedy and the Pope as well. Two jurors later told one of Panetti's lawyers that his behavior had so frightened them that they voted for death largely to make sure he'd never get out of prison. (Texas at that time did not offer the option of life without parole.)

2 months after his sentencing, Panetti tried to waive his right to a lawyer for the appeal - a move tantamount to suicide. But this time, a judge refused his request, ruling that he was not mentally competent to make that choice.

Panetti may have been too incompetent to ditch his lawyer, but in 2003 a Texas state court determined, without a hearing, that he was sane enough to kill. His lawyers appealed to the federal district court, and the case ultimately landed before the Supreme Court, where Texas Solicitor General (and now US Senator) Ted Cruz defended the state's right to put Panetti down.

In past rulings, the Supreme Court has banned the execution of juveniles and people with intellectual disabilities. And while the court also has ruled that the Constitution forbids executing the severely mentally ill, the justices have been wary of laying down guidelines to determine, in effect, how crazy is too crazy.

A blanket ban on executing the mentally ill would have the effect of clearing out a big chunk of America's death row: A study published in June in the Hastings Law Journal looked at the 100 most recent executions and found that 18 of the condemned were diagnosed with schizophrenia, PTSD, or bipolar disorder, while 36 more had other serious mental-health problems or chronic drug addiction that in many cases rendered them psychotic.

By failing to offer clear guidance, the court gave psychiatrists great power in deciding who lives and who dies. The legal history isn't pretty. Consider the case of Albert Fish, who was dubbed the "Brooklyn Vampire." In 1935, Fish was convicted and sentenced to death for strangling a 10-year-old girl. Not only did he confess to the killing, he admitted to having cooked the child's body with bacon and vegetables and eaten it over the course of 9 days. He was suspected in at least 5 other murders.

A famous psychiatrist determined that Fish had major psychoses that manifested not just in cannibalism, but a host of other perversions and sadomasochistic behaviors - including eating his own feces and sticking pieces of alcohol-soaked cotton into his anus and setting them on fire. When he was arrested, X-rays showed 29 needles embedded in his groin area.

That psychiatrist testified at trial that Fish was legally insane, but his opinion was lost in a flood of testimony from prosecution doctors who declared Fish entirely competent. One even defended the feces consumption as "socially perfectly all right." Fish was executed in 1936.

In theory at least, the courts have since evolved to take a somewhat dimmer view of killing people whose tenuous grasp on reality makes a mockery of the supposed deterrent effect of capital punishment.

"All you need to know is you're going to be executed and why. You can be quite psychotic and still know those 2 things."

In 1986, in the case of Ford v. Wainright, the Supreme Court first ruled that a very narrowly defined set of inmates with major mental illnesses were ineligible for execution thanks to the Constitution's "cruel and unusual" clause. The 5-4 opinion was the handiwork of Justice Thurgood Marshall, who had spent a good part of his career representing capital defendants.

Yet the high court was conflicted over where to set the limits. Science seems never to have been part of the equation, and the court's opinion is colored by fears that murderers would fake mental illness to escape execution. Marshall sought to exempt from execution any prisoner so profoundly impaired that, as Alvin Ford had been, he was incapable of assisting in his own defense.

Had Marshall prevailed, Panetti surely would not be on death row now. But the legal test ended up being defined more loosely by Justice Louis Powell, the swing vote in Ford's favor. Powell suggested that mentally ill inmates could win a reprieve if they could prove they are "unaware of the punishment they're about to suffer and why they are to suffer it." The court left the states to work out the messy details of what that vague standard should mean in practice. The result has been a steady stream of executions of profoundly mentally ill people, some of whom - like Ricky Ray Rector, an Arkansas man whose execution Bill Clinton left the campaign trail to oversee in 1992 - were literally missing pieces of their brains.

"Competence to be executed is an extremely low standard," explains Phillip Resnick, the director of forensic psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University. "All you need to know is you're going to be executed and why. You can be quite psychotic and still know those 2 things."

The Panetti case seemed poised to change that. When the Supreme Court sent the case back to Texas in 2007, it instructed the lower court to ensure not only that Panetti was aware he was going to be executed, but that he also had a "rational understanding" of the facts of his execution. The landmark ruling was supposed to tighten up the vague standard for competency established in the Ford case. In practice, though, it wasn't much of an improvement.

At the time of the Supreme Court's decision, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers the busy death penalty states of Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, had never found someone ineligible for execution on the basis of insanity. And so it remains today.

The Panetti case illustrates how such a situation could be. After the Supreme Court punted it back to Texas, state officials subjected Panetti to further evaluation. Among the doctors hired to assess his mental state was Alan Waldman, a forensic psychiatrist and neurologist living in Gainesville, Florida.

Pivotal testimony came from a psychiatrist who purports to be an expert in detecting when a prisoner is faking symptoms of mental illness.

Waldman had spent part of his early career working for the Florida Department of Corrections. In the late 1990s, he worked as a senior physician in a state facility. In 1999, according to court records, he quit that job when he faced the prospect of being terminated. According to court testimony, the state credentialing board was considering revoking his privileges and had questions about his response to a complaint by the spouse of a client.

Waldman refused to answer questions for this story, directing his secretary to tell me that he would not talk to me under any circumstances and "don't call back." But in a court appearance in an unrelated lawsuit, he was questioned about his employment history. He asserted that the credentialing board's investigation of him was based on a frivolous complaint by a "wife beater," and that he had left his job to avoid the hassle of legal proceedings and the risk of a poor outcome when he said he'd done nothing wrong. "This happens when you're a psychiatrist," he testified. "You treat disturbed people and they sometimes make complaints."

Today, Waldman works as an expert witness in civil and criminal cases, mainly in Florida. He holds himself out as an expert in the detection of malingering, or feigning symptoms of mental illness. But during a 2007 hearing in the Panetti case, he admitted that he'd never published anything on the subject in a peer-reviewed journal???the only published work listed in his public CV since 1993 is an article titled "The Misuse of Science," which appeared in the "Domestic Violence and Sex Offender Prosecutor Association Newsletter."

In 3 death penalty cases, Florida governors have appointed Waldman to commissions evaluating the mental competency of the condemned. All of the prisoners, like Panetti, had long histories of mental illness predating their crimes, and in all three cases, Waldman deemed them legally sane. In 2 cases, he concluded that the inmate was faking his symptoms.

An infamous case in point is that of Thomas Provenzano, who became the catalyst for a national effort to beef up courthouse security in more trusting times. Provenzano went around claiming he was Jesus long before he killed anyone. He would sign job applications "Jesus Christ" and show pictures of Jesus to his nephews and nieces, whispering, "That's me." According to his sister, Catherine Forbes, "a 5-year-old kid could tell my brother had mental problems."

In the mid-1970s, Provenzano had checked himself into a mental hospital because he was hearing voices, but he was released. In 1981, his sister pleaded with doctors at the hospital to commit him, but they said they couldn't do anything to help. By 1983, it was clear that Provenzano's mental state was deteriorating. One day, after being reported for behaving erratically in public, he led police on a car chase and was stopped and arrested for disorderly conduct.

After his arrest, Provenzano started hanging out at the courthouse, obsessing over his legal file and the police officers who'd apprehended him. He began dressing like Rambo and, in early 1984, told his nephew he was going to blow up the Orlando police department. Shortly thereafter, he smuggled three guns into the courthouse, where he shot and killed a man and critically injured two other people before a sheriff shot him in the back. In the ambulance en route to the hospital, he yelled, "I am the son of God! You can't kill me."

In 1999, Jeb Bush, then the governor of Florida, signed Provenzano's death warrant and appointed a competency commission that included Waldman. After conducting an evaluation, Waldman reported back that the prisoner was faking his illness.

Police say Alan Waldman confronted a woman with an AK-47 in the wake of a traffic dispute: "He was so close I could feel him spitting at me," the woman recalled.

Forbes, Provenzano's sister, was shocked. She told me tearfully that her brother had spent 17 years on death row sleeping under his cot with a box on his head because he was hearing voices. She doubts any sane person could fake symptoms for so long: "Would you sleep 17 years with a box on your head, or under your cot?"

In May 2000, the Florida Supreme Court sided with the commission. The state executed Provenzano the next month.

About 6 months after the execution, Gainesville police arrested Waldman for aggravated assault. According to the police report, court records, and an interview with the alleged victim, Waldman was engaged in a bit of road rage. He was driving behind a woman who was a teenager at the time. Waldman cut in front of her at a red light, and she believed he'd clipped the front of her purple Saturn. But rather than pull over, she said, he took off when the light changed.

Incensed, she followed him home to try to get his insurance information. According to the police report, Waldman then walked from his front door to the roadside armed with an AK-47 to confront the woman. He pointed the gun at her through her car window, she told me: "He was so close I could feel him spitting at me."

She drove away and called the police, only to discover that Waldman had reported her first and that the police were looking to arrest her. Waldman had told them he was "scared for his life," she said. But after corroborating the gist of her story, the police arrested Waldman instead. She decided not to press charges, but said she's still traumatized by the episode.

Since his arrest, Waldman has continued to serve on mental competency commissions for Florida death row inmates. In 2012, he evaluated John Ferguson, a prisoner with a 40-year history of paranoid schizophrenia who had once been represented pro bono by John Roberts Jr., now chief justice of the US Supreme Court. Ferguson had killed eight people after he was released from a mental institution over the dire warnings of state doctors who said Ferguson was homicidal and "should not be released under any circumstances."

Right up through his execution day in the summer of 2013, Ferguson insisted that he was the "prince of God." Yet after a 90-minute interview, Waldman and his colleagues deemed him sane enough to execute.

Texas paid Waldman $250 an hour to assess Panetti, and $350 an hour for his expert testimony.

Texas paid Waldman $250 an hour for his assessments in the Panetti case and $350 an hour for his testimony. At first, Panetti had refused to talk to Waldman, and when he eventually agreed, he wasn't especially cooperative. For example, Waldman wrote that Panetti insisted on calling him "Dr. Grigson." The late James Grigson was the discredited Texas psychiatrist featured in the Errol Morris film The Thin Blue Line. Known as "Dr. Death," he had a long record of testifying in capital trials, where he invariably argued that the defendant was an incurable sociopath who would certainly kill again if allowed to live.

For much of the evaluation session, Panetti answered Waldman's questions with Bible quotes. He made up stories and claimed that John F. Kennedy had once cleaned his burns. He talked like a cowboy. He said the other inmates hated him because he preaches the Gospel. (Waldman, who had interviewed some of the other death row inmates, informed Panetti that they didn't like him because "he screams and yells and is constantly disturbing the unit by preaching the Gospel.") Panetti also talked about burying the possessed furniture in his yard, and claimed "Sergeant Iron Horse" was his in-laws' real killer.

The interview, Waldman wrote, demonstrated that Panetti has "organized" thoughts, and that he is very coherent most of the time -- especially when asked about the Bible. Panetti had hoped to "sabotage" the interview, Waldman noted, and displayed no evidence of mental illness. Waldman also dismissed Panetti's descriptions of his hallucinations and his claims about the furniture, writing, "One also must wonder, what furniture did Mr. Panetti in fact bury, a sofa?" He said the prisoner's repeated references to Dr. Grigson further proved that he was malingering.

By the time defense lawyers got a chance to question Waldman at Panetti's competency hearing, the psychiatrist had run up a $23,000 invoice for the state. (The federal courts, meanwhile, had allotted Panetti just $9,000 for all of his experts.) But the cross-examination revealed crucial gaps in Waldman's knowledge. The furniture incident, for instance, had been well documented by witnesses. Their accounts were in Panetti's medical records and had been introduced as exhibits in court.

On the stand, Waldman conceded that he hadn't given Panetti a single test or standard psychological exam.

In any case, Waldman argued, burying furniture was a "questionable" symptom of mental illness. Furthermore, he suspected that Panetti's mother had coached her son to bring up Grigson - that Panetti had "premeditated" the whole thing as a way to "handle" his examiner. Defense attorney Kathryn Kase informed him, however, that Grigson had in fact testified at Panetti's trial - and Panetti, representing himself, had cross-examined him. He had been obsessed with Grigson ever since. Waldman hadn't known any of this, he admitted.

Waldman also conceded that he hadn't given Panetti a single test or standard psychological exam, even though such things - including a test for malingering schizophrenia - not only exist, but are used regularly in his field.

Kase tried to inquire about the AK-47 incident, and whether Waldman had reported any acts of "moral turpitude" when he applied for the temporary medical license required for him to work for the state of Texas. But the judge cut off that line of inquiry and eventually ruled against Panetti, deeming him eligible for execution.

Panetti's lawyers appealed, arguing that he still hadn't received a fair hearing on his competency as the Supreme Court had ordered 6 years earlier. "Paradoxically," they wrote, "Panetti must invoke the Supreme Court's decision in his own case to vindicate his right - now a 2nd time - to rudimentary due process in an execution competency proceeding."

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Panetti anyway, quoting Waldman at length in its August 2013 ruling - even though Waldman was the only expert who testified at the competency hearing that Panetti was not, in fact, sick:

The State's chief expert - Dr. Waldman - doubted that Panetti suffered from any form of mental illness and was "emphatic in his opinion that Panetti has a rational understanding of the...connection between [his] crime and [his] execution."

Last week, the United States Supreme Court agreed.

Source: Mother Jones, October 31, 2014

The new Texas governor will be inaugurated on January 20, 2015. So Rick Perry may increase his death count to 282 if no one receives a stay (as of October 31, 2014).

Executions under Rick Perry, 2001-present-----279

Executions in Texas: Dec. 7, 1982-present------518

Perry #--------scheduled execution date-----name--------------Tx. #

280------------Dec. 3-------------------Scott Panetti-----------519

281------------Jan. 14------------------Rodney Reed-----------520

282------------Jan. 15------------------Richard Vasquez-------521

???------------Jan. 21-------------------Arnold Prieto-----------522

???------------Jan. 28-------------------Garcia White-----------523

???------------Feb. 4--------------------Donald Newbury-------524

???------------Feb. 10-------------------Les Bower, Jr.---------525

???------------Mar. 11-------------------Manuel Vasquez-------526

???------------Mar. 18-------------------Randall Mays----------527

???------------Apr. 15-------------------Manual Garza----------528

Saudi Arabia and its merciless judges

Public execution in a parking lot in Saudi Arabia
Public execution in a parking lot in Saudi Arabia
60 people have been executed in Saudi Arabia since the start of 2014. Even religion-related crimes can carry the death penalty, because the kingdom sees itself as the protector of Sunni Islam.

The punishment was harsh, but for some it wasn't harsh enough. Writing on his website "Free Saudi Liberals," Raif Badawi had criticized leading Saudi scholars and the role of Islam in public life in Saudi Arabia. The judge called that "offending faith," and went on to accuse Badawi of ridiculing Islamic dignitaries and crossing "the boundaries of obedience." Later, a charge of apostasy was also added to the list, which carries the death penalty in Saudi Arabia. In July 2013, the sentence was passed - 600 lashes and 7 years in jail. Badawi appealed, and in May this year the judge announced a new sentence: 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail, plus a fine equal to 195,000 euros ($250,000).

Badawi's fate is no isolated case. In Saudi Arabia, human rights activists and critics of the establishment are regularly sentenced to draconian punishments. In July this year, one court sentenced the activist Walid Abu al-Khair to 15 years in jail. According to an Amnesty International report, the judge found him guilty of "disobedience to the ruler," "attempted questioning of the legitimacy of the king," "damaging the reputation of the state by communicating with international organizations," and the "preparation, possession, and passing on of information that endangered public order." Al-Khair is also a human rights activist who earns a living as a lawyer, and one of his most prominent clients is Raif Badawi.

Flexible law

In his ruling, al-Khair's judge also made use of a new anti-terrorism law, even though that was not in force when al-Khair was charged. The law, which came into force in February 2014, was meant to give the state a weapon against "terrorist crimes," a catch-all term that the legislature used to encapsulate the following crimes: attempts to "disturb public peace," to "destabilize the security of the population of the state," to "threaten national unity," or to "damage the reputation or the image of the state." The Saudi judges are now basing a number of their rulings on these flexible terms.

In the last 2 years in particular, several Saudi human rights activists and bloggers have been sentenced to long jail terms, which has led to a severe limitation of press freedom in the country. Saudi Arabia currently occupies number 164 out of 180 countries in the press freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders.

Meanwhile, the country is close to the top of the table when it comes to capital punishment. According to Amnesty, at least 79 people were executed in the country in 2013, and 60 in 2014 so far.


The death penalty is mainly imposed for murder and drug-dealing, but it can also be imposed for "crimes against religion." The Shia cleric Nimr Bakir al-Nimr was sentenced to death in mid-October for allegedly stirring up violence between faiths and organizing protests, as well as disobedience to the king.

The conviction sent out a signal, according to Menno Preuschaft, Islamic studies professor at the University of Münster in Germany. "It demonstrated that they are not willing to tolerate any form of, or tendencies toward, revolution or transition," he told DW.

Preuschaft said it was not surprising that so many rulings are based on religious laws. The ruling family in Saudi Arabia draws its political legitimacy from its role protecting Islam and its holy sites. That role justifies its theological leadership position within Sunni Islam both nationally and internationally. "From the monarchy's point of view, any criticism of religion is a criticism of its own leadership," said Preuschaft. "That's also how it defends its own monopoly on power."

Diplomatic challenge

The disastrous human rights situation in Saudi Arabia represents a diplomatic challenge for German foreign policy. Saudi Arabia is an important international player, both strategically and economically, explains parliamentarian Ralf Mutzenich, who sits on committees on both foreign policy and human rights in the German Bundestag.

That leads to strains in the relationship, because of the human rights situation and the death penalties. "Of course, it raises difficult questions," said Mutzenich. "But we can't ignore those. We have to address them openly."

Source: Deutsche Welle, October 30, 2014

KSA: Two years in jail, 500 lashes for student convicted of throwing "mixed party"

A party at a rented recreation area in western Saudi Arabia was busted by the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice with support from the police and security patrols, local news site Sabq reported on Tuesday.

Manama: A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced the main suspect in holding a “depraved party” to two years in jail and 500 lashes.

The suspect who had been on the run will be flogged at the girls’ college at the University of Taif attended by students who were at the party.

Each of the five young men detained at the party had been sentenced to eight months in prison and to 99 lashes.

The party at a rented recreation area in western Saudi Arabia was busted by the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice with support from the police and security patrols, local news site Sabq reported on Tuesday.

In the raid, 15 girls, all university students, and five young men were arrested while others managed to escape, the report said.

The commission had raided the area following a tip about a mixed party being organised in the area.

Saudi Arabia has a very strict policy about the mixing of unrelated men and women.

Most social media users support the court verdicts, but some comments said that the punishment should not be confined to the men and that the girls should also face legal action.

Source: Gulf News, October 28, 2014

Nigerian child bride accused of murder could receive death penalty

A 14-year-old Nigerian girl accused of murdering her 35-year-old husband by putting rat poison in his food could face the death penalty, Nigerian prosecutors said today.

The trial of Wasila Tasi'u, from a poor northern Nigeria family, has sparked a heated debate on the role of underage marriage in the conservative Muslim region, especially whether an adolescent girl can consent to be a bride.

Prosecutors at the High Court in Gezawa, outside Nigeria's second city of Kano, filed an amended complaint that charged Tasi'u with 1 count of murder over the killing of Umar Sani 2 weeks after their April wedding in the village of Unguwar Yansoro.

Lead prosecutor Lamido Abba Soron-Dinki said that if convicted, the charge is "punishable with death" and indicated the state would seek the maximum penalty.

Nigeria is not known to have executed a juvenile offender since 1997, when the country was ruled by military dictator Sani Abacha, according to Human Rights Watch.

Tasi'u entered the court wearing a cream-coloured hijab and was escorted by 2 policemen.

Her parents, who have condemned their daughter's alleged act, were in the public gallery - the 1st time the 3 were in the same room since Tasi'u's arrest in April, her legal representatives said.

The English-language charge sheet was translated into Hausa for the accused by the court clerk.

Tasi'u refused to answer when asked if she understood the charges.

The case was adjourned for 30 minutes so the charges could be better explained to the defendant, but when the alleged offences were read again Tasi'u stayed silent, turned her head to the wall and broke down in tears.

"The court records (that) she pleads not guilty," Judge Mohammed Yahaya said, apparently regarding her silence as equal to a denial of the charges and adjourned the case until November 26.

Activists, including in Nigeria's mainly Christian south, have called for Tasi'u's immediate release, saying she should be rehabilitated as a victim and noting the prospect that she was raped by the man she married.

But in the north, Islamic law operates alongside the secular criminal code, a hybrid system that has complicated the question of marital consent.

The affected families have denied that Tasi'u was forced into marriage, arguing that girls across the impoverished region marry at 14 and that Tasi'u and Sani followed the traditional system of courtship.

According to Nigeria's marriage act, anyone under 21 can marry provided they have parental consent and so evidence of an agreement between Tasi'u and her father Tasiu Mohammed could undermine claims of a forced union.

But defence lawyer Hussaina Aliyu has insisted the case is not a debate about the role of youth marriage in a Muslim society.

Instead, she has argued that under criminal law a 14-year-old cannot be charged with murder in a high court and has demanded that the case be moved to the juvenile system.

Nigeria defines the age of adulthood as 17 but the situation is less clear in the 12 northern states under Islamic law, where courts theoretically have the right to consider people under 17 as legally responsible.

Guidelines for how courts should blend Islamic and secular legal codes have not been well defined.

Source:, October 30, 2014

Bali Nine: Dilemma of being left at death's door

Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran
With Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's last days in office passing without an act of presidential clemency, 2 of Australia's "Bali 9" convicted drug smugglers, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, remain on death row in Indonesia. They are liable to be taken out in the early hours any day to be shot by firing squad.

But even if the new president, Joko Widodo, commutes their sentences, Australia and New Zealand seem likely to remain quite isolated in our region in calling for abolition of the death penalty. So how should this sometimes forlorn argument be carried forward?

Frontal attacks on the "barbarity" of capital punishment only harden attitudes in foreign governments, if the Barlow and Chambers case in Malaysia (1986) and the Nguyen Tuong Van case in Singapore (2005) are a guide.

By contrast, about 35 Australians have faced court in Vietnam since 2001 for serious drug offences and 6 got the death penalty, as the Asian Law Centre's Professor Pip Nicholson told a recent forum held in Melbourne by the anti-capital punishment group Reprieve Australia. All 6 received presidential clemency.

Why did these cases not become a public cause in Australia? Professor Nicholson thinks it's partly due to the absence of Australian media in Vietnam, the closed nature of many trials, and language difficulties. More critically, Vietnam's leaders were given space.

"Those who have been involved in assisting with the defence or working with local lawyers in Vietnam on these cases are anxious to let the clemency process run its course without necessarily seeing that upset by the intrusion of a counter narrative from a Western media source about the inappropriateness of the death penalty," Prof Nicholson said.

"It is very helpful to run a moral narrative about a defendant facing serious charges in the local press," she added. "So, for example, if your defendant has been coerced or manipulated into offending, it is good to get that story out there in the Vietnamese press, but it is unhelpful to have Western media or foreign media 'sandwiching' the leadership which is minded to consider seriously clemency applications from a range of governments."

Lex Lasry, now a judge in the Victorian Supreme Court, acted for Nguyen Tuong Van in 2005. "The reality is, looking back at it, I think Van Nguyen was dead from the time he was arrested," he told the Reprieve gathering.

But there were lessons to be learnt for future cases. "The most counter-productive thing you can do is be insulting," Judge Lasry said. "It really ill behoves Australians to be too insulting about countries that have the death penalty because, after all, until the 1970s we had a mandatory death penalty too."

Another lesson was that there was the start of a debate in Asia which Australia could join.

Several countries have already shifted position. Notably, the Philippines abandoned capital punishment in 2006. Although they retain the penalty in their laws, South Korea has not carried out an execution since 1997, Thailand since 2009. Rather oddly, Myanmar has not carried out a judicial execution since the 1980s, Sri Lanka since 1976; although extra-judicial killings have been rife in both countries.

Perhaps as a delayed effect of its embarrassment in 2005, Singapore modified its law 2 years ago to give judges discretion not to apply the death penalty in cases like Nguyen's.

Indonesia, too, is in a bind. It has nearly 200 citizens facing the death penalty in Saudi Arabia and Malaysia mostly, many of them female domestic workers who struck out against abusive employers.

"The double standard is they defend Indonesian citizens against the death penalty overseas, but at the same time in Indonesia they apply the death penalty," said Todung Mulya Lubis, a leading Jakarta lawyer who tried in 2007 to get capital punishment ruled unconstitutional.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald, Hamish McDonald, October 31, 2014. Mr. McDonald is Journalist-in-Residence at the Australian National University's College of Asia and the Pacific.

China: Retrial may start for man wrongly executed for murder, rape

A court in China’s Inner Mongolia may start a retrial for a 19 year-old man who was wrongly executed 18 years ago for murder and rape, according to newspaper Fazhi Wanbao.

In 1996, Qoγsiletu, a young Mongolian Chinese man, was arrested after reporting to police in Hohhot that he had found a dead body in a public toilet. The police questioned why he was in a woman’s toilet to discover a corpse and soon charged him with her rape and murder.

Qoγsiletu was reported to have told the court that he was drunk at the time and had ended up in the woman’s toilet by mistake. Yet his defence was in vain, and he received the death penalty two months later.

It took the police ten years to realise that Qoγsiletu was wronged. In 2006, they arrested a serial killer and rapist who confessed to murdering a woman in a Hohhot a toilet in 1996 – and gave details of the crime scene that proved him to be the real culprit.

Chinese media reports showed that Qoγsiletu was arrested amid a nationwide crackdown on crime launched by the government. The guiding principal behind the campaign was to solve criminal cases quickly and punish offenders severely. Thus police involved in Qovsiletu’s case did not conduct a thorough investigation and instead rushed to a conclusion.

Qoγsiletu’s family spent years petitioning for their son after the truth came to light, but there is yet a formal reponse from the local government.

"The media has reported on the retrial of our son's case. Our petition efforts in nine years are not in vain, and we hope justice will be served." Qoγsiletu's parents wrote on a newly opened weibo account on Friday afternoon

Qoγsiletu is one of many such cases where innocent people have been executed for crimes they did not commit.

Another notable case was that of Nie Shubin, a young man from Hebei, who was sentenced to death for the murder and rape a year earlier than Qovsiletu.

Despite a man named Wang Shujin admitting to be the real perpetrator in 2005, Hebei’s supreme court still upheld their original verdict last year, as it considered Wang's testimony not consistent with findings at the crime scene.

Following a number of well-publicised, wrongful convictions, China’s Supreme Court starteted to review capital cases before sentences were carried out in 2007.

Judges and scholars close to the Supreme Court say capital punishments have probabaly been reduced “by more than one third” since then, as the Supreme Court is now more inclined to deal with death sentences by offering reprieves, and demanding “clear facts” and “abundant evidence” for capital punishments, according to a recent report by the Southern Weekly.

In June, China’s Supreme Court overturned the death sentence of a woman who killed and cooked her husband after suffering years of domestic abuse.

The total number of death penalty cases in China is classified as a state secret. San Francisco-based human rights group Dui Hua Foundation estimates that China executed around 2,400 people last year, based on published sentences.

Source: South China Morning Post, October 31, 2014

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Asia Bibi's death penalty: A test case for human rights in Pakistan

The lawyers of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman convicted of blasphemy, are set to appeal against her death penalty in the Supreme Court. Activists say the case will serve as a test for human rights in Pakistan.

Asia Bibi has been languishing in prison for more than five years. The 49-year-old mother of 5 was arrested in June, 2009 after her neighbors complained that she had made derogatory remarks about Islam's Prophet Mohammed. A year later, Bibi was sentenced to death under the Islamic Republic's controversial blasphemy law despite strong opposition from the national and international human rights groups.

The slim hope that the Pakistani judiciary might pardon Bibi and eventually release her was dashed earlier this month when the Lahore High Court (LHC) ruled to uphold her 2010 death sentence.

"We are utterly disappointed, but we will file a review petition against the LHC decision in the Supreme Court," Asia Bibi's lawyer Naeem Shakir told reporters after the October 16 verdict. Shakir is still hopeful that the country's highest court will grant Bibi amnesty.

Bibi's family members are hoping for a presidential pardon.

Others are not so hopeful.

Imran Nafees Siddiqui, an Islamabad-based civil society activist, says that the South Asian country's civil society should keep building pressure on the government and the courts irrespective of the legal outcome.

"[The blasphemy law] is a man-made doctrine and not a divine revelation. The rights group should continue to demand Bibi's freedom. The media should also play an active role," Siddiqui told DW. "The public opinion carries a lot of weight and can also influence courts' decisions. We have to create an alternative narrative to defeat the extremist discourse in the country. It is a test case for the rights of minorities in Pakistan," he added.

International condemnation

The Geneva-based World Council of Churches (WCC) has also come out in Bibi's defense. On Monday, October 27, the WCC's general secretary Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit issued a statement expressing his concern over the rejection of Bibi's appeal against the capital punishment.

"The alleged circumstances of the incident which led to the blasphemy charges against Asia Bibi are highly questionable, and the imposition of the death penalty in this case is totally inappropriate," said Tveit, adding that apart from the issues of religious freedom, the charges, ongoing imprisonment and threat of execution seemed to have infringed Bibi's basic human rights.

The leaders of Pakistan's Christian community have also expressed alarm and sorrow over the LHC ruling.

There have been demonstrations for Asia Bibi all over the world, including in Pakistan

But all this condemnation is not sufficient to convince the supporters of the blasphemy law. Fareed Ahmad Pracha, a leader of Pakistan's right-wing political party, the Jamaat-i-Islami, disagrees with the critics of the legislation and says the actual problem is not with the law but with its interpretation.

"We just want to say that the law should be enforced properly, there should not be any change made into the blasphemy law. We will not tolerate or accept this. If you make way even for a single change in the law, then there will be a number of changes, whereas there has never been a case where anyone has been punished," he emphasized.

Call for repeal of the law

There is evidence to support Pracha's claim. Although hundreds have been convicted of blasphemy, nobody in Pakistan has ever been executed for the offense. Most convictions are retracted after the accused makes an appeal. However, angry mobs have killed people accused of desecrating the Koran or Islam.

Controversial blasphemy laws in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, where 97 percent of the population is Muslim, were introduced by the military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s. Activists say they are often implemented in cases which have little to do with blasphemy however. They are used to settle petty disputes and personal vendettas. Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis are often victimized as a result.

A few months after Bibi's conviction, Salman Taseer, a former governor of the central Punjab province, was murdered by his bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri. Qadri said he had killed Taseer for speaking out against the blasphemy laws and in support of Bibi.

In March 2011, Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's former minister for minority affairs, was assassinated by a religious fanatic for the same reason.

Farzana Bari, director of Center for Women's Studies at Islamabad's Quaid-i-Azam University, believes discrimination will persist unless there is radical change. "It is high time that the government reform the blasphemy law," she said to DW. "These laws are against the spirit of Islam and are a cause of notoriety for the country."

Religious discrimination in Pakistan is not a new occurrence but it has increased considerably in recent years. Pakistan's liberal sections are alarmed by the growing influence of religious extremists in their country. Rights activists complain that the Islamists enjoy state patronage, while on the other hand liberal and progressive voices have to face the wrath of the country's security agencies.

Source: Deutsche Welle, October 29, 2014