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

Monday, November 30, 2015

Community of Sant’Egidio USA appeals to stop all state sanctioned executions during the Holy Year of Mercy

Pope Francis
Appeal letter by the Community of Sant’Egidio USA to stop all state sanctioned executions during the upcoming Year of Mercy

This year, Pope Francis announced the worldwide Holy Year of Mercy, due to commence on December 8th, 2015.

Following on from Pope Francis widely expanding actions for hope and healing, peace and justice during the Jubilee Year of Mercy, together with the Community of Sant’Egidio and many people of goodwill around the country and world, we appeal you to apply executive clemency in capital cases in the United States during the Year of Mercy.

Pope Francis calls on all citizens of the world to be merciful and strive to create a better society. The Holy Year of Mercy is a chance to start that journey, to bring a new hope and to emphasize the merciful side of humanity. 

In the spirit of Mercy, I want to sign this petition and join the Pope, the Catholic Church and the people of the Community of Sant’Egidio to appeal to States’ Governors to put a hold on executions during this Holy Year. 

I hereby sign in support of stopping all capital state executions during the Holy Year of Mercy.

To read the full letter to be send to State Governors, please click here.

To sign the online petition, please click HERE.

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The Execution of Joseph Wood

Joseph Wood
Joseph Wood
An execution of a man in Arizona with a new cocktail of drugs was supposed to take about 10 minutes. It took almost two hours, the longest execution in U.S. history

The following is a script from "The Execution of Joseph Wood" which aired on Nov. 29, 2015. Bill Whitaker is the correspondent. Ira Rosen and Habiba Nosheen, producers.

In July of last year, Joseph Wood was strapped to a gurney in Arizona's death chamber. His execution, by lethal injection with a new cocktail of drugs was supposed to take about 10 minutes. It took almost two hours -- the longest execution in U.S. history.

When lethal injections were introduced in 1977, they were supposed to be a more humane form of capital punishment. Instead the process has become a messy testing ground for unproven, toxic drugs.

At the heart of the problem: pharmaceutical companies have banned the use of their drugs for capital punishment -- partly under pressure from death-penalty opponents. Without access to the lethal agents they've used for decades, the states are turning to new, untried drugs.

And that's creating an execution crisis in America, making it harder and harder to ensure that when a state decides to end a life, things don't go horribly awry, as they did in the execution of Joseph Wood.

Arizona is one of 31 states to employ capital punishment. Cameras aren't allowed here, but this Department of Corrections video takes us inside Death Row, where more than 100 inmates are awaiting execution by lethal injection.

On July 23, 2014, it was Joseph Wood's turn. Wood had been convicted of murdering his former girlfriend and her father.

At 1:52 p.m., Arizona executioners began pumping an experimental combination of drugs into Wood's veins. They had never before used these drugs for execution, but they expected Wood to die within minutes.

Click here to read the full transcript/the full article

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Source: CBS news, November 29, 2015

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Saturday, November 28, 2015

Inmates Accuse Arizona of Experimenting with Lethal-Injection Drugs

A group of 5 condemned prisoners this week asked the U.S. District Court in Phoenix not to lift a moratorium on executions instituted after a botched 2014 lethal injection, arguing that the Arizona Department of Corrections has not properly addressed concerns about the drugs used for the procedure.

A federal judge in November 2014 ordered the DOC to halt executions until the agency shared a protocol for lethal injection that included, among other things, a list of drugs to be used. The DOC released the information in October, but the inmates, represented by lawyers from the Federal Public Defenders Office, contend that it is "impossible to know" how the department will proceed because the protocols are too vague.

The DOC reserved the right to "change any aspect of the procedure, at any time, for any reason, with no notice," lawyers wrote. Given the department's "demonstrated pattern of extraordinary departures from their written procedures, there is a 'very real' threat that they will again carry out executions under procedures that 'lack necessary procedural protections.'"

Arizona, they wrote, conducts executions in an "arbitrary, experimental, and unconstitutional manner."

2 of the state's 3 proposed cocktails require sodium thiopental, an anesthetic that is in short supply because it is no longer manufactured in the United States. Arizona tried to illegally import some from India, but the Food and Drug Administration seized it at at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.

The 3rd proposed drug cocktail relies on midazolam, the controversial sedative used in Joseph Wood's execution in July 2014, which inspired the U.S. District Court to institute the stay on lethal injections. Wood, who was sedated with midazolam and then given hydromorphone to arrest his breathing, should have died in 10 minutes, but he gasped and snorted for 2 hours. During that time, DOC officials pumped him full of 14 times the required dose of each drug.

Attorneys initially filed the lawsuit before Wood's execution in an attempt to compel the Arizona DOC to be more transparent about how it conducts lethal injections. It also called on the department to allow the media to witness all stages of the executions.

The state argued in court filings that if the procedures were public, it would make it more difficult to obtain the drugs necessary to execute prisoners. Some drug manufacturers had begun refusing to work with the DOC, forcing the agency to turn to less-reliable drugs, such as midazolam.

Because of the lawsuit, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stayed Wood's execution, ruling that he had a First Amendment right to know what drugs the department intended to use, but the Supreme Court overturned the decision and Wood was killed.

In the wake of his botched execution, the U.S. public defenders amended the lawsuit to exclude Wood and tried again - this time with more success. The First Amendment Coalition, a group of local media outlets, joined the suit.

No executions will be scheduled until the litigation is resolved.

The state's death-penalty problems are the topic of a 60 Minutes documentary set to air Sunday at 5:30 p.m. on CBS Channel 5 in Phoenix.

The documentary, called The Execution of Joseph Wood, digs into the shortage of the anesthetic sodium thiopental and how it contributed to Wood's tortured death.

In a preview, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich is shown squirming while a reporter grills him about Arizona's attempts to illegally import sodium thiopental.

When the DOC could not secure sodium thiopental, it chose to use midazolam to sedate Wood even though the drug had previously been used in 2 other so-called botched executions. When Ohio used the drug on Dennis McGuire in January of 2014, witnesses said he continued to gasp for 26 minutes like "a fish lying along the shore puffing for that one gasp of air that would allow it to breathe." In April of 2014, Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett raised his head after he was injected with the drug and said, "Oh man ... I'm not ..." He continued to writhe, groan, convulse, and try to rise from the table for 43 minutes.

Wood's execution was the longest in United States' history.

Source: phoenixnewtimes.com, November 28, 2015

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Confusion over Nebraska's execution drugs

OMAHA, Neb. —New questions are arising about Nebraska's effort to obtain the drugs needed to execute prisoners on death row.

Federal sources stated that the Drug Enforcement Administration and Food and Drug Administration said they have no idea what Nebraska officials are referring to when discussing that they're 'working with' Federal Agencies.

Gov. Pete Ricketts said during an October news conference that the state is working with the DEA, trying to get execution drugs from India.

Agents in St. Louis said that no one had spoken to Nebraska about this and officials at the DEA headquarters stated that nothing has changed, like they said weeks ago, the DEA will not approve the importation of this drug.

The governor's corrections director also told state senator's that he is working with the Food and Drug Administration, but a senior-level official in the agency's headquarters said the only word that matters is the court order blocking sodium thiopental importation.

Corrections spokesperson Dawn-Renee Smith is now attempting to clarify Ricketts' and Frakes' words:

"'Working with' simply means that we are still in the process of obtaining the chemicals and completing any necessary steps required by the DEA and/or the FDA."

The state indicated that it has taken some new action within the last week.

Source: KETV, David Earl, November 27, 2015

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Friday, November 27, 2015

'Kill us alongside our children' defiant activists' mothers tell Saudi king

Ali Mohammad al-Nimr
Ali Mohammad al-Nimr
The mothers of 5 young Saudi prisoners sentenced to death by beheading made a passionate plea to the king to spare their sons' lives. The appeal followed reports that the Gulf kingdom is poised to execute more than 50 people convicted of terrorism.

In a public letter the women said the verdicts against the young dissidents, including Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, were based on confessions extracted under torture and the related trials fell short of international standards.

"The sentences handed down to our children are unique in the history of Saudi justice," the letter read. "As mothers of young men both deprived of their right to liberty and facing an unknown fate that may deprive them of their right to life, we demand that the Saudi government drop their sentences and order their retrial."

It concluded: "We stress that we will only stay silent over this crime if they kill us alongside our children." It was signed by Naima Ali al-Matrook, Fatima Hassan al-Ghzwe, Zahra Hassan al-Rebh, Amena Ahmed al-Saker and Nasra Abdullah al-Ahmed, mothers of 5 activists from the Shia minority arrested on sedition charges in 2012 when they were all teenagers.

Among them is al-Nimr, a 21-year-old dissident whose case has triggered uproar worldwide.The nephew of a vocal Shia cleric and activist, he was arrested aged only 17, for taking part in a protest.

He was forced to sign a confession under torture and has since been sentenced to death on a diverse set of charges, including attacking police, breaking allegiance to the king, setting up terror cells, rioting and robbing a pharmacy, according to human rights organisation Reprieve. Under Saudi Arabia's draconian legal system, he is to be beheaded and his body crucified in public.

The death sentence is expected to be carried out in the coming days as local media reported authorities were preparing for a mass execution of 55 convicts in a single day.

"These executions must not go ahead and Saudi Arabia must lift the veil of secrecy around its death penalty cases, as part of a fundamental overhaul of its criminal justice system," said James Lynch, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.

"Beheading or otherwise executing dozens of people in a single day would mark a dizzying descent to yet another outrageous low for Saudi Arabia, whose authorities have continued to show stone-faced cynicism and even open defiance when authorities and ordinary people around the world question their sordid record on the use of the death penalty".

Source: IB Times, November 27, 2015

Fellow poets protest Saudi death sentence facing Ashraf Fayadh

Ashraf Fayadh
Ashraf Fayadh
Poets from around the world are lining up in solidarity with the Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh, with the Syrian poet Adonis, Ireland's Paul Muldoon and Britain's poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy among the signatories to a letter laying out how "appalled" they are at the death sentence he has been handed by Saudi Arabian authorities.

Fayadh was sentenced to death last week for renouncing Islam, a charge which he denies. Evidence used against him included poems from his collection Instructions Within, which is banned in Saudi Arabia, as well as his posts on Twitter, and a conversation he had in a coffee shop in Abha which was said to be blasphemous. He was given 30 days to appeal the sentence.

Today, PEN International published the latest salvo from an international arts community which has rallied behind him, with Muldoon, Duffy and Adonis joined as signatories to a letter attacking Saudi Arabia's ruling by major names from the world of international poetry including the Serbian-American poet Charles Simic, the American John Ashbery, Palestinian Ghassan Zaqtan, Israeli Amir Or and the Hungarian-born George Szirtes.

"We, poets from around the world, are appalled that the Saudi Arabian authorities have sentenced Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh to death for apostasy," they write, in a letter which PEN International hopes to deliver to the poet himself in an expression of solidarity. "It is not a crime to hold an idea, however unpopular, nor is it a crime to express opinion peacefully. Every individual has the freedom to believe or not believe. Freedom of conscience is an essential human freedom."

The letter says that Fayadh's death sentence "is the latest example of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's lack of tolerance for freedom of expression and ongoing persecution of free thinkers", ending with a plea for the Palestinian's release.

"We, Fayadh's fellow poets, urge the Saudi authorities to desist from punishing individuals for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression and call for his immediate and unconditional release," they write.

Speaking to the Guardian on Friday, Szirtes insisted that "opinions are not crimes".

"Incitement can be a crime, hate speech may be a crime, but opinions are not," he said. "That is precisely why organisations such as PEN exist. Any sentence for an individual opinion brings shame on Saudi Arabia: a death sentence brings maximum shame."

According to Szirtes it is "incongruous for a country like ours to be allied with a country that makes decisions like this".

"It runs counter to all our thoughts, habits and instincts, not just as poets or writers but as human beings," he added. "Nor is it just a cultural matter: it is a matter of exactly that which we describe as universal human rights."

The appeal follows the release of a joint statement signed by more than a dozen cultural and free speech organisations condemning the conviction of the Palestinian poet, including PEN International, which will be delivered to the Saudi embassy in London today by English PEN.

Last week, Fayadh told the Guardian that he was "really shocked" to receive his sentence "but it was expected, though I didn't do anything that deserves death".

"They accused me [of] atheism and spreading some destructive thoughts into society," he said, describing his poetry collection as "just about me being [a] Palestinian refugee ... about cultural and philosophical issues. But the religious extremists explained it as destructive ideas against God."

Pen International pointed to extracts of Fayadh's poems, translated by Mona Kareem. "it was said: settle there... / but some of you are enemies for all / so leave it now," he writes in one. "look up to yourselves from the bottom of the river; / those of you on top should provide some pity for those underneath."

The free speech organisation said that during his trial, the poet "expressed repentance for anything in the book that religious authorities may have deemed insulting", and said, according to trial documents: "I am repentant to God most high and I am innocent of what appeared in my book mentioned in this case."

On 25 November, the Guardian reported that, in a message to his supporters, Fayadh said he was "grateful for everyone working on my behalf". "To be honest, I was surprised because I felt alone here. I am in good health. I'm struggling to follow all the developments. People should know I am not against anyone here, I am an artist and I am just looking for my freedom," said the poet.

Source: The Guardian, November 27, 2015

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Sri Lanka urges Saudi not to stone to death maid for adultery

Sri Lanka said on Friday it was calling on Saudi Arabia to pardon a domestic worker sentenced to death by stoning after she admitted committing adultery while working in the Arab nation.

An official from Sri Lanka's Foreign Employment Bureau said the married 45-year-old woman who was working as a maid in Riyadh since 2013 was convicted of adultery by a Saudi court in August.

Her partner, also a Sri Lankan migrant worker, was given a lesser punishment of 100 lashes on account of being single.

"She has accepted the crime 4 times in the courts. But the Foreign Employment Bureau has hired lawyers and have appealed against the case," Upul Deshapriya, spokesman for the Foreign Employment Bureau, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"The appeal is going on. Also from the foreign ministry side, they are in negotiation with the Saudi government on a diplomatic level."

Officials from the Saudi Embassy in Colombo did not respond to requests from the Thomson Reuters Foundation on whether they would consider the plea for clemency.

Oil-producing Saudi Arabia follows Sharia, or Islamic law, and is often criticised by human rights groups for the wide range of crimes such as adultery, drug smuggling and witchcraft which carry the death penalty.

Stoning, a form of execution where a group throws stones at a person buried waist or chest deep in the ground until they are dead, is still carried out in parts of the Muslim world.

In 2013, Saudi Arabia beheaded a young Sri Lankan housemaid for the killing of an infant left in her care, rejecting repeated appeals by Colombo against her death sentence.

Thousands of men and women from the Indian Ocean island travel to the Middle East every year to seek jobs as maids or drivers.

According to Central Bank data, 279,952 Sri Lankans went to work in Middle Eastern nations in 2014, generating over $7 billion in remittances, around 9 % of total GDP.

Saudi Arabia, which is current chair of the United Nations Human Rights Council Panel, has executed over 150 people this year, mostly by public beheading, the most in 20 years, rights group Amnesty International said this month.

Foreigners, mostly guest workers from poor countries, are particularly vulnerable as they typically do not know Arabic and are denied adequate translation in court, Amnesty said.

Riyadh says it provides fair trials to all defendants.

Source: Reuters, November 27, 2015

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In Saudi prison, artist facing death says he’s no atheist

Ashraf Fayadh
Ashraf Fayadh
Riyadh: A Palestinian artist sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia for apostasy was quoted by a local news website Thursday as saying that he is not an atheist and that his case centres around a personal dispute he had with someone.

Ashraf Fayadh gave the interview to Makkah Online from inside a prison in Abha, the southwestern city where he has been held since January 2014. He said a Saudi college student he knew filed a complaint to religious police accusing him of being an atheist and trying to spread atheism through a book of poetry he wrote.

Religious police detained Fayadh for a few hours after the complaint was filed and then released him, he said.

Fayadh said his poetry book was then sent to a council of clerics for their assessment of its content. The council deemed parts of the book atheistic. He said the Arabic book, called “Instructions Within”, was published in Lebanon in 2008 and has not been published in Saudi Arabia.

“I am not an atheist and it is impossible that I could be,” he said.

A Saudi court in Abha initially sentenced him to 800 lashes and four years in prison. He says his prison sentence was based on photos on his phone found by the religious police the night of his brief detention. He told Makkah Online the photos were of nothing more than of female colleagues he’d met through his participation in art exhibitions, which include the 2013 Venice Biennale.

Saudi courts adhere to an ultraconservative interpretation of Sharia and religious police strictly enforce the segregation of unmarried men and women.

Fayadh said after the initial trial, an appeals court recommended blasphemy charges against him be stiffened and that he be sentenced to death. He said the appeals court also recommended rejecting defence testimony, citing the Palestinian artist’s own admission to writing the book.

After one hearing, the lower court issued its death sentence in the retrial last week on blasphemy-related charges.

“The judgment against me was based on the testimony of this student,” Fayadh said. “The terminology I am condemned for is not even in the book, but the accusation against me was based on wrong interpretations for some of the poems.”

Fayadh plans to appeal the verdict, which means the case will likely be tossed back to the appeals court and then the Supreme Court. There are no known cases in recent years of executions for apostasy in Saudi Arabia, despite such verdicts.

The Palestinian government, the General Union of Arab Writers and The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information are calling for his release.

Source: AP, November 27, 2015

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7 Executions in North & South Iran - Including Kurdish and Pakistani Prisoners

Iran Human Rights (NOV 26 2015): According to the Baluchestan Activists Campaign, five people were hanged at Minab Prison (in Hormozgan province) on the morning of Tuesday November 24. 

The prisoners were reportedly executed for alleged drug related offenses; one of the prisoners was Kurdish and another was a Pakistani citizen. 

The names of the three other prisoners have been reported as: Mousi Kadkhodaie, Shokrollah Baluchi, and Ali Faramarzi. The names of the two other prisoners are not known at this time.

The Kurdistan Human Rights Network reports on two executions at Tabriz Central Prison (in East Azerbaijan province) which were carried out on Wednesday November 25. 

The prisoners, Reza Purna and Nouralodin Purna, were hanged for drug related offenses.

According to the Kurdistan Human Rights Network, 600 people are estimated to be on death row in Tabriz Central Prison. 

In response to the high number of prisoners awaiting execution, Iran's Judiciary has in recent weeks begun to accelerate the rate in which death sentences are being carried out in this prison. 

At least eight people have been hanged at Tabriz Central Prison in the last two weeks.

Iranian authorities and official sources have been silent on the executions mentioned in this report.

Source: Iran Human Rights, November 26, 2015

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Indonesia: BNN Chief Settles on East Java Island for Drug Prison

Kerobokan prison, on Bali Island, Indonesia
Kerobokan prison, on Bali Island, Indonesia
Jakarta. Indonesia’s controversial anti-narcotics czar says he has found the ideally located island on which to build a prison for drug offenders – but that the lack of native wildlife is somewhat of a downer.

Budi Waseso, the National Narcotics Agency (BNN) chief, has raised eyebrows with his plans for an isolated drug prison guarded by crocodiles, tigers and piranhas, and on Thursday said he had found a great location – the island of Kangean off the coast of East Java’s Sumenep district.

The remains of a former prison still stand on the island, and Waseso said they could be renovated to house drug offenders. The lack of native wildlife, though, is a downer, he said.

“But we can always build a river which will be infested by crocodiles and piranhas,” Waseso said during a visit to East Java on Thursday as quoted by Tempo.

He added the island’s remote location placed it beyond the reach of cellular coverage, which meant inmates would not be able to continue running their drug rings from behind bars, as they do at most existing prisons.

The inmates “will have nothing to do but await their death sentence,” Waseso said.

The outspoken general has courted controversy since his appointment to the BNN in August, including for calling for an end to government funding for rehabilitation of drug addicts, and for suggesting that drug offenders be punished by being made to consume all of their contraband.

Source: Jakarta Globe, November 26, 2015

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Australian Federal Police changes policies to avoid another Bali 9 situation

ingleaders Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran executed in April this year
Ringleaders Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran executed in April this year.
Were the Bali Nine case to occur now, Australian Federal Police could still provide information to Indonesian authorities without first seeking ministerial approval.

That's because guidelines, adopted in 2009, require the minister to approve cooperation with foreign police forces in possible death penalty cases once arrests have been made.

In the Bali Nine case, no-one had been arrested when the AFP tipped off Indonesian police about a group of Australian drug traffickers.

They soon were, with ringleaders Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran executed in April this year.

But the AFP now says it does things differently.

AFP assistant commissioner Scott Lee said the organisation focused on senior leaders of organised crime groups.

'In recent days and weeks we have had individuals that we are aware of who are travelling offshore as drug couriers,' he told a parliamentary inquiry in Canberra on Friday.

'We have taken active decisions not to communicate that information.'

AFP assistant commissioner Leanne Close said you could 'never say never' about providing information to foreign law enforcement agencies.

'We certainly have strengthened the processes for our officers working offshore and in Australia to make sure they always consider this (the death penalty) first before the provision of any information,' she said.

The parliamentary committee, chaired by long-time death penalty opponent Philip Ruddock, is examining how Australia presses for the international abolition of the death penalty and what more could be done.

In its submission, the AFP said it had to deal with police in other countries, including some that imposed the death penalty, and that cooperation had been demonstrably successful in protecting Australians.

Since 2012, federal agencies had seized 10 tonnes of amphetamines, two tonnes of cocaine, a tonne of heroin plus other drugs weighing 20.3 tonnes - enough for more than eight hits for every person in Australia.

'Without the ability to work with all of our international partners the AFP would be hindered in performing the roles expected by Government and the Australian community,' it said.

In deciding whether to cooperate with foreign police, the AFP now assesses a range of factors.

That includes assessing the reliability of information, seriousness of the alleged criminal activity, nationality, age and personal circumstances of the person involved and potential risks to the person, including the death penalty.

Source: AAP, November 27, 2015

AFP says it has learned Bali Nine lesson

THE Australian Federal Police has changed its policy on providing information to foreign law enforcement agencies in the wake of the outcry over the executions in April of Bali Nine ringleaders Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

AFP assistant commissioner Scott Lee told a federal parliamentary inquiry yesterday that the organisation was focused on senior leaders of organised crime groups.

"In recent days and weeks we have had individuals that we are aware of who are travelling offshore as drug couriers," he said.

"We have taken active decisions not to communicate that information."

AFP assistant commissioner Leanne Close said the force could "never say never" about providing information to foreign law enforcement agencies, but officers always had to consider the death penalty first.

Source: QT, November 27, 2015

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Vietnam Passes Law Abolishing Death Penalty for 7 Crimes

Death sentences imposed on corrupt Vietnamese officials will now be commuted to life in prison if they pay back at least 75 percent of the illegal money they made.

The online newspaper VnExpress said the new regulation was part of the revised Penal Code that an overwhelmingly majority passed in the National Assembly on Friday.

Under the revision, which takes effect July 1, 2016, the country also will abolish the death penalty for seven crimes: surrendering to the enemy, opposing order, destruction of projects of national security importance, robbery, drug possession, drug appropriation, and the production and trade of fake food.

The revised law will also spare the lives of those who are 75 years old or older.

The ruling Communist Party has made fighting corruption one of its top priorities.

However, some lawmakers had voiced opposition to the changes when they were debated in the assembly in June, arguing that they would weaken the fight against corruption.

"This would create a loophole for corrupt officials to use money to trade for their life," state media quoted deputy Do Ngoc Nien as saying at the time.

International human rights groups and some Western countries have been urging Vietnam to abolish its death penalty.

Source: The Associated Press, November 27, 2015

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Thursday, November 26, 2015

Young Prisoner Hanged in Public in Northern Iran

A young prisoner charged with rape was hanged to death in public in Meyami, Semnan.
A young prisoner charged with rape was hanged in public in Meyami, Semnan.
A young prisoner charged with rape was hanged to death in public in Meyami, Semnan. 

Iranian state-run media Javan News has identified the prisoner by the initials A.M. and stated his age as "about 30 years old." 

Iranian officials have not released any more information about the case, making it unclear whether the prisoner was over the age of 18 at the time of his arrest.

Commenting on the execution, Abbas Ali Akbari, the head of Meyami's Judiciary, says: "The offender was arrested for committing several counts of rape and was sentenced to lashings and death."

Source: Iran Human Rights, November 26, 2015

Call to save death row prisoner aged 15 at time of alleged crime

The Iranian Resistance calls for measures to save the life of Mr. Salar Shadi Zadi, a young prisoner on death row who was merely 15 at the time of his alleged crime, and asks all international human rights dignitaries and organizations to protest this barbarity and medieval viciousness, and to take effective action to prevent the execution of this young man.

Salar Shadi Zadi is scheduled to be executed on November 28 after already enduring 9 years behind bars. At least 72 prisoners under the age of 18 have been executed under the mullahs' rule during the past decade, Amnesty International reported.

The religious fascism ruling Iran, dubbed by the people as the "Godfather of ISIS," has in the past 5 days alone executed at least 17 prisoners. This follows the recent United Nations resolution condemning vicious human rights violations in Iran and a UN call to stop executions in Iran. 6 of those executed had only 20 to 25 years of age.

A 20-year-old man in the town of Mayamey in Semnan Province was hanged on Wednesday, November 25. Despite calls made by international organizations a day earlier, Alireza Shahi, aged 25, was executed along with 4 other individuals.

From the age of 18 he had been behind bars for 7 years.

3 prisoners hanged on November 21 in Zahedan Central Prison were all young men. Mojtaba Lak-Zehi, 22, was aged 17 at the time of his alleged crime. He and Hassan Dori Moghadam, 20, were both from Iran's Baluchi minority community. Nazir Ahmad Rigi, 24, was an Afghan national.

Also on November 21, Mehdi Budineh was executed in Zabol Central Prison at the age of 25.

The mullahs' regime is resorting to the execution of youths in public and in prisons across the country in an attempt to cement a climate of fear across the society and prevent massive uprising by the disgruntled population described by regime officials as the "army of the hungry." The Iranian Resistance calls on all Iranian people, especially the youth, to rise up and protest these crimes.

Source: Secretariat of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, November 26, 2015

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Meditation Helped Me Survive Death Row and 19 Years of Wrongful Imprisonment

Damien Echols
Damien Echols
My name is Damien Echols, and in 1993 I was arrested for three counts of capital murder in the town of West Memphis, Arkansas. Nine months later I was sentenced to death, and spent almost 19 years on death row before being released in 2011 when new evidence came to light.

Prison is a dark and stagnant place. It's filled with the most cold, horrendous energy you can imagine. It feels like a kind of psychic filth that penetrates into your very soul.

In 1993, when three eight year old boys were found murdered in my small town, attention immediately turned to me. Why? Because I was the town weirdo. I dressed in all black, had long hair, and listened to heavy metal music. As if this wasn't enough to make me suspect in a small, hardcore fundamentalist town in the midst of the era of Satanic panic, I also practiced magick. Some of the most damning evidence brought against me during the trial was my love of knowledge of Crowley, and the fact that I owned Stephen King novels.

For a huge chunk of my incarceration—nearly nine years—I was in a super maximum security unit prison, where I spent 24 hours a day in solitary confinement.

Solitary confinement is like living in a vacuum in which no comforts exist. You spend every single moment alone, with nothing to distract you from the horror of your situation and no contact with anything or anyone that can possibly provide you with a shred of hope. Time ceases to exist, as there is no way to mark its passage. Noon is the same as midnight. Christmas is the same as the Fourth of July. All you can do is sit with your fears, waiting for the next time the guards decide to hurt you.

It was here that I decided to dedicate every single waking moment of my life to delving deeper and deeper into the realm of magick.

I had several teachers I corresponded with, including the priest of a Japanese zen temple who would travel from Japan to the prison in Arkansas to give me ordination in the Rinzai Zen tradition of Japanese Buddhism, the same tradition that used to train the samurai in older times.

Zen teaches you patience, willpower, and self control. You sit in a position called "seiza,” which basically means on your knees, for long periods of time. This allows you to build up a sort of detachment that enables you to observe your thoughts and emotions as an observer, instead of being carried along by them. You learn to override physical discomfort, mental anxiety, and emotional tar pits. Sitting in seiza, I realized my mind had been running around and around in circles since the day I was born, like a dog chasing its tail.

What I learned from zen seems very simple, but it's far harder than it sounds: I learned to keep putting one foot in front of the other, no matter how difficult or brutal life became.

Source: Mother Jones, Damien Echols, November 25, 2015

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Saudis to sue Twitter user who called poet's death sentence 'ISIS-like'

Ashraf Fayadh
Ashraf Fayadh
Saudi Arabia's justice ministry plans to sue a Twitter user who compared the death sentence handed down on Friday to a Palestinian poet to the punishments meted out by Islamic State, a major government-aligned newspaper reported on Wednesday.

"The justice ministry will sue the person who described ... the sentencing of a man to death for apostasy as being `ISIS-like'," the newspaper Al-Riyadh quoted a source in the justice ministry as saying.

The source did not identify the Twitter user or the possible penalty.

On Friday, a Saudi Arabian court sentenced Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh to death for apostasy - abandoning his Muslim faith - according to trial documents seen by Human Rights Watch.

Fayadh was detained by the country's religious police in 2013 in Abha, in southwest Saudi Arabia, and then rearrested and tried in early 2014.

Saudi Arabia's justice system is based on Islamic Sharia law, and its judges are clerics from the kingdom's ultra- conservative Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam. In the Wahhabi interpretation of Sharia, religious crimes, including blasphemy and apostasy, incur the death penalty.

In January, liberal writer Raif Badawi was flogged 50 times after he was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for blasphemy last year, prompting an international outcry. Badawi remains in prison, but diplomats say he is unlikely to be flogged again.

In 2014, a Saudi court in Riyadh sentenced three lawyers to up to eight years in jail after they criticized the justice ministry on Twitter.

The charges were dropped in early 2015 after King Salman inherited the throne from his brother.

"Questioning the fairness of the courts is to question the justice of the Kingdom and its judicial system based on Islamic law, which guarantees rights and ensures human dignity", Al-Riyadh quoted the justice ministry source as saying. The ministry would not hesitate to put on trial "any media that slandered the religious judiciary of the Kingdom," it said.

Saudi Arabia's Justice Ministry or other officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Source: Reuters, November 25, 2015

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Amnesty International USA Statement on Reggie Clemons

Reggie Clemons
Reggie Clemons
The Missouri Supreme Court yesterday threw out the 1st-degree murder conviction and death sentence of Reggie Clemons, who was sentenced to death in St. Louis as an accomplice to a 1991 murder of 2 young women. 

Steven W. Hawkins, executive director of Amnesty International USA (AIUSA), issued the following statement in response:

"Reggie Clemons' case has long highlighted many of the flaws in the U.S. death penalty system. The decision by the Missouri Supreme Court is an acknowledgement of the deeply flawed process that led to his death sentence.

From the police investigation to the appeals process, his case was dogged by serious problems, allegedly including police brutality, racial bias, a stacked jury and prosecutorial misconduct.

"Clemons says he confessed as the result of a violent police interrogation. The arraigning judge even sent him to the emergency room because of his injured appearance. Clemons later retracted his confession and has maintained his innocence throughout.

"4 federal judges found the conduct of the prosecutor in the case to be 'abusive and boorish,' and Clemons' legal representation was inadequate. His lead attorney was later suspended from practicing law following numerous complaints.

"The question of race overshadowed the investigation and trial as well. Clemons was 1 of 3 black defendants convicted of killing the 2 white victims, and both key witnesses were white. Blacks were disproportionately dismissed during jury selection.

"AIUSA activists have worked for years to draw attention to this case. Yesterday's ruling removes the threat of death that has been hanging over Clemons for the past 2 decades. His future is uncertain, but we will work to ensure that he never again faces the death penalty."

Amnesty International USA opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception as the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. As of today, 140 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.

Last year, executions in the United States were at a 20-year low, and death sentences were at their lowest level since 1976. Nineteen states plus the District of Columbia have banned capital punishment, and seven other states have not carried out an execution in 10 years. Missouri executed 10 prisoners last year, more than any other state and tied with Texas, making it one of just a handful of states that continue to aggressively pursue executions.

Source: Amnesty International USA, November 25, 2015

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Singapore: Belgian accused of killing son to be remanded another week

Philippe Marcel Guy Graffart
Philippe Marcel Guy Graffart
The Belgian man accused of killing his 5-year-old son in their D'Leedon condominium home will be remanded for another week at the Central Police Division to assist in investigations.

Philippe Marcel Guy Graffart, who appeared in court looking calm and relaxed on Wednesday (Nov 25), is being represented by defence lawyer Ramesh Tiwary.

District Judge Eddy Tham granted the prosecution's application for Graffart to be taken out of remand to assist in investigations.

The 41-year-old was charged on Oct 7 with the murder of Keryan Gabriel Cedric Graffart. 

He allegedly committed the act at his 32nd-storey home at 3, Leedon Heights.

He was then remanded for 4 weeks at the medical centre in Changi Prison for psychiatric assessment.

Graffart works for the Singapore investment management arm of Nordea, a company that describes itself as the largest financial group in northern Europe.

General manager of Nordea Private Banking in Singapore, Mr Kim Osborg Nielsen, was seen in court together with 3 other company representatives.

The case will be heard in court again on Dec 2.

If convicted of murder, Graffart faces the death penalty.

Source: Straits Times, November 25, 2015

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Iran regime hangs 11 after adoption of UN resolution on rights abuses

Public execution in Iran (file photo)
Public execution in Iran (file photo)
The cycle of suppression, in particular group hangings, continues in Iran after the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly adopted of a resolution condemning rights violation on 19 November.

At least 11 prisoners have been executed in Iran since the resolution has been adopted.

On Tuesday, November 24, the Iranian regime hanged Alireza Shahi, a 25 year old prisoner, along with four other prisoners in Gohardasht (Rajai Shahr) Prison despite calls by international organizations. He had been in prison for seven years since age 18.

2 prisoners were executed in Tabriz central prison on November 23. Four other prisoners, including a female prisoner by the name of Hajar Safari, were also executed on November 12 in this prison.

On Saturday, November 21, regime's henchmen hanged 3 Baluchi compatriot prisoners in Zahedan central prison. On that day, a 25-year-old prisoner by the name of Mehdi Boudineh was executed in Zabol central prison.

Execution of a prisoner in Miandoab prison and a Pakistani prisoner by the name of Mohammad Younes Jamal-e-dini at Zahedan Central prison were carried out on November 18. These executions, together with the hanging of another 4 prisoners in Karaj Central Prison were among the other crimes perpetrated by the Iranian regime in the past 2 weeks.

During this interval, the transfer of group after group of prisoners on death row to solitary confinements continues, including in Miandoab Prison. Some of the prisoners have been transferred to Gohardasht solitary cells for the 2nd time. Taking prisoners to the gallows to watch the hanging of other prisoners is one of the common tortures practiced in the prisons of this antihuman regime.

These criminal executions, particularly a few days after the adoption of a resolution condemning human rights violations in Iran, bespeaks of the confrontation of the Iranian regime with the international community and it amplifies the need to refer the file of human rights violations in Iran to the UN Security Council. Trade with a regime that transgresses against all international norms and standards must be made contingent upon a cessation of barbaric punishments, especially the capital punishment.

Source: NCRI, November 25, 2015

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Concerns as reports suggest juvenile executions in Saudi may be days away

International human rights NGO Reprieve has raised concerns over Saudi media reports, which suggest that juveniles Ali al Nimr and Dawoud al Marhoon could be executed in days.

Saudi news outlet Okaz has today reported that 55 people convicted of ‘anti-Government offences’, are to be executed in the coming days. A number of those are apparently from the same region as juveniles Ali al Nimr and Dawoud al Marhoon, and Ali’s Uncle, the high profile pro-democracy activist Sheik al Nimr. The fears were compounded after the young men were taken for an announced medical examination in the prison, which suggests their execution has been scheduled.

The reports have raised concerns at human rights NGO Reprieve, which is assisting the two juveniles, that their executions could be imminent, as well as that of Abdallah al-Zaher, who was only 15 when he participated in protests. Both Ali and Dawoud were convicted in part on trumped-up anti-Government charges, despite their being youth activists who attended pro-democracy protests.

Ali al Nimr and Dawoud al Marhoon were both sentenced to death when they were under 18, for attending pro-democracy political protests. Both are understood to have been held in solitary confinement in Riyadh.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has previously called on the Saudi authorities to stop the planned execution of Ali al Nimr, and his government cancelled a bid to provide services to the Saudi prisons because of human rights concerns.

Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve’s Death Penalty Team, said: “These reports are extremely concerning – suggesting that the Saudis may be just days away from executing people convicted when they were children, who were demanding political reform in their country. These executions must be stopped, and Saudi’s allies in the UK must once again make representations to prevent them going ahead.”

Source: Reprieve, November 24, 2015

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Iran: Five prisoners hanged in Karaj

Public hanging Iran
NCRI - The Iranian regime’s henchmen in city of Karaj hanged at least five prisoners in Gohardasht Prison on Tuesday. The victims included Alireza Shahi whose death sentence was condemned by Amnesty International on Monday.

Five men were part of a group of at least ten prisoners that their execution had been for 24 November.

The five victims, Said Najafi, Farshad Haqi, Mohammad Baygi, Mohammad Polombeh and Alireza Shahi had been transferred to isolation on Saturday.

There has been no public announcement of these executions by prison officials.

Amnesty International said on Monday that Alireza Shahi did not have a fair trial and “after his arrest he was placed in detention for two weeks where he says he was tortured and otherwise ill-treated to confess. He was also denied access to both a lawyer and his family.”

“It is always cruel and inhumane to take away an individual’s life by hanging but the cruelty is compounded when the execution follows an unfair trial which has relied on coerced confessions, and ignored allegations of torture and other ill-treatment,” said Said Boumedouha, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.

“The rate of executions in Iran is deplorable which, if they continue at the current rate, could reach more than 1,000 this year. In case after case we hear allegations of torture, fundamentally flawed trials, all in breach of international law and standards,” Amnesty International said.

Source: NCRI, November 24, 2015

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Missouri Supreme Court throws out Reginald Clemons murder conviction

Reginald Clemons
Reginald Clemons
The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday threw out the 1st-degree murder convictions for Reginald Clemons, who had been sentenced to death for a 1991 double-murder on the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge.

Clemons had been fighting his conviction and death sentence in the 1991 rape and killing of sisters Julie and Robin Kerry.

In a 4-3 decision written by Chief Justice Patricia Breckenridge, the Court threw out the convictions and sentences for 1st-degree murder and sent the case back to circuit court.

The state has 60 days to retry Clemons. If it does not, the case will be dismissed, and Clemons will remain in prison on a 15-year sentence in different case.

Reached on the phone, Richard Kerry, father of the victims, said, "I'm not going to express any opinion at this point in time."

Michael Manners, a retired judge appointed as by the state's highest court as "special master" to review Clemons' case, concluded that St. Louis prosecutors wrongly suppressed evidence and that detectives beat Clemons into confessing to the crimes.

The judge said those factors were unlikely to change the verdict but were not harmless mistakes as the state claimed.

The Supreme Court had the power to do anything with Clemons' case, from leaving him on death row to tossing out his conviction.

Clemons was among 4 men convicted of raping and murdering sisters Julie Kerry, 20, and Robin Kerry, 19, on the old Chain of Rocks Bridge in April 1991. 

A jury convicted Clemons without physical evidence of rape. He was sentenced to death in 1993.

In testimony during a rare, special hearing on his case more than 2 years ago, Clemons asserted his Fifth Amendment right against incriminating himself more than 30 times. 

In the past, he has acknowledged being on the bridge the night of the killings but claims police beat a confession out of him and was railroaded by an overzealous prosecutor.

Manners also concluded that Clemons' death sentence "was not disproportionate," considering that Clemons' co-defendant, Marlin Gray, was executed for the crime in 2005, Manners concluded. In Gray's case, the state's high court ruled the death penalty was appropriate punishment.

The Kerry sisters led a visiting cousin, Thomas Cummins, then 19, to the unused bridge span on the night of April 5, 1991, to show him a poem they had scrawled there, but they ended up encountering a group of men. The women were raped, and they and Cummins were forced into the Mississippi River. Only Cummins survived.

Police identified the suspects as Clemons, Gray, Antonio Richardson and Daniel Winfrey. Winfrey testified in exchange for a 30-year term and has been paroled. The others were sentenced to death. Gray was executed; Richardson's penalty was later changed to life without parole.

Clemons was weeks from being executed in June 2009 when the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals blocked it. The Missouri Supreme Court then agreed to consider the case.

Judges Laura Denvir Stith and Richard B. Teitelman concurred with Breckenridge, as did Lisa White Hardwick, a special judge assigned to rule in the Clemons case.

Judges Paul C. Wilson, Zel M. Fischer and Mary R. Russell voted against granting Clemons' petition.

Source: stlouistoday.com, November 24, 2015

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