"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, September 26, 2016

Saudi Arabia executes Ethiopian maid

Public execution in Saudi Arabia (file photo)
Public execution in Saudi Arabia (file photo)
Saudi authorities on Monday executed an Ethiopian housemaid convicted of killing the child of her employer more than 3 years ago, the Interior Ministry said.

The ministry noted in a statement that the execution was carried out after the death sentence was endorsed by the king.

Meanwhile the convict had confessed having knifed to death the 6-year-old girl in June 2013, allegedly in retaliation for her family's ill-treatment.

Monday's beheading brings to 119 the total number of executions so far this year in the conservative kingdom.

According to international rights groups, Saudi Arabia is among the top executioners in the world.

On Jan. 2, authorities beheaded 47 people, including a prominent Shiite cleric, on terrorism-related charges.

Report says Saudi Arabia has imposed death penalty for murder, armed robbery, banditry, rape, drug-trafficking, homosexuality and witchcraft.

The kingdom, which applies a strict interpretation of Islamic law, has repeatedly rejected calls to end the death penalty, saying the punishment deters would-be offenders.

The rate of crime in Saudi Arabia is often described as low by foreign ministries and other sources.

In many countries, there are established minimum and maximum sentences for different crimes or a penal code; in Saudi Arabia, that is virtually non-existent.

Only a handful of crimes, including murder, adultery and "consensual sexual relations between adults of the same sex," carry specific punishments, and in each of those cases, it's death, according to Death Penalty Worldwide.

Source: dailytrust.com.ng, September 26, 2016

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The Supreme Court After Scalia

Cartoon by David Sipress, September 26, 2016, The New Yorker
There has not been a liberal majority of Justices since Nixon was President. If Hillary Clinton is elected, that will change.

History, as a rule, unfolds slowly at the Supreme Court. The Justices serve for decades. The cases take years. The Court’s languorous work schedule includes three months of downtime every summer. But the death of Antonin Scalia, earlier this year, jolted the institution and affirmed, once again, a venerable truism, attributed to the late Justice Byron White: “When you change one Justice, you change the whole Court.” For the first time in two generations, the Court’s liberals were ascendant. After many years of liberal Justices struggling to win big cases, suddenly they couldn’t lose them. But this, too, might represent only a brief interregnum. The future of the Supreme Court always depends principally on the outcome of Presidential elections; this year’s race will have a nearly immediate impact on the fate of the Court. But the changes may only begin with a replacement for Scalia. Stephen Breyer is seventy-eight, Anthony Kennedy is eighty, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg is eighty-three. If all of them have to be replaced in the coming four years, the next President will have a Supreme Court legacy comparable to that of Richard Nixon, who filled four vacancies in a little more than two years, or Ronald Reagan, who filled four vacancies in seven years, or Dwight Eisenhower, who filled five vacancies in five years.

The membership of the Court now reflects the partisan divisions in the rest of the country, where crossover voting rarely takes place anymore. There are only four Republican appointees on the Court: Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. (nominated by George W. Bush), Kennedy (Ronald Reagan), Clarence Thomas (George H. W. Bush), and Samuel Alito (George W. Bush). They are matched by four Democratic appointees: Ginsburg (Bill Clinton), Breyer (Clinton), Sonia Sotomayor (Barack Obama), and Elena Kagan (Obama). “There has not been a definitively liberal majority on the Supreme Court since Nixon was President,” Noah Feldman, a professor at Harvard Law School, said. “Ever since then, liberals have sometimes managed to cobble together majorities to avoid losing—on issues like affirmative action and abortion—but the energy and the initiative have been on the conservative side. That stopped, at least for now, this year.”

Scalia’s final vote as a Justice provided an apt symbol for the state of the Court at that moment. The case combined several of the conservatives’ pet peeves, which include environmental protection, unilateral executive action, and, especially, Obama himself. “Judicial conservatives for a long time believed in a very powerful executive branch, but in more recent years there has been sharp skepticism toward Presidential power,” Justin Driver, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, told me. “A skeptic might say the real issue is who is the occupant of the Oval Office. Certainly, there has been a noticeable amount of hostility to President Obama’s executive authority on the right.” In the summer of 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a long-awaited regulation aimed at combatting climate change, requiring electric power plants to sharply reduce their emissions. “It was probably the most important environmental regulation in history, since power plants account for about half of the carbon-dioxide emissions in the country,” Richard Revesz, a professor at New York University School of Law, said.

Twenty-nine states sued to block the regulation. In the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, an ideologically diverse panel of three judges unanimously declined to stay the regulation while the case proceeded. Nevertheless, the five Republican appointees on the Supreme Court blocked the regulation from going into effect. “It was totally unprecedented for the Supreme Court to step in and grant a stay when the D.C. Circuit had denied the stay and was still looking at the merits of the case,” Revesz said. “It reflected an attitude of hostility toward the Obama Administration.” Even though the record of the case consisted of thousands of pages, the Supreme Court imposed the stay in just a few days. The last briefs in the case were filed with the Justices on Friday, February 5th, and they imposed the stay, by a vote of five to four, on Tuesday, February 9th. Scalia then left for a hunting trip in Texas. He was found dead in his room, of natural causes, four days later.

One person who correctly gauged the significance of Scalia’s absence from the Court was Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader. An hour after the death was confirmed, when other politicians were offering condolences to the Scalia family, McConnell issued a statement announcing that the Senate would not allow a vote on any nominee whom President Obama might put forward for the seat. “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice,” McConnell said. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President.” Such premeditated obstruction by a Senate leader, aimed at a President with nearly a full year remaining in his term, was without precedent, but McConnell has shown no sign of wavering. (He has also said repeatedly that he will not allow a confirmation vote in the lame-duck period, after Election Day.)

The remaining Justices, too, immediately saw the significance of Scalia’s departure. Partly, this had to do with his outsized personality and his long tenure on the Court. He died at the age of seventy-nine, having served since 1986, which made him the senior Associate Justice. His energetic presence and provocative questions dominated the Court’s public proceedings. Scalia never played devil’s advocate in the courtroom; he used his queries to make arguments to his colleagues, and, just as often, to the broader public. He was best known for championing originalism—the theory that calls for interpreting the Constitution as its words were understood to mean at the time of its ratification. He was never able to bring a majority of his fellow-Justices around to this approach, but he was still on the winning side in all the great conservative victories of his era, including Bush v. Gore, which gave the Presidency to George W. Bush; Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which hastened a deregulation of American political-campaign funding; and District of Columbia v. Heller, for which Scalia wrote the majority opinion, recognizing for the first time an individual’s right, under the Second Amendment, to own firearms. Almost everyone at the Court missed Scalia’s voice, but it was conservatives who missed his vote. On February 29th, Clarence Thomas, Scalia’s frequent ideological ally, asked his first question in more than a decade at an oral argument. He then resumed his customary silence for the remainder of the term.

The effect of Scalia’s absence could be seen in the first major case argued after his death. Scalia’s place—to the immediate right of the Chief Justice, where the senior Associate Justice always sits—was still draped in black crêpe on March 2nd, when the Court heard Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. In recent years, especially after the Republican landslides in the midterm elections of 2010, many states had begun to restrict access to abortion. Texas imposed especially onerous new requirements on abortion clinics, insisting that they install hospital-level equipment and that their doctors have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. These rules, which Texas lawmakers said were designed to protect women’s health, led to the closure of twenty-three of the forty-two clinics in the state. The plaintiffs in the case argued that the new rules had nothing to do with women’s health, and were a transparent attempt to limit women’s access to abortion.

Since Scalia’s death, one rule of Supreme Court practice has dominated the deliberations of the eight remaining Justices. When the Court splits four to four, the lower-court decision is affirmed, but the Justices don’t write an opinion and the ruling does not represent a national precedent. This meant that if the four Democratic appointees voted in lockstep—as they already tended to do in controversial cases—they would not necessarily win every case, but they couldn’t lose, either. The liberals could always prevent the establishment of a new Court precedent not to their liking.

Source: The New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin, September 26, 2016. Mr. Toobin has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1993 and the senior legal analyst for CNN since 2002.

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Duterte: Death penalty for heinous crimes "in case there's no God"

Rodrigo Duterte
Rodrigo Duterte
President Duterte wants to reimpose the death penalty to ensure that criminals pay for their sins in case God does not exist.

Duterte said "bleeding hearts" like priests and human rights groups claimed that the death penalty did not deter crime when it was in effect for years. But he said the problem was past presidents did not have the political will to use it to strike fear in the hearts of criminals.

"Every president along the way didn't impose it only because the Catholic Church and all the bleeding hearts would say that only God could kill. But what if there is no God?" said Duterte in a speech in Malacanang Monday afternoon.

"When a 1-year-old baby, 18-months-old baby is taken from the mother's arms brought under a jeep and raped and killed. So where is God? My God, where are you?" asked Duterte.

"I believe in God but that is my perpetual question to him. Where were you when we needed you? It's not enough to say that at the end of the world, he will judge the living and the dead. What would be the purpose of all of that if the heartaches, sorrows and agony have already been inflicted in this world?" asked Duterte.

While the Philippines has always been a predominantly Catholic country, some are atheists and agnostics, according to Duterte. "Mind you, i's not only 1 or 2 or 3, in this age a lot of questioning (God) now," said Duterte.

He sought for a return of the death penalty because that would be the only way to win justice for the victims of heinous crimes.

Duterte, who grew up under the wings of priests from grade school to to law school, said that the lack of justice for victims of crime has made him question the existence and purpose of God while growing up.

Source: newsinfo.inquirer.net, September 26, 2016

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USA: Pharmacy Argues There's A First Amendment Right To Secretly Sell Execution Drugs

 Pharmacy Argues There's A First Amendment Right To Secretly Sell Execution Drugs
Selling execution drugs "is an expression of political views, no different than signing a referendum petition or selling a t-shirt," an anonymous pharmacy argues in a new court filing.

A pharmacy whose drugs have been used in 16 Missouri executions is arguing that its actions are political speech protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution, and that its identity should remain secret.

Death row inmates in Mississippi subpoenaed information from the Missouri Department of Corrections - including about the drugs and supplier - months ago. Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster has attempted to have the subpoena quashed, but so far has been unsuccessful.

In the past 2 weeks, the supplier has spoken up for the 1st time, under the pseudonym "M7." In a motion filed late Friday night, M7 said its drug sales are political speech.

The "decision to provide lethal chemicals to the Department was based on M7's political views on the death penalty, and not based on economic reasons," M7 wrote in an affidavit.

Although the pharmacy argues its execution drug sales are not based on economic reasons, it has made considerable money in the process.

Missouri has paid M7 more than $125,000, all in cash, for execution drugs, according to documents obtained by BuzzFeed News. The amount they are paid per execution - $7,188.88 for 2 vials of pentobarbital - is well above market value, and experts have expressed concern that the cash deals could violate federal tax law.

"The fact that M7's expression of political views involves a commercial transaction does not diminish M7's First Amendment rights," the pharmacy's attorneys wrote in Friday's court filing.

Selling execution drugs "is an expression of political views, no different than signing a referendum petition or selling a t-shirt."

Although M7 repeatedly cites a Supreme Court case - Doe v. Reed - for the proposition that "compelled disclosure of signatory information on referendum [is] subject to First Amendment review," M7 does not mention the outcome in the 2010 case: The Supreme Court ruled that petition signers, in general, are not protected by the First Amendment against having their identity revealed under a state's public records law.

While the court was split on whether petition signers' names could ever be shielded from public scrutiny, a majority of the court appeared skeptical. The court, however, left the possibility open, with Chief Justice Roberts writing for the court, "[T]hose resisting disclosure can prevail under the First Amendment if they can show 'a reasonable probability that the compelled disclosure [of personal information] will subject them to threats, harassment, or reprisals from either Government officials or private parties.'"

It is that possibility that M7 uses to press its case for avoiding disclosure here.

Mississippi death row inmates have subpoenaed the Missouri execution drug information to help make their case against the Mississippi Department of Corrections in a challenge to its current execution protocol. In order to succeed, the inmates have to come up with a better method of execution. Their attorneys have subpoenaed information from several other states who have carried out executions recently.

M7's attorneys say the pharmacy will not sell execution drugs to Mississippi - and speculated that the subpoena would be "nothing more than a sham.":

"At issue in this matter is whether the discovery process can be used to find out the names of lethal chemical suppliers so that anti-death penalty activists may harass and boycott those suppliers in an effort to coerce them into not supplying lethal chemicals," the attorneys wrote.

M7 argues - using the Doe v. Reed case - that it is afraid of facing boycotts, harassment, and even threats if its identity were revealed. The pharmacy sought out the opinion of a "threat assessment expert" to lay out his opinion in their motion.

The expert, Lawrence Cunningham, has testified about the threats to execution drug suppliers in Texas and Ohio as well. BuzzFeed News recently revealed that Cunningham's marquee example - that the FBI investigated a serious bomb threat to a supplier - was false. Cunningham spoke to no compounding pharmacies as part of his research, and based much of his opinion on social media.

M7 appears to have copied, quite literally, the evidence from the Texas and Ohio cases in making its argument that disclosing the information is unsafe - although, this time, Cunningham made no mention made of the now-discredited alleged FBI investigation.

"[T]here is a significant and substantial threat of physical harm to the compounding company/pharmacy, delivery personnel and pharmacist, as well as others in the vicinity of the compounding company/pharmacy if the identity of the compounding company/pharmacy or pharmacist is publicly disclosed," Cunningham wrote in an declaration.

This is the 2nd time the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has heard the case. Originally the court declined to quash the subpoena, arguing much of the state's argument was speculation. But at the request of Missouri, the court agreed to rehear the case.

This past week, the M7 pharmacy also attempted to intervene in an open records lawsuit that has been ongoing for more than 2 years in Missouri by several First Amendment groups, media outlets, and this reporter.

Source: buzzfeed.com, September 26, 2016

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Pakistan Supreme Court to hear death penalty case of mentally ill man

 Pakistan Supreme Court to hear death penalty case of mentally ill man
Pakistan’s Supreme Court will tomorrow (Tuesday) hear a plea from death row prisoner Imdad Ali, a severely mentally ill man who narrowly avoided execution last week. The hearing comes as Amnesty International raised concerns that Mr Ali never received a fair trial.

The Supreme Court session tomorrow will be the first time that judges have seen crucial medical evidence in his case, including a prison report by a doctor who diagnosed Mr Ali with paranoid schizophrenia and described him as “insane”. Mentally ill inmates in Pakistan should not be executed under domestic and international law.

Prison medical records also show that Mr Ali has been prescribed strong anti-psychotic medication, another sign that the authorities regard him as mentally ill. However, this evidence of mental illness appears not to have been included in Mr Ali’s 2015 appeal, resulting in a serious miscarriage of justice.

On Monday last week, the Court issued a week-long stay of execution just hours before Mr Ali was scheduled for the gallows and amid growing calls from his family and community for a reprieve.

Mr Ali’s lawyers have sent a mercy petition to Pakistan’s President with testimony from medical experts. The mercy petition provides an array of medical evidence for the President to consider, such as a statement from psychiatric consultant Dr Feroze Khan, who examined Mr Ali’s mental health and recommended that he be transferred to a mental health facility for active psychiatric treatment.

A statement issued by 14 of Pakistan’s leading psychiatrists also warns that executing Mr Ali would run contrary to Pakistani law. The experts, including Malik Hussain Mubbasshar, Professor Emeritus at Lahore’s University of Health Sciences, said that: “[The] Law does not allow such execution of prisoners suffering from this nature of mental disorder in which the prisoner is having a psychotic illness and is unable to know why is he being executed and what will be the consequence of this punishment.”

Mr Ali comes from an extremely poor family. His family began to notice signs of mental illness as long ago as 1998 – but they could not afford to pay for private medical assessments, which could have identified his mental illness, and possible treatments, earlier. Following his initial detention, his mental illness has been exacerbated by 14 years in overcrowded prison cells and lengthy periods of solitary confinement.

Maya Foa, director of Reprieve’s death penalty team, said:

“Imdad’s life hangs in the balance at the Supreme Court hearing tomorrow. There is overwhelming medical evidence that Imdad is mentally ill and should not be executed. The Supreme court must now urgently consider the evidence and grant mercy to Imdad – or else risk a miscarriage of justice that can never be reversed”.

More information about Imdad Ali is available at the Reprieve website, here.

Source: Reprieve, September 26, 2016. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications@reprieve.org.uk. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine.oshea@reprieve.org

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Nebraska Republican Group Calls for Voters to Retain the Repeal of the Death Penalty

Gathering against the repeal...
Nebraska: Gathering against the repeal...
LINCOLN, NE – The Republican Liberty Caucus of Nebraska met in Lincoln on Saturday for its biennial convention where it passed a resolution by voice vote declaring that the organization "opposes capital punishment by any method and calls on voters in Nebraska to vote to retain LB 268".

The resolution cited the recent study by conservative Creighton economist Dr. Ernie Goss which found capital punishment to cost $14.6 million more than life without parole annually. It also stated that "the execution of an innocent person constitutes one of the greatest possible abuses of government power."

Founded in 1991, the Republican Liberty Caucus is a nationwide grassroots organization which promotes individual liberty and limited government within the Republican Party. It has chartered groups in many states, including Nebraska.

State Senator Laura Ebke of Crete, a past chair of the caucus and now a registered independent, said she understands the growing movement by conservatives of all party affiliation to oppose the death penalty.

“The passage of this resolution reflects a growing segment of Nebraska Republicans who recognize that the broken death penalty system can't be fixed. Those of us who don't trust the government with our retirement savings or healthcare, certainly can't trust it to make life and death decisions with perfect fairness and accuracy," Ebke said.

Matt Maly, of Nebraska Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty, also spoke Saturday in opposition to bringing back Nebraska’s death penalty.

"The result of this vote doesn't surprise me. It was conservative legislators who lead the effort to get rid of this wasteful program and it's conservative voters who will keep it gone," Maly said.

“It’s obvious the closer we get to the November election, more and more Republicans and conservatives are deciding that the death penalty is a broken government program that we can do without. This overwhelming vote by a conservative group within the Republican Party sends the message that a growing number of Nebraska Republicans support what our conservative led legislature did and it's important that they get out and vote 'retain' on November 8th."

Source: Retain a Just Nebraska, September 25, 2016. Retain a Just Nebraska is a public education campaign to urge the retention of LB 268, the Nebraska Legislature’s vote to end the death penalty. Supporters include fiscal conservatives, law enforcement officials, faith leaders, murder victims’ families, and Nebraskans from all walks of life. It is a statewide coalition conducting public education on the smart alternative of life in prison without parole, which protects society without the many problems of our death penalty system.

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Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture shocked at execution on verge of abolition of mandatory death penalty

Ahmad Najib Aris
Ahmad Najib Aris
Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet) is shocked to hear that Malaysia has executed one Ahmad Najib Aris on Friday (Sept 23, 2016), at a time when Malaysia is in the process of abolishing the mandatory death penalty, and possibly the death penalty for some offences.

Ahmad Najib Aris was found guilty of murder (Section 302 Penal Code) of one Ong Lay Kian (also known as Canny Ong).

Mandatory death penalty denies judges discretion in sentencing

Section 302 of the Penal Code provides for the mandatory death penalty - which means that once the judge finds the accused guilty of murder, the judge has no choice but to sentence the convicted to the one and only available sentence - death by hanging.

We recall that attorney-general Apandi Ali, who is also the public prosecutor, said that "...mandatory death sentences were a 'paradox', as it robbed judges of their discretion to impose sentences on convicted criminals... If I had my way, I would introduce the option for the judge in cases where it involves capital punishment. Give the option to the judge either to hang him or send him to prison. Then we're working towards a good administration of criminal justice." (The Malaysian Insider, Nov 13, 2015).

The attorney-general also said the he would propose to the cabinet that the mandatory death penalty be abolished.

Only circumstantial evidence?

Ahmad Najib Aris was found guilty of murder, for which he was sentenced to death, and also rape under Section 327 of the Penal Code for which he was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment and ordered to be given 20 strokes of the rotan (whipping). The evidence resulting in his conviction were only circumstantial evidence.

It must be pointed out that one of evidence adduced at trial, was that the car driven 'after the alleged abduction' by Ahmad Najib with Canny Ong seated in the passenger seat was stopped by 2 police officers, who did ask for the identity cards of both the driver and the passenger, which were given. They both also later confirmed their identities to the police when asked. When later asked to step out of the vehicle, the police officers allege that Ahmad Nazri drove off.

Of note also was the fact that the alleged victim was not seen by the said police officers to be bound or injured, and was seated in the passenger seat. The fact that Ahmad Nazri did stop the car, when the policemen on motorbikes asked him to do so also raises doubts as such is generally not the conduct of one who is in the process of committing a crime.

Now, it is important to note that the credibility of the Malaysian police is in doubt. The Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) in their inquiry surrounding the death in police custody of one Dharmendran a/l Narayanasamy, in their press release dated April 28, 2016, did, amongst others state, "The Commission found the police report on the death of the deceased lodged by SP25, the D9 Lock-up Sentry made upon the instructions of the Deputy Head of the Criminal Investigation Department of Intelligence and Operations IPK Kuala Lumpur (SP60) and written by Sergeant Major Ali (D9 personnel) contained false/misrepresentation of actual state surrounding the death of the deceased."

There were also finding by the EAIC that police made false entries into the lock-up diary.

In October 2015, in another death in custody inquiry, the EAIC also found that police had tampered with evidence in the Syed Mohd Azlan Syed Mohamed Nur case. Then, we also recall the infamous Anwar Ibrahim's black eye, and how the police said one thing, and finally it was revealed that it was the police that caused it.

Hence, the alleged perceived 'odd' conduct of Canny Ong that allegedly moved the police to ask Ahmad Najib and Canny to step out of the car, which resulted in Ahmad Najib driving off raises much questions. Was this observation of Canny Ong's 'odd' gestures true? Did Ahmad Najib really drive off to escape the police?

The Canny Ong case has received much media attention soon after her 'disappearance', and there was much public anger when she was later found murdered. There was much pressure on the police and the authorities to find and convict the person/s responsible. Would this have 'tainted' the administration of justice?

Doubts however also did emerge as to whether Ahmad Najib and Canny Ong had a personal relationship, and whether he really was the person responsible for the murder of Canny Ong. The absence of evidence of any struggle/protest at the alleged time of abduction, and her subsequent conduct, even in the presence of the two police officers, also raises concern.

In any event, the High Court found Ahmad Najib Aris guilty of both murder and rape, and both the Court of Appeal and the Federal Court agreed.

At the High Court, when the defence was called to present their case, Ahmad Najib Aris elected to be silent. It may be simplistic to assume that this 'silence' indicates guilt, but there are other possibilities. Was this silence a result of a threat by others on the lives of loved ones, or maybe some 'promises'?

The right to have a review of sentence?

When Singapore abolished the mandatory death penalty for some types of murder, it also provided for re-sentencing of persons previously convicted under the said offences and were facing execution.

These qualified cases were sent back to the High Court, who looked again at the facts and circumstances of the case, and mitigating/aggravating factors in determining whether the death sentence will be retained, or changed to a more appropriate sentence of imprisonment.

Malaysia is in the process of possibly abolishing the death penalty, starting probably with the abolition of the mandatory death penalty. Nancy Shukri, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department and also the de facto Law Minister, was reported stating that the proposal to amend laws to abolish the mandatory death sentence was to be tabled in Parliament as early as March next year [2016]. (The Malay Mail, Nov 17, 2015).

In a media release dated April 7, 2016 by the Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights, it was stated that "...in November 2015, a roundtable discussion had been held in the Malaysian Parliament by Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA) for the Abolition of the Death Penalty on initiatives, commitments and particularly reforms on the state of inmates on death row and the abolition of the mandatory death penalty.

"It was co-hosted by YB Mohd Nazri Aziz as the chair of the PGA National Group and also YB Nancy Shukri, Minister Minister of Law in the Prime Minister's Department; along with Luc Vandebon, EU Ambassador to Malaysia; Justice Mah Weng Kwai; MPs from Malaysia, namely YB M Kulasegaran, YB Shamsul Iskandar Akin, myself and international MPs as well.

"The main outcome of the meeting was that: (i) The Malaysian government pledged to introduce a bill aiming to abolish the mandatory death penalty for all offences and a review of the existing death row cases. (ii) The Malaysian government instate an official moratorium on executions pending the assessment of the report on effectiveness of the death penalty; ...

As such, if the mandatory death penalty is soon to be abolished in Malaysia, would not have Ahmad Najib Aris also then be given the right for his current mandatory death sentence to be reviewed? Would a re-sentencing court commute his sentence to imprisonment? Now, that Ahmad Najib Aris is dead, we will not know.

Likewise Gunasegar Pitchaymuthu, Ramesh Jayakumar and Sasivarnam Jayakumar who were suddenly executed earlier on March 25, 2016.

Sudden executions without sufficient notice denies ability to save lives

It must be pointed out when there is due notice of pending executions, the minister, the attorney-general and the Sultan of Johor, did previously act in a praiseworthy manner in stopping executions. This happened in the case when Duli Yang Maha Mulia Sultan of Johor in 2014 saved Chandran s/o Paskaran from being hanged.

Likewise the de facto law minister, and the attorney-general, did act and obtain a stay of execution in the case of Osariakhi Ernest Obayangbon (aka Philip Michael) in 2014.

As such, this sudden and 'secretive' execution of Ahmad Najib Aris should be condemned.

Global trend towards abolition of death penalty

On Dec 18, 2014, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) reaffirmed for the 5th time since 2007 the urging for a stop of all executions. In 2014, 117 nation States voted in favour, 38 against, 34 abstention with four absentees. Every time the said resolution had been adopted, the number of votes in favour has been increasing. The global trend continues to be for abolition.

It must also be pointed out that the death penalty in Malaysia is not pursuant to some Islamic law, or subject to Islamic evidential and procedural requirements.

Research has also demonstrated that most Malaysians are in favour of abolition of the death penalty.

Currently in Malaysia, the death penalty is mandatory for 12 offences, while about 20 other offences are punishable by a discretionary death penalty. As of May 16, 2016, there are 1,041 persons on death row.

Moratorium on executions

The Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam), the Malaysian Bar and many others have recommended that a moratorium on the use of the death penalty be put in place pending abolition of the death penalty.

Suhakam, vide statement dated March 29, 2016, also cautions "...that any miscarriage or failure of justice in the implementation of the death penalty is irreversible and irreparable. Further, the rationale that the death penalty acts as a deterrent has been discredited and dismissed on several occasions..."

Therefore, Madpet urges the imposition of an immediate moratorium on all executions pending abolition of the death penalty, or at the very least pending the tabling of the amendments that would most likely see the abolition of the mandatory death penalty, and abolition of death penalty for some offences. This also would justly result in a review of the death sentence of persons now on death row by reason of being convicted of offences with the mandatory death penalty.

Madpet also urges that the said laws and/or amendments to the law that will result in the abolition of the mandatory death penalty and/or death penalty be tabled forthwith at the upcoming session in Parliament in October 2016.

Madpet also urges Malaysia to vote in favour of the upcoming United Nations General Assembly Resolution calling for a moratorium of executions pending abolition of the death penalty, or at the very least record a vote of abstention.

Madpet reiterates its urgings for Malaysia to abolish the death penalty.

Source: malaysiakini.com, Charles Hector, September 25, 2016. Mr. Hector is coordinator for Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet)

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Iran: Five executed on drug charges

Public execution in Iran
Iran: Medieval and barbaric punishments
Four prisoners were reportedly hanged on Saturday September 24 at Tabriz Central Prison (East Azerbaijan province, northwestern Iran).

Iran Human Rights (SEPT 26 2016): Four prisoners on death row for drug related offenses were reportedly executed at Tabriz Central Prison early morning on Saturday September 24.

According to the Kurdistan Human Rights Network, the names of the prisoners are: Abdolkarim Bapiri, Mehdi Molaie, Salah Ghaderian, and Ali Mohtabipour.

These four prisoners were reportedly arrested by Iranian authorities in 2013 on drug related charges. 

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

A prisoner was reportedly hanged on drug related charges at Taybad Prison (Razavi Khorasan province, eastern Iran).

Iran Human Rights (SEPT 26 2016): A prisoner sentenced to death on drug related charges was reportedly hanged at Taybad Prison early morning on Sunday September 25.

According to a report by the unofficial news agency, HRANA, the prisoner is Hadi Oskouie, 31 years old. 

The report says that one of Hadi's brothers was recently executed at the same prison on similar charges.

Iranian official sources, including the Judiciary and the media, have been silent about Sunday's execution.

Source: Iran Human Rights, September 26, 2016

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No touching. No human contact. The hidden toll on jail inmates who spend months or years alone in a 7x9 foot cell

Typical cell on Texas death row
Typical cell on Texas death row
In nearly three years, Dominic Walker rarely looked another human being in the eye.

Except for showers, he left his cell at Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles only once a week, to exercise in a small cage resembling a dog kennel. His conversations were typically shouted through cell bars to other inmates in his row.

“It makes you feel like nobody. I’m here, the walls are closing in. It makes you hallucinate,” said Walker, 34, who was released in June after prosecutors dropped his armed robbery charge.

More than 300 inmates in the antiquated jail live in near-total solitude, deprived of meaningful human contact either because they have misbehaved behind bars or because officials believe they must be kept away from others for safety reasons. Another 100 or so, including women, are doing their time in solitary units — officially called restrictive housing — at jails elsewhere in the county.

Throughout the nation, state prisons have come under intense scrutiny because of concerns that inmates who are deprived of social contact in solitary confinement can suffer serious psychological damage. Last year, spurred by hunger strikes and a lawsuit, the California state prison system reduced the population of its Solitary Housing Unit by thousands of inmates, joining states such as Colorado, Mississippi, Maine and North Carolina that have made similar changes.

But long-term isolation in county lockups, where most inmates are awaiting trial or serving short sentences, has largely remained a hidden issue.

Some of the 4,800-man jail’s most dangerous and disruptive inmates, including high-level gang leaders, live here in the restrictive housing unit, which is known informally as K-10, with the K standing for “keep-away.” Another term, “high-power,” also alludes to the threat jailers believe these inmates pose.

But not all K-10s are violent. Some live in isolation because they need to be protected from other inmates. This category includes celebrity inmates or those accused of high-profile crimes, like gangsta rap mogul Suge Knight and the Grim Sleeper serial killer.

The county’s euphemistic lexicon for solitary confinement has helped keep the issue out of the public eye, said Mark-Anthony Johnson, director of health and wellness for the jail reform group Dignity and Power Now.

“The way K-10 is talked about is, ‘We need to keep these people away from the population,’ and that’s where the conversation around their rights gets lost,” Johnson said.

Contrary to the assertions of sheriff’s officials, the conditions at Men’s Central Jail fit the definition of solitary confinement, according to some experts.

Designed by human beings for other human beings.
Tomblike dungeons designed by human beings for other human beings.
“We’re not talking truly about sensory deprivation but about meaningful, anchoring stimulation,” said Stuart Grassian, a psychiatrist who has served as an expert for plaintiffs in lawsuits opposing solitary confinement.

In a recent article in the Prison Journal, UC Santa Cruz psychologist Craig Haney called solitary confinement in local jails “among the least studied components of the entire criminal justice system.” Haney, who provided a scathing critique of solitary confinement in the California state prison lawsuit, cited a United Nations-appointed expert who contended that solitary confinement of more than 15 days can amount to torture.

As state prisons across the country have changed their practices to reflect mental health and human rights concerns, jails have been slow to follow.

In November 2015, the Prison Law Office sued on behalf of two Santa Clara County jail inmates in solitary confinement who allegedly were not taken outdoors for seven months.

Click here to read the full article

Source: Los Angeles Times, Cindy Chang, September 25, 2016

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Saturday, September 24, 2016

Appeals court overturns Indiana death row inmate's conviction

A federal appeals court overturned the triple-murder conviction of an Indiana death row inmate on Friday and granted him a new trial due to key evidence that was withheld in earlier trials, the man's attorney and court documents said.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago voted 6-3 to overturn the conviction of Wayne Kubsch for the 1988 murders of his wife Beth Kubsch, her ex-husband Rick Milewski and his son Aaron Milewski.

A videotaped police interview with neighbor Amanda Buck, who was then 9, could have helped challenge the prosecution's timeline of events if it had been introduced as evidence, the court said.

The tape was never shown to a jury because Buck was later unable to retell the events she described to police during the interview.

"Amanda's statement was exculpatory. If the statement were factually accurate, then Kubsch would be innocent," court documents said.

The documents added that while the state was not wrong in its decision to exclude the tape from earlier trials, a precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court made clear that it must now be entered.

The interview is "the only available information tending to corroborate Kubsch's claim of innocence," court documents said.

Alan Freedman, Kubsch's attorney, said by telephone he was relieved by the decision. Freedman said he spoke to his client earlier in the day to tell him the news.

Kubsch was tried twice for the murders. He was convicted both times and also recommended for the death penalty both times.

Beth Kubsch was found in September 1988 stabbed to death and wrapped in duct tape in the basement of a home in Mishawaka, Indiana.

Rick and Aaron Milewski were found in the same basement stabbed multiple times and shot in the mouth, according to court documents.

Wayne Kubsch was in severe debt, and two months before the murders had taken out a $575,000 life insurance policy on his wife, court documents said.

During his first trial, prosecutors argued that he killed his wife to collect the money from the policy.

Source: Reuters, Timothy Mclaughlin, September 23, 2016

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Malaysia executes Ahmad Najib Aris

Ahmad Najib Aris
Ahmad Najib Aris
The 40-year-old Ahmad Najib Aris who formerly worked as an aircraft cabin cleaner had spent 11 years on death row appealing against his death sentence without success and was hanged about 6am yesterday, after meeting his family for the last time the day before, The Star reported today.

The daily cited an unnamed Kajang Prison spokesman saying he was later buried at the Sungai Kantan Muslim cemetery in Kajang.

Lawyer Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdulla who had previously represented Ahmad Najib described the latter as a "good Muslim" while in jail to the newspaper, adding that prison officials related how he often led other inmates in prayer and taught them about religion.

"To me, at least the time he was in prison, he was a better person than many outside," Mohamed Haniff was quoted saying.

The 2003 murder case that was well-covered by the media sparked a nationwide uproar at that time due to the seemingly random violence perpetrated.

According to past reports, Ong, who was a US-based IT specialist home for a visit, was abducted from the carpark of the Bangsar Shopping Complex on June 13, 2003.

Her charred remains were found in a manhole along Old Klang Road here, several days later.

Forensic tests carried out later showed she had been raped.

Ahmad Najib was subsequently arrested and charged based on the forensic and criminal evidence. He was convicted and given the maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment and 10 strokes of the rotan for Ong's rape and the mandatory death penalty for her murder.

In a separate statement, Amnesty International Malaysia which opposed the death penalty, condemned the government for the secret execution of Ahmad Najib.

Its executive director Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu noted that Malaysia is not the only country that provides the capital punishment, but said the authorities should follow international laws and standards and provide sufficient advance notice to convicted killers on death row to enable them to seek further recourse at the national or international level.

"There is no convincing evidence to support the argument that the death penalty prevents crime more effectively than other punishments including life imprisonment. Further, statistics from countries which have abolished the death penalty show that the absence of the death penalty has not resulted in an increase in the crimes previously subject to capital punishment.

"What does hanging Ahmad Najib really achieve?" she asked.

AI Malaysia said Ahmad Najib's execution is only the 4th known to have taken place in the country and suspects there have been more executions conducted secretly.

"Amnesty International Malaysia does not downplay the seriousness of crimes committed, but we urge the authorities to consider introducing more effective crime prevention measures especially when there is overwhelming evidence that proves that the death penalty does not deter crime," Shamini added.

Source: themalaymailonline.com, September 24, 2016

Amnesty condemns execution of man convicted for Canny Ong's murder

Amnesty International condemned the quiet execution of Ahmad Najib Aris, who was hanged Friday after spending 13 years on death row for the rape and murder of Canny Ong Lay Kian.

"The death penalty is never an answer. Hanging a man for murder is not justice, it is revenge.

"We oppose the use of capital punishment regardless of the crime committed," Amnesty International Malaysia executive director Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu said in a statement Friday.

Shamini said that while international law allows for the death penalty to be meted out for the most serious crimes, the lack of transparency on the use of the death penalty in Malaysia raises crucial concerns.

International law and standards require that in countries which have yet to abolish the death penalty, the authorities must ensure that prisoners under the sentence of death and their families are given reasonable advance notice of the scheduled date and time of the executions.

"From Amnesty International Malaysia's experience in dealing with imminent executions, families are only informed between 72 and 24 hours before.

"Also of concern is the authorities deliberately concealing or minimising public scrutiny over imminent executions," she said.

Shamini said transparency in the use of the death penalty is important to avoid aggravating mental trauma of prisoners sentenced to death and is also a critical safeguard against unlawful executions.

"International standards on the use of the death penalty also set out that condemned prisoners and their lawyers be officially informed of the date of execution in sufficient time to take any further recourse available at the national or international level.

"However, we understand that lawyers in Malaysia are not informed of impending executions of their clients as case proceedings would have concluded," she said.

Due to the lack of transparency, Shamini said there were possibility of more executions which have not been disclosed by the authorities.

Shamini added that there is no convincing evidence to support the argument that death penalty can prevent crimes more effectively compared to other punishments including life imprisonment.

"Further, statistics from countries which have abolished the death penalty show that the absence of the death penalty has not resulted in an increase in the crimes previously subject to capital punishment.

"Amnesty International Malaysia does not downplay the seriousness of crimes committed, but we urge the authorities to consider introducing more effective crime prevention measures especially when there is overwhelming evidence that proves that the death penalty does not deter crime," she said.

In 2003, then 27-year-old Ong's charred body was found in a hole, below 2 cement-filled tyres were found 4 days after her kidnap.

Forensic investigation led to the arrest of Ahmad Najib, also 27-years-old at that time, who had raped her before killing her by stabbing her twice.

Source: malaysiakini.com, September 24, 2016

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India's Supreme Court sets free death row convict

India's Supreme Court
India's Supreme Court
A death row convict was today set free by the Supreme Court saying the prosecution has not proved the charge against him of murdering his wife and five daughters on the basis of evidence on record.

Justices Ranjan Gogoi and U U Lalit acquitted the man, even as Justice P C Pant, who was also part of the bench, dissented with their view and upheld the conviction.

Justice Pant, however, commuted to life imprisonment, the death penalty awarded to the Chhattisgarh native, saying the trial court and the High Court were influenced by the brutality and the manner in which the crime was committed.

The 2:1 verdict came on the man's appeal against his conviction and sentence.

According to the prosecution, Chhattisgarh-native Dhal Singh Dewangan, killed his wife and 5 daughters on February 19, 2012.

In the majority verdict, delivered by Justice U U Lalit, the apex court held that the appellant deserved to be acquitted as the prosecution had not proved its case.

"We allow these appeals, set aside the judgments of conviction and sentence recorded by the Courts below against the appellant and acquit him of all the charges levelled against him. The appellant be set at liberty immediately unless his custody is required in any other case," the majority bench said.

The majority bench held that the circumstantial evidence, based on which the trial court had convicted the man, "did not form a complete chain of evidence."

"In our view, the circumstances mentioned do not form a complete chain of evidence as not to leave any reasonable ground for the conclusion consistent with the innocence of the appellant, nor do the circumstances exclude every possible hypothesis except the guilt of the accused," they said.

Justice Pant, in his minority view, said "the State has failed to show that the appellant is a continuing threat to the society or that he is beyond reformation and rehabilitation. Both the courts below, in my opinion, appear to have been influenced by the brutality and the manner in which the crime is committed."

"But this Court cannot ignore the fact that there are no criminal antecedents of the appellant. Also, it cannot be said that he is continuing threat to the society or that he cannot be reformed or rehabilitated," he said.

Justice Pant also observed that the convict belonged to a "socially and economically disadvantaged strata of the society" and considering the facts, it found that life imprisonment would meet the ends of justice.

Source: Press Trust of India, September 26, 2016

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