Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Death Sentences in Thailand

There are 708 prisoners condemned to death in Thailand, two have been executed during the last eight years. The tendency is that death sentences are being commuted to life imprisonment by Appeal Courts. But the overall number of those sentenced is not decreasing. In the last year, 53 death sentences were handed down in Courts of First Hearing, showing that a breath of change has yet to reach the judiciary.
Meanwhile, the Government has declared, in its current five year human rights programme, an intention to abolish the death penalty. So why does the awful torture of living under penalty of death, shackled and in crowded cells, separated from the slight amenities of the general prison population, still go on?

Iran, Asia's second executioner after China

Iran is considered an Asian country, located on Asia’s Western border. As such it is on ‘The Next Frontier” where the death penalty plague still rages.
(Paris, 16 February 2011) – Other nations and the UN should speak out against a wave of executions in Iran, the Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi and six human rights organizations said today.
At least 86 people have been executed since the start of 2011, according to information received by the six organizations. At least eight of those executed in January were political prisoners, convicted of “enmity against God” (moharebeh) for participating in demonstrations, or for their alleged links to opposition groups.
The increase in executions follows the entry into force in late December 2010 of an amended anti-narcotics law, drafted by the Expediency Council and approved by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Officials have also vowed to step up enforcement measures against drug trafficking. Sixty-seven of those executed in January had been convicted of drug trafficking. The true number of executions may be even higher, the groups said, as there are credible reports that some executions that are not officially announced are taking place in prisons.
The recent executions also raise fears for the lives of two men, Saeed Malekpour and Vahid Asghari, believed to have been sentenced to death by Revolutionary Courts following separate unfair trials in which they were accused of “spreading corruption on earth.”
Iran executes more people than any country other than China. The hundreds, if not thousands, of prisoners currently on death row may include more than 140 who were under the age of 18 at the time they allegedly committed their offence. International law prohibits the execution of persons for offences that they committed while under 18.
In many cases, lawyers of those sentenced to death are informed of their clients’ executions only after they have taken place, despite the legal requirement for 48 hours’ notice.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

A Pause in Execution in Singapore

New Hope for Sentenced Malaysian
By Marwaan Macan-Markar

BANGKOK, Feb 4, 2011 (IPS) - A young Malaysian’s legal battle to escape the hangman’s noose in Singapore is finding new hope. "He has a 50-50 chance of being spared," Madasamy Ravi, the lawyer appearing for 23-year-old Yong Vui Kong, said in a telephone interview from the city-state.

The 41-year-old lawyer, who traded a lucrative career in corporate law in 2003 to become an outspoken human rights crusader, stepped in to take up Vui Kong’s case shortly after the Malaysian was sentenced to death in December 2009 by a Singaporean court that found him guilty of trafficking 47.27 grams of heroin. Vui Kong was only 19 when arrested in mid-2007 under Singapore’s draconian Misuse of Drugs Act.

The efforts to save Vui Kong won a reprieve mid-January when the Court of Appeal reserved judgment, in what anti-death penalty activists say is the young Malaysian’s last hope. Ravi argued in the court that his client had been deprived of a fair clemency process.

The lengthy appeals process has emboldened Singapore’s small group of anti-death penalty campaigners. "Vui Kong’s case since the sentence has taken a surprisingly long time. It has been dragging on and this, for us, is change from the status quo," says Sinapan Samydorai, a director of regional affairs at the Think Centre, a local, independent human rights lobby. "This is an opportunity to push for change."

Samydorai faces a formidable challenge. During 1991-1999, Singapore recorded 13.57 executions per one million population. Saudi Arabia, with 4.64 executions per one million population, was a distant second, according to a UN Secretary-General’s report assessing capital punishment.

But such numbers are far from conclusive, because the Singapore government has always been "secretive about the number of executions," says Lance Lattig, a South-east Asia researcher at Amnesty International.

"Singapore might or might not be in the first place (today) when it comes to executions per capita," Lattig said in an e-mail interview. "Either way, the government’s secrecy about its record on executions suggests that this is one indicator Singapore isn’t entirely proud of."

In November, 76-year-old Malaysia-based British author Alan Shadrake was sentenced to six weeks in jail for contempt of court and fined 15,400 dollars for the contents of his book: ‘Once A Jolly Hangman: Singapore’s Justice In The Dock’.

Shadrake was arrested in July last year when he visited Singapore to launch his book. The book includes an interview with Darshan Singh, the chief executioner at the city-state’s Changi Prison. Singh reportedly executed about 1,000 men and women from 1959 till he retired in 2006, the book notes.

In at least 11 passages of the book Shadrake questioned the impartiality of the judiciary in making rulings on death penalty cases.

Critics question the rationale of the country forging ahead with a mandatory death penalty for drug traffickers and murderers – while keeping the number of executions hidden.

"They justify executions to deter crime but they don’t publish the details," says Danthong Breen, chairman of the Union of Civil Liberty, Thailand’s oldest human rights organisation. "It is extraordinary. They treat the details of executions as a state secret."

But what is not a secret is the manner in which condemned prisoners meet their death: all hangings take place at dawn on Friday.

The law that sets out a mandatory death penalty for anyone trafficking more than 15 grams of heroin or over 30 grams of cocaine, and the manner of execution still enjoy wide public support, according to polls.