Thursday, July 19, 2012

Toshi Kazama in Bangkok

From 15th to 19th July, Japanese photographer Toshi Kazama, renowned for his photographs of young people who are condemned to death, was in Bangkok. He visited and met with prisoners who had been condemned to death in Bang Kwang prison. On the evening of the 17th he showed a selection of his work in the Foreign Correspondent's Club of Thailand. More significantly, on the 18th he addressed a meeting of government officials in the Department of Liberties and Human Rights of the Ministry of Justice, the office which is preparing the proposal to parliament on abolition of the death penalty in Thailand.
The message of Toshe Kazama is the value of human life. His images show the humanity of the condemned who are indistinguishable from young people around us. He engages with these young people, but engages equally with the families of murder victims. He reveals the surprising experience that all the families, whatever their initial anger against the murderers,  come in time to realise that vengeance cannot satisfy their pain, and reject capital punishment. The depth of healing they experience comes not from the execution of the perpetrator, but from forgiveness which releases them from a cycle of bitterness and hatred.

Thursday, July 12, 2012


Is there no end to US chicanery on the death penalty? To give credit where it is due, the NYT is tireless in tracking down examples of indifference to the value of one human life.
Thailand, in revising laws regarding Capital Punishment, beware of taking the US as an example.

An Urgent Plea for Mercy
Published: July 6, 2012 Editorial, New York Times
The Supreme Court banned the death penalty for mentally retarded offenders a decade ago, but Georgia apparently has not gotten the message. It is the only state with a statute requiring a defendant to meet the unfairly heavy burden of proving retardation beyond a reasonable doubt. This stringent standard could be readily manipulated by experts, resulting in unconstitutional executions.
In a closely divided 4-to-3 ruling, the State Supreme Court wrongly upheld the statute on the grounds that the United States Supreme Court left it to the states to set procedures for deciding on retardation. This unjust procedural requirement effectively denies protection for the mentally impaired, as required by the Eighth Amendment.
This week, Georgia issued a warrant to execute Warren Lee Hill Jr., a death-row inmate convicted of murder, who has an I.Q. of 70. The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles is the fail-safe in the state’s criminal justice system, with a mandate to exercise mercy when the court system has failed to come to a just result. That is clearly true in this case. The trial judge found that Mr. Hill was mentally retarded by applying the fairer “preponderance of the evidence” standard in determining his mental impairment.
The State Supreme Court, however, ruled that Mr. Hill had to prove his mental retardation beyond a reasonable doubt. The dissent rightly argued that applying the tougher standard is unconstitutional because it imposes too high a risk that a court’s conclusion will be wrong. The dissent relied on the United States Supreme Court holding that it is unconstitutional to require a defendant to prove that he is incompetent to stand trial by any standard higher than a preponderance of the evidence.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit avoided correcting the state court’s stark constitutional error, claiming that a federal statute on habeas corpus review imposes severe limits so that Mr. Hill had to show “that no fair-minded jurist” could agree with the Georgia court. The United States Supreme Court denied a review of Mr. Hill’s case in June. He is scheduled for execution this month.
Jurors from this case said they would have sentenced Mr. Hill to life without parole if they had had the option. The family of the victim has said Mr. Hill should not be executed. The pardon board has the discretion and the duty to commute his sentence to life without parole. The legal and factual record strongly compels that just decision.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Singapore Yields Grudgingly on Death Penalty

Singapore which claims success in countering drug trafficking and ascribes the supposed success to its practice of mandatory death sentencing,  yields in exempting certain cases from mandatory death sentences. Academic studies have long disproved the effectiveness of executions in countering crime. But it appears that Singapore is finally forced to admit that mandatory executions are inappropriate when confronted with the inhumane absurdity of the practice. 
The death penalty will be changed, allowing judges discretion to impose life imprisonment in certain specific instances of drug trafficking and murder. The announcement of the change in policy says that the leniency will apply to mere couriers of drugs, not the drug kingpins and distributors. But when has Singapore succeeded in arresting the higher echelons of the drug trade, rather than the fumbling nervous couriers?
The relaxation of mandatory death sentences will apply under two conditions:
"First, the trafficker must have only played the role of courier, and must not have been involved in any other activity related to the supply or distribution of drugs. Second, discretion will only apply if having satisfied this first requirement, either the trafficker has cooperated with the Central Narcotics Bureau in a substantive way, or he has a mental disability which substantially impairs his appreciation of the gravity of the act."

But we must not think that Singapore is embracing any quality of mercy. The mandatory death sentence will be replaced by life sentence in prison, and caning. Singapore's executioner used to comfort those whom he was about to dispatch to a 'better life", by assuring them that their fate was preferable to life imprisonment in Singapore's jail. He may have been right. But just to give an extra tilt to the balance of justice, the new sentence throws in a measure of the abominable practice of caning, a process which leaves everlasting scars on the body, marks of degradation and reprisal. 

Singapore provides an elaborate cover story to justify its changes in sentencing. In reality the steps leading to the change are:
1. The contradictions in practice. While Singapore claims that the basis of its capital punishment policy is deterrence, the statistics of executions are hidden, no doubt to inculcate fear while maintaining a benign face.
2. Claims that Singapore justice is equal for all have been discounted The rich and well connected can escape sentence. The poor and unrepresented are hanged
3. The increasing juridical isolation of Singapore in its claim to be democratic while denying the right to life.
4. All of these faults of justice have come to a head in the case of the young Malaysian, Yong Vui Kong, arrested at the age of 19 whose story is told below in a posting made on May 25th last. Protest and outrage has been expressed across the world at the seeming certain execution of this young man. At last Singapore has found a way out. Yong Vu Kong is likely to be the first to escape execution, and relieve Singapore of acute embarasment.

We do not thank you Singapore for this concession, the alternative you offer is a regression and further diminution of respect for human rights.