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

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Pakistan: Schizophrenia and our Supreme Court

The recent furore which followed the Supreme Court judgment regarding schizophrenia is not without cause: The Court has concluded that since schizophrenia is "not a permanent mental disorder', it is "therefore, a recoverable disease, which, in all the cases, does not fall within the definition of 'mental disorder' as defined within the Mental Health Ordinance, 2001."

This judgment was passed in a petition filed by death-row prisoner Imdad Ali's wife to delay his execution on the grounds that he was mentally ill and therefore be allowed time to get medical treatment to be able to prepare his will.

SC upholds death penalty for mentally ill man

Ali, from Burewala district of southern Punjab, was awarded death sentence in 2002 in a murder case. The latest petition must be distinguished from his earlier appeal against the death sentence which was dismissed by the Supreme Court in October 2015 and the mercy petition which was dismissed by the President in November 2015. The judgment in the present Supreme Court case followed the dismissal of the same request in the Lahore High Court in August of this year and is based on the Court's understanding of schizophrenia.

It is unfortunate that the Mental Health Ordinance, though dealing in large part with the management of the property of those suffering from a mental disorder, does not make any reference to the manner in which such a person can make a will. However, that lacuna is not the source of current public dismay. Instead the reason is the glaringly obvious failure of the judgment in deeming it "appropriate to ascertain what schizophrenia is" and then failing to take into account any universally accepted medical definition of the illness. Rather than looking at diagnostic tools - such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and the International Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems - for guidance, the Court chose to rely on the dictionary meaning of the disease in New Webster's Dictionary of the English Language and Merriam Webster's online dictionary, among others. This lapse was highlighted by a group of doctors in their open letter to President Mamnoon Hussain titled "Save Imdad; Schizophrenia is a chronic and debilitating disease".

Rights group urges Pakistan not to hang mentally ill man

In addition, the judges extrapolated upon two Indian cases from 1977 and 1988, the latter of which reached the jaw-dropping conclusion that "I do not use the word 'schizophrenia' because I do not think any such disease exists...". In fact, it is worth noting that the case judgment from 1988 (AIR 1988 SC 2260) was given in the context of a dissolution of marriage. So not just is that judgment almost 3 decades old, but it also dealt with circumstances which had less at stake than the current case, in which the outcome determines whether an individual's right to life will be upheld or not. There is no doubt therefore that Ali's case requires deeper scrutiny than simply a repetition of an apparently dismissive and uninformed judgment from 1988. This is especially true when looked at it in the context of the advances that medical sciences have made in recent years in relation to understanding mental illness in general and schizophrenia in particular. In short, therefore, it is clear that the Court gave its binding judgment on what schizophrenia is without taking into account the years of medical research that have gone into doing just that.

The consequence of the judgment's reliance on non-medical definitions and outdated judgments was the conclusion that its lack of permanence meant that schizophrenia did not fall within the statutory definition of mental disorder. This is worrying on 2 fronts: Firstly, that it is now internationally acknowledged by medical science that the condition is in fact largely permanent, with medication only being able to manage but not cure the disease. Secondly, the requirement of permanence, on which the judgment heavily relied, is not actually a statutory requirement. "Mental disorder" in the Ordinance is defined, not with a single definition, but as covering a spectrum of mental illnesses, from mental impairment, severe personality disorder to severe mental impairment. While the definition of one of these 3 types, namely severe personality disorder, requires there to be a "persistent disorder or disability of [the] mind", the other 2 defined types of mental disorder do not make any reference to the requirement of permanence at all. Even further, the Ordinance provides a catch-all provision to include "any other disorder or disability of mind". The bottom line is that for the Supreme Court to determine that a recognised and admittedly severe mental illness does not fall within the wide definition in the Ordinance is clearly to misconstrue Parliament's intentions.

In any event, irrespective of whether the condition is temporary, permanent or intermittent, it appears that in getting entangled in the definition of mental illness, the Court lost sight of the real issue: Whether a prisoner suffering from a diagnosed mental illness can be executed. This issue must be looked at in light of the circumstances at the time that it came before the Supreme Court and not in light of whether mental illness was established as a defence to the crime in earlier judicial proceedings. However, the Supreme Court placed undue emphasis on the latter without analysing the former in light of Pakistan's national and international obligations. To this end, no mention was made of the fact that execution of a mentally ill prisoner is prohibited under customary international law. In particular, the Court did not take into account the UN Safeguards Guaranteeing Protection of the Rights of Those Facing the Death Penalty (1984) which prohibits execution of "persons who have become insane" or the resolution adopted by the UN Commission on Human Rights (2000) urging countries that retain the death penalty not to impose it "on a person suffering from any form of mental disorder".

SC rules schizophrenia is 'not a mental disorder'

The Court's archaic view of the meaning of mental disorder coupled with its failure to scrutinise Pakistan's obligations holistically, culminated in a decision that can only be viewed as a breach of human rights for all mentally ill prisoners on death row. As matters currently stand, the Pakistan Prison Rules 1978 provide for the procedure to be followed in the case of a mentally ill prisoner. In particular, Rule 441 requires that a mentally ill prisoner be transferred to a psychiatric facility. However, contrary to its international obligations, Pakistan does not have laws categorically prohibiting the execution of those suffering from a mental disorder. Therefore, with a case like Ali's which has been in the public eye, the Supreme Court had an opportunity to flex its judicial muscle and spearhead the understanding and acceptance of basic human rights in such cases - even if it was just to the extent of the right to draft a will. Regrettably, however, that did not transpire. Instead, no matter what one's opinions regarding the death penalty are, the unfortunately drafted judgment is nothing short of a miscarriage of justice and a drastic setback to medical advances in the already stigmatised area of mental disorders.

Source: The Express Tribune, October 24, 2016. Hiba Thobani is an advocate who runs the legal aid not-for-profit 'Qaaf Se Qanoon', coaches law students in advocacy skills and believes in the inherent power of the law to do good.

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Sydney festival to exhibit paintings by Myuran Sukumaran of Bali Nine

Myuran Sukumaran (left) and Ben Quilty in Kerobokan's painting workshop
Myuran Sukumaran (left) and Ben Quilty in Kerobokan's painting workshop
The first major exhibition of artworks by Myuran Sukumaran, who was executed by Indonesia for heroin smuggling, is to be held during next year’s Sydney festival.

Sukumaran, one of a group known as the Bali Nine, took up painting during his time in Kerobokan prison and his artworks became a very public part of the campaign for clemency. He was killed by a firing squad in April 2015 alongside fellow Australian Andrew Chan, four Nigerians, a Brazilian and an Indonesian. All had been convicted of drug crimes.

The Australian artist Ben Quilty, Sukumaran’s friend and mentor and the co-curator of the exhibition, which will be held at Campbelltown arts centre in January, said he hoped the show would reignite public debate about human rights for prisoners.

“[Sukumaran] really deeply wanted the abolition of the death penalty worldwide,” Quilty said. “No one deserves to be shot in the chest ever, for anything. And he wanted that message spread as widely as he could.”

More than 100 of Sukumaran’s works will be shown at the western Sydney centre. The exhibition also features commissioned pieces by seven other Australian artists alongside Sukumaran’s work, including Matthew Sleeth, Abdul-Rahman Abdullah, Megan Cope, and Jagath Dheerasekara, who have all responded to the issues of the death penalty, justice and human rights.

During the exhibition period, the arts centre will also stage three symposiums focusing on human rights and capital punishment.

Myuran Sukumaran standing in front of a self portrait in Bali's Kerobokan prison
Myuran Sukumaran standing in front of a self portrait in Bali's Kerobokan prison
Sukumaran used art “as a visual language to communicate his humanity” during his time in incarceration, said Quilty, including instructing his lawyers on how to carry his paintings out of the prison to best display them to waiting press. “He was engineering his own message about the death penalty. He was humanising himself and his friends who were executed that night.”

Quilty believes drug abuse, recidivism rates among offenders, and the retributive model of justice need to be debated in Australia and abroad.

“The uncomfortable truth is that a huge proportion of the population deals drugs, uses drugs, and quite often the dealer and the user are the same person.”

Quilty said that over the past decade Sukumaran had become “a beautiful, compassionate, caring 31-year-old man who looked out for his family, who worked really hard”.

Taking away someone’s liberty is very different to taking away someone’s dignity, and if you destroy someone’s dignity then you can expect insanely high recidivism rates,” Quilty said. “It’s as simple as that. And we don’t seem to learn. We haven’t learnt from when we were locking people up in rough-hewn sandstone prisons on the shores of Sydney. And we still do it, we still treat people really badly when they’re in prison. We’re trying to punish them rather than rehabilitate them.”

Sukumaran was arrested in 2005 and was sentenced to death in 2006. “Myuran wasn’t the first and will not be the last to do something so self-indulgent and dangerous, and he went on to become a great young man and left an amazing legacy,” Quilty said.

• Myuran Sukumaran: Another Day in Paradise will open on 13 January as part of the 2017 Sydney festival

Source: The Guardian, Stephanie Convery, October 25, 2016

Paintings by executed Bali Nine inmate Sukumaran stolen in Adelaide

Entrepreneur Shane Yeend posted on social media that works from his personal collection had been taken from his Adelaide home, which was “cleaned out”, on the weekend.

Yeend, the CEO of Imagination Entertainment, is a co-founder of the Australian Cannabis Corporation, which InDaily revealed this month had been given approval to apply for a federal licence to cultivate medical marijuana in South Australia, with a view to creating “a global research hub”.

Stolen: A portrait of Shane Yeend's on by Myuran Sukumaran
Stolen: A portrait of Shane Yeend's son by Myuran Sukumaran
Yeend did not return calls today, but posted a Facebook update asking for people to keep a eye on the second-hand art market, after the theft of some “very valuable aboriginal paintings” and “my collection of Myu Sukumaran paintings [including] this one in particular that he did for [my son]”.

“If anybody on the second-hand market comes across this please let me know,” Yeend wrote, adding that most of the works were “priceless [to me but] worthless to anyone else”.

Yeend has previously spoken publicly about how he befriended Sukumaran – visiting him in Kerobokan prison after trying to buy one of his paintings at auction – before his execution with fellow convicted drug smuggler Andrew Chan in April last year.

Sukumaran, who Yeend told ABC891 last year was a “model poster child for reform”, famously turned his hand to painting in prison, studying a fine art degree and holding a number of exhibitions.

“It’s kind of funny, I never did drugs, I didn’t know anyone who did drugs, I had never been in a jail, but we just struck up a bit of a relationship,” Yeend told Fairfax in February 2015.

“He’s a really good bloke. He made a stupid mistake and ended up in the worst stupid mistake situation.”

Yeend pledged the establishment of a foundation in Sukumaran’s honour.

SA Police told InDaily in a statement: “We can confirm a matter has been reported to police and is being investigated [but] at this time we are not in a position to release further details.”

Source: IN Daily, Tom Richardson, October 25, 2016

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Monday, October 24, 2016

Kenya Spares the Lives of Everyone on Its Death Row

President Uhuru Kenyatta
President Uhuru Kenyatta
NAIROBI, Kenya — With a stroke of his pen, President Uhuru Kenyatta spared the lives of thousands of prisoners on Kenya’s death row on Monday by commuting their sentences to life in prison.

Kenyan law allows capital punishment and convicts are regularly sentenced to death, but the sentence is almost never carried out; the last execution was in 1987. In colonial times, the British authorities executed more than 1,000 Kenyans who were accused of fomenting revolt.

Kenyan news sites beamed images of Mr. Kenyatta leaning over his desk on Monday, surrounded by top officials, as he signed documents that spared the lives of 2,655 men and 92 women. Kenya’s last president, Mwai Kibaki, did something similar in 2009.

Mr. Kenyatta faces re-election next year. Some analysts said the mass reprieve on Monday may have been intended to make the president appear more compassionate as the election draws near. Mr. Kenyatta remains popular among members of his own ethnic group, the Kikuyu, and he enjoys support from other ethnic groups that belong to his political alliance. But opposition leaders say his government has allowed corruption to flourish.

Amnesty International, which has accused Mr. Kenyatta’s government of brutal crackdowns on protesters and of other human rights abuses, praised the reprieve, which covers everyone on death row in Kenya.

“The decision to commute death sentences brings Kenya closer to the growing community of nations that have abolished this cruel and inhuman form of punishment,” said Muthoni Wanyeki, the group’s regional director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes. “It must now be abolished for posterity.”

Source: The New York Times, October 24, 2016

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The Death Penalty, Nearing Its End

'Less than half of Americans say they support the death penalty.'
Although the death penalty is still considered constitutional by the Supreme Court, Americans’ appetite for this barbaric practice diminishes with each passing year.

The signs of capital punishment’s impending demise are all around.

For the first time in nearly half a century, less than half of Americans said they support the death penalty, according to a Pew Research poll released last month. While that proportion has been going down for years, the loss of majority support is an important marker against state-sanctioned killing.

At the same time, executions and new death sentences are at historic lows, and each year they go lower. In 2015 only 49 new death sentences were handed down, the lowest one-year total since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976.

Since there were about 14,000 murders around the country last year, it’s easy to imagine that the small number of newly condemned people shows that the justice system is focusing on the “worst of the worst.” But that’s wrong. In fact the crimes of the people sentenced to death are no worse than those of many others who escape that fate. Rather, nearly all of last year’s death sentences came from a tiny fraction of counties with three common features: overzealous prosecutors; inadequate public defenders; and a pattern of racial bias and exclusion. This was the key finding of a two-part report recently issued by the Fair Punishment Project at Harvard Law School.

Even in the most death-friendly counties, public support appears to be fading. In two of the worst — Duval County in Florida and Caddo Parish in Louisiana — local prosecutors lost elections at least partly due to voters’ concerns about their stance on the death penalty. In other counties around the country, prosecutors are finding that aggressive advocacy for death sentences isn’t the selling point with the public that it once was.

In some of the biggest states, death-penalty systems are defunct or collapsing. Earlier this month, the Florida Supreme Court struck down a terrible state law that allowed nonunanimous juries to impose death sentences — increasing the likelihood that innocent people and those with intellectual or mental disabilities would be condemned. A large number of Florida’s 386 death-row inmates could now receive new sentencing trials, or have their sentences thrown out altogether.

In California, which hasn’t executed anyone since 2006 even though more than 740 inmates sit on death row, voters will decide in November whether to eliminate capital punishment for good. A similar ballot initiative in 2012 was narrowly defeated. In 2014, a federal judge ruled that the state’s decades-long delays in capital cases violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. (The decision was overturned by an appeals court on technical grounds the following year.)

While capital punishment is used rarely and only in some places, only a definitive ruling from the Supreme Court will ensure its total elimination. How close is the court to such a ruling? In recent dissenting opinions, three of the justices — Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor — have expressed deep misgivings about the death penalty’s repeated failure to meet the requirements of due process and equal protection. Justice Breyer has said it is “highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment,” and has called for the court to consider whether it is constitutional at all.

The death penalty has escaped abolition before, but there are no longer any excuses: The nation has evolved past it, and it is long past time for the court to send this morally abhorrent practice to its oblivion.

Source: The New York Times, The Opinion Pages, The Editorial Board, October 24, 2016

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Voters should end the death penalty in California

Voters on Nov. 8 will decide the fate of the long-dormant death penalty in California. 

2 competing propositions address the controversial practice, which was last used by the state corrections system more than 10 years ago. 

Proposition 62 would repeal the death penalty and commute the sentences of those currently on death row to life in prison without possibility of parole. Proposition 66 would change death penalty case appeal processes and set a 5-year limit on state court reviews of such cases. 

Whether to continue or end this ultimate, state-sanctioned punishment is a tough question. The ground has been shifting in this debate nationally, however. While 30 states, including California, still have a death penalty, 10 states have abolished capital punishment since 2007. 4 other states have governor-imposed bans on inmate executions. 

The Desert Sun Editorial Board recommends voters approve Proposition 62 and reject Proposition 66 to bring an end to the death penalty here. It's time to end a system that has seen people of color and residents of particular areas of the state more likely to face this unfairly applied punishment. 

If both initiatives are approved Nov. 8, the measure with the most yes votes will prevail. 

Supporters of Proposition 62, including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter and ACLU California, argue that capital punishment has proven to be an ineffective, costly blunder for the Golden State, which has seen just 13 executions since 1978. 

The most recent inmate executed - Clarence Ray Allen, who murdered a woman in 1974 and arranged the murders of 3 people from prison later - was put to death in January 2006 at age 76 after having spent more than 23 years on death row. 

Death row inmates cost the state 18 times what those sentenced to life cost, yet this shouldn't just be about the dollars. 

Proponents of capital punishment say justice for society and closure for victims' families require that the ultimate penalty remain an option for the most violent, despicable criminals. That could be a compelling argument indeed, were it not for California's haphazard, legally challenged history when it comes to capital punishment. 

Waiting 23 years for a resolution by execution, having to go through the emotional highs and lows of appeals and hearings, cannot be the type of closure most families want. In fact, one of the co-writers of the ballot argument in favor of ending the death penalty is Beth Webb, the sister of a woman murdered in 2011. 

"California's death penalty system is a long, agonizing ordeal for our family. As my sister's killer sits through countless hearings, we continually relive this tragedy. The death penalty is an empty promise of justice. A life sentence without parole would bring real closure," Webb wrote. 

Backers of competing Proposition 66, including law enforcement associations, the California District Attorneys Association and DA Mike Hestrin, argue that the death penalty should remain an option when dealing with the most heinous crimes. Streamlining it via Proposition 66's changes would correct the problem of long delays, they say. 

The changes, however, are complex and ripe for legal challenges and potential for actually increasing delays in an already clogged legal system. 

Among these are the designation of Superior Court, where the cases originate, as the venue for initial appeals and limitation of successive appeals; a requirement that attorneys who take noncapital appeals also accept death penalty appeals; and placing an arbitrary, 5-year limit on the state court appeals process. 

While backers argue these moves would speed up the process, adding the burden of such appeals to the originating Superior Court system is just as likely to do the opposite as well as create a conflict of interest. In addition, compelling appellate lawyers not experienced in capital cases to take such cases could result in many dropping that line of litigation or end up with an innocent condemned convict having inexperienced counsel to his or her literally fatal detriment. 

Don't discount the odds of such an event. A 2014 study by University of Michigan law professor Samuel Gross estimated that 1 in 25 inmates sentenced to death across America from 1973-2004 was innocent. If California has a death penalty, it should be made as bulletproof as possible when it comes to questions about whether an innocent person might be condemned. 

The best solution for California is ending the death penalty and offering victims and society the closure of having the worst offenders spending life in prison without parole. 

Vote yes on Proposition 62 and no on Proposition 66. 

Source: Desert Sun Editorial Board, October 23, 2016

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The barbarism of capital punishment

Barbarism. There is no other way to describe the senseless bloodlust and spiteful vindictiveness that characterises what passes for the criminal justice system in Pakistan. 

In a judgment that will long be remembered for its sheer idiocy and mind boggling insensitivity, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has declared that paranoid schizophrenia is not a mental disorder, and that those suffering from it can indeed be executed by the state. In deciding thus, the Court has sealed the fate of Imdad Ali, who suffers from the disease and has been languishing on death row after being convicted of murder in 2002. On at least 2 separate occasions, in 2004 and 2012, medical experts confirmed that Imdad Ali is a victim of mental illness, and that his condition is severe enough for him to not even understand what he has been convicted of or the nature of the sentence that has been decreed by the court. 

The Pakistan Penal Code prohibits the punishment of those suffering from mental illness. Pakistan is also a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Medical experts around the world are unanimously of the view that paranoid schizophrenia is a very serious mental disorder. Yet, despite all of this, the Supreme Court has defied Pakistan's laws, its international obligations, and conventional wisdom by simply deciding that because the disease can be treated and managed, it does not somehow qualify as the type of disorder that could impede an execution. 

In order to arrive at this this determination, the court relied on definitions of schizophrenia provided in 2 English dictionaries, as well as a precedent from an Indian court case from 1988. The real irony of this is that even on these flimsy grounds (note the absence of reference to contemporary medical opinion) there is little substantive content that supports the Supreme Court's conclusions. Instead, the judges have simply changed the meaning of paranoid schizophrenia by definitional fiat. 

Condemnation of the Supreme Court's decision has been unsurprising and widespread. Yet, even as lawyers, doctors, and human rights groups continue to raise questions about the flaws in judicial process and reasoning that have brought Imdad Ali to the brink of execution, significant sections of the Pakistani populace have welcomed the decision. 

Once again, the medieval logic of an eye-for-an-eye has intruded upon the debate, with an army of armchair analysts and keyboard warriors frothily baying for blood; if someone is guilty of murder, they should be killed. It does not matter if they did not know what they were doing or lacked the mental faculties to understand the consequences of their actions; there is no room for empathy, compassion, or understanding in the justice system. 

The problems with this argument are numerous. Those who simply demand blood and vengeance every time a crime is perpetrated seem to give very little thought to the purpose of punishment itself. Is the whole point to wreak terrible retribution upon the perpetrators of crimes, is it to prevent further crimes, or is it to offer the chance for rehabilitation and reform? Can it truly be argued that depriving someone of their liberty for decades is less severe a punishment than execution? Can a purely retributive and reciprocal principle of justice even be implemented in a just and meaningful way, particularly in a context like Pakistan, where weak law enforcement and judicial institutions preclude the possibility of foolproof investigations and trials? Does the state even have the right to take lives in this fashion, given the well-established fact that innocents are sometimes executed for crimes they did not commit? Most importantly of all, in the context of Imdad Ali, what possible purpose is being served by killing a man who does not even understand what is going on around him? 

Capital punishment does not work. Evidence from around the world has shown this time and again. It does not deter crime, it is prone to abuse and severe miscarriages of justice, and it is often entirely disproportionate to the gravity of the offence committed. Yet, it continues to be championed as a panacea for all kinds of social ills in Pakistan. 

After a welcome moratorium on the death penalty that lasted for the better part of a decade, 425 people have been executed in Pakistan since 2014. This number includes people who were children when they were convicted of the crimes they allegedly committed, as well as others suffering from severe physical disabilities. The execution of these people (with thousands more death row prisoners slated to die in the years to come) has been justified in the name of national security, with the desire to punish terrorists serving as a basis upon which to reintroduce this form of punishment. How people accused of murder and other non-terror related offences can be executed on that basis is something that has yet to be clarified by the government and the courts. 

However, it is here that it becomes possible to see that the execution of people like Imdad Ali has nothing to do with justice, and everything to do with keeping up appearances. He must die, not because of adherence to some abstract principle of justice, but because the powers-that-be have decreed that capital punishment is a necessary tool in the fight against terrorism. 

To spare a life under these circumstances, no matter how legitimate the reason might be, would be to undermine the legitimacy of the whole exercise. To cast doubt on the rightness and justness of the state's right to execute people would be to potentially open the floodgates to further questioning about the utility and legitimacy of the death penalty. 

We live in a country where a video of a female reporter being assaulted by a security official in Karachi is welcomed with a chorus of cries lauding the latter for putting the woman in her place, and where religious minorities are routinely persecuted by mobs egged on by the calls emanating from the loudspeakers of their mosques. We as a society have come to revel in brutality, and the bloodlust that demands satiation through the execution of Imdad Ali has absolutely nothing to do with justice. 

Source: The Nation, Hassan Javid, October 23, 2016. Mr. Javid is an assistant professor of political science at LUMS.

Justice can't be blind

The facts are not in dispute in the case of 50-year-old Imdad Ali. He killed a cleric in 2001 and was sentenced to death for the murder but he was also certified as suffering from schizophrenia by government doctors. Since Imdad's condition means he cannot understand both his crime and the punishment handed out to him, he should not be awarded the death penalty. But a 3-member bench of the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Anwer Zaheer Jamali, rejected his appeal using the reasoning that schizophrenia is not a permanent condition and so does not fall within the definition of mental disorders. This is, to put it very mildly, an unenlightened view of mental illnesses. The Supreme Court relied on dictionary definitions of schizophrenia and a 1988 judgement by the Indian Supreme Court. Our understanding of mental disorders has progressed greatly in the last 30 years so that case was perhaps not the best precedent and it would have been better to rely on expert definitions rather than consulting a dictionary. The US National Institute of Mental Health calls schizophrenia a "chronic and severe mental disorder" and says "people with schizophrenia may seem like they have lost touch with reality." Since Imdad's schizophrenia is not in dispute, under this professional definition he should not be given a death sentence.

Pakistan's justice system has struggled to keep up with the times. When much of the world has made use of DNA testing to bring a greater degree of certainty in the guilt of accused criminals, we have been arguing about its merits. It was only in April of this year that Pakistan set up its 1st DNA testing lab. We have now shown ourselves to be similarly archaic in our understanding of mental disorders. It should be the duty of the state and the courts to provide defendants with every possible chance to prove their innocence, especially when the state has the power to take their lives. But, since the reintroduction of the death penalty, capital punishment has been handed out hastily and we are now seeing the consequences of that. Earlier this month, 2 brothers Ghulam Sarwar and Ghulam Qadri were successful in appealing their death sentences to the Supreme Court. The only problem was that they had already been hanged in Rahimyar Khan a year ago. How they were given the death penalty when all their appeals were yet to be exhausted will have to be explained and those who carried out the sentence made to face the consequences for what is essentially murder. Such cases do not get the attention they deserve because those given the death penalty are overwhelmingly poor and without the resources to properly fight their cases. They languish in jail for years - 15 in the case of Imdad - as the courts are too slow in taking up their appeals. That people who should not be imprisoned in the first place have to wait that long for verdicts is a denial of their rights to begin with. That they are then still executed only compounds the offence, turning it into a crime. Imdad, Ghulam Sarwar, Ghulam Qadri and many others like them deserve better from the justice system.

Source: Editorial, The News, October 23, 2016

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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Execution of Saudi prince brings praise for the monarchy

Public execution of a Burmese woman in Saudi Arabia (file photo)
Public execution of a Burmese woman in Saudi Arabia (file photo)
Saudi Arabia's rulers are not as popular as they used to be in the kingdom. With low global oil prices, officials have been forced to cut spending dramatically in a nation where most people depend on the government for salaries, education and other forms of welfare.

But the rare execution of a Saudi royal last week appears to have helped resurrect the monarchy's popularity - at least according to the reaction on social media. 

Prince Turki bin Saud al-Kabir, who was found guilty of shooting to death a Saudi citizen during a brawl, was executed last Tuesday as per a royal order by King Salman. He became the 1st member of Saudi royalty to be executed in the kingdom since 1975. 

That drove Saudis to launch a hashtag in Arabic on Twitter that roughly translates to "decisive Salman orders retribution for a prince," a reference to Saudi Arabia's deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. For days now, the hashtag has been trending in Saudi Arabia, with tweets sent by citizens, officials and royal family members praising the king for his "integrity." 

One video shows King Salman telling officials that "any citizen can sue the royal family and seek justice." The video has gone viral in the kingdom. 

Some on social media described the execution as "evidence of the justice which sharia law affirms," referring to the conservative Islamic codes that govern Saudi Arabia and other Muslim nations. Others said the ruling demonstrated "the king's integrity in treating all citizens equally" and that "nobody is above the law." 

Saudi courts have brought other royal family members, estimated to number a few thousand, to justice. In 1975, a prince who assassinated his uncle, King Faisal, was beheaded. 2 years later, a princess was executed for adultery. 

But other royals were pardoned at the last minute by victims' families. This time, though, the victim's family turned down an offer of "blood money," reportedly in the millions of dollars to pardon the prince. Then, both the kingdom's appeals court and the Supreme Court affirmed the death penalty. 

At a time when the monarch is implementing unprecedented austerity measures, even royal families welcomed the execution as decisive and fair. 

"This is the law of God Almighty, and this is the approach of our blessed nation," wrote Khalid al-Saud, a royal family member, according to Reuters. 

Another Saudi royal member, billionaire businessman Al Walid Bin Talal, recited a Koranic verse: "there is life for you in retaliation." 

Details of the prince's last hours were revealed on social media, another rare development for the conservative, often secretive kingdom. 

Mohammed al-Masloukhi, the Imam of Al Safa mosque, who was present while the victim's family was being offered the "blood money," described the prince's "heartbreaking last moments with his family members" who visited him for one last time in prison. 

Al-Masloukhi said the convicted prince then prayed, reciting Koranic verses until sunrise. He was executed 4 1/2 hours later. 

The execution, tweeted al-Masloukhi, was carried out in presence of the prince's father, who "broke down in tears" while the victim's father watched with "a fixed expression on his face." 

Source: Washington Post, October 23, 2016

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Iran: 14 Executed on Drug Charges at Ghezel Hesar Prison

Iran Human Rights (October 19 2016): 14 prisoners were reportedly executed today on drug charges at Karaj's Ghezel Hesar Prison (Alborz province, northern Iran).

According to close sources, Iranian authorities hanged 14 prisoners at Ghezel Hesar Prison on the morning of Wednesday October 18. 

The prisoners were reportedly transferred to solitary confinement on Monday in preparation for their executions. 

According to close sources, some of the prisoners were transferred to Ghezel Hesar from Karaj and Fashavieh (Tehran) prisons. 

The names of the prisoners who were executed have been reported as the following: 

From unit 2, hall 2 and 3 of Ghezel Hesar Prison: Abbas Karami (charged with 40 kilograms of narcotics, was imprisoned for five years before he was executed), Hamid Saber, Hamid Babaie (was imprisoned for nine years before he was executed), Hamid (Amir) Nazari (charged with 25 kilograms of heroin, was imprisoned for eight years before he was executed, Peyman Sabalani (was imprisoned for nine years before he was executed), Ganjali Chekezadeh (charged with two kilograms of crack, was imprisoned for ten years before he was executed), Reza Sabzi, and Khodamali Pirzadeh. 

From Fashavieh Prison (Tehran): Khashiar Ahani and Mehdi Geravand. Karaj Central Prison: Saeed Zakaria and Morteza Amini, both from hall 2, Shahin Akbari, from hall 5, and Ali Akbari Reigi, from hall 4. 

These executions have not been announced or confirmed by Iranian official sources, including the Judiciary or the media. 

The 14 prisoners were executed at a time when the death penalty for drug-related charges is under review in the Iranian Judiciary.

Source: Iran Human Rights, October 19, 2016

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'We might abolish the death penalty in 20 years': He Jiahong on justice in China

Chinese lawyer and crime fiction writer Prof He Jiahong
Chinese lawyer and crime fiction writer Prof He Jiahong
Born into China's cultural revolution, He Jiahong spent years working in the fields before studying law to win over his girlfriend's parents. Now he is a leading authority on miscarriages of justice, and a writer of hit detective novels to boot. 

The undead take on a central role in Prof He Jiahong's extraordinary narratives of courtroom incompetence. They haunt the commanding certainties of the trial process and the execution yard. 

But He is not a connoisseur of Halloween magic. As China's leading authority on miscarriages of justice and the author of a series of detective novels, the 63-year-old former prosecutor and acclaimed academic has exposed heart-stopping flaws in judicial procedures. 

His meticulous and engaging research exposed the infamous case of Teng Xingshan, who was executed in 1989 for murdering his mistress. 6 years later Teng's supposed victim, Shi Xiaorong, was discovered to be alive. 

In another case documented in He's latest book, Back from the Dead, She Xianglin was convicted of murdering his wife and imprisoned. 11 years later, she reappeared in her native village, astonishing her family. In both cases, the verdicts were belatedly overturned. 

At a time when nationalism is on the rise, He's critique of a justice system on the opposite side of the world might seem like an esoteric diversion. But his ability to develop universal criminal justice lessons from forced confessions, the pressure of public opinion and misinterpretation of scientific evidence have chilling echoes in a country that jailed the Birmingham 6 and the Guildford 4. 

Only this year, the UK's supreme court ruled that for the past 30 years British judges have been misconstruing crucial aspects of the joint enterprise guidelines, which may yet lead to scores, if not hundreds, of cases being reassessed and possibly retried. 

Britain and China's judiciaries, if not on the road to convergence, are sharing more and more legal experience through exchange visits and lectures. In May, Lord Neuberger, president of the UK's supreme court, led a judicial delegation to Beijing. Prof He is an adviser to China's supreme court and director of the Centre for Common Law in Beijing, which works in co-operation with the Great Britain-China Centre and the University of Oxford's Faculty of Law. 

In London this month to launch his book, He cuts a dapper figure in a neat blue suit, buttoned up at the neck. His English is crisp and fluent; his personal odyssey from agricultural labourer to pre-eminent legal scholar verges on the fantastical. 

He was born in Beijing in 1953. During the cultural revolution he was sent to work on a farm. "I believed in communism," he recalls. After a few years, though, he began to feel he had been fooled, and started writing a novel to prove he possessed talent. When he completed it, he was allowed to return to the capital, where he worked as a plumber. There he fell in love with a beautiful young woman. "She was a doctor; it was a very good job," he says. Her parents tried to separate them. 

They set up a challenge. "If I could pass a national exam for university ... they would be happy to meet me. I had had only 6 years of education," He recalls. "The examination was very competitive. I prepared for 6 months and passed." 

On enrolment at university, he randomly selected law. "I didn't know [about it]," he admits. "Under the cultural revolution there was no law." 2 years later, after finishing his course in record time, he married his girlfriend. They have been together for 35 years, and have a daughter and a grandson. 

He is an optimist. Accustomed to hard work on the farm, he believes the experience helped him power through academic challenges. "It's not a bad thing for people to have hard lives and frustrations when they are young,' he says. Of the cultural revolution, he is less forgiving: "My 2nd novel [published by Penguin] is entitled Black Holes. The cultural revolution was a black hole. It changed the lives of millions of people." 

The death penalty, real and fictional, has been a recurrent theme in He's work. Eventually, he hopes, its use may cease. Opinion polls conducted in 2002, he says, showed public support for executions running at around 93% of the population. It was considered a natural part of Chinese culture. 

"At the time, I said that we cannot abolish the death penalty. We have to respect public opinion. If you kill somebody then you should be killed. About 10 years later, I changed my mind," he says. "Public opinion can be changed with education. More and more people think that [considering human rights] the death penalty is not a natural role for human beings." 

Around 2005, the Chinese authorities introduced a criminal justice reform known as the "kill fewer, kill carefully" reforms. In 2014, an amendment to the criminal law further reduced the number of offences that carry the death penalty. 

Chinese death-row convicts are marched off to a nearby execution ground
Chinese death-row convicts are marched off to a nearby execution ground.
Support for capital punishment is now around 70-80%, and coming down. He has advocated abolishing it gradually over the next 2 decades. "In fact, we may not abolish the death penalty [straight away]," he suggests. "We might not use it. We would wait and see; if we don't use the death penalty for a number of years, then people in China would be persuaded. Then we may legally abolish the death penalty in 20 years. But it all depends on the situation ... the government is facing the threat of terrorists [militant groups from within the separatist Muslim Uighur ethnic group] and drug trafficking." 

The number of executions is a state secret. Figures are disputed. While as many as 12,000 people might have been killed in 2002, according to the Dui Hua Foundation, a human rights campaign group, the annual total estimated by foreign observers is more than 1,000 deaths. 

"We should not keep secret the numbers ... policy has been changing in the supreme people 's court in China," He says. "We should have stricter scrutiny of death penalties. We have to change the mentality of the decision makers. These wrongful convictions made [the authorities] have second thoughts." 

In 2007, the authorities decided to return to the supreme people's court the power to review any death penalty. It had previously been entrusted to lower courts because there were too many cases for the supreme court to consider. Trafficking in the organs of those who have been executed has also been banned. 

20 years ago, Back from the Dead could not have been published, He admits. "I started studying wrongful convictions in 2005. And at the time people thought it was wrong. It was difficult to have a dialogue openly in conferences at first. 

"Chinese people would say: 'We have some dirty things, but we should not let foreigners know.' That was quite natural. But the leaders of the judiciary have had to accept that we must deal with the problem more openly, and that wrongful convictions can teach us lessons," He says. 

"It is not a matter of viewing police or prosecutors as evil gangs. Mistakes can be genuine errors. The problems have a positive role in provoking judicial reform. I point out the loopholes ... perhaps other countries have better rules, but they still have miscarriages of justice one way or another. It's a challenge for all human societies." 

In terror trials, He points out, there may be greater public demand to convict and to use torture on top of all the other pressures. Beatings were widely misused in the 1980s and 90s. "Now we have rules against torture. You can't say it's very good, but it's better [at preventing] illegally obtained evidence," he says. "And interrogations are videotaped. These things help to prevent torture." 

Earlier campaigns against corruption were handled by the party's committees, which acted outside legal frameworks. "They ought to be restrained by criminal procedure law," He says. Chinese water torture, he points out, was not devised by the Chinese; it is originally from Vietnam. 

He practised as a defence lawyer for several years in the 1980s before transferring to academia. Inspiration for the 1st in his series of 5 detective novels, Hanging Devils, came from his research into miscarriages of justice. It is set on a state farm in a city in the north-east of China. 

The book's protagonist, Hing Jun, is a defence lawyer. "He has to travel up north to solve a wrongful conviction case. I had a problem with how to frame the story at first. In China at the time, defence lawyers had only 7 days to prepare the trial. It would not have been enough time to collect all the evidence. 

"Then we revised our criminal procedure so that defence lawyers would have 2 months to prepare a case [on appeal]. In 2012 we made further progress when the accused were given the right to a lawyer at the 1st investigation. Crime fiction is just a way to tell the story." 

Source: The Guardian, Owen Bowcott, October 22, 2016

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China's 'shocking' sentence: Hebei man who killed village chief after house demolition to be executed

Chinese police officers demonstrate standard execution procedures
Chinese police officers demonstrate standard execution procedures
A Chinese man who killed a village chief who arranged for his house to be demolished will be executed in the coming days. The ruling against 30-year-old Jia Jinglong was delivered to his lawyer on Tuesday.

Jia is from Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei Province in northern China. After his house was demolished in 2013, he killed the chief in February 2015 with a modified nail gun. 

His lawyer Wei Rujiu told US-backed Radio Free Asia that he received the verdict from the Supreme People's Court. It said that Jia's execution would take place within a few days, and that there was no chance of the decision being reversed. 

According to US-backed news Voice of America, Jia was renovating the house in preparation for his wedding but the relationship ended as a result of a forced demolition by village chief He Jianhua. 

The death penalty was approved by the Supreme Court in Henan on August 31, reported RFA. 

William Nee, researcher at Amnesty International, told HKFP that Jia's sentence is seen by many experts as harsh by Chinese legal standards. 

"Given the fact that China currently has the policy of "killing fewer, killing cautiously", this case seems shocking," he wrote in an email. 

He said that the short time period of 7 days between ratifying the sentence and execution is stipulated by law in China. 

"Many scholars have identified this short period as problematic if China were ever to come into compliance with international law on the death penalty, since under international law a person who has been given a death sentence should be given the chance to apply for pardon or have the sentence commuted. But China doesn't have this sort of mechanism," he said. 

Nationalistic tabloid the Global Times reported on Friday that several Chinese law experts had voiced their opposition to the immediate execution order. Zhang Qianfan, a law professor at Peking University, told the tabloid that the affair was also an institutional failure. "Any ordinary person could resort to the same means as Jia when facing unfair treatment," he said. 

'Extremely cruel murder' 

The tabloid cited a copy of the verdict it received as saying that the method of the murder was extremely cruel and caused severe social impact, and that the conviction was appropriate and accurate. 

Wei told RFA that over 200 mainland citizens signed a petition on WeChat requesting that the death penalty be commuted. He said there were 3 reasons for the petition: one was that Jia was himself a victim of ill-treatment from He Jianhua; the 2nd reason was that Jia had turned himself in, and the 3rd reason was that he did not hurt innocent people while committing his crime. If Jia is executed, other desperate people may not consider sparing innocent bystanders, and other criminals may think that turning themselves in is unsafe, said Wei. 

Although no recent reports of the case by mainland media could be found apart from the Global Times report, several posts about Jia's story were uploaded on WeChat by bloggers. 

Nee adds: "the fact that the local newspapers have not reported the death penalty ratification also shows how the authorities sometimes manipulate public opinion about the death penalty by widely publicising the most horrific cases, while staying silent or even censoring news about potentially controversial cases." 

Source: hongkongfp.com, October 22, 2016

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UK Home Office drugs policy may contribute to executions overseas

Hundreds of thousands of pounds of UK funding for international counter-narcotics operations may be contributing to higher numbers of death sentences and executions abroad, international human rights organisation Reprieve has found.

Reprieve has written to the Home Office - the lead department on international drugs policy - to highlight new evidence that UK support for programmes operating in countries including Pakistan and Saudi Arabia may be resulting in the arrest and sentencing to death of vulnerable, exploited individuals.

Britain has provided almost $200,000 in funding to a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) programme, along with training for anti-drugs officers in Pakistan. The UNODC recently highlighted the success of the programme in arresting three individuals following a drugs seizure in Karachi airport in September this year.

The individuals arrested could end up facing execution because Pakistan retains the death penalty for non-violent drugs offences. In the letter to the Home Secretary, Reprieve warns that those arrested under such circumstances “at worst tend to be vulnerable and exploited mules, not ‘kingpins.’”

Reprieve has documented cases in Saudi Arabia where drug ‘mules’ arrested and sentenced to death appear to have themselves been victims of trafficking. The UN Special Rapporteur on Migrant Workers, among other UN experts, has condemned Saudi Arabia’s practices in at least eight cases involving human trafficking victims sentenced to death for drug offences, all of whom still face potentially imminent execution.

Saudi Arabia also participates in the UK-funded UNODC ‘Container Control Programme’ (CCP) responsible for the recent arrests in Pakistan. An October, 2015 report by Reprieve found that those convicted of drug-related offences formed the largest single group of people executed in Saudi Arabia during the preceding year.

Reprieve’s letter warns that “UK funding for counter-narcotics programmes may be not only contributing to the death penalty and other human rights abuses, but even leading to the arrest and execution of some of the very exploited people it is seeking to protect.”

Reprieve is urging the Government to be more transparent by publishing a full list of all such support along with any human rights risk assessments that may have been undertaken.

Source: Reprieve, October 23, 2016

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