Death Penalty

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Singapore Death Row Drug Defendants Can Now Seek Review

Drug traffickers and other death row inmates in Singapore can now seek review of their death sentences after changes to the island city-state's mandatory death sentence went into effect with the new year, the anti-death penalty group Hands Off Cain reported. Some 32 people whose appeals had already ended sit on death row there; it is unclear how many are drug traffickers.

the gallows (wikimedia.org)
Last month, amendments to the Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code, and Misuse of Drugs Act were approved that allow death row prisoners to introduce new evidence to show that their cases satisfy the conditions for a life sentence instead of death.

Before that, murder and drug trafficking above certain amounts garnered mandatory death sentences. Now, drug trafficking convicts who were only couriers and who cooperated substantially with authorities can seek review of their death sentences, as can people convicted of murder, unless that killing was the equivalent of first-degree murder in the US.

Under Singapore law, people sentenced to life in prison can seek review of their sentences after serving 20 years.

According to Harm Reduction International's Death Penalty Project, Singapore is one of a group of six "high application states," or countries that both have the death penalty on the books for drug offenses and actually impose it. The others are China, Iran, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam.

Singapore
Singapore

Singapore Eases Death Penalty in Some Drug Cases

The parliament of Singapore has approved legislation abolishing mandatory death sentences in some drug trafficking cases. The action came last Wednesday, according to a press release from the Singapore Attorney-General's Chambers.

Singapore skyline (wikitravel.org)
Under the reform, judges will be able to commute some death sentences to sentences of life in prison. Before, judges were forced to impose the death penalty on persons trafficking drugs above certain specified quantities.

The reform will allow judges to avoid imposing the death penalty only if specified conditions are met. Those conditions are if the defendant was no more than a drug courier and prosecutors certify that he "has substantively assisted the Central Narcotics Bureau to disrupt drug trafficking activities within or outside Singapore, or the accused proves that he was suffering from such abnormality of mind that it substantially impaired his mental responsibility for committing the offense."

While human rights groups have called for the abolition of the death penalty in Singapore, the government there has called it a deterrent to serious crime. According to Harm Reduction International's 2010 report, The Death Penalty for Drug Offenses, Singapore is one of the states with a "high commitment" to the death penalty for drug offenses, meaning not only does it have the death penalty on the books, but it uses it. Other countries with a "high commitment" to the death penalty for drug offenses are China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Vietnam.

The Attorney-General's Chamber, which oversees all criminal prosecutions in the East Asian city-state, said that 34 people are currently on death row for either murder or drug offenses, although it didn't specify how many were from which category. All of those on death row can now appeal their sentences, the prosecutor's office said.

Singapore
Singapore

Singapore to Relax Death Penalty for Some Drug Traffickers

Singapore, once famously called "Disneyland with the death penalty" by author William Gibson, will move to relax the imposition of mandatory death sentences for drug traffickers.  The wealthy Southeast Asian city-state's deputy prime minister said Monday the government will produce a draft law by year's end that will give judges more discretion in some drug trafficking and murder cases, Reuters reported.

Singapore (wikimedia.org)
Singapore, which was been ruled by the same party since 1965, is a notoriously crime-averse society that subjects even minor offenders to punishments including caning. It has a zero-tolerance policy toward drugs. Amnesty International and other human rights groups estimate it has hanged hundreds of people, including dozens of foreigners, for drug offenses since 1990. 

Singapore has a mandatory death sentence for anyone found guilty of importing, exporting or trafficking in more than 500 grams of cannabis, 200 grams of cannabis resin or more than 1,000 grams of cannabis mixture; trafficking in more than 30 grams of cocaine; trafficking in more than 15 grams of heroin; and trafficking in excess of 250 grams of methamphetamine The mandatory death penalty for drugs was introduced in a 1975 Amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1973 and was subsequently broadened.

But given the evolution of "our society's norms and expectations," the government will introduce the reforms, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean told parliament. "While there is a broad acceptance that we should be tough on drugs and crime, there is also increased expectation that where appropriate, more sentencing discretion should be vested in the courts."

But not too much discretion. Escape from the mandatory death penalty would only be available to low-level couriers or those who have mental issues, Teo explained. The drug courier would have to show that he had no other role in supply or distribution.

"We also propose to give the courts the discretion to spare a drug courier from the death penalty if he has a mental disability which substantially impairs his appreciation of the gravity of the act, and instead sentence him to life imprisonment with caning," Teo said.

It's not that the government is going soft, Teo emphasized. "In particular, the mandatory death penalty will continue to apply to all those who manufacture or traffic in drugs -- the kingpins, producers, distributors, retailers - and also those who fund, organize or abet these activities," he said.

In 2010, the International Harm Reduction Association's Death Penalty Project identified Singapore as one of the nations highly committed to the use of the death penalty for drug offenses. Also included in that category are China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, and Malaysia. Another 26 countries, including the US, either actually execute some drug offenders or have laws on the books allowing for their execution.

But Singapore has been slowly shifting. While its customs forms still bluntly warn incoming travelers of "death for drug traffickers," the government has suspended all executions since it began a review last year.

Perhaps those other "highly committed" drug offense death penalty states will take notice.

Singapore
Singapore

Iran Executed Nearly 500 Drug Offenders Last Year

The Norwegian-based human rights group Iran Human Rights (IHR) has presented its annual report on the death penalty in the Islamic Republic and announce that at least 676 people were executed there last year. Of those, 480, or 71%, were executed for drug offenses, IHR said.

public mass execution in Iran, 2008 (ncr-iran.org)
The count of 676 executions was based on information reported by official Iranian news, other independent sources, or high-ranking officials in the Iranian judiciary. IHR said that the actual number of executions is "probably much higher" than that figure.

Of the 676 executions tallied by IHR, only 416, or 62%, were reported by official media or high-ranking officials. The group said some executions are not announced by state media, but lawyers and family members were notified prior to the execution. In other cases of "secret" executions, not even family and lawyers are notified. IHR left more than 70 additional reported executions off its tally because of difficulty in confirming details.

Drug offenses were far and away the most common death penalty charges. More than five times as many people were hung for drug crimes as for rape (13%) and more than 10 times as many as for murder (7%). Some 4% were executed for being "enemies of God," 1% for acts against chastity, and in 3% of the cases, no charge was made public.

Situated next door to Afghanistan, supplier of nearly 90% of the world's illicit opium and heroin, Iran has been waging a fierce "war on drugs" against smugglers and traffickers transiting the country on the way to European markets. But much of that opium and heroin is destined for Iran itself, which suffers one of the world's highest opiate addiction rates.

While China, the world's leading executioner state, may execute more drug offenders -- the numbers are hard to come by because China doesn't report them -- Iran leads the world in executions per capita, both for drug offenses and all offenses combined.

Last year, IHR helped launch the International Campaign Against the Death Penalty in Iran. More broadly, Harm Reduction International has an ongoing Death Penalty Project aimed at the 32 countries that have laws on the books allowing the death penalty for drug offenses. Opponents of the death penalty for drug offenses argue that such statutes violate UN human rights laws, which say the death penalty can be applied only for "the most serious crimes."

Iran

Amnesty International Condemns Iran Drug Executions

Amnesty International has called on Iran to stop executing people for drug offenses, saying the Islamic Republic has embarked on "a killing spree of staggering proportions."

Afghan police guard the Iranian Embassy during January 2011 protests against Iranian executions of Afghans (wikimedia.org
In a new report, Addicted to Death: Executions for Drug Offenses in Iran, the London-based human rights group said "at least 488 people have been executed for alleged drug offenses so far in 2011, a nearly threefold increase on the 2009 figures, when Amnesty International recorded at least 166 executions for similar offenses."

Bordering Afghanistan and its bountiful opium poppy crop, Iran is burdened with one of the world's highest rates of opiate addiction and drug-related deaths. It is also a key transshipment point for Afghan opium and heroin bound for European markets.

"To try to contain their immense drug problem, the Iranian authorities have carried out a killing spree of staggering proportions, when there is no evidence that execution prevents drug smuggling any more effectively than imprisonment," said Amnesty's Interim Middle East and North Africa deputy director, Ann Harrison. "Drug offenses go much of the way to accounting for the steep rise in executions we have seen in the last 18 months," Harrison said.

Amnesty said it began to receive credible reports of a new wave of drug executions in the middle of 2010, including reports of mass executions at Vakilabad Prison in Mashhad, with one, on August 4, 2010, involving at least 89 people. While Iran officially acknowledged 253 executions in 2010, of which 172 were for drug offenses, Amnesty said it has credible reports of another 300 executions, "the vast majority believed to be for drug-related offenses."

"Ultimately, Iran must abolish the death penalty for all crimes, but stopping the practice of executing drug offenders, which violates international law, would as a first step cut the overall number significantly," said Harrison.

Iran maintains that the death penalty is critical for maintaining law and order and that it is applied only after scrupulous legal proceedings. But Amnesty said it had received credible reports of executions without trial, of confessions achieved by torture, and of failure to notify families -- or even inmates -- of impending execution. It said those executed tended to be poor or from minority groups or outside the country, and that some 4,000 Afghans were on death row for drug offenses.

Iran receives significant international support in its war on drugs. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime has provided $22 million since 2005 to support training for Iranian anti-drug forces, while the European Union is providing $12.3 million for an Iran-based project to strengthen regional anti-drug cooperation. Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, and Japan have all provided anti-drug assistance to Iran via UNODC programs.

The UNODC technical assistance program is supposed to include work to promote reforming the Iranian justice system to bring it in line with international standards. But when he visited Iran in July, UNODC executive director Yury Fedetov didn't mention the rising number of executions as he praised Iran's anti-drug efforts.

"All countries and international organizations helping the Iranian authorities arrest more people for alleged drugs offenses need to take a long hard look at the potential impact of that assistance and what they could do to stop this surge of executions," said Harrison. "They cannot simply look the other way while hundreds of impoverished people are killed each year without fair trials, many only learning their fates a few hours before their deaths."

Iran

India Court Nixes Mandatory Death Penalty for Drug Offenses

In a decision handed down last Thursday, the Bombay High Court struck down the mandatory death penalty for some drug offenses as unconstitutional. It becomes the first court anywhere in the world to do so, according to the Indian Harm Reduction Network (IHRN), which petitioned the court for the ruling.

The Bombay High Court in Mumbai (Image via Wikimedia.org)
The Bombay High Court is one of 22 regional high courts and has jurisdiction over the states of Maharashtra and Goa. It the equivalent of a US federal court of appeals.

Section 31A of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act imposed a mandatory death sentence for a second offense of drug trafficking or possession of more than a specified amount of drugs. Now, courts in Maharastra and Goa can still impose the death penalty for those drug offenses, but they are not required to.

The decision came in the case of Ghulam Mohammed Malik, a Kashmiri man sentenced to death by the Special NDPS Court in Mumbai in February. He had been convicted of a second offense of smuggling charas (cannabis resin).

THE IHRN intervened in the case, arguing that the mandatory death sentence did not allow the court to take into consideration individual circumstances or mitigating factors. The IHRN told the high court the mandatory death penalty was arbitrary, excessive and disproportionate to the crime of dealing in drugs.

"The order marks an important advance in drug policy and anti-death penalty campaigns," said Anand Grover, director of the Lawyers Collective, who argued the case for IHRN. "We will examine the decision fully to assess whether striking down the death penalty, as was done by the Supreme Court for Section 303 of the Indian Penal Code, would have been more appropriate."

Across the world, 32 countries impose capital punishment for offenses involving narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. Of these, 13 countries (including India until today) prescribe mandatory death sentences for drug crimes. In countries like Iran and China that actually carry out executions, drug offenders constitute the vast majority of those executed. In May last year, the Court of Appeal in Singapore upheld the mandatory death sentence imposed upon a young Malaysian for possession of heroin.

"This is a positive development, which signals that courts have also started to recognize principles of harm reduction and human rights in relation to drugs. It is not utopia, but it is a giant step," said IHRN head Luke Samson.

"The Court has upheld at the domestic level what has been emphasized for years by international human rights bodies -- capital drug laws that take away judicial discretion are a violation of the rule of law," said Rick Lines, executive director of Harm Reduction International (formerly the International Harm Reduction Association) and author of The Death Penalty for Drug Offenses: A Violation of International Human Rights Law"India's justice system has affirmed that it is entirely unacceptable for such a penalty to be mandatory. This will set a positive precedent for judicial authorities in the region, which is rife with draconian drug laws."

For more information about the resort to the death penalty for drug offenses and efforts to combat it, visit Harm Reduction International's Death Penalty Project.

Mumbai
India

Iran to Hang 300 for Drug Trafficking

Three hundred people convicted of drug trafficking offenses are on death row in Iran, the Islamic Republic's judiciary said Monday. According to the anti-death penalty group Hands Off Cain, at least 126 people have already been hanged for drug offenses so far this year.

The hangman has been -- and will be -- getting a real work out in Iran. (Image via Wikimedia.org)
"For 300 drug-related convicts, including those who were in possession of at least 30 grams of heroin, execution verdicts have been issued," said Tehran prosecutor-general Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, according to a Reuters report.

An annual British report on human rights put the number executed in Iran last year at more than 650, up from 388 in 2009. Of last year's executions, a whopping 590 were for drug trafficking, according to that report.

Members of the Iranian government have confirmed that drug executions make up a huge part of all executions, but added that if the West was unhappy with the killings, Iran could simply quit enforcing its drug laws.

"The number of executions in Iran is high because 74% of those executed are traffickers in large quantities of opium from Afghanistan bound for European markets," said Mohammad Javad Larijani, head of Iran's Supreme Council for Human Rights, during a press conference in May.

That press conference came after a meeting with representatives of South Africa, which had criticized Iran's quick resort to the death penalty.

"There is an easy way for Iran and that is to close our eyes so drug traffickers can just pass through Iran to anywhere they want to go," he said."The number of executions in Iran would drop 74%. That would be very good for our reputation."

[Editor's note: That's actually not the worst idea.]

For information on ongoing efforts to curtail the use of the death penalty for drug offenses, visit the International Harm Reduction Association's Death Penalty Project.

Iran

Iran Declares War on Meth

Already faced with one of the world's highest levels of opiate use, Iran is now confronting a new drug: methamphetamine. The Islamic Republic has responded with intensified law enforcement efforts and, last month, amended its drug law so that for the first time it now imposes harsh penalties for possessing, manufacturing, or trafficking synthetic drugs, including meth and other amphetamines.

Iran display, UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, Vienna 2008
Under the amended Dangerous Drug Act, people caught with more than fifty grams (less than two ounces) of synthetic drugs could face a death sentence if convicted. Iran already imposes the death penalty for people caught in possession of more than five kilograms of opium or 30 grams of heroin.

For the synthetics, however, it will take a second conviction to merit a sentence of either life in prison or death by hanging. First offenders will be fined and jailed.

Iran is already one of the world's most prolific drug offender executioners. Dozens go the gallows for drug offenses each year, and this year, Iran is on an especially blistering pace. At least 56 people were executed for drug offenses in January alone.

Iranian police have not been waiting for the new law to crack down. In a statement to media late last month, anti-drug police said they had seized 129 meth labs and 1,151 kilos of meth since March. Hamid Rez Hossein-Abadi, the head of the anti-drug police, added that more than 20,000 people had been arrested for meth offenses in the same time period.

Most recently, authorities in Iran and Malaysia busted a trafficking ring that smuggled meth from labs in Malaysia to Iran. Malaysian authorities reported that they had busted more Iranian meth traffickers last month than in all of last year.

Iran

American Facing Death Penalty in Egypt for Hemp Oil [FEATURE]

A US citizen jailed as a drug trafficker in Egypt in December after importing a shipment of non-drug hemp oil there was freed from jail late last month when mobs of protestors overran prisons across Cairo, but remains in legal limbo. Mostafa Soliman, who operates a company called Health Harvest, has so far been refused a new passport by the US Embassy in Cairo, which means he cannot leave the country. He faces a possible death penalty if convicted of drug trafficking.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/mostafa-soliman.jpg
Mostafa Soliman
According to the Death Penalty Project of the International Harm Reduction Association, Egypt is one of 32 countries that have laws mandating the death penalty for some drug offenses on the books. While Egypt is not among the leading drug offender executioner countries, such as Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Singapore, and Malaysia, drug offenders do get executed there, the first one in 1989.

Soliman, 62, was born in Egypt and has retained Egyptian citizenship, but the dual citizen has resided in the US for the past 40 years. He had returned to Egypt to oversee the arrival of the hemp oil shipment.

When the shipment of bottled hemp oil arrived at Egyptian customs in December, authorities translated "hemp oil" as "hash oil," and that's when Soliman's life took a Kafkaesque turn. (Arabic does not have a distinct word for "hemp": any concoction from the cannabis plant, whether high THC or low THC, is simply called cannabis.

"Even the Egyptian drug enforcement people told me they knew it wasn't hash oil," Soliman said by phone from Cairo Friday night. "But they said they had to follow procedure."

That procedure resulted in a December 30 raid by drug enforcers on Soliman's storage facility and Soliman's arrest on drug trafficking charges. He was jailed pending trial, first at a neighborhood police station, and then, after the local police commander grew irritated by consular visits, transferred to one of Cairo's maximum security prisons.

"I was in an eight by eight cell that held as many as 30 people," said Soliman. "There were killers waiting to be hanged, thieves, rapists. That really upset me."

[
http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/tahrir-square.jpg
protests in Tahrir Square
]After Soliman had spent several weeks in prison, his Egyptian attorney managed to arrange bail, which would have allowed him to legally leave prison pending trial. But in a bizarre twist of fate, before he could be released, the current protests exploded in Cairo, and the city's prisons were besieged by mobs of uncertain provenance determined to free the prisoners. The prison guards fled the assault even as the prison caught on fire, leaving prisoners locked in their cells.

"I hid under the window," when the prison came under attack, Soliman said. "I was afraid of the Molotov Cocktails. Then the protestors came and broke the locks on the cells and freed us. It was all planned out. They knew all the military was being moved to the square for the protests and there would be little security at the prisons."

Soliman said he thought the Moslem Brotherhood was behind the attacks on the prisons, but like much else in the current crisis, the truth about that is obscure.

After fleeing the prison, Soliman went into hiding in Cairo, and contacted the US Embassy for help. He sought help in translating research reports on hemp and on obtaining a new passport -- Egyptian authorities had seized his, which meant he was effectively unable to leave the country.

But not much help was forthcoming, said both Soliman and members of the Hemp Industries Association (HIA) and Vote Hemp, leading industry advocacy groups in the US that have taken up Soliman's cause.

"I face a death penalty for selling drugs," Soliman said. "I was hoping for the embassy to help me translate some analyses and reports from the States to help me prove my case, but they don't want to do anything. I did it myself, and spent $3,000 to get it done."

organic hemp seed oil label, from Soliman's company, Health Harvest
Nor would the embassy issue him a new passport. "I went to the embassy and a representative came out and said he would try to help me," recalled Soliman. "After I waited outside for three hours, he came back out and said a photo would expedite the process. I came back with the photo the next day, and he took it and again I waited outside for two hours. Then he came out and said he could not help me," he said.


"I don't know what's going on with these people; the embassy has not been very helpful at all. They're not cooperating," he said.

"The US Embassy has not treated this US citizen with any respect," said Vote Hemp spokesman Adam Eidinger. "Our attorneys sent them a letter, and they acknowledged receipt of it and said they are looking into it, but the embassy has not been sympathetic."

Vote Hemp and the HIA launched an action alert Friday afternoon in a bid to raise the profile of the case. The alert calls on people to write Secretary of State Clinton and urge her to ensure that Soliman is issued a new passport.

"We hope the action alert will generate thousands of letters to the secretary of state," said Eidinger. "We want them to take up his cause and give him a passport. Right now, he's in legal limbo. If he goes to the airport in Cairo, he will be arrested. The only reason we can tell they won't give him a passport is these drug charges. This man's life is on the line. If he's convicted, they could kill him. Egypt does have the death penalty for drug smuggling," he emphasized.

Soliman's arrest and the US Embassy's failure to assist have aroused the ire of others in the US hemp industry. "The Egyptian authorities are just following the lead of their DEA counterparts in this ridiculous conflation of healthy, nutritious, non-drug hemp seed oil with the drug marijuana," said David Bronner, head of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps and a major player in the US hemp industry. "It's even more ridiculous when you consider that they are accusing someone of smuggling hash into Egypt in a hemp bottle. That is so clearly absurd."

"This is a tragic mistake that could be solved with a simple drug test. Mr. Soliman is being falsely accused of importing ‘hash oil’ when in fact it was healthy hemp food," said HIA executive director Eric Steenstra. "Our campaign to free Mostafa Soliman will hopefully jump-start action at the US State Department. We recognize that the unrest in Egypt will make it more difficult for US authorities to act, but this terrible mistake by Egyptian authorities was made well before the recent protests began and in many ways symbolizes the corruption the protestors are resisting," he added.

Until something happens, Soliman is stuck in Cairo and facing the dire prospect of being tried as a drug trafficker for importing a healthy food product. He said he hoped to be able to clear matters up, but that the ongoing political turmoil made his prospects unclear.

"If this situation gets worse, I'm not going to stick around," he said. "If it clears up, then maybe my attorney can clear up my legal situation. But I still need a passport."

Cairo
Egypt

Egypt Hates Hemp - Man Could Get Death for Importing Hemp Seed Oil (Press Release)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 4, 2011

CONTACT: Adam Eidinger 202-744-2671 or adam@mintwood.com

American Health Food Exporter Speaks Out About Month Long Ordeal in Egyptian Jail for Importing Nutritious Hemp Food
Hemp Industry Asks US Department of State to Help Innocent Man in Limbo

WASHINGTON, DC –
The Hemp Industries Association (HIA), the nation’s leading trade organization working to promote non-drug industrial hemp, learned last week of the plight of Mostafa Soliman, an America citizen who has lived in the U.S. for 40 years and was wrongly imprisoned by Egyptian authorities on December 30, 2010 for importing organic hemp seed oil used in salads, and other healthy recipes.    If convicted, he is potentially facing death by hanging.

After almost a month in jail, Mr. Soliman was finally granted bail as protests raged across Egypt.  Just as he was about to be released on January 28th, his jail  was attacked by protesters and set on fire.  Guards and police fled leaving the prisoners to die in the burning jail, many of whom were crammed in 8 by 8 foot cells with as many as 30 people.  Eventually the protesters entered the jail and smashed the locks on the prisoner’s cells amidst smoke and tear gas, releasing Mr. Soliman and others in a scene that can only be described as dangerously chaotic.

Over the next few days Mr. Soliman along with attorneys in the U.S. working with the HIA asked the U.S. Embassy in Cairo to help reissue Mr. Soliman a passport so he can return to the U.S.  However, the embassy has refused to issue the new passport so far for no apparent reason except that he is facing unfounded drug charges in Egypt.

The Egyptian born Mr. Soliman, 62, is owner of Health Harvest, the company which exported the hemp seed oil from Canada and operates in Egypt.  He lives in Aventura, Florida, but was spending time in Egypt to manage the arrival of products that he exports from the U.S. and Canada.

“This is a tragic mistake that could be solved with a simple drug test.  Mr. Soliman is being falsely accused of importing ‘hash oil’ when  in fact it was healthy hemp food,” says Eric Steenstra, Executive Director of the HIA.  “The HIA and Votehemp.com are launching a campaign to free Mostafa Soliman that will hopefully jump-start action at the U.S. State Department.  We recognize that the unrest in Egypt will make it more difficult for U.S. authorities to act, but this terrible mistake by Egyptian authorities was made well before the recent protests began and in many ways symbolizes the corruption the protestors are resisting,” adds Steenstra.

To arrange interview with Mostafa Soliman via Skype or telephone from his home Cairo, Egypt or spokespeople for the Hemp Industries Association please call Adam Eidinger at 202-744-2671 or email adam@mintwood.com.

###

Location: 
Egypt

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