Death Penalty

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From Draconian Drug Laws to Life Without Parole: Speaking Out Against Harsh Sentencing

With one in 100 American adults behind bars, more and more juries across the country are handing down sentences of life without parole. Now is the time to question what it means for society to turn from state-sanctioned executions to punishments that impose what many prisoners describe as "in-house death sentences." Join the New York chapter of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and artist, writer, and activist *Anthony Papa in a public meeting to discuss prisons, harsh sentencing and why life without parole is cruel and unusual punishment. * Anthony Papa is communications specialist for the Drug Policy Alliance. He is an artist, writer, noted advocate against the war on drugs and co-founder of the Mothers of the New York Disappeared. Mr. Papa's stinging editorials about the drug war have appeared in news sources across the country. He is a frequent public speaker and college lecturer on his art and criminal justice issues. Mr. Papa is the author of 15 to Life: How I Painted My Way to Freedom (2004), a memoir about his experience of being sentenced to state prison for a first-time, nonviolent drug offense under New York's draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws. For more information, see Campaign to End the Death Penalty at www.nodeathpenalty.org.
Date: 
Mon, 06/16/2008 - 7:00pm
Location: 
126th St. between Broadway & Amsterdam
New York, NY
United States

Death Penalty: Malaysia Sentences Two to Hang for Marijuana Trafficking, Iran Executes Nine Drug Sellers

Countries around the world, but particularly in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, continue to resort to the death penalty for drug offenses. This week, we report on more executions in Iran and death sentences for marijuana in Malaysia.

On Tuesday, a Malaysian court sentenced two Thai citizens to death for marijuana trafficking. The two men, Masoh Daloh, 35, and Romuelee Yakoh, 46, were convicted in the Kuala Lumpur High Court of trafficking 75 pounds of pot. They had been arrested in 2002 with 34 kilogram-sized slabs of marijuana in their vehicle. Both men have appealed their sentences.

Malaysia has hanged more than 200 people, mostly its own citizens, for drug trafficking offenses since it imposed the death penalty for them in 1975. It has come under recent criticism from Amnesty International over secrecy surrounding its resort to the death penalty, but the government denies any cover-up and insists the ultimate sanction is a necessary deterrent to criminality.

Meanwhile, Iranian authorities announced May 5 that they had hanged 12 convicted criminals, including nine people convicted of drug offenses, according to the anti-death penalty organization Hands Off Cain. The nine drug offenders were hanged in the northeastern city of Bojnourd, not far from the Afghan border. One of them was hanged in public, the first reported public hanging since Iranian judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Sharoudi ordered an end to the macabre displays without his prior approval in January.

Hands Off Cain Daily eNewsletter - IRAN: 12 CONVICTS HANGED

[Courtesy of Hands Off Cain] In this issue: IRAN. 12 CONVICTS HANGED NORTH CAROLINA (USA). DEATH ROW INMATE WALKS FREE-129TH EXONERATION DRC. FIGHTING TO ESTABLISH THE UNCONSTITUTIONALITY OF THE DEATH PENALTY SAUDI ARABIA. 3 PAKISTANIS EXECUTED FOR HASHISH SMUGGLING IRAN. 12 CONVICTS HANGED Drug traffickers after being executed in Iran May 5, 2008: Iran has hanged 12 convicted criminals, including nine drug traffickers and three rapists, the latest in a growing number of executions in the Islamic republic, reports said. Nine drug traffickers were hanged, one of them in public, in the northeastern city of Bojnourd, Kayhan newspaper reported, without giving the date of the executions. This appears to be the first report of a public execution in Iran since judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi ordered in January that there should be no more public executions without his approval. "One person was hanged in public," said Kayhan, without giving further details. Shahroudi's decree came after a growing number of public executions in Iran, including the hanging of two convicted murderers in the centre of Tehran. It was not clear if he had approved the reported public execution in Bojnourd. Meanwhile, three criminals convicted of kidnapping and raping at least 11 girls were sent to the gallows in the southwestern city of Ahvaz on May 3, the Quds newspaper reported. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- NORTH CAROLINA (USA). DEATH ROW INMATE WALKS FREE-129TH EXONERATION May 2, 2008: The state of North Carolina dropped all charges against Levon Jones, and he was freed after spending 13 years on death row. U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle overturned Jones's conviction two years ago, but he was held in prison awaiting a possible retrial until prosecutors announced that they were dismissing all charges. Judge Boyle criticized Jones's defense attorneys for "constitutionally deficient" performance, noting their failure to research the history and credibility of Lovely Lorden, the prosecution's star witness. The judge noted, "Given the weakness of the prosecution's case and its heavy reliance on the testimony of Lovely Lorden, there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." In April, Jones's new defense team filed an affidavit in which Lorden said, "Much of what I testified to was simply not true." She also stated that a detective coached her on what to say. Additionally, she collected $4,000 from the governor's office for offering the clues that led to the arrest of Jones. Jones's retrial was set to begin May 12th, 2008. Duplin County District Attorney Dewey Hudson decided to ask the judge in the case to drop all charges. Jones was originally convicted of robbing and shooting a bootlegger named Leamon Grady. Levon Jones is the 129th inmate to be exonerated and freed from death row since 1973. He is the 8th such inmate freed from North Carolina, and the 6th person in the country exonerated in the past 12 months. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- DRC. FIGHTING TO ESTABLISH THE UNCONSTITUTIONALITY OF THE DEATH PENALTY Liévin N'Gondji May 1, 2008: ongoing penal code reform in the Democratic Republic of Congo is giving abolitionists the chance to have the death penalty recognised as unconstitutional. The current Democratic Republic of Congo constitution, in place since early 2006, recognises the "right to life" and the "inviolable nature of human beings". A proposition for an article explicitly abolishing the death penalty was rejected by the national parliament during the text's elaboration in 2005. "We have submitted two requests, one to the director of public prosecutions' office and a second to the Ministry of Justice" to formally establish the unconstitutionality of the death penalty, explains Liévin N'Gondji, a lawyer and president of Culture for Peace and Justice (CPJ), member of the World and Congolese Coalitions against the death penalty. Thanks to international aid, the DRC's judicial system is being reformed and donors financing the project have invited CPJ to participate in the joint justice Commission, principally responsible for revising the penal code. N'Gondji estimates that "approximately three quarters of those present were in agreement" with his position on the unconstitutionality of capital punishment. According to N'Gondji, the Commission will make its recommendations to the government by the end of May. The latter should then make a decision quickly. "The next three months will be crucial", he believes. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- SAUDI ARABIA. 3 PAKISTANIS EXECUTED FOR HASHISH SMUGGLING May 1, 2008: Zargar Sadajan, Roajan Sodajar, and Naik Mohammed Malak Mohammed, all Pakistanis, were executed in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, after being convicted of receiving large quantities of hashish. A statement released by the Saudi Interior Ministry confirmed that the men were convicted by the court, and the verdict was approved by the Cassation Court and the Supreme Judicial Council.

Death Penalty: More Executions in Iran and Saudi Arabia, Syrian Activists Criticize Saudis

The resort to the death penalty for drug offenses continued apace in recent days. According to reports compiled by the anti-death penalty organization Hands Off Cain, both Iran and Saudi Arabia were hard at it again. Meanwhile, the Saudis have come under fire from Syrian activists complaining that large numbers of their countrymen have fallen under the executioner's sword in Saudi Arabia.

According to recent reports, Saudi citizen Abdullah al-Qahtani was executed for trafficking in tranquilizers in Riyadh on April 11; two Nigerians caught smuggling cocaine into the kingdom inside their bodies, Mohammed Qaddus Suleyman and Idris Abdel Ghani Mohammed, were beheaded in the western Mecca region on April 13; a Saudi man, Ayyed al-Dousary, was executed for selling drugs in the southwestern city of Abha on April 15; and a Jordanian, Mohammed bin Awadh al-Khalidi, was executed for trafficking in tranquilizers in Al Qarah on April 17. Four days later, Iran got back into the game by hanging four people convicted of drug trafficking in the country's southeast.

Meanwhile Syrian human rights activists said that Saudi Arabia has sentenced at least 30 of their compatriots to death on drug charges and jailed hundreds more. "This arbitrary punishment is based on wild interpretations of the Koran. Trials lacked any modicum of justice," lawyer Mohannad al-Hassani said after meeting Syrian officials to raise the plight of the inmates. The activists expressed concern that the Syrian citizens could be suffering from the political tensions between Syria and Saudi Arabia. "I hope regular citizens do not end up paying the price for bad relations between two Arab countries," Hassani said.

Hundreds of Syrians were in Saudi jails for drug offenses, he said, many of whom had spent years awaiting trial. They are mostly young truck drivers and unskilled workers, he said.

Death Penalty: More Death Sentences in Algeria, Syria, Pakistan, a Reprieve in Vietnam

The resort to the ultimate sanction against drug offenders continues this month, with courts in Algeria, Syria and Pakistan handing down death sentences. But yielding to pressure from the West, the Vietnamese government commuted the death sentence of a British citizen.

In Syria, the anti-death penalty watchdog Hands Off Cain reported, a court sentenced four Syrian nationals, two Turks, and one Lebanese to death April 1 for drug trafficking. Two of the Syrians were arrested in Homs with five kilos of heroin and one of cocaine. The two Turks were convicted of selling prescription pain relievers to the two other Syrians, who in turn were to sell them to the Lebanese man.

Also according to Hands Off Cain, the Criminal Court in Algeria's southern Ghardaia province Tuesday sentenced three men to death for trafficking about 1,300 pounds of marijuana. While the three said they were only couriers who had been hired by another person, the judge said he did not believe them.

Meanwhile, the Pakistan Daily Times reported District and Sessions Judge Iqbal Malik sentenced Awal Khan to death for possessing about 90 pounds of marijuana. To add insult to injury, the judge also sentenced him to pay a 5 million rupee fine. If he fails to pay the fine, he will have to do six months in jail (presumably before he is executed).

There is one bit of good news on the death penalty front this week. Again according to Hands Off Cain, Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet commuted the death sentence of Vietnamese-born British citizen Le Manh Luoung for heroin trafficking to life imprisonment. That announcement came from the British Embassy on April 4. Luong and three other Vietnamese defendants were sentenced to death in 2006 for trafficking 750 pounds of heroin. Lacking powerful Western governments to argue on their behalf, Luoung's accomplices have not been so fortunate. Their death sentences remain pending.

Death Penalty: Hash-Selling, Drunkenness Earn Ultimate Sanction, Two More Beheaded in Saudi Arabia

The resort to the death penalty for drug offenses continued unabated this week and arguably scaled new heights as an Indian court sentenced a man to death for selling hash and an Iranian court handed out the same sentence to a chronic drunk. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia lopped the heads off another pair of drug traffickers.

As reported by the death penalty abolitionist group Hands Off Cain, an Iranian court sentenced a 22-year-old man to death for repeatedly violating the Islamic Republic's ban on drinking alcohol. The man, identified only by his first name, Mohsen, has confessed and expressed remorse, his lawyer told the Iranian state news agency. Under Iran's Sharia law, a person caught drinking four times can face capital punishment, but the resort to the ultimate sanction for drinking is reportedly rare.

Meanwhile, India made a rare appearance among the ranks of the death-dealing countries this week when a Mumbai court meted out a death sentence for selling 20 kilos of hashish. Under Indian law, a second drug trafficking offense can merit the death penalty, but the sentence handed down to Gulam Malik was the first one in the city of Mumbai.

And Saudi Arabia kept up on its bid to be a world leader in drug executions, with the executions in Mecca last week of two people for drug trafficking. Pakistani citizen Ghulam Nawaz was beheaded after being found guilty of trafficking, as was Nigerian woman Tawa Ibrahim. Saudi Arabia follows a strict interpretation of Islamic law that prescribes the death sentence for murder, apostasy, rape, drug trafficking, highway robbery, sabotage and armed robbery.

The resort to the death penalty appears to be a violation of international law. An international campaign to end the practice is getting underway. Read about it here.

Death Penalty: More Drug Executions in Saudi Arabia, More Death Sentences in Vietnam, But a Rare Sign of Leniency in China

In a series of notices published this week, the death penalty abolitionist group Hands Off Cain reported on both bad news and good when it comes to drugs and the death penalty. In two countries that frequently execute drug offenders, there was more of the same, but in another, there was a rare show of leniency.

In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia reported executing two men for "trafficking large amounts of drugs" on January 20. The two, Abdul Rahman Rashid and Qashaan al-Sabiee, were beheaded by swordsmen in the kingdom's Eastern Province. A third man, Mansur Jrad, a Yemeni citizen, was executed two days later in southern Jizan Province for smuggling an unspecified amount of hashish. Saudi Arabia follows a strict interpretation of Islamic sharia law, which provides for the death penalty for murder, apostasy, rape, highway robbery, sabotage and armed robbery, as well as drug trafficking.

In Southeast Asia, Vietnam sentenced three people to death for heroin trafficking on January 25. The Ho Chi Minh City Court imposed the death sentences on Van Toan, 35; Nguyen Thanh Mai, 40; and Nguyen Thuy Ngoc Bang, 25, for their role in a ring that trafficked five kilograms of heroin. Two others were given life sentences, while six remaining ring members got sentences of between 13 and 20 years. This brings to around 50 the number of death sentences announced for drug traffickers in Vietnam since the end of November.

If it was business as usual in Saudi Arabia and Vietnam, China departed from its normal practice on January 22 to pardon two Ugandan women sentenced to death for drug trafficking. The pair, Sarah Basiima and Bonita Nagai, were among 15 Ugandans awaiting execution in China for drug trafficking offenses, but were reportedly spared because of poor health and because one is pregnant and the other is the mother of an infant child. They will be deported, according to reports cited by Hands Off Cain.

The continuing executions of drug offenders by countries around the world has led to the emergence of an international campaign to end the practice. Read more about it here.

Feature: International Campaign to Stop Drug Executions Gearing Up

The notices generally appear as brief blips on the news wires, or perhaps as one-paragraph summaries in the international sections of newspapers: "Iran Hangs Three for Heroin Smuggling," "Vietnam Sentences 12 to Death for Drugs," "Malaysia to Execute Man For Five Pounds of Cannabis." The notices may be brief, but there is a steady drumbeat of them. In just the past week came news that Iran had handed over the body of a Pakistani man executed for drug trafficking and that Malaysia had sentenced a bill collector to death for drug trafficking.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/chinaexecution.jpg
Death sentence is passed against a woman who was immediately executed with three other people on drugs charges. (UN International Anti-Drugs Day, 6/26/03) sina.com.cn via Amnesty International web site)
Despite the steadily rising toll, the use of the death penalty as a tool in the war on drugs rarely receives much attention, let alone sustained analysis. But that could be beginning to change as harm reduction and human rights organizations gear up to put the state-sanctioned killing of drug offenders in the international spotlight. The opening volley in that effort took place last month, when the International Harm Reduction Association released a report on the use of the death penalty for drug offenses that both details the extent of the problem and qualifies it as a violation of international human rights law.

The report, The Death Penalty for Drug Offences: A Violation of International Human Rights Law, authored by IHRA analyst Rick Lines, finds that some 32 countries have drug offense death penalty provisions on their books, mostly in North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. While the death penalty is typically reserved for drug sales, trafficking, or manufacture, that is not always the case, and in some countries, mere possession can warrant a death sentence.

The number of people executed for drug offenses easily runs into the hundreds, perhaps even more, each year. In the last month, Vietnam alone has sentenced more than 40 people to death for drug offenses, while from Iran comes a steady drumbeat of notices from the state news agency that another trafficker or two or three has been hanged. China has been known to hold mass public executions of drug offenders, while in Singapore, dozens of drug offenders face the executioner each year.

Still, the exact number of executions is unknowable. That's because countries either do not provide details on the number of executions or do not provide breakdowns of why people were executed.

"Because some countries -- China, for instance -- do not release details of the number of executions they carry out each year, it is impossible to arrive at an accurate yearly total of drug war executions," said Lines. "While we can't arrive at an accurate number, suffice it to say that in some countries, as detailed in the report, drug offenders constitute a significant percentage of all executions each year, so this is a major issue in some countries."

Those killings violate international human rights law, the report argues. While international law does not ban capital punishment, it does limit it in significant ways. The report notes that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights says the death penalty may be applied only for the "most serious crimes." Both the UN Human Rights Committee and the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions have found that drug offenses do not constitute "most serious crimes," which makes executing drug offenders a violation of international law.

"Capital punishment for drug offences is but one illustration of how human rights have been sacrificed in the name of the 'war on drugs,'" said Professor Gerry Stimson, the IHRA's executive director. "Unfortunately, the death penalty is not the only example of such abuses worldwide. Repressive law enforcement practices, the denial of health services to drug users and the spread of HIV infection among people who inject drugs, due to lack of access to harm reduction programs, are far too common in many countries across the globe."

While the IHRA is working all these issues, it is now preparing to bring the death penalty issue to the forefront as part of a broader campaign to tie harm reduction and human rights together. "This report is the first research report from our new HR2 -- harm reduction and human rights -- program, and one of our main emphases in this new program is research and advocacy on human rights issues related to drug policy and human rights abuses against people who use drugs," said Lines. "The death penalty is an obvious issue in that regard, and an important one to highlight with our first publication. This is part of a broader campaign, and we will be using the research in various ways to highlight the issue at the international level in 2008."

The emerging campaign against the death penalty for drug offenders is part of a broader effort to bring more attention to human rights abuses against people involved with drugs, said Lines. "Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have been very supportive of our work on this issue and have provided important advice and information along the way," he said. "This is an important link for us. We hope the issue of the death penalty for drugs is one that might be used to raise the issue of human rights abuses and drug policy more generally within the mainstream human rights movement."

IHRA will be working with human rights groups as well as its international network of regional harm reduction groups to put the issue in the spotlight this year. In the US, that means groups like the Harm Reduction Coalition will be joining the fight.

"Our general feeling is that the more repressive the legal environment, the less room for implementing harm reduction measures around HIV prevention, overdose prevention, and related issues," said Daniel Raymond, the coalition's policy director, "We see a direct correlation in places like Thailand," he said.

The Harm Reduction Coalition has already been working the issue to a limited degree and plans to do more, Raymond said. "We've done a little work around China and its tendency to celebrate the international day against drugs by executing people, and we've been involved in the discussions between the IHRA and the regional harm reduction networks on this," he said. "We will be involved again as this campaign begins to gear up. We're very interested in pressure to bear and in bringing the harm reduction community in the US into this issue."

Lines said it is time to act. "As I did the research for this report, I was surprised how little attention this issue has received, despite the fact that executions for drug offenses clearly violate international law. There was much less literature on the topic than I assumed there would be when I started," he noted. "I was also surprised to see that while the worldwide trend is clearly toward the abolition of the capital punishment -- the number of countries with the death penalty has steadily decreased over the past 20 years -- at the same time, the number of countries with laws allowing the death penalty for drugs has increased," Lines continued. "That's completely opposite to the general trend away from capital punishment. I think this is an issue where we can almost empirically measure the negative effects of the war on drugs on human rights."

The campaign against the death penalty for drug offenses got a boost last month when the UN General Assembly called for a moratorium on the death penalty for all offenses. Now, the IHRA, its regional network, and mainstream human rights organizations are ready to bring on the pressure.

"We will begin to initiate more direct lobbying and campaigning this year," Lines promised. "I can't go into any more detail at the moment, but you have not heard the last from us on this issue."

Death Penalty: Iran, Vietnam Ring In New Year With More Executions, Death Sentences

Both Iran and Vietnam greeted the new year by resorting -- yet again -- to the ultimate sanction for drug trafficking offenders. In Vietnam, eight convicted heroin traffickers were sentenced to death this week, while in Iran, five drug traffickers were among 13 people executed Wednesday.

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International Anti-Drugs Day drug burn, Tehran
The Vietnam death sentences bring to at least 43 the number handed down for drug trafficking since the end of November. In the latest verdict, eight members of a gang that trafficked heroin from northwestern Son La province near the Laotian border to Hanoi, Haiphong, and Ho Chi Minh City got the death sentence. The court sentenced 29 others to lengthy jail terms, including 18 sentenced to life in prison.

While opium use has a centuries-old tradition in Vietnam, the Communist government has wiped out most large-scale poppy production. But trafficking from other Southeast Asian nations has been on the rise, drug use has increased sharply since the 1990s, and "heroin continues to be the preferred drug among younger drug abusers," according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

Iran, facing a flood of Afghan opium and heroin, has embraced a similarly final response. The three drug traffickers hanged Wednesday in Qom and the two hanged the same day in Zahedan were only the latest in the Islamic Republic's ongoing battle against trafficking. Last year, Iran carried out 297 executions, with an unknown but sizeable number of them for drug trafficking.

Under Iranian law, anyone found trafficking more than 30 grams (slightly more than an ounce) of heroin or five kilograms of opium is eligible for the death penalty.

That's the way it should be, said a judicial official in Qom. "By implementing God's law, we are increasing security in society and we are sending a message that Qom is not a safe haven for those who break the law," said local judiciary official Hoda Torshizi. But the drugs continue to flow unabated, proving that even state killings en masse can't compete with supply and demand.

Death Penalty: Malaysia to Execute Man for Marijuana, China to Execute Man for Meth

Even as the UN General Assembly voted this week for a death penalty moratorium, two Asian nations were once again exercising the ultimate sanction against drug offenders. In Malaysia, a man faces death for less than two pounds of marijuana, while in China, a man has been sentenced to death for trafficking in methamphetamine.

In Malaysia, Razali Ahmad, 33, was found guilty of trafficking marijuana Tuesday after police searched his house and found 858 grams. In Malaysia, the charge of trafficking carries an automatic death sentence.

Meanwhile, a Chinese court Monday sentenced Hao Chen to death for being a ringleader in a meth trafficking organization in southern Guandong Province. Five other ring members were sentenced to terms ranging from 15 years to life. The sentences were for trafficking about three pounds of meth.

In addition to the UN General Assembly's condemnation of the death penalty in general, the use of the death penalty against drug offenders has generated a campaign by harm reductionists to end such practices. Look for an in-depth report on all of this in the coming weeks.

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