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

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Saudi beheads another Pakistani on drug trafficking charge

Public execution in Saudi Arabia
Public execution in Saudi Arabia (file photo)
Saudi Arabia beheaded a Pakistani convicted of drug smuggling on Friday, the 73rd execution in the kingdom so far this year.

Shirin Khan was put to death in Riyadh province after being found guilty of smuggling heroin into the kingdom in swallowed balloons, the interior ministry said.

In the whole of 2014, Saudi Arabia carried out 87 executions, and Amnesty International has spoken of a "macabre spike" in the kingdom's use of the death penalty this year.

The Gulf has become an increasingly important market for illicit drugs in recent years, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime says.

The Pakistani city of Karachi is a key transit point for heroin from Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia has carried out a spate of executions of Pakistani drugs mules.

Rape, murder, apostasy, armed robbery, homosexuality and drug trafficking are all punishable by death under Saudi Arabia's version of Islamic sharia law. The cabinet has affirmed that the kingdom's legal system ensures "justice for all", Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

But Christof Heyns, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said in September last year that trials "are by all accounts grossly unfair" and defendants are often not allowed a lawyer. He said confessions were obtained under torture.

The Gulf state has carried out around 80 executions annually since 2011. In comparison, Iran has executed more than 1,000 people since January last year, Ahmed Shaheed said the UN special rapporteur on Iran.

Source: Daily Pakistan, May 1, 2015 (wr)

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EU Parliament Calls For Indonesia's Immediate Moratorium On Death Penalty

European Parliament, Strasbourg, France
European Parliament, Strasbourg, France
Members of all European Parliament political groups condemned the recent execution of 8 people in Indonesia on Thursday, and called for an immediate moratorium on the death penalty there.

In a debate on Thursday with international cooperation Commissioner Neven Mimica, MEPs stressed that even though they respect Indonesia's sovereignty and its fight against drug trafficking, the death penalty can never be justified.

MEPs urged the Indonesian authorities to abolish the death penalty, suggesting that it be replaced with other sanctions, such as life imprisonment. Many also questioned whether the people executed and those still on death row, among them a French citizen, really had fair trials. They cited the execution of Brazilian Rodrigo Gularte, despite his alleged mental illness, and a lack of lawyers and interpreters.

Some MEPs referred to Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban's recent statement about a possible restoration of the death penalty, saying that Europe should be proud of its ban on the death penalty and should fight any attempt to reintroduce it. Several underlined that the death penalty is inhuman and has not been proven to prevent crimes.

Commissioner Mimica added that the EU is using all possible instruments, including assistance to combat drug trafficking and political pressure, to prevent recourse to the death penalty in any circumstances.

Source: Eurasia Review, May 2, 2015

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Indonesia: Two still at risk of imminent execution

Eight men were executed in Nusakambangan Island in Indonesia in the early hours of 29 April.

A man and a woman who received a temporary stay of execution remain at risk of execution in the coming weeks.

In the early hours of 29 April Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran (both Australian), Raheem Agbaje Salami (Nigerian, also known as Jamiu Owolabi Abashin), Zainal Abidin (Indonesian), Martin Anderson alias Belo (Ghanaian), Rodrigo Gularte (Brazilian), Sylvester Obiekwe Nwolise and Okwudili Oyatanze (both Nigerian) were executed by firing squad in in Nusakambangan Island, Indonesia.

The execution of Filipino national Mary Jane Veloso was halted at the last minute. The office of the Indonesian Attorney General announced that the stay of execution was granted following a request by the President of the Philippines to spare her life, since she would be required to give testimony at the trial of the person who allegedly deceived Mary Jane Veloso into becoming a drug courier. This person handed herself to the police in the Philippines on 28 April. While reports indicate that Mary Jane Veloso has been moved from Besi prison in Nusakambangan Island back into Wirogunan prison in Yogyakarta, Amnesty International remains concerned that she could be executed in the near future.

Another individual who could be at risk of execution is French national Serge Atlaoui, a man under sentence of death for a drug related offense who was, until 25 April, included in the group of those at risk of execution. He is currently appealing a decision by the administrative court. The high administrative court is expected to rule on his appeal in the next ten days.

Indonesian law and international safeguards guaranteeing the rights of those facing the death penalty clearly state that executions may not be carried out while appeals are pending.

Please write immediately in English or your own language:
- Calling on the authorities to immediately halt plans to carry out any executions and commute Mary Jane Veloso’s and Serge Atlaoui’s death sentences;
- Reminding them that international safeguards clearly state that no execution may be carried out while appeals are pending;
- Urging them to establish a moratorium on all executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty and to commute all death sentences to terms of imprisonment;
- Pointing out that there is no convincing evidence that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than other punishments and that the decision to resume executions has set Indonesia against the global trend towards abolition of the death penalty and the country’s own progress in this area.

PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 12 JUNE 2015 TO:

President of the Republic of Indonesia
H. E. Joko Widodo
Istana Merdeka
Jakarta Pusat 10110
Indonesia
Fax: 011 62 21 386 4816 /011 62 21 344 2233
Twitter: jokowi_do2
Salutation: Dear President

Minister of Law and Human Rights
Yasona H. Laoly
Jl. H.R. Rasuna Said Kav No. 4-5
Kuningan, Jakarta Selatan
12950, Indonesia
Fax: 011 62 215 253095
Twitter: Humas_Kumham
Salutation: Dear Minister

And copies to:
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Retno Marsudi
Jl. Pejambon No.6.
Jakarta Pusat, 10110
Indonesia
Fax: 011 62 21 3857316

Also send copies to:
H.E. Ambassador Budi Bowoleksono, 
Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia
2020 Massachusetts Ave. NW, 
Washington DC 20036 USA
Fax: 1 202 775 5365 I Phone: 1 202 775 5200 I Email: ikuhn@embassyofindonesia.org or

Please let us know if you took action so that we can track our impact! EITHER send a short email to uan@aiusa.org with "UA 305/14" in the subject line, and include in the body of the email the number of letters and/or emails you sent, OR fill out this short online form to let us know how you took action. Thank you for taking action! 

Please check with the AIUSA Urgent Action Office if sending appeals after the above date. 
This is the sixth update of UA 305/14. 
Network Office AIUSA | 600 Pennsylvania Ave SE, Washington DC 20003
T. 202.509.8193 | F. 202.546.7142 | E. uan@aiusa.org | amnestyusa.org/urgent

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Further information on those facing executions:
- Serge Areski Atlaoui, a French national, was initially sentenced to life imprisonment by the Tangerang District Court in November 2006 for running a large narcotics factory in Tangerang District, Banten Province. However, he was subsequently sentenced to death in May 2007 by the Supreme Court. He is appealing a decision by the administrative court to reject his latest appeal.

- Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso, a Filipino national, was sentenced to death by the Sleman District Court in October 2010 for attempting to smuggle 2.6 kilograms of heroin into Indonesia from Malaysia at the Yogyakarta airport in April 2010. In March 2015 the Supreme Court rejected her appeal for a review of her case. According to her current lawyer, she was not provided a lawyer or translator during her interrogation by the police which was conducted in Indonesian, a language she did not understand at the time. During her trial, she was provided an unlicensed court-provided interpreter – a student at a foreign language school in Yogyakarta to translate the proceedings from Bahasa Indonesia to English, a language which Mary Jane was also not fluent in.

Fourteen executions have been carried out in Indonesia in 2015. All executed prisoners had been convicted of drug trafficking. As of 30 April, 125 people are believed to be on death row with 50 inmates for drug-related offenses, despite the fact that such offense does not meet the threshold of the “most serious crimes” for which the death penalty can be imposed under international law. The authorities had announced in December 2014 that at least 20 executions would be carried out this year.

Amnesty International expressed deep concerns that the authorities on 29 April went ahead with the implementation of the death sentences imposed against eight men, despite the fact that at least two prisoners had ongoing legal appeals which had been accepted by the courts. Furthermore, the clemency petitions of all eight prisoners had been summarily considered and rejected, undermining the prisoners’ right to appeal for pardon or commutation of their sentence as provided for under international law. The inadequacy of the legal representation and access to interpretation at trial casts serious doubt about the safety of the convictions and sentence in some of the cases. The UN Safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty, approved by Economic and Social Council resolution 1984/50 of 25 May 1984, clearly state that “Capital punishment shall not be carried out pending any appeal or other recourse procedure or other proceeding relating to pardon or commutation of the sentence”.

One prisoner, Rodrigo Gularte, had been diagnosed him with paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar disorder with psychotic characteristics. It was recommended Rodrigo Gularte be admitted to a mental health facility. International law and standards on the use of capital punishment clearly state that the death penalty should not be imposed or carried out on people with mental or intellectual disabilities. This applies whether the disability was relevant at the time of their alleged commission of the crime or developed after the person was sentenced to death. Amnesty International believes that the death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, and a violation of the right to life as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 6(6) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Indonesia is a State Party, provides that “Nothing in this article shall be invoked to delay or to prevent the abolition of capital punishment by any State Party to the present Covenant”.

The Human Rights Committee, the expert body overseeing the implementation of the ICCPR, has stated that Article 6 "refers generally to abolition [of the death penalty] in terms which strongly suggest... that abolition is desirable. The Committee concludes that all measures of abolition should be considered as progress in the enjoyment of the right to life”.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception and supports calls, included in five resolutions adopted by the UN General Assembly since 2007, for the establishment of a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty. As of today, 140 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice; out of 41 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, 18 have abolished the death penalty for all crimes and a further 10 are abolitionist in practice.

Issue Date: 1 May 2015
Country: Indonesia

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Widodo's Desperate Executions

Self-portrait after our new arrivals, A Bad Sleep Last Night Myuran Sukumaran, April 25, 2015 Nusa Kambangan Island, RI
One of Myuran Sukumaran's last paintings on Nusa Kambangan Island, Apr. 2015 
Indonesia makes no secret that drug-dealing convictions there carry the death penalty, but until this year the law rarely enforced.

Indonesians sometimes joke that their country, which stretches roughly the distance from Anchorage to Washington, D.C., is the biggest invisible place on earth. It attracts international attention only through the thunderous destruction of a tsunami, the blast of a terrorist bomb, or, most recently, the crack of executioners' rifles.

Shortly after midnight on Thursday, a police firing squad shot through the heart 1 Indonesian, 2 Australians, 4 Nigerians, and 1 Brazilian (who is said to have suffered from mental illness), all of whom had been convicted of drug smuggling. 1 French citizen and 1 Filipino were spared at the last moment, but may still be executed. Preceding the shots was another deafening noise: the nationalist chest thumping of Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

Widodo portrayed appeals for mercy from Australian, French, and Brazilian leaders, as well as from United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, as affronts to Indonesia's national integrity. "This is our legal sovereignty," he told foreign reporters who asked what effect the executions would have on relations with other countries. "Don't ask me that again." Widodo was effectively saying to Indonesian voters, "Just watch me face down those bullying foreigners." This message, of course, comes not from a position of strength but one of weakness. But Indonesia isn't just any nation. Its 250 million people are scattered across 13,500 islands, belong to over 3 hundred ethnic groups, and speak twice that many languages. They are governed by over 500 district heads and parliaments, who are chosen in elections contested by 12 national and 3 local political parties. As a nation, Indonesia is held together through patronage networks and elaborate horse-trading, much of it brokered through the political pooh-bahs in Jakarta.

Widodo heads a minority coalition in the national parliament. That's not insuperable in Indonesia's deeply transactional political system, but, as an outsider to both Jakarta and the political elite, the President finds it hard to wheel or deal his way out of the gridlock that the opposition gleefully drives him into. As a result, he's unhealthily reliant on the power brokers in his own political party, notably former President Megawati Sukarnoputri, the daughter of Indonesia's 1st President, Sukarno. She's sulky about the popularity of a man she treats as her underling (he's often seen to touch his forehead down to her hand, as one does to a respected elder or teacher), and she has put many obstacles in his path. Most notably, Megawati engineered a situation, too complicated to relate, that put the President on the wrong side of a damaging conflict between the deeply unpopular police and the respected anti-corruption commission.

Widodo has needed to reassert his credibility with Indonesian voters, to show that he's more than just Megawati's puppet, that he's still fighting for the interests of ordinary Indonesians. But because he can't get much done in the legislature, he has chosen quick wins that can be had solely through executive power. Executing foreign drug dealers is one of those. So is actively lobbying for clemency for Indonesian nationals who are on death row in other countries, such as Saudi Arabia. The sovereignty argument, it appears, only runs in 1 direction.

Welcome to Indonesia
Indonesia, like its Southeast Asian neighbors Singapore, Malaysia, and Vietnam, and like China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, makes no secret that drug-dealing convictions carry the death penalty. Travellers arriving by plane (that's almost everyone in this island nation) are informed of the fact on every flight, and smoking guns grace banner ads from the Narcotics Control Board at all major airports. But until this year Indonesia rarely enforced the law. Over the 15 years before Widodo took office, 7 foreigners, and no Indonesians, were put to death for narcotics-related offenses. Under Widodo, in the past year alone 12 foreigners have been executed for drug smuggling, along with 2 Indonesians.

The executions have been surprisingly popular at home. In a poll published the day before the latest round, 86 % of Indonesians said that they thought the government should proceed with the killings. Most respondents echoed Widodo's rhetoric: wicked foreigners are tearing at the fabric of Indonesian society by luring young people into using drugs. The President backs up these phantoms with shocking numbers. Over 50 young Indonesians die every day because of drugs, and some 4 million Indonesians are abusing drugs. So the President says, and so the Indonesian press reports. Killing drug dealers supposedly will wipe out this terrible scourge and save a generation.

Widodo's death statistics, however, are so methodologically flawed that you could use them to teach critical data review to teen-agers. As for the prevalence of drug abuse, the most recent Indonesian survey that is in any way comparable with those of other countries shows that, in 2011, just 4 % of young Indonesians had ever tried drugs, including not only cannabis, speed, and heroin but also glue (sniffed), cough medicine (drank excessive amounts), and headache pills (mixed with soft drinks). That's down by 1/2 from a similar survey 5 years earlier, and it pales in comparison with drug use among young people in the United States and Europe. In the U.S., 35 % of students of a similar age report having used cannabis, and 16 % have used hard drugs, including ecstasy, coke, crack, LSD, and heroin. French 16-year-olds report even higher levels of drug use.

Is Indonesia really facing a national catastrophe on the drug front? And, if so, is killing drug mules the best response? Other countries, with rates of drug use 10 times higher, don't seem to think so. They have other ways of reducing drug-related deaths: making sure that people suffering overdoses have access to life-saving naloxone, for example; providing injectors with easy access to sterile equipment so that they don't get fatal infections; and offering less dangerous drugs, such as methadone, to help people get off more dangerous ones, such as heroin. (The U.S. is not a leader in drug-abuse harm reduction, but it is doing better than Indonesia.) These policies will all do more to reduce drug-related deaths than killing dealers, especially when the dealers are trying to take drugs out of the country, and off the local market, as was the case with the 2 Australians killed on Thursday.

That was not the only anomaly in their cases. The Australians' former lawyer and the wife of one of the Nigerian prisoners both claimed that Indonesian judges had asked for bribes in exchange for lighter sentences. In the case of the Australians, the judges are said to have rescinded the offer after being told by Jakarta to hand down a death sentence (if true, that would also be illegal). The Brazilian smuggler had an established diagnosis of schizophrenia, which, like any other mental illness, should have swept the accused out of the path of a death sentence. These legal issues alone should be enough to trigger full reviews, and there are similar oddities in most of the other cases.

Widodo, however, is far too weak politically to have hesitated over these issues. He desperately needed to signal his strength at home, and he could most easily do that through the crack of the firing squad. He doesn't give a fig how it sounds to the rest of the world.

Source: The New Yorker, May 3, 2015 (wr)

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Mentally ill Rodrigo Gularte, who did not realise he was to be shot until appearing before firing squad, is buried in home country

Angelita Muxfedlt, right, a cousin of Brazilian Rodrigo Gularte, by his coffin in Jarkarta on 29 April 2015
Angelita Muxfedlt, right, a cousin of Brazilian Rodrigo Gularte,
by his coffin in Jarkarta on 29 April 2015
The Brazilian man executed in Indonesia last week is due to be buried in his home country, as his family launch a campaign to have him posthumously pardoned on the grounds of mental health problems.

Rodrigo Gularte, who was twice diagnosed with schizophrenia, only realised he was about to be shot minutes before he stood before the firing squad. According to the priest who administered his last rites, he was hearing voices in his empty cell and asked at the last “Am I being executed?…That’s not right.” He reportedly declared that he would be resurrected 10 days after his death.

His family and friends, who will attend a funeral mass in Curitiba on Sunday, told the Guardian the signs of mental instability were apparent from before Gularte’s adolescence.

Juliana Gularte said her cousin had been diagnosed firstly with cerebral dysrhythmia, which made him particularly impulsive, from the age of 10. Six years later, when he was sent to a rehabilitation centre as a result of drug and alcohol abuse, doctors discovered he had bipolar disorder.

“They wanted to put him on medication, but he refused. He never liked that,” she said.

He was twice been hospitalised for drug abuse and dropped out of three college courses.

Marcelo Penayo, a friend, said Gularte exhibited strong mood swings. “He would switch between moments of euphoria, going to the beach, going surfing, always inviting everyone to come along. Then he would sometimes become very introspective and sad, even when he was among friends and with his girlfriend,” he said.

His condition and his drug abuse reportedly worsened after his parents’ divorce, though his mother tried to help by buying him a restaurant. The family claim international drug smugglers took advantage of Gularte’s recklessness to persuade him to act as a mule while he was on a trip to Asia.

Click here to read the full article

Source: The Guardian, Jonathan Watts, May 3, 2015

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Saturday, May 2, 2015

Bali Nine duo's bodies return to Australia

The coffins were carried on Qantas flight 42, which landed in Sydney just before dawn, at 6:13am
The coffins were carried on Qantas flight 42, which
landed in Sydney just before dawn, at 6:13am
The bodies of executed Bali duo Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran have arrived at Sydney airport after the final leg of their journey home to Australia.

It has also been revealed the executions may have been considered illegal under international law, and an Australian request to submit the case to an international court was ignored, according to reports.

The coffins were carried on Qantas flight 42, which landed in Sydney just before dawn, at 6:13am. Chan's widow, Febyanti Herewila, Sukumaran's parents and siblings, and Australian officials were also on board the flight.

The flight was the last leg in Chan and Sukumaran's journey home to Australia, after they were killed by an Indonesian firing squad on Wednesday morning.

Australia's ambassador asked Indonesia for consent on March 10 to explore whether the execution was illegal before the international court, but Foreign Minister Julie Bishop revealed on Friday she still has not had a reply, according to Fairfax Media.

The bodies of Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan are escorted from the tarmac following their arrival
The bodies of Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan are
escorted from the tarmac following their arrival
According to reports, Australian officials were given strong legal advice by ANU academic Don Rothwell and Sydney barrister Chris Ward the men's execution were illegal under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The treaty, which was signed by Indonesia in 2006, states the death penalty can only be given for 'the most serious crimes'.

Advice provided to Ms Bishop and the Australian government reportedly stated: 'Drug trafficking does not constitute such a crime when it involves no prima facie harm or violence to another person.'

Before leaving Indonesia, the coffins carrying the bodies of the Australians were carried around Jakarta airport on a forklift, in preparation for the seven-hour flight.

Loved ones of the Bali nine duo who left the country on an earlier flight, including Chan's brother, Michael, and mother, Helen, touched down in Sydney after 10.30am AEST on a Garuda Airlines flight on Friday.


Source: Mail Online, May 1, 2015

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Indonesia Prepares for Next Round of Executions

Jakarta. The bodies of the eight men killed by the firing squad on Wednesday have not all been buried yet, but already the Attorney General’s Office is preparing for another round of executions.

Tony Spontana, a spokesman for the AGO, said in Jakarta on Wednesday night that his office was “waiting for the evaluation” of the most recent round of executions before it could set a date for the next one.

The administration of President Joko Widodo has executed 14 people so far this year, 12 of them foreign nationals, and all convicted of drug offenses. The administration insists that the country faces some kind of “drug emergency,” although experts have repeatedly debunked the figures it cites for drug-related deaths.

The third round of executions, though, will not feature drug convicts, Tony said. Instead, the AGO has identified five convicted murderers who will be in the next batch to face the firing squad.

They include Tan Joni, also known as Aseng, who was convicted in 2006 of the murder of three people, one of them a 6-year-old girl; and Gunawan Santoso, convicted in 2003 for ordering a hit on his father-in-law and the latter’s bodyguard, an off-duty Special Forces officer.

The other three are Syofial, a.k.a. Iyen bin Azwar; Harun bin Ajis; and Sargawi, a.k.a. Ali bin Sanusi. They were convicted in 2000 of hacking to death seven members of an indigenous tribe in Merangin district in Sumatra’s Jambi province.

Tony said all five men had exhausted their avenues of appeal and would be the next to be put to death.

The announcement came hours after the AGO oversaw the execution of eight men, seven of them foreign nationals, on the prison island of Nusakambangan, off Central Java, in the early hours of Wednesday.

They were Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran; Rodrigo Gularte, a Brazilian diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia; Raheem Agbaje Salami, Martin Anderson, Sylvester Obiekwe Nwolise and Okwudili Oyatanze of Nigeria; and Indonesian national Zainal Abidin.

Source: The Jakarta Globe, Erwin Sihombing, Apr 30, 2015

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Friday, May 1, 2015

Tsarnaev defense: spare him the death penalty, put him in supermax prison

The ADX from above. Credit Jamey Stillings
for The New York Times
The legal team for convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on Monday delivered its opening statement in the sentencing phase of the trial and also targeted the character of his older brother and co-bomber, Tamerlan.

The final act of the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev trial began Monday with his defense team laying out in its opening statement why its client should be spared the death penalty.

In front of a courtroom at almost full capacity, defense attorney David Bruck opened the morning session with a soft and measured plea to the jury to instead sentence Mr. Tsarnaev to life in prison for participating in 2 bombings near the Boston Marathon finish line in April 2013 that resulted in 3 deaths and more than 260 injuries.

About 3 weeks ago, a jury convicted him on all 30 charges related to the bombings, triggering a sentencing phase in the trial to determine his punishment: either death or life in prison without the possibility of release. Last week, after 3 days of testimony, the government rested its case in that phase, calling for Tsarnaev to receive the death penalty.

For the defense, the sentencing phase will allow it to address issues it's been able only to dance around so far in the trial. Since the 1st round of opening statements in early March - when defense lawyers essentially admitted Tsarnaev's guilt - their primary goal has been to spare his life.

In his almost hourlong opening statement, Mr. Bruck began by acknowledging the horror of the bombings and the suffering of the hundreds of victims that the jury has been hearing about throughout the trial.

But he also used that graphic testimony to make the point that the death penalty can never match or cancel out the suffering of the bombing victims.

"You've now seen more pain and more horror and more grief in this courtroom than any of you will have thought possible," Bruck said to the jury. "There is no evening the scales, there's no point hurting him the way others were hurt because it can't be done. All you can do is make the best choice."

The sentencing phase also enables the defense to dig into an argument it touched on but lightly in its initial defense - that is, the role of his older brother and co-bomber, Tamerlan. According to the defense, Tamerlan Tsarnaev was the radicalized mastermind of the bombings who pressured his younger brother into helping execute his own personal jihad.

"No one is going to claim that Tamerlan forced Dzhokhar to commit these terrible crimes," said Bruck. "But the evidence will show that if Tamerlan hadn't led the way, Dzhokhar never would have done any of these things."

"How do we know this?" he added. "Because Tamerlan's motivation to carry out this attack was so much stronger and had been building for so much longer."

The 1st slate of witnesses on Monday saw the defense aggressively pursue a strategy of portraying Tamerlan as an imperious, irascible man who grew increasingly radical over the years.

The 1st 3 witnesses were men who saw Tamerlan shout down an imam twice in the months before the bombings: Laith Albehacy, Abderazak Razak, and Loaf Assaf, the imam whom Tamerlan confronted.

In late January 2013, Mr. Assaf described Tamerlan interrupting a sermon he was giving comparing the prophet Muhammad to Martin Luther King Jr.

"He was fired up, very hot, and he was shouting, 'This is wrong,'" recalled Assaf. "He kept saying, 'This is not Islamic, this is not right, you are a hypocrite,' and people at the time were telling him to shut up and sit down."

Judith Russell - mother of Katherine Russell, Tamerlan's widow - testified later in the afternoon that he tried to talk to her about Islam and politics "every time I saw him."

"He always wanted to talk about how Islam was good, and over time it came to seem an obsession," Ms. Russell said. "Over the time I knew him, I saw a progression in the intensity of his beliefs."

In his opening statement, Bruck also outlined how the defense plans to show how the Tsarnaev brothers' turbulent and nomadic childhood - disrupted by decades of conflict and forced migration in their native Chechnya - helped contribute to their final decision to commit the bombings.

On the day the defense began to make its case that Tsarnaev should be spared the death penalty, another poll was released showing that less than 20 % of Massachusetts residents believe he should be put to death for this crime.

These results - which continue a trend among residents in the region favoring life in prison over death for Tsarnaev - also found that, despite these specific opinions on Tsarnaev, nearly 1/3 of respondents support the death penalty for the most egregious crimes.

"To voters, it would seem death is too easy an escape," said Frank Perullo, president of Sage Systems, which conducted the poll for The Boston Globe.

Near the end of his opening statement, Bruck tried to show just how punitive life in prison would be for Tsarnaev. He showed the court aerial pictures of the sprawling, snow-covered federal super maximum security prison in Florence, Colo. The prison - also known as ADX Florence or the "Alcatraz of the Rockies" - houses the male inmates in the federal prison system deemed most dangerous and in need of the tightest control.

"This is where the government keeps other terrorists who used to be famous but aren't anymore," he told the jury.

He then moved to another photo, a close-up of a small barred window staring up at the sky. The window, Bruck said, represents inmates' only contact with the outside world for the majority of their sentence. Communications would be strictly limited in the facility, he added, and a camera in his cell would watch him 24 hours a day.

"No matter what [Tsarnaev] does now, no matter what regrets he feels, no matter how he matures, no matter what amends he might want to make, his last choice came when he was 19, and he will never have the chance to make another choice again," said Bruck.

Source: Yahoo News, April 28, 2015


Boston Marathon bomber tries to avoid death penalty

Attorneys for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on Monday told a jury deciding whether to put him to death that there is no punishment they can give him that will equal the pain he's caused his victims.

"There is no sense in trying to hurt him as he hurt them because it can't be done," attorney David Bruck said in explaining why the 21-year-old should be spared the death penalty.

Bruck presented the opening statement for the defense in the penalty phase of Tsarnaev's death penalty trial. The same 12 jurors who convicted him on all 30 counts will soon decide whether he will be executed or sentenced to life in prison with no chance for parole.

Bruck told jurors that no one forced Tsarnaev to do what he did, but the jury should consider more than the crimes he committed.

"It's more complicated than just the crimes themselves," he said.

He said Tsarnaev was responsible for so much pain, horror and grief that no punishment could equal his crimes. It is impossible to try to avenge the victims to even the score, he told the jury.

He showed aerial photos of ADX Florence, a supermax facility in Colorado where Tsarnaev would spend the rest of his life. Sending him there would mean he could never hurt any one again, could not do media interviews and could not write an autobiography. He would also avoid heroic status among extremists.

Bruck said the jury will hear how his muscular older brother, Tamerlan, had taken control of the family when their mentally ill father could no longer handle that traditional patriarchal role, a strong feature of their Chechen culture.

Tsarnaev never defied his brother, who couldn't hold a steady job and was obsessed with jihad to the point of almost thinking about nothing else.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev "was a good kid," Bruck said. "Dzhokhar really was what he appeared to be - a lost teenager."

He said life in prison would be best for everyone as Tsarnaev would "be locked away and never be heard from again."

"His last chance happened when he was 19," Bruck said, "and he will never be given another."

Defense attorneys used their 1st witnesses Monday to paint a picture of an older brother who was quick to anger, bully and insist on conformity to a fundamentalist style of Islam.

Witnesses said Tamerlan was at one time an outgoing partier, but came to renounce alcohol and marijuana at the same time he started wearing traditional Islamic dress around 2011. Two witnesses recalled him standing up and interrupting Friday sermons at the Islamic Society of Boston mosque in Cambridge.

In one Jan. 2013 sermon, Loay Assaf tried to compare Martin Luther King Jr. to the prophet Mohammed. But Tamerlan angrily leapt to his feet, shouted and shook 2 fingers in Assaf's direction. He objected to the comparison of the prophet to a kafir, or infidel.

"He was fired up, very hot - I could see his face was made to red," said Loay Assaf, an imam who gives monthly sermons at the Cambridge mosque. "Even his stance was fighting stance."

Abderrazak Razak said he'd Tamerlan get angry at the Cambridge store where he sells Middle Eastern foods and halal meat. When he was selling halal turkeys at Thanksgiving one year, Tamerlan grew angry and rebuked him.

"He yelled at me that this is haram, that it is not right to sell turkeys," Razak said. In the witness box, he stood and showed what Tamerlan did with his hands and arms, pointing a finger accusingly and waving his long, muscular arms.

"All you can tell us is that in 2012 Tamerlan Tsarnaev told you that Thanksgiving is not an Islamic holiday, and you shouldn't sell turkeys," said Assistant U.S. Attorney William Weinreb in cross-examining Razak.

"Yes," Razak said.

Since Tsarnaev's trial began March 4, the defense has argued that Tsarnaev was the lesser of two perpetrators in the April 15, 2013, bombings that left three dead and more than 260 injured. But jurors have heard few details about his relationship with his older brother, alleged mastermind Tamerlan Tsarnaev, because discussion of family history was off limits n the guilt phase.

Now family history and other potentially mitigating factors are fair game for the defense to press. Relatives of Tsarnaev arrived in Boston from Russia last week and are expected to testify.

Defense attorneys face an uphill challenge, according to Chris Dearborn, a criminal defense attorney and professor at Suffolk University Law School.

"He's now been convicted," Deaborn said. "The only thing you can do to save his life from a defense perspective is to try to find some aspects of his character, his characteristics or his development that would mitigate" the acts he committed.

"They have to walk a fine line between humanizing the kid and not painting him as a normal kind of kid because he's clearly not," Dearborn said. "The better bet is to focus on how influenced he was and how things that happened historically in his life contributed to that influence."

Tsarnaev entered the courtroom at 9:55 a.m. wearing his usual black sport jacket. Under his jacket, he wore a blue, v-necked T-shirt. His wavy hair was a bit messy as usual. His face was clean-shaven around his goatee.

He did not look at the galley as he walked to his seat, even though he has family members in the United States who have come from Russia to support him. None of his family members were noticeably present in the galley.

The courtroom was packed to capacity. Members of the general public also gathered in a separate courtroom to watch proceedings on a monitor.

Source: USA Today, April 28, 2015


Boston Marathon bomber unlikely to be executed - even if jury votes for death

Nationwide shortage of lethal injection drugs has only made it less probable that the federal government - which has only executed 3 people since the late 60s - will put Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death

Bill Richard has been watching the government seek death for his son's killer for months.

Since the beginning of the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Richard, whose 8-year-old son Martin was 1 of 3 people killed at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon and whose 6-year-old daughter Jane lost a leg, has sat in the courtroom almost every day. Often, his wife Denise, who was blinded in 1 eye by the bomb that killed her son, sat by his side.

When, in April, the jury returned a verdict of guilty on all 30 counts - including 17 that carry a possible death sentence - Richard was there.

Since January, federal prosecutors have called almost 100 witnesses, single-mindedly pushing for one simple goal: to put Tsarnaev to death. Now, as the defence opens its case for why Tsarnaev should avoid a death sentence on Monday, the trial is reaching its climax. Once the defence rests, in as soon as a week, the jury will be asked to decide whether the 21-year-old should live or die - the only real issue to be settled in a case in which his involvement in the bombings was never really in doubt.

But if the jury votes for death, their verdict may not be the end. Since the late 1960s, despite pursuing hundreds of capital cases, the federal government has executed only 3 people. And with a nationwide shortage of injection drugs caused by an international boycott by pharmaceutical companies - pushing the issue to the political fore - Tsarnaev's fate would likely remain uncertain. And even if execution drugs could be procured, the case could easily be tied up in appeals for decades.

The Richards have been integral to the government's case for death. When called to the stand, Bill Richard's testimony was among the most memorable, the most gut-wrenching, even among a litany of victims telling heartbreaking stories of the violence wreaked upon them.

And when the prosecution opened the sentencing phase - the part of the trial where the jury will decide whether to send Tsarnaev to his death - they did so in front of an easel displaying a picture of Martin Richard, dressed in green and wearing beads for St Patrick's day. On that day, too, Bill Richard was there.

But the Friday before the government began to lay out its case for death, the Richards used a front-page editorial in the Boston Globe to beg the government to abandon its push for execution, in part because the endless appeals that would likely ensue would give them and other victims little chance for closure.

"The continued pursuit of that punishment could bring years of appeals and prolong reliving the most painful day of our lives," they wrote. "We hope our 2 remaining children do not have to grow up with the lingering, painful reminder of what the defendant took from them, which years of appeals would undoubtedly bring."

'The only thing that's certain is that he will never breathe free air'

Experts in the federal death penalty predict that complex and prolonged appeals lie ahead which, together with the crisis in the system of lethal injections, mean that it might be years before he enters a death chamber - if he gets there at all.

"The question is how will Tsarnaev die in prison. Will he die of a heart attack in his cell aged 60, of old age at 80, or will he be executed? The only thing that's certain is that he will never breathe free air again," said George Kendall, a New York lawyer who has been involved in capital cases for the past 30 years.

According to the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel Project, between 1988 and 2014 the federal government took 229 capital cases to trial. In only 1/3 of them did juries condemn the defendant to die.

In some of those cases, a plea deal was reached - such was the case for Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, whose lawyer, Judy Clarke, is also representing Tsarnaev. But no such plea deal was made available in the Boston case; the government has been implacable in seeking death.

A death sentence would make Tsarnaev the 62nd inmate of the federal death row hosted at the US penitentiary at Terre Haute, Indiana. He would take occupation of a cell besides other condemned men whose racial composition is 44% African American, 39% white, 13% Latino and 2% each Native American and Asian.

The longest-standing members of the group have already been awaiting execution for 22 years, an indication of the pressures facing the federal death penalty. Since 1963, the federal government has put only 3 civilians to death (most executions in the country having been carried out by individual states such as Texas, Florida and Missouri).

The most notorious of them, Timothy McVeigh, was executed in June 2001 for the Oklahoma City bombing that last week marked its 20th anniversary. The other 2 were Juan Raul Garza, who was put to death 8 days after McVeigh for a triple drug murder; and Louis Jones, who was given a lethal injection in March 2003 for the rape and murder of a US army private.

Most of the men on federal death row were put there for reasons that are only tangentially connected to the federal government. Marcivicci Barnette, for instance, was involved in a carjacking in which he killed his former girlfriend and another man - murder during carjacking being classified as a federal crime. Alfred Bourgeois killed his daughter, but it was only because he did so on a US naval base that earned him a federal trial.

Only a small percentage of cases involved what most people would think of as definitive federal issues such as terrorist attacks or, as in both the Oklahoma City bombing and the Boston Marathon attack, an outrage perpetrated on the American public. "The Tsarnaev case is an outlier - it's in the same category as McVeigh and Oklahoma City, but can't be compared with almost everyone else on federal death row," Kendall said.

Richard Burr was a member of the legal team that defended McVeigh at his 1997 capital trial. He has watched the Tsarnaev trial in Boston with great interest, seeing in it the same intense pressure for a result that he experienced with McVeigh 18 years ago.

Burr expects that the peculiar difficulties that Tsarnaev's defense lawyers have had investigating their client's background in Kyrgyzstan, combined with Judge George O'Toole's insistence on pressing ahead with a trial date, will provide plenty of grounds for a robust appeal that could last 10 years or more.

"It's really critical to allow the defense time to do a thorough investigation into mitigation of their client. This judge seems to have felt pressure to get this case to trial - that's a dynamic often involved in these cases of public attacks."

Burr could not say what motivated O'Toole to push ahead with the trial despite the defense team's struggles. "But it seems to me unfortunate as it makes the entire process of defending someone much more difficult," he said. "Juries are entitled to hear the best mitigation if there is to be any integrity in the federal prosecution system."

In the McVeigh case, Burr said he and his co-counsel were given plenty of time to prepare, but shortly before the trial opened a confidential file in which the defendant described how he had committed the Oklahoma City bombing was obtained by a reporter and published, throwing the whole defense case into crisis. Burr pleaded with the judge to delay the trial to avoid a prejudiced jury, but to no avail.

That went on to become a priority issue raised in subsequent appeals, which despite being fast-tracked by the courts looked set to last several years until McVeigh himself decided to give up the fight. "He became reconciled to the fact that he was going to be executed. He sort of lost hope," Burr said.

Should a similar high-speed appeals process be introduced for Tsarnaev, the federal government would still have to contend with the ongoing chaos in the lethal injection system. The US government may be among the most powerful on earth, but that does not immunize it from the shortage of lethal drugs that has affected death penalty states as a result of a worldwide boycott.

A dearth of lethal injection medicines has propelled states such as Oklahoma and Arizona to take increasingly extreme measures in using experimental drug combinations - the subject of oral hearings at the US supreme court on Wednesday. Following a challenge from 3 inmates of federal death row, the US government has effectively put all executions on hold since 2006, and is currently involved in a lengthy review of its death penalty protocols. Some states have sought alternatives, like firing squads in Utah or nitrogen gas in Oklahoma.

Jennifer Moreno, a staff attorney at the Death Penalty Clinic at Berkeley Law, said in contrast to the unseemly scramble for quick solutions that had been seen in several death penalty states, the federal approach to finding an alternative method of execution appeared to be measured and appropriate.

"The states have engaged in questionable legal positions such as buying lethal drugs from overseas or using lightly regulated compounding pharmacies," Moreno said. "I don't think we are going to see the federal government do any of that."

But the dilemma of the drugs adds yet another layer of complexity in the Tsarnaev case. The US government is clear about its desire to strap Tsarnaev to a gurney and pump lethal poisons into his veins. Even if the government can convince the jury that this is what Tsarnaev deserves, getting there may not be easy.

All of this, the Richards claim, means that if the jury votes for death, their ordeal cannot be over. But while the jury are of course banned from reading media coverage of the trial - Judge O'Toole has repeatedly stressed that jurors cannot even discuss it with family members - the sense on the streets remains that it would be far better to lock him up and throw away the key, so that everyone can get on with their lives. A Boston Globe poll released Sunday found less than 20% of Massachusetts residents support the death penalty for Tsarnaev; in the city of Boston, that number was as low as 15%.

This is almost certainly going to be part of the defense's argument as they plead for his life. Clarke, who is herself an avowed opponent to the death penalty, is likely to make an impassioned plea for mitigating factors - that Tsarnaev was weak, that he was manipulated by his older brother. Throughout it all, the Richards will be watching and waiting.

Whether they will get their wish will rest in the hands of the jury.

Source: The Guardian, April 28, 2015

Related articles:
- Norway jails "sane" Breivik for maximum 21-year term, Reuters, Aug. 24, 2012
- Anders Behring Breivik (All blog entries)

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'It's problematic': inventor of US lethal injection reveals death penalty doubts

Dr Jay Chapman sought to develop a more humane method of execution but miscarriages of justice leave him ambivalent about capital punishment

Dr Jay Chapman, the pathologist who invented the lethal injection that has been the dominant execution protocol in the US for 40 years, says he has growing doubts about the death penalty in the wake of mounting evidence of wrongful convictions.

Chapman, 75, said that he had revised his view of capital punishment despite having been the architect of the lethal injection in 1977. “I am ambivalent about the death penalty – there have been so many incidents of prosecutorial misconduct, or DNA testing that has proved a prisoner’s innocence. It’s problematic.”

The forensic pathologist, who still practises in Sonoma County, California, was speaking to the Guardian on the eve of a landmark hearing at the US supreme court in Washington on Wednesday. The case will see the court’s nine justices come together for the first time since 2008 to consider whether the present-day practice of executions meets the constitutional prohibition on cruel and unusual treatment.

In 2008, in Baze v Rees, the justices ruled that the triple lethal injection – the protocol devised by Chapman – was constitutional. But since then the widely deployed three-ingredient cocktail of anaesthetic, muscle relaxant and potassium to stop the prisoner’s heart has been thrown into disarray as a result of a European-led boycott of medical sales to US corrections departments.

As supplies of the lethal drugs have run out, death penalty states have turned to increasingly maverick alternatives to fill the gap. Some have purchased medicines unlawfully from abroad, others have ordered them from scarcely regulated compounding pharmacies, and many have turned to pharmaceuticals previously unused in death chambers.

In his Guardian interview, Chapman said midazolam “would not be my drug of choice”. He said that its properties were such that it could be taken in relatively large doses before reaching lethal levels.

In other words, it was paradoxically precisely because midazolam is considered relatively safe in medical situations that it is regarded as dangerous as a lethal injection drug. Midazolam could expose prisoners to very long executions or to the risk of pain if they were not put into a coma-like condition.

Click here to read the full article

Source: The Guardian, Ed Pilkington, April 29, 2015

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Philippines To Appeal to Indonesia To Commute Death Penalty of Filipina Convict

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) of the Philippines said it will continue to appeal to Indonesia to commute the death penalty it imposed on Filipina drug convict Mary Jane Veloso.

The DFA said it will not leave the case of Veloso behind just because the Indonesian government has postponed her execution, which would have been carried out on April 29.

DFA spokesman Charles Jose said authorities will even up its efforts to coordinate with their counterparts in Indonesia for the development of the case.

"We've employed diplomatic track since Veloso's conviction in 2011. In fact, we've been able to stay her execution for years," Jose said.

Jose said the DFA is working hand in hand with the Department of Justice (DoJ) and other government agencies in the Philippines to completely save Veloso from the death penalty.

At this point, however, the Philippines is obliged to prove the claims it made that resulted to the postponement of the Filipina drug convict's execution.

Philippine authorities claimed that Veloso was a victim of human trafficking.

As this developed, the DOJ has issued a subpoena for Veloso's recruiter, Maria Kristina Sergio, who surrendered to authorities.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the purpose of the subpoena is to get the testimony of Sergio, who allegedly was responsible why Veloso came to Indonesia, caught with drugs, and then sentenced to firing squad.

Sergio has not been considered as a suspect and no charges have been filed against her but the DOJ said it will be important for her to issue an affidavit to defend herself.

Veloso was arrested in Indonesia in April 2010 for allegedly smuggling 2.6 kilograms of heroin in a suitcase.

Throughout her trial, she maintained her innocence, claiming that she was duped into carrying the suitcase by her godsister, who convinced her to go to Indonesia after losing a job in Malaysia.

Source: Business News Asia, April 30, 2015

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It's Time ASEAN Took a Good Look at Its Gallows

Indonesia's flag. One of Myuran Sukumaran's final paintings 
The bloc has rarely discussed the death penalty. It is time it did.

The blowback over Indonesia's latest decision to execute foreigners - including a 4 Nigerians, 2 Australians, and a Brazilian - will taint the presidency of Joko Widodo and cast a dim light over his factional rival Megawati Sukarnoputri, chair of the ruling PDI-P.

The pair are not on good terms, with speculation of a power struggle, and Megawati is prone to reminding Widodo that she is in charge. Hardly a healthy state of affairs for a government bent on handing out execution orders for drug offenses.

Nigeria proved itself diplomatically inept when it came to looking after its own. As for Brazil and Australia, they have every right to be angry.

Brazilian Rodrigo Gularte was shot for smuggling 6 kg of cocaine into Indonesia hidden inside surfboards - after he was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, delusional and with psychotic tendencies.

Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukamara had spent 10 years behind bars and by Indonesia's own reckoning had been fully rehabilitated, the job of a prison system. That apparently counted for nothing.

The latest killings were not the first, and there are more to come. As international anger continues to mount spare a thought for the many foreigners who are facing a similar fate in Southeast Asian prisons, regardless of their crimes.

Australia is long on experience on this score. Van Nguyen was a sticking point for the Singaporeans who executed him in 2005 for trafficking heroin.

By all accounts Nguyen was a solid student bullied into becoming a drug mule by thugs in Australia, upset by debts accumulated by his twin brother. Nguyen was led to believe that leniency would be shown if he told all. And he did.

Singapore is rarely celebrated for having much heart. It has a clemency rate of about one percent. Still, the authorities let Nguyen's Mum give him a big hug in their final minutes together, while going cap in hand to Canberra with requests from the government-owned Singapore Airlines for access to Australia's highly lucrative air route to the U.S. West Coast.

Prime Minister John Howard politely declined.

Back in the 1980s, Mahathir Mohammad reveled in the political theatrics he engineered after courts in Malaysia sentenced Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers to death for drug running. Mahathir - a medical doctor by trade - allowed the executions to proceed and would become thoroughly miffed when Prime Minister Paul Keating later called him a recalcitrant.

This time around the Indonesians did grant a last minute reprieve for a Filipina, Mary Jane Veloso, who had been human trafficked into drug smuggling. That removed any lingering doubts about the power of the presidency but she should not have been there in the first place.

Too many nationalities have been represented in the gallows of Southeast Asia.

Only Cambodia and the Philippines do not have the death penalty, a topic that rarely rates a mention among the several hundred families that control the 10 governments within ASEAN.

Their focus is on money and power, and the launch of the ASEAN Economic Community towards the end of this year, which will enhance both.

Laws are being harmonized to allow for a significant shift in the 600 million people who live here. Crime demographics, like human trafficking, will change, and the perpetrators will increasingly be from neighboring countries where culture and punishments do differ.

Being a witness to a state sanctioned murder or, tragically worse, a botched one, is awful. I can vouch for that. Illicit drugs have been an issue across the region for decades and the death penalty clearly has not worked, is barbaric, and is not a punishment befitting of the crime.

Australia's offer to pay for the upkeep of Chan and Sukamara while in prison was sensible and offered a diplomatic way out for Indonesian authorities bent on their executions and flexing their political muscle, as opposed to delivering a dignified justice.

Crime, punishment, and the gallows need to be tackled by ASEAN as a bloc while it attempts to forge a closer, regional community. Fail to do so and it risks alienating itself. It should be mindful that foreigners are not responsible for their illegal drug trade, which by Jakarta's own reckoning, is flourishing.

Source: The Diplomat, May 30, 2015

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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Executed away from home: Africans on drugs crimes find little mercy from Asia, its new trade partner

Four African men were among 8 drug offenders executed by firing squad in Indonesia on Wednesday in a case that attracted huge international attention.

Nigerians Raheem Agbaje Salami (also known as Jamiu Owolabi Abashin), Silvester Obiekwe Nwolise, Martin Anderson and Okwuduli Oyatanze were killed at 12:30am, local time, on the Indonesian prison island of Nusa Kambangan. "The executions have been successfully implemented, perfectly," Attorney General Muhammad Prasetyo said of the controversial deaths. "All worked, no misses."

Nigeria only responded late Wednesday, expressing "deep disappointment" at the execution by firing squad of 4 of its citizens.

Abuja said President Goodluck Jonathan and Foreign Minister Aminu Wali had made "spirited appeals for clemency", most recently at an Asian-African summit in the Indonesian capital Jakarta last week.,

Brazil and Australia both recalled their ambassadors to Jakarta for "consultation" - diplomatic speak for expressing great displeasure. Australia had made more than 50 appeals for clemency.

Indonesian president Joko Widodo who has announced his intention to clear the country's death row of drug traffickers, insisted that narcotics are "a national emergency" that require an unforgiving response. Analysts say he is looking to convey the image of a decisive leader to Indonesians.

The country, which has some of the toughest drug laws in the world, in December said it would put to death 64 convicts, including foreigners. It is also reportedly working hard to save over 200 Indonesians on death row in foreign countries, largely on drug and murder charges.

The deaths of the 4 Nigerians would add to a trend where Africans have been jailed or killed for drug related offences in foreign countries, many in Asian countries which have the death sentence.

When president Widodo reactivated the death penalty for drug crimes after a 5-year pause, the 1st victim was Adami Wilson, a 48-year-old Malawian sentenced to death in 2005. He was executed also by firing squad in 2013.

2 other Nigerians were executed in January in the same country.

In the same month, 28-year-old South African Deon Cornelius was sentenced to death in Malaysia for smuggling an illegal drug, having been arrested in 2013.

1,500 South Africans in prisons abroad

According to data from Locked Up, a South African organisation that assists nationals arrested abroad, some 1,300 South African citizens are serving prison sentences in foreign countries, mostly on drug related charges. The majority are held in Brazil and Asia.

China, Africa's biggest trading partner, regularly executes drug smugglers, though it does not make available statistics, adding to the problem of undocumented travel that makes it difficult to accurately map the magnitude of the problem for Africa.

Last year 2 Ugandans were executed in China for drug trafficking, despite the appeals of the Ugandan embassy. In a statement, the East African country said that 23 other Ugandans were on death row in China, 24 on life sentences and 28 on trial.

China had refused to compromise on the matter, Uganda's foreign ministry added, Beijing insisting it could not overturn a court verdict. Kampala said its investigations showed most of those arrested were job seekers recruited as mules (carriers), a common defence in many drug arrests.

In one 5-week period between April and May 2010, China executed a Nigerian and sentenced a Zambian and 5 Kenyans to death for drug trafficking. It is unclear if they were carried out or commuted to life terms.

Hong Kong, which does not have the capital punishment sentence for drug-related crimes, has increasingly reported drug-related arrests involving Africans.

Tougher line on drugs

China's fight against drugs has received strong support from the top, with president Xi Jinping last year calling for "forceful measures to wipe drugs out." Drug-related arrests have since gone up by up to 1/3 on the year before, many leading to death sentences.

In June, while the vast cases involved locals, Chinese officials said they had handled 1,491 drug-related crimes involving foreigners, a 15% increase on 2013, with 1,963 foreign drug suspects arrested. Most were Africans, Liu Yuejin, director of the ministry's narcotics control bureau said.

Meanwhile in November last year a Kenyan court ordered police to extradite 4 suspected drug traffickers - 2 Kenyans, an Indian and a Pakistani, to the United States, highlighting differing treatments.

Pakistan earlier this year ended a freeze on executions, and drug crimes are expected to be among those punished, according to human rights groups.

This came months after British and Australian navies seized the largest ever haul of heroin at sea, weighing 1,032 kilogrammes and valued at $235 million, off its coast.

The continued arrest and execution of Africans in foreign countries cast a spotlight on their governments' inability, or unwillingness, to extract prisoners' concessions from Asian countries, when those countries often successfully save their own in Africa.

More than 20 of the 32 countries that prescribe capital punishment for drug trafficking are in Asia, with just 3 in sub-Saharan Africa.

Earlier this month African governments attended the Asia-Africa conference in Bandung, Indonesia which commemorates the 1955 conference that laid the foundations for the Cold War-era Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).

It was meant to strengthen South-South cooperation, organisers said, but analysts argue the conference is more about big countries seeking to unilaterally extend their influence with other participants, often at the expense of African countries.

Lack of African clout

The lack of African countries in rescuing their citizens from foreign jurisdictions by legal means essentially is a result of their failure to use such leverage along with burgeoning trade links to their advantage.

Another major hurdle for African countries is the lack of interest in prisoner exchange agreements. International law has generally pushed for foreign sentenced offenders to serve out their terms in their home countries, largely for rehabilitation and humanitarian reasons, but also for law enforcement purposes.

For long, the objection towards this centred on the infringing of sovereignty and exclusive territoriality, but this has since been weakened in the face of the benefit to international relations between the involved countries that such deals give.

Few African countries have even simple bilateral deals, which are perceived as time and resource consuming, or are members of the multilateral agreements that would govern offender exchanges, despite giving the nod to the UN's Model Agreement on transfers.

The European Convention is one of the more prominent ones, but Mauritius is the only African country that is a member, despite 18 of the 64 member states being non-European.

Of the 53 member states in the Commonwealth, just 15 have enacted the club's rules for transferring prisoners, including Malawi and Nigeria, but not countries such as South Africa, which prides itself on its human rights laws.

No African country has signed on to the Inter-American Convention on Serving Criminal Sentences Abroad either.

Unless the continent takes up the issue and uses its links with Asia, Africans will continue to be pawns and makeweights in regional geopolitical battles.

Source: mgafrica.com, April 30, 2015 (wr)

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