Wednesday 29 April 2015

Shift in attitudes towards death penalty

More countries either abolishing it or scaling back crimes it applies to
By Melissa Sim, US Correspondent, In Washington, The Straits Times, 28 Apr 2015

THE global attitude towards the death penalty appears to be shifting, say experts, as more countries either dispense with capital punishment or scale back the crimes it applies to.

While there are no exact figures, human rights group Amnesty International reported at least 778 executions in 2013.

The number represented a 14 per cent rise from 2012, due to a spike in executions in Iran and Iraq, but was markedly lower than the 1,146 executions in 2003.

The death penalty has come under renewed spotlight since a diplomatic row erupted between Australia and Indonesia over Jakarta's decision to go ahead with the execution of two Australian ringleaders of the "Bali Nine" drug smuggling gang.

Experts attribute the declining use of the death penalty to a number of factors, including studies which cast doubt on its deterrent effect against crime, and a change in attitude among citizens as well as the authorities.

Global statistics do not include China, which is secretive about such figures, but Chinese activists say the worldwide trend is being matched in the country.

The Dui Hua Foundation, a non-profit humanitarian organisation based in California, estimated there were 2,400 executions in China in 2013, down from 12,000 in 2002.

"If you aggregate global numbers, the People's Republic of China becomes the tail that wags the dogs," said law professor Frank Zimring of Berkeley University.

Furthermore, about 140 countries - or seven in 10 - either no longer have the death penalty or are not using it, said Amnesty International's death penalty expert Chiara Sangiorgio.

Countries such as Benin, Fiji and Madagascar are in the process of abolishing it.

This is a far cry from 1945, when just eight countries, including Iceland, Panama and Venezuela, had abolished the death penalty.

On the flipside, countries with the highest number of executions in 2013 included China, Iran, Iraq and the United States.

Ms Sangiorgio was quick to add that even in some of these countries, steps have been taken to "restrict the scope or reduce the use of the death penalty".

China in 2011 removed 13 economic and non-violent offences from its list of 68 crimes punishable by death. Singapore revised its death penalty laws in 2012.

"Attitudes are changing all around the world," said Mr Richard Dieter, executive director of the non-profit organisation Death Penalty Information Centre.

The prevailing notion that the death penalty can deter crime is also being challenged. A 2012 study by the US National Research Council concluded that "research to date is not informative about whether capital punishment decreases, increases, or has no effect on homicide rates".

But Mr Kent Scheidegger, legal director at the non-profit Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, said that while there is a lot of variation in how studies are set up and interpreted, "the weight of evidence still favours deterrence".

China, Indonesia, Japan and Singapore are among the countries that continue to subscribe to the "deterrent" argument.

In the US, "that used to be the No. 1 reason, but now the reason seems to be that some crimes just deserve the defendant's life to be taken", said Mr Dieter.

As more countries abolish the death penalty, experts agree that the US remains a sticking point. Of its 50 states, 32 still have the death penalty and 63 per cent of Americans favour capital punishment for a convicted murderer, according to a Gallup poll last year.

Meanwhile, countries close to the US are turning up the heat.

"European allies have made it difficult (for the US) to get the drugs for the executions," said Mr Dieter. "They don't want a part in this."

While abolition of the death penalty has gained momentum, some experts do not think the trend will continue.

"The moral intuition of the people of the world that some people deserve to die cannot be erased... I don't think it will die, but I hope it's refined and reserved for only the worst of the worst crimes," said criminal justice professor Robert Blecker, author of the book, The Death Of Punishment.

Others such as Ms Sangiorgio, however, believe the numbers speak for themselves and that "it is just a matter of time before we see a death penalty-free world".

Singapore courts given more discretion in sentencing
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 28 Apr 2015

THE mandatory death penalty was a mainstay of Singapore's criminal justice system - part of its uncompromising stance against heinous crimes such as drug trafficking and murder.

But these laws were revised in November 2012 to give judges more discretion in sentencing under certain circumstances. They can now sentence offenders who meet certain criteria to life imprisonment. Many hailed the move as a "significant milestone".

For drug-related cases, the death sentence can be lifted for drug couriers who have either been certified by the Public Prosecutor to have substantively assisted the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) or proven themselves to be mentally impaired. The change was intended to boost enforcement agencies' fight against drug traffickers in the upper echelons.

Couriers who give information can be given life imprisonment instead of the death penalty, but must be sentenced to at least 15 strokes of the cane as well. Caning is not applicable to women and to men over the age of 50.

A courier is someone who has played a relatively minor role, such as transporting or delivering drugs, and nothing else.

For murder cases, the discretionary sentence applies to those who committed murder, but did not intend to kill.

When the changes were first proposed in July 2012, Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean said in Parliament that society's "norms and expectations were changing". "While there is a broad acceptance that we should be tough on drugs and crime, there is also increased expectation that where appropriate, more sentencing discretion should be vested in the courts," he said.

Other than drug trafficking and murder, offences under the Kidnapping Act and firearm-related offences also carry the death penalty, said veteran lawyer Amolat Singh, adding that this "supreme punishment" was a deterrent for such crimes.

"The death penalty has played its part, as people know the seriousness of kidnapping. Similarly with firearms, we have seen the horrors that can take place if people carry arms freely," said Mr Singh.

Tennessee brings back use of electric chair
The Straits Times, 28 Apr 2015

MEMPHIS - Tennessee suspended all executions this month, ahead of a United States Supreme Court ruling on the future of lethal injections, but could still subsequently put prisoners to death, with the electric chair.

The southern state recently brought the electric chair back from retirement as a backup method for capital punishment.

The US Supreme Court is set to consider tomorrow whether a lethal injection mix should be banned.

In Tennessee, state law allows for electrocution if lethal injection is ruled to be unconstitutional.

Once widely used in the United States, the electric chair fell out of favour decades ago.

"We do believe that the new law in Tennessee, which would involuntarily electrocute a condemned prisoner, is a huge step back," said lawyer Kelley Henry, who helps to represent many of the state's condemned prisoners.

"We are prepared to present evidence that the Tennessee electrocution protocol is inherently cruel and unusual, in that it literally cooks the internal organs of the inmate, causing immeasurable pain and suffering."

Currently, 69 inmates are on death row in Tennessee.

They are housed in the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville.

Although it has executed only six prisoners since 1976, most recently in 2009, Tennessee is the third state to have brought back an old method of execution to replace lethal injection.

Utah recently re-introduced the firing squad and Oklahoma has approved asphyxiation with nitrogen.

"This is an attempt to fix the system by bringing back the electric chair, or the firing squad," said executive director Stacy Rector of the group Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. "It is really a reactionary decision made in the light of a system that is completely dysfunctional."

However, Tennessee will not carry out any executions soon.

On April 10, the state halted all executions that had been scheduled through March next year, while the courts weigh the constitutionality of lethal injections.


Bali Nine drug smuggler says he was hooked by 'easy money'
By Jonathan Pearlman, The Straits Times, In Sydney, The Straits Times, 28 Apr 2015

MYURAN Sukumaran, like his criminal partner Andrew Chan, was lured by the prospect of an "easy pay cheque" into pushing drugs.

The son of Sri Lankan parents who moved to London and then Sydney, Sukumaran, now 34, had dropped out of university and was working in a mail room when he drifted into crime.

He began selling drugs after a university friend invited him to join a gang and tempted him with the prospect of a world of fast cars and nightclubs.

"It's just the lifestyle… You want to be like those people, get the girls like those people, and I was hoping to buy a car, hoping to start a business," he told Australian television news channel SBS News in 2010.

"You think, how do you do this on a mail-room salary?"

As he began to make underworld connections as part of his bid for fast cash, Sukumaran met Chan at a mutual friend's place and they decided to join forces.

They recruited seven mules from Sydney and Brisbane and paid them as little as A$5,000 each to ferry a total of 8.3kg of heroin worth about A$4 million into Australia.

In Bali, Sukumaran and Chan strapped bags of heroin to the couriers' bodies, apparently sprinkling the plastic packages with pepper to try to foil sniffer dogs.

The drugs were believed to have been brought in from Thailand by a 22-year-old Thai smuggler and prostitute reportedly named Cherry Likit Bannakorn, who later escaped home.

Sukumaran and Chan, now 31, have reportedly never revealed the source of the drugs.

But the Australian Federal Police were aware of the plot and had kept surveillance on all the members of Bali Nine, as the group became known. Police knew the names of all the members, except for Sukumaran's.

In April 2005, when the seven smugglers and their two overseers were in Bali, Australian police alerted their Indonesian counterparts and told them to "take whatever action you deem necessary".

Sukumaran was arrested at a Bali hotel with three of the couriers and 300g of heroin. He initially stayed quiet and even claimed to have amnesia.

A court in Denpasar, Bali's capital, found him guilty, saying he had been "obstructive" during the trial process and never expressed any sense of guilt.

"The defendant showed no remorse over his actions," said Judge Gusti Lanang Dauh. "When the prosecution requested the death penalty, the defendant showed no reaction whatsoever."

Sukumaran recently revealed that he had wanted to offer information about the drug suppliers in return for a lesser sentence, but was advised by his lawyers not to.

He has claimed that there were a number of people in Sydney overseeing the operation, but believed that his family would be harmed if he named them.

"We tried with the police to get some kind of cooperation thing, but there weren't really like… those were the only cards that we had to play," he told Australian TV network Channel Seven.

"We tried to ask them for some leniency, but they wouldn't. And then, the lawyers advised us not to go that way."

Chan reportedly does not know the name of the suppliers, but was more involved with the day-to-day operations, including arranging flights, phones and clothes for the couriers.

As Chan turned to religion in recent years, Sukumaran turned to art.

He was tutored by prominent Australian artist Ben Quilty and began running workshops for fellow prisoners. In February, he was awarded a fine art degree from Curtin University.

Two years ago, Sukumaran told The Age newspaper that art had helped him "to find out who I am, where I fit in the world, how I can contribute to the world".

But Melbourne artist Matthew Sleeth, who visited him regularly, said art was "a tool to stay sane during what can only be described as torture".

Respect Indonesia's legal sovereignty, says Jokowi
By Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja, Indonesia Correspondent, In Jakarta, The Straits Times, 30 Apr 2015

PRESIDENT Joko Widodo has shrugged off an unprecedented move by Australia to withdraw its ambassador from Indonesia in protest against the execution of two of its citizens.

Early yesterday morning, minutes after midnight, Indonesia put two Australians, one Brazilian, four Africans and one Indonesian, all convicted drug traffickers, before a firing squad, despite repeated appeals from foreign countries for mercy.

"This is our legal sovereignty," Mr Joko flatly told a reporter who asked him hours later about the implications for Indonesia, given the opposition from overseas to the executions. "I do not want to repeat. Don't ask me that again."

Mr Joko, however, was quick to appeal to Australia to respect Indonesia's legal sovereignty as his country respects theirs.

Indonesia had planned to execute 10 death-row inmates, but revised it to nine on Monday, excluding a French national who filed an appeal challenging Mr Joko's rejection of his clemency request. His case is being heard and a ruling is expected within two weeks.

Late on Tuesday, the government decided to delay the execution of Filipina Mary Jane Veloso after it was informed that her recruiter had turned herself in.

Attorney-General Muhammad Prasetyo stressed that Veloso's execution was not cancelled but delayed, pending the outcome of the legal process in the Philippines.

The condemned men reportedly refused blindfolds and sang hymns, including Amazing Grace, as they faced the firing squad at the Nusakambangan prison, Agence France-Presse reported.

Analysts said the tension between Jakarta and Canberra over the executions would ease quickly. "Indonesia-Australia relations are very special and too important to be affected by this," international relations expert Bantarto Bandoro told The Straits Times.

Drug traffickers' deaths: Criticisms of laws not all fair
By S. Chandra Mohan, Published The Straits Times, 29 May 2015

WITH the dust having settled over Indonesia's recent executions of drug traffickers, it may be opportune to examine some issues that were previously not fully examined. No one, whether in Indonesia or elsewhere, considers the loss of a human life without sadness.

But the reasons for anguish over the executions and subsequent criticisms of Indonesia's laws, justice system and political leaders were not all rational or fair.

It cannot be disputed that every visitor to a foreign country must obey the laws of that country, the violation of which may result in serious consequences to life and liberty.

And no country needs to justify or rationalise any punishment it imposes, whether to foreign offenders, their governments or the media, or defend the integrity of its judicial process.

Unfortunately, the media frenzy over the Indonesian executions of eight drug traffickers dwelt on the severity of their punishment while ignoring the enormity of their crimes. Drug trafficking is a multi-billion-dollar international illicit trade that introduces 450 tonnes of heroin into the market each year. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimated in 2012 that there were more than 27 million drug addicts worldwide and some 183,000 drug-related deaths each year.

Drug traffickers have been described by a Malaysian judge as "engineers of evil and peddlers of death". The number of countries that impose the death penalty for drug trafficking has increased from 10 in 1979 to 22 in 1985 and 33 by 2012.

Indonesia is not alone in the region in imposing the death penalty, which it believes deters drug trafficking. As every arriving visitor well knows, all of Indonesia's Asean neighbours, with the exception of the Philippines after 2006, have made drug trafficking a capital offence.

The executions of drug traffickers emphasised Indonesia's resolve to deal firmly with its growing drug problem. There are some 5.6 million drug addicts in the country. When President Joko Widodo took office last year, he vowed to deal with his country's colossal drug problem which he described as a "national emergency".

Some 40 young Indonesians die each day from drug abuse, Mr Joko had noted.

Equally alarming was the level of drug addiction among public servants in almost all the state agencies. They are supported in their habit by thousands of tonnes of drugs imported into the country, mostly by foreign drug syndicates.

In January this year, out of 60 convicted traffickers on death row, 34 were foreigners from 15 countries. They had taken advantage of Indonesia's long and porous maritime borders and weak law enforcement.

The nine Australians, dubbed the "Bali Nine" who were convicted in 2006 of trafficking in heroin, mostly received prison terms according to their role in the offence.

There was ample evidence of their guilt from their testimony at the trial, the drugs found on them, evidence gathered during surveillance in Indonesia and from information supplied by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) on their involvement in drug trafficking.

Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, who were executed, were the masterminds of the group.

One claimed he knew nothing and he would be "lying" if he had said anything in court. The other claimed amnesia for his inability to remember anything until his arrest.

The Australians were convicted of trafficking in 8.5kg of heroin with a street value of US$3.1 million, sufficient for about 170,000 drug users for a week.

The drugs were destined for Australian cities, where they would have contributed to more deaths from drug overdoses and HIV infections from shared needles. Ironically, the AFP has been accused of "having blood on their hands" for tipping off their Indonesian counterparts.

It is surprising how even the delay in the executions, rather than a rush to carry them out, was the subject of criticism.

Critics ignored the fact that Chan and Sukumaran were permitted to pursue their appellate remedies right up to three weeks before their executions.

The years that followed their convictions saw them fully exhausting a plethora of legal and administrative remedies.

It included a challenge to the constitutionality of the death penalty, appeals to the Bali High Court, the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court, applications for judicial review to the Bali District Court, petitions for presidential clemency and final appeals to the state administrative court.

What is less known is that, according to a Roy Morgan Research poll taken at the end of January, 62 per cent of Australians felt their government should do nothing more to stop the duo's execution.

The Australian media played up the tirade about the death penalty from human rights activists who do not have the responsibility of running a government or managing law and order in a country like Indonesia.

Even if one were to accept that there is insufficient evidence that capital punishment deters crime, is there any evidence that it will not or has not done so? At any rate, at least for the present, does anyone anticipate Australian traffickers rushing into Indonesia to ply their trade?

Events that followed the executions were equally astonishing in Australia. Prime Minister Tony Abbott joined a number of his countrymen to describe the executions, in accordance with Indonesian law, as "cruel and unnecessary".

But did scores of Australians not cheer and applaud in court when the three Bali bombers were sentenced to death in 2003?

Then Prime Minister John Howard was reported as having said that he found it impossible "as an Australian, as Prime Minister, and as an individual, to argue that those executions should not take place when they have murdered my fellow countrymen and women". The idea of even pleading for the deferral of their executions was "distasteful to the entire community".

The Bali bombers' biggest mistake, perhaps, was that they did not flee to Australia, which refuses to extradite convicted foreign murderers facing capital punishment in their own country.

This entire unfortunate episode is not about the clash of political will or nationalism or of that elusive concept called human rights.

It is about visitors to a foreign country respecting its sovereign and inalienable right to have and enforce its own laws as it thinks fit. For those unwilling to show that respect, the world just does not owe them a living.

The writer is a law professor at the Singapore Management University.

No comments:

Post a Comment