"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 24, 2015

Loner on a mission to make conservative Nebraska ditch the death penalty

Nebraska state senator Ernie Chambers (center, standing)
Nebraska state senator Ernie Chambers (center, standing)
Ernie Chambers, a champion of the voiceless, has introduced a bill to ban capital punishment in each of his 36 years in the legislature. This time it might succeed

"White people, they don't have a high opinion of me," says Ernie Chambers, Nebraska's long-serving legislator. "They thought I was uppity and arrogant - they didn't like my attitude."

They may not like Chambers' attitude in the super-conservative cornhusker state, but they are certainly listening to him now. At his 38th attempt, the state senator this week saw his bill to abolish the death penalty pass the legislature, in a move that should it be enacted would make Nebraska the 1st dyed-in-the-wool conservative state in the country to scrap the ultimate punishment.

It's an extraordinary turn of events, spearheaded by an extraordinary politician. For 38 years Chambers, 77, was the only African American member of Nebraska's uni-chamber legislature (there are now 2), and since he was first elected in 1970 to represent the north of Omaha he has been making it his business to take up causes that nobody else would champion.

"Conservatives probably think I'm crazy," he tells the Guardian in the wake of the historic vote to abolish capital punishment. "Not institutionally crazy. But so far out I couldn't belong to any party, or church or club."

When asked how he would describe his personal politics in a state that has a non-partisan assembly in which parties are not represented, he said: "First, I'm a loner. That doesn't mean I'm anti-social. But I don't have a lot in common with other people. Most of the things that I do, I will do virtually alone."

He says he sees his politics as standing up for the "poor, the voiceless, the marginal, the un-people - anybody who is set upon or mistrusted and who needs help. I'm not comfortable in the presence of other people's suffering, and if I can do something about it, I will."

One of the actions of which he is most proud was to have made Nebraska in the 1980s the 1st state in the US officially to divest from companies doing business with apartheid South Africa. From there the idea caught on, spreading to other states and eventually the federal government.

"Despite the very backward image that might attach to Nebraska, we led the country and to some degree the world over South Africa. And now we can do it again."

"I believe the state shouldn't kill anybody. I don't think anybody should kill anybody."

His mission to end the death penalty in his state emanates from a conviction that he says he has had since he was a teenager. He puts that conviction in bold, simple terms: "I believe the state shouldn't kill anybody. I don't think anybody should kill anybody. If we tell people that as individuals they can't kill anybody, then how can we kill somebody as a society? Just multiplying the number of people involved in the decision doesn't make it right - whether it's a mob or a state or anything else."

Armed with that moral determination, Chambers has introduced a bill to repeal the death penalty every year that he has served as a state legislator. 36 times the bill was voted down. In 1979 it passed the legislature, only to be vetoed by the then governor Charles Thone.

And this week it passed a 2nd time - on this occasion by a majority of 32 to 15. Crucially, that's more votes than would be needed to overturn a veto from the current governor, Pete Ricketts, who has made clear that he intends to do everything in his power to keep the death penalty alive in Nebraska. On his Facebook page, Ricketts has said "the Legislature is out of touch with Nebraskans ... the overwhelming majority of Nebraskans support the death penalty because they understand that it is an important tool for public safety."

The governor has until next Tuesday to decide whether or not to wield his veto. Until then, and until sufficient numbers can be mustered to overturn any veto, Chambers is not counting his chickens.

"The work isn't done yet - if the governor overrides the bill it will be back to us, and you never know if someone will crumble or stumble. There are so many ways for politicians to avoid committing themselves," he says.

But whatever the final outcome, Chambers has the satisfaction of knowing that he has yet again given Nebraska's normally staid politics an almighty shake. When asked how he managed to bring so many hardline conservatives on board with the bill, he replies: "Maybe the moon was in its 7th house and Jupiter lined up with Mars."

Pressed to give a less astronomical analysis, Chambers says that he believes that the conservatives who voted to abolish the death penalty were merely being true to their fundamental principles. "Conservatives have vowed that whenever they find a government program that isn't working, they will scrap it. And if there is a government program that doesn't achieve its goals, it's the death penalty."

He adds: "The irony is that the so-called conservatives are now giving the same arguments against the death penalty that the abolitionists have always given."

Though he finds himself in the unfamiliar position of having a lot of fellow senators actually agreeing with him, he has no delusions about his sudden popularity. Hence his statement about his standing in the eyes of white people - a reference to the rest of his legislator peers.

"If you were part of a group that's supposed to be dominant and somebody in that group fights you tooth and nail, you would have problems with that person because he reminds you of all the wrongs that you have done," he says.

For once, though, there's a chance that they will emerge united. "That's what I've told them. I've told my colleagues that if we abolish the death penalty we will be making history, and not only that, this time we'll be on the right side of history."

Source: The Guardian, May 23, 2015

YOU can help abolish the death penalty in Nebraska!

Right now, it is vital that Nebraskans weigh in with their Senators, telling them to hold firm and override the Governor's veto of death penalty repeal. Senators are getting the hardest pressure from the other side than they have gotten thus far. The veto override could happen as soon as Tuesday and will be the hardest vote for us to win.

Sample Tweets (please keep posting these until the override happens)

- Tell your friends in Nebraska - Contact Senators & ask them to see #deathpenalty repeal through to the end: http://ejusa.org/act/nadp #NERepeal

- Have friends from #Nebraska? Ask them to go here and thank Senators for passing #deathpenalty repeal: http://ejusa.org/act/NADP #NERepeal

- Please pass this on to EVERYONE in Nebraska: http://ejusa.org/act/NADP End the #deathpenalty in NE & the here in [YOUR-STATE] #NERepeal

Sample Facebook post
Know anyone in Nebraska? Share this link with them so they can tell lawmakers to see repeal through to the end. Make Nebraska the 19th state to end the death penalty!

Stacy Anderson
Executive Director
Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty
941 'O' Street, Suite 725 | Lincoln, NE 68508
Office: 402.477.7787 | Cell: 402.525.4679
Email:stacy@nadp.net | Website: www.nadp.net

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Saturday, May 23, 2015

Indonesian prison guard arrested with 16 kg of meth and several hundred ecstasy pills

President Joko Widodo claims Indonesia is in the grip of a “drug emergency,”
and that the death sentence serves as a deterrent against would-be drug offenders.
Jakarta. The Indonesian prison guard arrested with more than 16 kilograms of methamphetamine and several hundred ecstasy pills on Friday claims he was collecting evidence seized from inmates.

Dedy Romadi, from Bandung’s Banceuy Penitentiary, which houses drug offenders, told reporters at the National Narcotics Agency (BNN) headquarters in Jakarta late on Friday that the drugs were not his, following his arrest at the Atrium shopping mall in Central Jakarta while allegedly carrying out a drug transaction.

BNN officers caught Dedy and an Iranian national, Majid Jahangirzadeh, at the mall with nearly a kilogram of meth. The suspects then led them to a larger stash, totaling 16.3 kilograms of meth as well as 778 ecstasy pills.

Dedy, who faces the death penalty if charged and convicted of drug trafficking, denied that the drugs were his or that he worked as a courier for an international syndicate. Instead, he claimed to be going above and beyond his duties as a prison guard to crack down on drug dealing taking place inside the prison.

“I was aware that there was a lot of dealing going on at Banceuy, so I was collecting the evidence to reveal it all. I’m sure the other guards know about it too,” he said.

Dedi Fauzi Elhakim, the BNN’s deputy for eradication, rubbished the suspect’s version of events, saying Dedy had long been taking drugs from outside and dealing to the prison population.

He said Dedy first got involved in the drug trade in 2013, when a BNN detainee, Agung Adiyaksa, was remanded at Banceuy pending trial. Dedy and Agung got acquainted, and when Agung was transferred to Karawang Penitentiary in neighboring Karawang district, they remained in touch, Dedi said.

In their most recent communication, the BNN official said, Dedy and Agung arranged for the guard to get in touch with Jahangirzadeh to obtain meth for distribution at the Karawang prison.

The bust comes just over a week since the arrest of a guard from the prison island of Nusakambangan off Central Java, the site of 13 of the 14 executions carried out so far this year – all involving drug convicts.

In that arrest, officers caught Bayu Anggit Permana, a guard from the island’s Batu Penitentiary, with 364 grams of meth. A prisoner at the island, one of several on Nusakambangan, later admitted to paying Bayu to smuggle the drugs out of the prison.

Police have charge Bayu and Abdul with drug dealing – not trafficking – which carries a sentence of 12 to 20 years.

Drug seizures are common at prisons on Nusakambangan, where officials have a history of being complicit in allowing prisoners to set up meth labs.

The island was also the location for the executions on April 29 of eight convicted drug offenders, seven of them foreign nationals, including Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

In going against international condemnation of the executions, President Joko Widodo claimed Indonesia was in the grip of a “drug emergency,” and that the death sentence served as a deterrent against would-be drug offenders.

The arrests of Bayu and now Dedy – and countless other offenders in between – would seem to suggest otherwise.

Source: The Jakarta Globe, May 23, 2015

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Iran: 37 Prisoners Executed in 3 days

Darkness at Noon: Man flogged before his execution in Karaj, Iran, in Aug. 2014
Darkness at Noon: Man flogged before his execution in Karaj, Iran, in Aug. 2014
NCRI - From May 19 to 21, the antihuman clerical regime in Iran executed 37 in prisons or on the streets of various cities.

Three prisoners were executed in public in the cities of Qouchan, Minab and Shiraz. The execution in Minab was carried out in football field in the town to further intensify the atmosphere of fear among the youth. In Shiraz, a prisoner that was condemned to death and about to be executed received 111 lashes.

Just on May 20 and 21, twenty-four prisoners were executed in three group hangings in Ghezel Hessar and Gohardasht prisons in Karaj. 

Eight who were hanged in the early morning hours of Thursday, May 21, in Ghezel Hessar Prison were among the prisoners who had protested the wave of collective and secret executions in this prison on 17 August 2014 in order to stop the execution of a number of their cellmates and had clashed with prison guards.

Execution of nine prisoners in two group hangings in prisons in Shiraz and Arak on May 19 plus another prisoner in the central prison of Arak are the other crimes of this regime in this time span.

The objective of the savage regime of velayat-e faqih that the Iranian people call it the Godfather of ISIS is to intensify the atmosphere of terror and horror in order to control social protests that have turned into a nightmare for the clerical regime.

Source: Secretariat of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, May 22, 2015

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USA: Protestants join Catholics in reconsidering the death penalty

Nebraska is showing the most visible signs of a change in thinking by Christians and conservatives on the death penalty, and Catholics are helping to lead the way. For many, the catalyst has been a simple question: "If I value life, how can I support taking a life when the death penalty doesn't make us any safer?"

In response, more are embracing a consistent life ethic.

3 times in the past month, the Nebraska Legislature voted for a bill to repeal capital punishment and replace it with life without parole. The governor has promised to veto the legislation, and an override vote is looming. Many of the Christian lawmakers made it clear they cast their votes against the death penalty, in part, to promote a whole life ethic.

The leader of the group is Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln, a Catholic who put his personal reasons for opposing capital punishment into one easily understood phrase. "I am pro-life," he said.

Coash and his colleagues are also interested in enacting public policies based on facts, as well as on faith. They have studied capital punishment in detail and have determined it does nothing to contribute to our safety.

They're concerned about the 153 people released from death row for wrongful convictions and the death penalty's disproportionate impact on communities of color, the poor and those with intellectual disabilities.

"Is the death penalty truly effective as a deterrent?" Coash asked. "There's absolutely no evidence that we've seen that the death penalty acts as a deterrent."

Nebraska conservative Christian politicians are not operating in a vacuum. This year in Kansas, Kentucky, New Hampshire and South Dakota, their counterparts sponsored bills to repeal capital punishment. In South Dakota, a Republican state representative who is an evangelical pastor changed his mind on the death penalty and sponsored the bill to repeal it. Conservatives in red states such as Tennessee, North Carolina and Montana, as well as Nebraska, have formed groups to question the death penalty.

According to a recent poll, roughly 1/2 of voters in Nebraska support replacing the death penalty with an alternative such as life in prison. That aligns with polling of Americans nationwide. For a growing number of Christians, opposition to the death penalty remains fundamentally grounded to one issue - their commitment to promoting a culture of life.

"We must all be careful to temper our natural outrage against violent crime with a recognition of the dignity of all people, even the guilty," the Catholic bishops of Nebraska said in a joint statement on March 17.

Catholics will remember that the seeds for what is happening today were planted 20 years ago with "Evangelium Vitae," Pope John Paul II's encyclical expressing the church's position on the sanctity of human life.

Interestingly, evangelicals in Nebraska and elsewhere are joining Catholics in re-evaluating their support for capital punishment. For example, the Rev. William Thornton told the Nebraska Legislature's judiciary committee:

"I'd like to say that as a Christ follower who believes that Christ died for all, that no person is beyond redemption, that I believe we should never advocate cutting someone's life short and thereby guaranteeing no chance for them to experience redemption."

Nothing demonstrates this change more emphatically than the stand against capital punishment taken recently by a nationwide group of evangelicals. On March 27, the National Latino Evangelical Coalition passed a resolution calling for abolition of the death penalty.

"This is a biblical commitment," said the Rev. Gabriel Salguero, president of the association, at a news conference held during the organization's annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.

New voices, Christian and conservative, are increasingly making themselves heard in America's death penalty debate. They are coming to the conclusion that ending the death penalty will help them adhere more closely to their faith and be more consistent in their beliefs, while helping our society better value life and promote justice.

Source: Commentary; Heather Beaudoin is a national advocacy coordinator for Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, a project of Equal Justice USA, Religion News Service, May 22, 2015 (wr)

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Nebraska governor reiterates plans to veto bill abolishing death penalty

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts has said it before and he will say it again: He plans to veto a bill passed this week that would abolish the state's death penalty.

"The Legislature is out of touch with Nebraskans on their vote to repeal the death penalty," Ricketts, a Republican who took office this year, said in a statement posted to Facebook. "The overwhelming majority of Nebraskans support the death penalty because they understand that it is an important tool for public safety."

The state's attorney general, Doug Peterson, has also criticized the legislature's decision, which he said "weakened [Nebraska's] ability to properly administer appropriate justice."

Ricketts had previously threatened to veto the bill, which lawmakers approved and sent to his desk Wednesday.

However, for Ricketts's veto to be upheld, it appears he will have to change the minds of some Nebraska lawmakers. In the state's unicameral legislature, which has 49 state senators, it takes 30 votes to override a veto from the governor. On Wednesday, there were 32 senators voting in favor of the bill.

"I will continue to work with senators to sustain my veto when I issue it," Ricketts said. He has until next week to officially veto the legislation.

If the bill does become law, Nebraska would be the 19th state to formally abolish the death penalty.

It would also be an outlier among states to act on the issue recently. Several states have repealed the death penalty or announced moratoriums over the last decade, but they have typically been blue states such as Maryland, which was the most recent state to formally abolish the practice.

While a majority of Americans support the death penalty (a number that has been falling for 2 decades), there is a very clear partisan divide on the issue: 3/4 of Republicans are in favor of capital punishment, while a majority of Democrats oppose it.

Nebraska is a reliably red state with a conservative legislature, making it something of an unexpected place to see the death penalty on the precipice of disappearing. Some lawmakers have pushed for a repeal for religious reasons, while others have pointed to wrongful convictions. Still others have pointed to it as an example of a wasteful government program.

"The reality is Nebraska hasn't executed anybody in about 20 years," State Sen. Colby Coash, a Republican who co-sponsored the repeal legislation, said in an interview. "That inability spoke to my feelings about inefficient government. I've said frequently, if any other program was as inefficient and as costly as this has been, we would've gotten rid of it a long time ago."

Nebraska last executed an inmate in 1997. Coash described his own personal evolution on the issue, which he traced back to that last execution, when he was a college student who lived not far from where the execution would be carried out.

"I went down to the state penitentiary where they were having the execution that evening," he said this week. "Out in the parking lot of the penitentiary, there was a party, basically. There was a band, they were cooking, people were tailgating. they had a countdown, like you see at New Year's Eve parties. ... It was a big party. You wouldn't have known you were at an execution."

He also said he saw another group praying on the other side of a security fence.

"After that event, I had some time to reflect on that," he said. "It didn't sit well with me. I didn't like how I felt celebrating the state killing somebody. My views on the death penalty changed pretty significantly after that happened."

There are 11 inmates on the state's death row. Their sentences would all be converted to life imprisonment if the bill goes into effect.

Source: Washington Post, May 22, 2015

Ricketts appeals to public to flip death penalty votes

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts is ramping up pressure on lawmakers to try to keep them from overriding his promised veto of a death penalty repeal bill Friday to contact their state senator and voice their support for capital punishment.

Lawmakers gave the repeal bill final approval on Wednesday with a 32-15 vote. At least 30 votes are needed to override a gubernatorial veto, so Ricketts has to flip at least 3.

Ricketts says he has argued to several lawmakers that the Nebraskans he talks to overwhelmingly support the death penalty, and prosecutors need it to protect public safety.

Ricketts has argued that lawmakers are out of touch with the public. Death penalty opponents are working to ensure that support for the bill holds.

The Omaha Police Officers' Association issued the following statement on the bill Friday:

"We believe that a total repeal is inappropriate. At a minimum the death penalty should be an option when a first responder or elected official is murdered, or the crimes are so heinous that they may warrant the ultimate penalty."

For several years the carrying out of the death penalty was in limbo as elected officials and the courts sorted out the legality of the method and procedures for applying the death penalty. This is no longer the case.

Governor Ricketts recently announced that Nebraska will soon have the drugs necessary for lethal injection.

"This issue is far too important to be decided by 33 Senators, many of whom who were elected while telling their voters they supported the death penalty. Rather, such an important issue should be decided by all the voters of Nebraska in a statewide ballot vote."

Source: KETV news, May 22, 2015

Veto at the ready, Gov. Ricketts chases 3 votes in Legislature on death penalty repeal

Gov. Pete Ricketts must flip at least 3 votes to keep the death penalty in Nebraska.

Based on interviews with several state senators Thursday, the votes are in play, and advocates on both sides of the death penalty debate know it.

A leading repeal organization has activated its volunteer calling bank, and staff members for several senators said they were getting automated calls from death penalty supporters.

And the Hall County Board called an emergency meeting for today to consider a resolution in support of capital punishment, largely to influence the veto-vote decision of their state senator.

But no group carries a greater potential to influence the outcome than the state's top elected official.

"I really make the same argument to everybody: It's an important tool for public safety and public policy," Ricketts said during an interview Thursday.

The governor said he will veto Legislative Bill 268, but he declined to say when. Because the governor must act within 5 days of the bill's passage, the showdown will almost certainly take place next week, in the closing days of the legislative session.

The measure passed Wednesday with a surprisingly strong majority of 32 senators. Repeal supporters must keep at least 30 on their side to override the veto.

Several senators said Thursday that the historic vote prompted dozens of calls and e-mails from both sides of the issue. The governor used newspaper and television interviews and his social media accounts Thursday to encourage pro-death penalty Nebraskans to contact to their senators.

"My concern is that they're in that Capitol so much and listening to lobbyists and not to your average Nebraskan," Ricketts said.

And the governor met Thursday with several Republican senators he viewed as being open to reconsidering their positions.

"He said he hopes I could find it in my heart to support the veto," said Sen. Jerry Johnson of Wahoo. "I told him I've got 4 days to think about it, and I'm trying to be open about it."

The governor also met with Sen. Mike Gloor of Grand Island, who also finds himself being lobbied by the Hall County Board. Gloor voted against the repeal bill on the first 2 rounds of debate but joined supporters on the final round.

3 of the board members signed a letter to call the meeting, and one other indicated her support in an e-mail. Six of the seven board members have indicated that they will attend the emergency meeting, said Hall County Clerk Marla Conley.

Board member Gary Quandt said he will argue for the resolution to show solidarity with prosecutors and law enforcement officers. But he also wants to apply pressure on Gloor.

"I was strongly surprised by what the Legislature did," Quandt said Thursday.

Gloor said Thursday that he ultimately decided to vote for repeal because he became convinced that the legal battle over the state's execution protocol will never end.

"I want someone to answer this question: How are we going to get over the hump and do something we haven't been able to do in almost 2 decades," Gloor said. "What's different?"

One of the governor's messages to senators is that the state recently purchased a fresh supply of lethal injection drugs to replace those that had expired. And 3 current death row inmates are out of appeals, although death penalty opponents argue that new legal challenges will ensue once the state tries to carry out another execution.

In response to passage of the repeal bill, death penalty supporters also created a Facebook page titled: "Whose Side Are You On Senator? Save Capital Punishment Now." The site was dedicated to supporting the governor's veto of LB 268, and it had received 200 "likes" in 5 hours Thursday.

It also displayed draft mailings that were targeting Johnson and two other senators who voted for repeal: Brett Lindstrom of Omaha and Tommy Garrett of Bellevue. The mailings accuse the conservative senators of standing with Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers, a longtime death penalty foe, rather than their constituents.

Bud Synhorst, executive director of the Nebraska Republican Party, said grass-roots party activists were trying to rally voters to contact their senators. But he said the state GOP was not engaged in a robocall campaign, nor was he aware of any other groups responsible for such calls.

Stacy Anderson, director of Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said her organization was conducting a full grass-roots push by volunteers to generate calls to senators. She said her group was not involved in any automated calling campaigns.

Sen. John Murante of Gretna said he made the difficult decision to vote for repeal after having discussions with his Catholic priest. But he said he always made it clear to repeal supporters he wasn't sure how he would vote if it came to a veto override.

Murante said he's now hearing from more death penalty supporters, and he's listening to their input. Asked if he might support the governor during the override vote, he said, "It's possible."

When Sen. Robert Hilkemann of Omaha campaigned for the Legislature, he said he supported the death penalty for the most heinous killers. But his view changed after listening to the argument that life in prison costs less than trying to carry out an execution.

And he met with a man who spent time on death row in another state for a crime he did not commit. Opposing the death penalty is more consistent with his Christian beliefs, he added.

Wednesday's fatal shooting of an Omaha police officer caused Hilkemann to rethink his vote for repeal. But he hasn't decided for sure how he will vote on the override.

A good lawmaker, Hilkemann said, keeps an open mind.

Source: omaha.com, May 22, 2015

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New hearing for Kenyan sentenced to death with UK help

A Kenyan court will this Monday and Tuesday hear the appeal of a man who was sentenced to death after a flawed trial, on charges relating to the murder of a Briton.

Ali Babitu Kololo, a 35-year-old father of two from a marginalised tribe in northern Kenya, was sentenced to death in 2013 after Kenyan police tortured him into ‘confessing’ that he led Somali kidnappers to an island resort, where they would abduct a British woman, Judith Tebbutt, and kill her husband David. 

British police flew to Kenya to assist with the prosecution investigation, and testified for the prosecution, despite Mr Kololo's torture and the likelihood that he would receive the death penalty.

Mr Kololo’s trial was based solely on limited circumstantial evidence, and was conducted in a language he does not speak fluently, and without the presence of his lawyer during crucial hearings. Mr Kololo has always maintained his innocence.

In hearings beginning on Monday (25th), the Malindi High Court will consider Mr Kololo’s appeal against his conviction, including deciding whether his lawyers can present new evidence not heard at his original trial.

Source: Reprieve, May 22, 2015

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Friday, May 22, 2015

Saudi Arabia trying to win UN Human Rights Council presidency

In a move that will definitely drill the "final nail in the coffin for credibility" for the United Nations' Human Rights Council, Saudi Arabia is set to make a bid to head the HRC.

The news surfaced after the United Nations Watch that overlooks the HRC pushed the United States to prevent the nation that recently advertised for 8 new executioners to not be awarded the title.

"We urge US Ambassador Samantha Power and EU foreign minister Federica Mogherini to denounce this despicable act of cynicism by a regime that beheads people in the town square, systematically oppresses women, Christians, and gays, and jails innocent bloggers like Raif Badawi for the crime of challenging the rulers' radical brand of Wahabbist Islam," said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, reported The Independent.

"Electing Saudi Arabia as the world's judge on human rights would be like making a pyromaniac as the town fire chief."

Currently, Germany is heading the HRC but when its term ends in 2016, the new presidency will be announced.

According to a UN official, the presidency will be determined by elections in December 2015.

Saudi Arabia was elected a member of the HRC in 2013 - a move that drew heavy criticism from human rights campaigners worldwide.

Saudi Arabia carried out its 84th execution in 2015 on 18 May despite calls from Amnesty International to bring to a halt the "macabre spike" in the country's executions.

"This unprecedented spike in executions constitutes a chilling race to the bottom for a country that is already among the most prolific executioners on the planet," said Said Boumedouha, the deputy director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Programme.

"If this alarming execution rate continues, Saudi Arabia is well on track to surpass its previous records, putting it out of step with the vast majority of countries around the world that have now rejected the death penalty in law or practice."

Oil-rich kingdom wants to recruit executioners

In 2014, an estimated 87 executions were carried out by the Kingdom, which is a stark reminder of the alarming rate with which executions are being carried out in 2015.

The Kingdom recently advertised for more executioners to behead convicted prisoners with the job description suggesting the appointees should be able to perform amputations as well.

Crimes that can result in the death penalty in the Kingdom, include adultery, armed robbery, blasphemy, drug trafficking, murder, homosexuality and rape to name a few.

Source: International Business Times, May 22, 2015

Related article and video:
Saudi Arabia executes Burmese woman; secret filming reveals medieval, barbaric punishment, Gulf News, January 12, 2015

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De Lima sees Veloso permanently saved from death row

Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso
Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso
MANILA, Philippines - Justice Secretary Leila de Lima believes the statements of the alleged illegal recruiters of Mary Jane Veloso will boost her quest to avoid being executed by firing squad in Indonesia.

Speaking to reporters, De Lima yesterday said the statements of Maria Cristina Sergio and her live-in partner Julius Lacanilao that Veloso did not know she was carrying heroin into Indonesia would be a “big help” to her lawyers in appealing her drug smuggling conviction and death penalty.

“This is a good development and an indication that we are at the right direction, right track… If it will be proven in the ongoing investigation (that she is innocent), this will be a big thing for Mary Jane,” she said.

“This shows that it was right to suspend the implementation of the death so the truth would first come out.”

The government will inform Indonesian authorities of the affidavits of Sergio and Lacanilao “for their own appreciation,” she added.

De Lima said more information would come out in the preliminary investigation on the human trafficking, illegal recruitment and swindling charges against Sergio and Lacanilao.

“It would help if we get additional information, especially on the drug trafficking angle,” she said. “That is what we need to pursue.”

De Lima said Sergio and Lacanilao could provide more information to help Veloso’s case in Indonesia.

“If they are saying that Mary Jane is innocent, that means they have knowledge about that drug trafficking angle – how exactly the deal happened,” she said.

Edre Olalia, Veloso’s lawyer from National Union of People’s Lawyers, said Sergio’s affidavit could be used as evidence to prove Veloso’s innocence in Indonesian courts.

“It can be used as a basis by our Indonesian counterparts,” he said.

“In fact, they are actually waiting for the translation from English to Bahasa so they will communicate immediately with the attorney general’s office about this statement.”

Source: PhilStar, May 22, 2015

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Pakistan: Three executed in Gujranwala, Faisalabad, Multan

May 21, 2015: Three convicts were executed in Gujranwala, Faisalabad, Multan jails, raising the total number of executions to 107 since Pakistan reversed the self-imposed moratorium on the death penalty in December 2014 after the Taliban school massacre.

The first two convicts on death row were hanged early morning in Gujranwala and Faisalabad Central jails. 

The offender, Aijaz, in Central Jail Gujranwala, had committed a murder in 1998. 

While the hanging of another offender, Amjad, who had been convicted of killing a man in 1999, was adjourned at the request of a plaintiff. 

Convict Shaukat Masih was executed in Central Jail Faisalabad after being convicted for a murder committed in 2000. 

While the execution of convict Abid was deferred as according to jail sources. Abid’s relatives had filed an appeal in the High Court for a review of the execution order. 

Meanwhile, in Central Jail Multan, a prisoner, Abbas was also hanged early morning. 

Abbas had murdered his uncle and uncle's son due to an argument over land in 1998. 

Sources: thenews.com.pk, HOC, May 21, 2015

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The right to life and Indonesian nationalism

As a part of the global community, Indonesia could benefit from the exchange of ideas and international cooperation, and many are not aware that this is already the case: The Bali Nine drug smugglers would never have been caught without the help of and cooperation with Australian authorities. Unfortunately, Indonesia cannot expect that kind of support any more as Western countries usually refuse to cooperate with countries that have the death penalty.

Indonesia might be an archipelago, but there are almost no unidentified remote islands on the map of the UN any more. When Indonesian officials and civil organizations call for the universal recognition of the dignity of faith, they also should listen to those in favor of universal human rights. Universal values are not recognized as a priori by all cultures, but recognition requires a process of negotiation and exchange of ideas and arguments.

There are many ways to justify the right to life. It can be justified by referring to holy books; it can be justified by referring to human dignity or to natural law. Indonesia should not isolate itself from the discussion about human rights or contrast human rights to national sovereignty.

Apart from the right to live, mercy is also common and acknowledged in almost every culture, so why should it not play a more important role in Indonesia’s legal system? What prompted many Australians to demand the right to life for Australian inmates on death row were news reports about Kerobokan prison in Denpasar, Bali.

The international community saw the two Australian prison inmates convincingly regretting their crime and engaging in rehabilitation activities. They saw desperate relatives begging for mercy. It was almost impossible not to feel empathy for the men on death row and their relatives.

Despite the fact that some Indonesians accused Australia of defending drug trafficking, the war against drugs is also not the aim of just one country, but it is universally acknowledged that drugs are dangerous and selling and consuming drugs should be prevented. Here, Indonesia also can work together with other countries.

By executing foreign citizens, international cooperation falls prey to nationalism as a political tool for the national elite. Instead of dealing with drug trafficking by implementing police reform to establish an effective tool to fight drug production and trafficking, some drug traffickers are seemingly executed as a political statement.

The international community is not an archipelago of isolated islands even if some nationalists might think so. The task of upholding universal rights is much more difficult than claiming particular cultural values. Why not take the right to life and mercy as universal values?

Australia and European countries can learn from that value, too. Showing mercy for refugees who are seeking a better life in Australia or in the European Union is also necessary if governments advocate for mercy convincingly. It is time to re-think our common base of values as a global community and overcome nationalism.

Source: Jakarta Post, Ririn Sefsani and Timo Duile, May 22, 2015

DPN does not share the opinion quoted in the above article and attributed to Islamic organizations that "there should be global standards for the ethics of satire" and that "the right to not be [allegedly] insulted by caricatures is seen as a universal human right."

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Japanese grandfather gets life term in Indonesia drug case

Indonesia has argued need for tough drug trafficking deterrent, but some say harsh penalties due to domestic politics

A 73-year-old Japanese man, who says he was deceived into carrying drugs in someone else's bag on a flight into Indonesia, was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday for smuggling methamphetamine into the country. The case highlights the country's strict anti-drug laws, which drew international outcry when they resulted in the executions of nine convicts last month.

Masaru Kawada was arrested in November at Minangkabau Airport in West Sumatra's capital, Padang, after customs officials found 5.18 pounds of crystal methamphetamine in his luggage. Chief state prosecutor Budi Prihalda said they had recommended a light sentence of 16 years because of the defendant's age.

But the 3-judge panel that convicted Kawada at the District Court in Pariaman said his deed had weakened the government's struggle against drugs, and sentenced him to life in prison.

"We found no reason to lighten his sentence," said presiding judge Jon Effreddi.

A lawyer for Kawada - who argued that he was tricked by someone who asked him to carry a bag and that he did not know he was carrying drugs - said they would appeal.

According to court documents, a man identified as Edward Mark met Kawada in Japan last November and asked him to travel to Macau, with Mark paying for Kawada's tickets and accommodations and giving him $500 in travel expenses. While in Macau, Kawada met a Chinese woman who asked him to carry a bag to a friend in Padang.

Kawada, who flew to Padang from Macau via Kuala Lumpur, said he had checked the bag and did not find anything suspicious. He said he only realized he was carrying methamphetamine upon arrival, when customs officials arrested him and confiscated the drug.

The grandfather of 2 is believed to be one of the oldest drug smugglers to be sentenced in Indonesia, which has extremely strict drug laws and often executes smugglers.

The country has executed 14 drug convicts, including 12 foreigners, this year amid protests and an international outcry, but Indonesia insists that tough punishment is part of its efforts to confront a drug emergency. Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has said the country has 4.5 million people addicted to drugs.

But some activists have said such harsh penalties for drug offenses are related to domestic politics. Earlier this year Ricky Gunawan, director of the Jakarta-based LBH Masyarakat Community Legal Aid Institute, told Al Jazeera that there is widespread support for sentencing drug offenders to the death penalty.

"In Indonesia, drugs have always been seen as 'evil.' Narcotics ... are often labeled as haram," Gunawan said, using a term that means "forbidden" under Islam, the majority religion in Indonesia. "The government and law apparatus treat this issue as a way to gain popularity or support," he said.

Arrests, convictions and executions are "a way for the government to show that they are tough against crimes," Gunawan said.

More than 130 people are on death row in Indonesia, mostly for drug crimes. About 1/3 are foreigners.

"Since it is believed that the majority of drugs in Indonesia are imported, the government believes that by imposing harsh punishment on traffickers, they could reduce or halt the importation of drugs," Yohanes Sulaiman, lecturer in international relations and political science at Jakarta's Indonesian Defense University, told Deutsche Welle earlier this year.

Jokowi's determination to deal harshly with drug crimes has won him popular support at home, despite criticism by some rights groups and international leaders.

"We want to send a strong message to drug smugglers that Indonesia is firm and serious in tackling the drug problem, and one of the consequences is execution if the court sentences them to death," he told Al Jazeera in March.

Source: Al Jazeera, May 21, 2015

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Vietnam may stop punishing drug, war crimes by death

The government has proposed abolishing the death penalty for 7 crimes at a parliament session in Hanoi on Wednesday.

The crimes are robbery, vandalizing equipment and works significant to national security, gross disturbances of public order, surrendering to enemy forces, acts of sabotage and waging invasive wars, crimes against humanity, and drug trafficking.

The proposal is part of amendments to the Penal Code, which are going to be discussed at the ongoing session and voted on in November.

The Vietnamese Penal Code currently recognizes 22 crimes as punishable by death. That number was progressively scaled back from the original list issued in 1985, following amendments made in 1999 and 2009.

According to Tran Van Do, former vice chief of the Supreme People's Court, Vietnam's courts sentence about 200 people to death every year.

Vietnam switched to lethal injection from firing squad in 2011.

Minister of Justice Ha Hung Cuong, who presented the new amendments, said there are still controversies around the proposal involving death penalty.

Some people also proposed removing crimes of producing fake food and medicine, embezzlement and receiving bribe from the death penalty list.

"The government recognizes that there should be an unyielding fight against corruption. Many measures have been taken to no avail."

Removing corruption from the list could lead to misconception that the law is lenient to corrupt officials, he said.

Cuong said the government has also proposed life imprisonment without parole for the first time in Vietnam's legal system.

Source: Thanh Nien News, May 21, 2015

Many Vietnamese lawmakers back abolition of death penalty for 7 crimes

The proposal that capital punishment be scrapped for seven crimes under the current Penal Code has been supported by many Vietnamese legislators.

On the 1st working day of the 9th session of the 13th National Assembly (NA) that opened in Hanoi on Wednesday, Minister of Justice Ha Hung Cuong presented to the law-making body the proposed amendments to the Penal Code for discussion.

1 of them is the abolition of the death penalty for 7 crimes, including plundering property, destroying important national security works and/or facilities; disobeying orders in the military; surrendering to the enemy, which is applicable in the army; undermining peace, provoking aggressive wars; crimes against mankind; and war crimes.

Reducing death sentences is Vietnam's major policy that is reflected in recent resolutions on justice reform and the practice of criminal legislation, Minister Cuong said.

Many members of the NA Justice Committee and other lawmakers have agreed to the proposed amendment.

The Radio the Voice of Vietnam (VOV) quoted Nguyen Van Hien, chair of the NA Justice Committee, as saying his committee approves of the view that capital punishment should alleviated by cutting the number of crimes subject to death sentences, promulgating regulations that help minimize the application of the death penalty, and extending the list of defendants who are condemned to death but do not have their sentence carried out.

Tran Du Lich, deputy head of the delegation of lawmakers from Ho Chi Minh City, said that death sentences should be cut down but there should be a regulation on crimes subject to life imprisonment without parole.

If the NA approves this proposal, the number of crimes subject to the death penalty in Vietnam will be lowered to 15 from the current 22.

A number of deputies said capital punishment should be retained for the charges of undermining peace, provoking aggressive wars, crimes against mankind, and war crimes, as these top the list of the most serious counts.

Regarding some suggestions on abrogating capital punishment for 2 corruption crimes: embezzlement and bribe acceptance, Minister Cuong said the government's policy is that the death penalty should be maintained for those convicted of corruption as the highest sanction.

"We are uncompromisingly combating corruption. Many measures have been taken but they have yet to prove effective. Therefore, a proposal for death sentences be scrapped for these 2 crimes, which are the most serious among corruption charges, is not appropriate for the time being," the minister underlined.

As for another suggested amendment that defendants aged 70 or older should be exempted from capital punishment, Hien said most members of the NA Justice Committee have rejected it, VOV reported.

In reality people at this age can commit serious - even extremely serious - crimes and they can be the mastermind behind criminal organizations, Hien said.

If the government spares people of such age the death penalty, they could make use of the exemption to avoid punishment by law after committing serious crimes, he added.

According to the agenda of the 9th session of the NA, the amendments to the Penal Code will be discussed in groups of delegates on May 28 and in a plenary meeting on June 16.

VnExpress said the amendments will be submitted to the NA for consideration in its next session in November 2015.

Source: Tuoi Tre News, May 21, 2015

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Nevada lawmakers approve money for new execution chamber in Ely

Nevada lawmakers have given the green light to spending about $860,000 on a new execution chamber at the remote Ely State Prison.

A joint Assembly and Senate budget committee voted Wednesday to approve the construction project. 

A subcommittee was split earlier this week on the matter.

The state's existing death chamber at the shuttered Nevada State Prison in Carson City is not in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act. 

State officials have said for about four years that they wouldn't be able to carry out an execution there.

Executions remain rare in Nevada, which has only carried out the death penalty 12 times since 1977.

Department of Corrections officials say there are about 80 inmates on Nevada's death row, but the state hasn't executed anyone since 2006.

Source: Associated Press, May 20, 2015

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Nigeria: Murder charges against 15-year-old child bride dropped

Murder charges against 15-year-old girl accused of using rat poison to kill a 35-year-old man she was forced to marry are dropped by Nigerian court

A child bride accused of murdering her husband with rat poison has had the charges against her dropped, Nigerian prosecutors confirmed.

Prosecutor Lamido Abba Soron-Dinki asked the High Court in Gezawa, Kano state, to 'terminate the case of culpable homicide against Wasila Tasi'u, who was 14 when she married Umar Sani.

'With a heavy heart, I apply that the accused be discharged,' he said.

Legal sources in Kano said the country had been under pressure to drop the case which angered human rights groups.

Police previously said Wasila had 'admitted' murdering her 35-year-old husband by signing a confession she could not read - with her thumbprint.

Prosecutors had been seeking the death penalty for the teenager, whose farmer husband was found dead just days after marrying her in April last year.

If she had been found guilty, the teenager - who is from a poor and deeply conservative Muslim family and cannot write - could have become the 1st child in Nigeria to be executed in 18 years.

Human rights campaigners continually expressed outrage over her treatment, saying she should be seen as a victim of abuse.

But the case prompted mixed reactions in her impoverished home state of Kano, where Sharia (Islamic) law is in place alongside the laws of the government.

That, claim some followers, allows child marriage - and 14 is a normal age for a bride.

One of the prosecution witnesses was the farmer's 2nd wife Ramatu, who told how her 'co-wife' prepared him dinner before being due to go to bed with him.

The court had heard the murder victim had married Ramatu previously in the village of Unguwar Yansoro, which sits in a region where polygamy is widespread.

Ramatu said she got along well with the 14-year-old and the two had prepared food together on April 5, 2014 the day Sani died.

Because it was Wasila's turn to share a bed with her new husband, she was also entitled to serve him his meal.

'After putting the food in the dish I didn't see anybody put anything in it,' Ramatu said - but later she saw her husband foaming at the mouth and unable to walk.

Previously a 7-year-old girl who Wasila allegedly sent to buy rat poison was called to give evidence.

Identified only as Hamziyya, the young girl - believed to be Ramatu's sister - was living in the same house as the 14-year-old and her new husband at the time of his death.

'She said rats were disturbing her in her room,' Hamziyya told the court.

Shopkeeper Abuwa Yusuf confirmed selling poison to the girl, and neighbour Abdulrahim Ibrahim said: 'When [Sani] brought the food I noticed some sandy-like particles, black in colour'.

The neighbour ate 4 of the small balls made of bean paste but 'was not comfortable with the taste', he said, adding: 'It was only Umar (Sani) who continued eating.'

Previous court reports suggested 3 other people had died after allegedly eating the contaminated food, but all 4 deaths had been combined into 1 murder charge.

The case has raised the spectre of child marriage in Nigeria, where campaigners say almost 2/5 of children are married off before their 18th birthday.

Some 16 per cent are married before they turn 15, according to the campaign group Girls Not Brides - and the rates are the highest in the north, near where Wasila lived.

Hussaina Ibrahim from the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), who is representing the teenager, previously told The Guardian: 'We are against the trial. The whole process violates her fundamental rights.

'The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child says she should be in education. She should be in school'.

But others including the 14-year-old's own relatives have rejected the notion she was forced into marriage.

They have said that 14 is a common age to marry in the deeply impoverished region and that she chose Sani from among many suitors.

A motion by defence lawyers to have the case moved to juvenile court was rejected, despite claims by human rights activists that she is too young to stand trial for murder in a high court.

The use of Sharia law has also made the case more complicated, because there are no guidelines saying where Islamic law ends and state law begins.

According to Human Rights Watch, Nigeria is not known to have executed a juvenile offender since 1997, when the country was ruled by military dictator Sani Abacha.

Source: Daily Mail, May 20, 2015

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Why Is It So Easy for States to Execute the Mentally IIl?

Derrick Charles
Derrick Charles
LONG BEFORE HE COMMITTED a vicious triple murder in Houston at the age of 19, Derrick Charles had shown signs of serious mental problems. Raised amid crippling poverty, domestic abuse, alcoholism and neglect, he watched his schizophrenic mother stab his abusive stepfather. He suffered from tactile and auditory hallucinations, and by the time he was 13, had been hospitalized twice for mental illness. While in juvenile prison for nonviolent offenses, he said he was hearing voices and asked for medication. The request was denied.

Then, in July 2002, while high on marijuana laced with PCP, Charles beat and strangled his 15-year-old girlfriend, Myeshia Bennett, and her 77-year-old grandfather, Obie, then beat, strangled, and sexually assaulted Bennett’s mother, Brenda. He confessed to police, saying he didn’t know why he’d done it.

None of Charles’s lengthy and troubling history was investigated by his defense attorneys or presented at trial. Unaware of his documented mental illness — among mitigating evidence that would lessen his culpability for the crime — the Texas jury sentenced Charles to die.

Charles was executed last week, on May 12, at the age of 32. His death by lethal injection went largely undiscussed, despite the compelling evidence of his mental illness. Yet it is far from clear that his execution was a legal one — whether Charles was so mentally ill that he was in fact incompetent to die at the hands of the state.

The Charles case is not unique. It follows closely on the heels of other questionable executions of prisoners with mental problems. In January, the first execution of the year was Georgia’s killing of Andrew Brannan, a decorated Vietnam veteran who had been diagnosed with severe mental illness prior to his killing a deputy sheriff during a traffic stop in 1998. And in March, Missouri executed Cecil Clayton, a man who was missing 20 percent of his brain’s frontal lobe — the brain’s center for impulse control, problem solving and social behavior.

There is no outright ban on executing the mentally ill. While the U.S. Supreme Court has barred the execution of the intellectually disabled and of juveniles, populations it deems so vulnerable that their execution would constitute cruel and unusual punishment, there has been no such determination when it comes to people with mental illness. Rather, the court has said only that the “insane” may not face execution, leaving the measure of insanity up to to the states. In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that in order for a prisoner to be considered competent for execution, he or she must have a rational understanding of the state’s reason for killing him or her.

This notion of “competency” is the sole measure for defining what role mental illness might have played in the commission of a crime — from arrest through conviction and to execution.

Source: The Intercept, Jordan Smith, May 20, 2015

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Iran: Prisoner flogged in public

A man was lashed in public on Monday in the city of Karaj in central Iran for offences of "disturbing public order" and "mischief." 

The victim was identified as Kamran Jamalzadeh.

The prisoner had been sentenced to one year in prison and exile. 

The lashing sentence was carried out at 9:00 am in one the main streets of the city.

Public floggings have soared in Iran in recent weeks in a bid to spread fear among the country's youth and suppress public expression of dissent.

The number floggings across is Iran is much higher than officially announced.

Medieval and barbaric punishments

Source: NCRI, May 21, 2015

7 People Executed - 2 in Public - and Public Flogging in Iran

7 people were hanged in Iran on Wednesday (May 20) and Tuesday, according to the Iranian state media.

5 people were hanged in the Rajaishahr prison of Karaj, Wednesday morning May 20, reported Iranian state broadcasting. The prisoners were identified as "Ardalan", "Ali", "Morteza", "Meysam" and "Behrouz" and were all convicted of murder, said the report. Iran Human Rights (IHR) has received unconfirmed reports about the execution of 3 other prisoners in the Rajaishahr prison. These reports are being investigated.

1 prisoner was hanged in public in the city of Ghochan in northern Iran today. The prisoner who was identified as "A. Kh." was convicted of murder 4 years ago. He was a drug addict since his childhood, said the report.

Another prisoner was hanged publicly in the city of Minab (Southern Iran) on Tuesday May 19. According to Jomhuri-e-Eslami newspaper, the prisoner was identified as "Ayoub Torkamani", who was charged with possession and trafficking of 10 kilograms and 800 grams of crack, said the report. He was arrested 7 years ago.

Iranian state media also reported that the flogging sentence of a man identified as "Kamran" was implemented Monday morning May 18 (above story). He was convicted of theft. On Sunday the Iranian media reported about amputation sentence of another prisoner in Khuzestan province (southwestern Iran).

Source: Iran Human Rights, May 21, 2015

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Nebraska lawmakers vote to abolish death penalty

LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska lawmakers gave final approval on Wednesday to a bill abolishing the death penalty that would make it the first conservative state to do so since 1973 if the measure becomes law.

The vote margin in the unicameral Legislature was more than enough to override a promised veto from Gov. Pete Ricketts, a supporter of capital punishment. Ricketts, a Republican, said the vote represented a “dark day” for public safety.

“Nebraska has a chance to step into history — the right side of history — to take a step that will be beneficial toward the advancement of a civilized society,” said Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, an independent who has fought for four decades to end the death penalty.

The Nebraska vote marks a shift in the national debate because it was bolstered by conservatives who oppose the death penalty for religious reasons, cast it as a waste of taxpayer money and question whether government can be trusted to manage it. Law-and-order conservatives in the United States have traditionally stood among the strongest supporters of the ultimate punishment.

Nebraska hasn’t executed a prisoner since 1997, when the electric chair was used. The state has never imposed the punishment under the lethal injection process now required by state law. Some lawmakers have argued that constant legal challenges will prevent the state from executing anyone in the future.

“It’s certainly a matter of conscience, at least in part, but it’s also a matter of trying to be philosophically consistent,” said Sen. Laure Ebke, a Republican from Crete. “If government can’t be trusted to manage our health care ... then why should it be trusted to carry out the irrevocable sentence of death?”

Senators voted 35-12 to advance the repeal bill through the last of three required votes.

Ricketts has promised to veto the bill, requiring an override vote likely to take place next week. At least 30 votes are needed to pass the bill over his objections.

The governor announced last week that the state recently spent $54,400 to buy new lethal injection drugs from a company in West Bengal, India. Nebraska lost its ability to carry out the punishment in December 2013, when its supply of one key drug expired.

Ricketts argued that, unlike other death-penalty states, Nebraska has imposed the punishment judiciously. Nebraska currently has 11 men on death row.

Source: The Washington Post, May 20, 2015

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