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

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Abbott government removed death-penalty opposition from AFP's priorities

Justice minister Michael Keenan omitted the line when he updated the ministerial direction to the Australian federal police in May 2014

The Abbott government faces questions over its decision to remove the principle of opposition to the death penalty from the high-level instructions that apply to the Australian federal police.

The justice minister, Michael Keenan, omitted the line when he updated the ministerial direction outlining the AFP's strategic priorities in May 2014.

The previous version of the document approved by Labor's Brendan O'Connor in 2010 said the AFP should "take account of the government's longstanding opposition to the application of the death penalty, in performing its international liaison functions".

Keenan accused the Labor party of "incredibly cheap and invalid" politicking by raising the issue shortly after the execution of 2 Australians in Indonesia.

Despite the amendment to the overarching ministerial instructions, the AFP still has a specific guideline on how to carry out international police-to-police assistance in death-penalty situations, which requires senior AFP managers to weigh up factors including the risk of capital punishment.

The criteria for cooperation with overseas agencies before someone has been charged include the seriousness of the suspected criminal activity, the reliability of the information, the age and personal circumstances of the person involved, Australia's interest in securing cooperation and "the degree of risk to the person in providing the information, including the likelihood the death penalty will be imposed".

Ministerial approval is required for the sharing of information in cases where someone has already been detained, arrested, charged or convicted of an offence that carries the death penalty.

The AFP's conduct in death-penalty cases has come under fresh scrutiny after Indonesia executed 2 Australians - Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan - on Wednesday despite a long campaign by the Australian government for clemency. The AFP provided information to Indonesian police in 2005 that led to the arrest of the Bali 9 drug-smuggling group.

Labor's justice spokesman, David Feeney, wrote to Keenan after the executions on Wednesday to ask about the changes made to the ministerial direction last year.

In the letter, Feeney said the passage approved by O'Connor in 2010 was "a critical addition to the AFP's governance framework which sent an important message that opposing the death penalty was a key priority for the elected government".

Feeney said the omission of the passage raised concerns that protecting Australians from the risk of capital punishment was no longer considered a critical priority. "I would be grateful for your advice as to whether this omission was deliberate, or whether it was simply an oversight," Feeney said in the letter to the minister.

"I would also appreciate your position on reincorporating this important consideration into the Keenan direction, which I believe should occur as a matter of urgency.

"In light of the devastating loss of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran ... and the national outpouring of grief which has followed, it is more important than ever that Australia's political leaders do all we can to protect Australians from the threat of the death penalty and to campaign for the global abolition of this cruel punishment."

At a media conference in Tasmania on Thursday, Keenan did not answer a direct question asking why he had removed the passage from the ministerial direction.

Instead, Keenan pointed to the internal guideline outlining the factors to weigh up before cooperating with other police forces and said those arrangements remained in place.

"Those guidelines were updated in 2009 by the then Labor government and they are the same today," he said.

"I might say that I'm pretty outraged and offended that the Labor party would use the tragedy of 2 Australians being executed to make what is an incredibly cheap and invalid point. I think they should take a long hard look at themselves if they think that this is the sort of time to be politicking in a way that is completely inaccurate."

When asked whether what happened to the Bali 9 could happen again given similar information sharing was not explicitly ruled out, Keenan said he did not think that was the right question.

"I mean, could Australians be subject to the death penalty again if they were to engage in drug smuggling overseas? Obviously the answer to that is yes," Keenan said.

"We don't control law enforcement in other countries, but the way Australia deals with the information, dealing with countries who do have the death penalty in place, is governed by very strict guidelines."

The foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, said she was "very angry" at the opposition for "promoting this false line" about the AFP's rules.

"I am shocked that less than 24 hours after the death of 2 young Australians, the Labor party would seek to politicise this issue," she said in Sydney. "Shame on them."

Tony Abbott (left), Joko Widodo (right)
When pressed on the difference between the AFP guidelines and the ministerial directives, Bishop said they were "completely different documents".

"A ministerial directive is an entirely different document that does not dictate the operational activities of the AFP. I'm not going to answer another question on that," she said.

The opposition leader, Bill Shorten, said Labor did not want to politicise the issue but was seeking to ensure "that what happened in the early hours of yesterday morning can't happen again".

"We're willing to work with the government but we do think that the government need to make sure that they're not putting the police in the middle of all these issues and that the government needs to explain its actions," Shorten said.

The agriculture minister, Barnaby Joyce, muddied the waters on Wednesday when he suggested there was a need for domestic debate about the death penalty.

"I do get approached by people saying, 'Well, that might be your view, Barnaby, that you don't support the death penalty, but it's not our view,'" Joyce told the ABC. "I find that rather startling at times and I think that the discussion that we're having about others, we should also be carrying out domestically."

But it is understood Joyce's call for a discussion should not be taken as a sign he was wavering in opposition to the death penalty. He said he did not believe in the death penalty "in any circumstances in any part of the world" because a person should not be able to take the life of another human being if there was no direct or immediate threat to life.

Joyce also said he opposed calls for trade sanctions against Indonesia, arguing if Australia pursued that course of action it "would have to stop trade to a whole range of other countries where they have the death penalty such as China and the United States".

The AFP, which has previously defended its conduct in the Bali 9 case, is expected to convene a press conference in coming days to answer questions about the matter.

The independent senator Nick Xenophon called for a parliamentary review to prevent a repeat of the 2005 circumstances.

"I understand and appreciate the work the AFP does, but I understand that within the AFP itself - whatever is said publicly - there is extreme unease about how this unfolded," Xenophon said. "2 men are dead and that needs honest scrutiny."

The Greens said they would support an independent investigation.

2 lower house MPs, Clive Palmer and Cathy McGowan, said they would present legislation to parliament to outlaw information-sharing that could lead to the death penalty being applied in foreign countries.

The AFP provided information that resulted in the arrest of the Bali 9 group before their departure from Indonesia to Australia with heroin. AFP officials have previously argued they were operating within protocols in place at the time, but conceded they were aware that the tip-off could lead to charges punishable with the death penalty.

Source: The Guardian, April 30, 2015


Australia must lobby Indonesia, US and China to end capital punishment: Supreme Court judge Lex Lasry

A high profile judge has called on the Federal Government to lobby other countries to end the use of the death penalty across the world.

Capital punishment is still commonplace in dozens of countries, including in some parts of the United States, Australia's closest ally.

Victorian Supreme Court judge Lex Lasry QC was the lawyer who represented Australian drug trafficker Van Nguyen, who was executed in Singapore in 2005.

Justice Lasry has also had some involvement in the cases of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

The long-time anti-death penalty campaigner said the Australian Government should form a group of "eminent persons" including lawyers, retired judges and people with specialist knowledge in the field to provide advice.

"So that the Australian Government can have discussions, make submissions, make representations to other governments including Indonesia, China, the United States - or the state governments in the United States - about the death penalty," Justice Lasry told the ABC's 7.30 program.

He said the discussion was likely to take months or years, and should be held without the pressure of imminent executions.

"It needs to be a discussion that's intellectual rather than emotional so that people can be made to understand and be persuaded to the view that capital punishment is something that we should leave to history."

Justice Lasry said the policy would have to be consistent, including blanket opposition to the death penalty for all crimes.

"My position and that of many others is that they're against capital punishment in all circumstances," he said.

Justice Lasry acknowledged there was not the same level of public outcry when Indonesians convicted of the Bali bombings were put to death.

"So yes, we should be interested in the executions of the Bali bombers and we should have done more about that at the time," he said.

Bishop vows to advocate for outlawing of death penalty

Speaking to the ABC just hours before the executions, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said she would continue to advocate for the death penalty to be outlawed in the region.

"The UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-Moon, issued a statement on the weekend calling on Indonesia to not proceed with these executions," she said.

"We are in a region where a number of countries have the death penalty; it's not just Indonesia."

She said a number of those countries do not use capital punishment, particularly for drug offences.

"In my recent visit to Europe I spoke with 2 foreign ministers who have had either their citizen executed or their citizen is on death row in Indonesia," she said.

"We jointly agree that this issue of the death penalty as a way of trying to resolve the drug trafficking through our region must be a priority."

Source: ABC news, April 30, 2015


At least 17 Australians jailed around the world could face death penalty

More than 1/2 thought to be in China but execution also applies in Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Sri Lanka and the United Arab Emirates

As Australia reacts to Indonesia's execution of 2 citizens, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, there are at least 17 other Australians in danger of receiving the death penalty around the world.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed the number to Guardian Australia, but would not disclose the names or locations.

More than 1/2 of them are thought to have been detained in China; four known cases involve smuggling methamphetamine, commonly known in Australia as ice. In 2014, China Daily reported that of 63 foreign drug-smuggling suspects detained by officials in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, 11 were Australian.

Rao Jiyong, a deputy director at the city's anti-smuggling customs bureau, told the newspaper that drug-smuggling cases involving Australian suspects had rapidly increased over the past 2 years and cooperation had been strengthened with Australian federal police and customs officials.

In 2013-14, more than a third of Australians in prison overseas were there because of drug offences. Countries which apply the death penalty on those convicted of using, dealing or trafficking drugs include Indonesia, Thailand, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and the United Arab Emirates.

Peter Gardner, 25 (China)

A dual New Zealand/Australian citizen, Gardner was arrested at Guangzhou airport, China, on 8 November 2014 after customs officials allegedly found 30kg of methamphetamine in his bags. Gardner's lawyer, Craig Tuck, confirmed with Guardian Australia his trial would begin on 7 May in Guangzhou's municipal intermediate court. 'This is considerably earlier than expected," Tuck said. It is expected to last no more than 2 days.

Bengali Sherrif and Ibrahim Jalloh (China)

Sherrif and Jalloh were arrested by Chinese authorities at Guangzhou airport in June 2014, the ABC reported. Sherrif was sentenced to a suspended death penalty for attempting to smuggle methamphetamine from China to Australia, which could be commuted to life in prison after 2 years of good behaviour. Jalloh is awaiting trial.

Anthony Roger Bannister, 43 (China)

Australian jockey Bannister was arrested for drug smuggling in Guangzhou on 11 March 2014, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. More than 3kg of crystal methamphetamine were found in envelopes stuffed into 8 handbags in his luggage. "I do believe that I have been set up ... in this drug-smuggling scheme," Bannister told the court at his October trial. "They've used me as a mule."

Henry Chhin (China)

Chhin, then 35 from Sydney, was detained by police in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen on 10 May 2004 for attempting to mail 270g of methamphetamine to Australia, the Shenzhen Daily reported. The box, which allegedly contained the drugs and computer software, was intercepted by Shanghai police 2 days before. Local police said another 700g of the same drug was found in kitchen cabinets and the sitting room of Chhin's residence. He was given the death penalty with a 2-year suspension in March 2005.

A small group of foreign nationals have been executed in China, but none have been Australian. According to China.org.cn these include five Japanese, four South Koreans and a Pakistani-British businessman.

Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto, 52 (Malaysia)

Exposto, from Melbourne, was arrested on 7 December 2014 after arriving at Kuala Lumpur airport, en route from Shanghai to Melbourne, with a bag authorities said contained 1.5kg of crystal methamphetamine. Exposto's lawyer, Tania Scivetti, confirmed to Guardian Australia that a chemical analysis of the substance would be submitted to court on Thursday, after which the case would probably move to the high court for a May hearing.

Malaysian law carries a mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking. 3 Australian nationals have been executed by the state: Michael McAuliffe in 1993, and Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers in 1986.

Pham Trung Dung, 37 (Vietnam)

Dung was arrested in May 2013, when custom officials reportedly found heroin in his luggage as he boarded a flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Australia, the Associated Press reported. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said, "We understand that he has the right of appeal. Whether he decides to do so is a matter for the man and his lawyers."

Under the Vietnamese penal code, a person caught in possession of heroin can be sentenced to death. The 5 Australians who have received death penalties for heroin trafficking in Vietnam have had their sentences commuted to life in prison, reported the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties.

Source: The Guardian, April 30, 2015

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