Well-known actors including David Tennant, David Morrissey, Tobias Menzies and Olivia Colman have voiced a collection of ‘last words’ from prisoners facing the death penalty and other abuses around the world.
In a short film narrated by David Morrissey (The Walking Dead), released today by international human rights organization Reprieve, the actors voice a series of statements from people affected by the death penalty. The video features the last words of prisoners like Edward Earl Johnson and Aftab Bahadur, who were executed despite strong evidence of their innocence, as well as the ‘first words’ of prisoners freed after being unjustly held on death row, or in similar lengthy detention such as at Guantanamo Bay.
The film also includes the words of prisoners who are at imminent risk of execution, including Saudi juvenile Ali al-Nimr, British father of three Andy Tsege, and Irish student Ibrahim Halawa. Ali al-Nimr was sentenced to ‘crucifixion’ in Saudi Arabia following his arrest as a child in 2012. Ali was tortured into ‘confessing’ to protest-related charges, and now faces execution alongside several other juveniles.
Andy Tsege is held in Ethiopia under a sentence of death that was handed down in absentia while he was living in London, on charges relating to his opposition to the Ethiopian government. In 2014, he was kidnapped at an airport and illegally ‘rendered’ to Ethiopia. Mr Tsege’s partner and children in London are unable to speak to him, and there are fears for his wellbeing.
Ibrahim Halawa, from Dublin, was a juvenile when he was arrested in Egypt in 2013, for allegedly attending protests. He faces a death sentence in a ‘mass trial’ of 494 people, and is regularly tortured in prison.
The prisoners’ words are voiced by David Tennant (Doctor Who, Jessica Jones), Tobias Menzies (Game of Thrones, Outlander), Olivia Colman (The Night Manager, Broadchurch), Matthew MacFadyen (Spooks, Pride and Prejudice), comedian Harry Enfield, Adjoa Andoh (Dr Who, Invictus), Anna Maxwell Martin (Philomena), Tim McInnerney (Blackadder, Game of Thrones, Sherlock), Khalid Abdalla (Spooks, The Kite Runner), Ariyon Bakare (A Respectable Trade), Colin Salmon (London Has Fallen, Master of None), and Ceallach Spellman (Cold Feet).
The video is released amid a surge in the use of the death penalty worldwide, including by countries that are close UK allies such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Questions have been raised this week over the UK’s commitment to combating human rights abuses such as executions; speaking to MPs yesterday, the UK Foreign Office’s most senior civil servant, Sir Simon Macdonald, admitted that ‘prosperity’ was above human rights in his department’s priorities, saying “clearly more resource is devoted… to prosperity than to human rights.”
Commenting, Harriet McCulloch, deputy director of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said: “These prisoners’ stories demonstrate the brutality and futility of the death penalty, and related abuses such as indefinite detention. The ‘last words’ of prisoners like Aftab Bahadur, who was executed despite evidence of his innocence, are a poignant reminder of how often fatal mistakes are made, and innocent people sentenced to death and executed. The words of current death-row prisoners, such as British dad Andy Tsege, show how vital it is for governments such as the UK to help those who are at risk, before it’s too late. Now more than ever, countries like Britain must redouble their efforts to end the use of the death penalty by some of our closest allies.”
➤ The full video, and more information about the cases featured, can be seen at the Reprieve website, here. A shorter version can be seen on Twitter here.
➤ Sir Simon Macdonald's comments to MPs yesterday can be viewed at this link, from 15:21.
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