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

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Philippines: House leadership hit for railroading death penalty bill

The House of Representatives, Manila, PH
Opposition lawmakers in the House of Representatives on Tuesday scored the leadership's plan to railroad the death penalty bill by bypassing the plenary debate and putting the bill to a vote next week.

In a press conference at the House of Representatives, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said a "train terminal has been installed menacingly in the plenary hall of the House of Representatives" due to the planned railroad of House Bill 4727 seeking to restore the death penalty on Feb. 28.

Lagman said the leadership led by Majority Leader Rodolfo "Rudy" Farinas wanted to railroad the bill following opposition from lawmakers who constantly questioned the quorum during sessions in a bid to block the prompt passage of the bill.

"The advance voting was a reaction to the quorum calls of those objecting to the retrogressive measure," Lagman said.

Lagman said the Lower House could not act on passing the death penalty bill on Feb. 28 if there is no quorum in the plenary.

"It is a puzzle why the House leadership gets peeved when the absence of a quorum is raised considering that under the Rules no business can be conducted in the absence of a quorum," Lagman said.

Lagman said moving to adjourn the session due to absence of a quorum is permitted in the Rules of the House, under Article 75 of Rule XI as a legitimate parliamentary motion.

"It is the duty of the House leadership to maintain a quorum after the roll call is held in order to assure that the interpellations and debates would continue," Lagman said.

Asked why the House leadership is rushing the passage of such a controversial measure just less than a month after it reached the plenary for debates, Lagman said the leadership is railroading the bill because it is not confident with its numbers to pass it.

"If they are acting this way, they don't have the numbers," Lagman said.

Lagman scored the leadership for rushing the bill while muzzling the opposition by putting a deadline for the plenary debates.

"They appear omnipotent. When we use the rules legitimately it's like they are the ones peeved. I cannot understand why we should rush the voting on this very important although retrogressive measure," Lagman said.

Lagman said this is the 1st time in Congress' history to stifle the brewing opposition on any legislation in the House of Representatives.

"This kind of muzzling has not happened before. This is a way of continuing the culture of violence because suppressing freedom of expression is a form of violence," Lagman said.

For his part, Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin said the leadership is railroading the bill fearful that it would not be passed once President Rodrigo Duterte's political capital erodes.

Duterte faces anew the issue of his involvement in death squads when he was Davao city mayor as divulged by his former right-hand man SPO3 Arturo Lascanas, who claimed Duterte ordered the death squad to kill criminals and his vocal critics, including broadcaster Jun Pala.

"Maybe by the 2nd year of the Duterte presidency, his political capital would go down. That is the only pragmatic and political reason on why they want to rush this bill. Right to life cuts across sectors," Villarin said.

On Monday, Farinas said that the House majority agreed to limit the offenses punishable with death to drug-related offenses, plunder and treason.

He said that mere possession of illegal drugs has been removed from the drug-related offenses in the bill.

According to the original version of the bill, the following are punishable with death under the Revised Penal Code - treason, qualified piracy, qualified bribery, parricide, murder, infanticide, rape, kidnapping and serious illegal detention, robbery with homicide, rape, intentional mutilation or arson and destructive arson.

The following offenses under the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act are also punishable with death - importation; sale, trading, administration, dispensation, delivery, distribution and transportation; maintenance of a den, dive or resort; manufacture; possession of certain quantities of dangerous drugs; cultivation; unlawful prescription; misappropriation or failure to account confiscated, seized or surrendered dangerous drugs; and planting of evidence.

Carnapping is also a criminal offense punishable with death under the Anti-Carnapping Act or Republic Act 6539.

Plunder is also punishable with reclusion perpetua to death according to Republic Act 7080 or the plunder law as amended by Republic Act 7659.

Lawmakers initially wanted to remove plunder from death row, which garnered public backlash compelling Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez to call for plunder as punishable with the death penalty.

Meanwhile, the death penalty bill in the Senate hit a gridlock after senators centered on the country's obligations to the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which under the Second Optional Protocol states that "Each State Party shall take all necessary measures to abolish the death penalty within its jurisdiction."

Source: newsinfo.inquirer.net, February 21, 2017

CBCP to take death penalty bill to SC

The Supreme Court is expected to be the next battleground for the proponents and challengers of the death penalty should lawmakers succeed in railroading the passage of the bill reviving the proposed punishment for heinous crimes.

This developed as an official of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) announced its support for lawmakers expressing opposition to the reimposition of the death penalty.

Rudy Diamante, executive secretary of the CBCP's Commission on Prison Pastoral Care, said the bishops would exhaust all legal means to question the bill once it is enacted into law.

"We will go to the Supreme Court. We will exhaust all legal means available because we believe that it is unconstitutional. It is cruel. It is inhumane," he said in a press forum in Manila on Monday.

Diamante said there were 2 ways to dispute the restoration of death penalty in the high court: having a prisoner sentenced to death question it; or through lawmakers who ratified the Philippines' international treaty obligation against death penalty.

The CBCP official made the statement following the "Walk for Life" prayer rally against the death penalty and extrajudicial killings organized by Catholic lay people on Saturday.

Lawmakers from the House of Representatives are currently holding plenary debates on the bill for the reinstatement of the death penalty, after which they will vote on the measure.

House Majority Floor Leader Rodolfo Farinas Jr. said voting on the death penalty bill would take place on Feb. 28, a few days earlier than the initially agreed March 8 schedule.

This was one of the agreements reached at the nearly three-hour majority caucus meeting, where the lawmakers decided to continue with the plenary debates.

Sought for comment, Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin said antideath penalty lawmakers like him would "exhaust all parliamentary means to stall this seeming railroad."

"We can't do deadlines when passing this very important measure. Taking away life is not something to be taken lightly nor to be rushed," Villarin said.

The bill is a priority legislation of House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, who vowed to restore the death penalty, one of President Duterte's campaign promises.

Source: newsinfo.inquirer.net, February 21, 2017

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UK Trains Ethiopian Security Forces, as MPs Call for Action on Death-Row Dad

The UK Government is training senior members of Ethiopia's security sector, despite the illegal detention of a British father on the country's death row. 

The news comes as 53 MPs and peers call on the Foreign Office to secure Andy Tsege's return from unlawful detention.

A freedom of information request by international human rights organisation Reprieve has shown that senior members of Ethiopia's police, military, justice ministry and diplomatic corps are studying for an MSc in Security Sector Management, as part of a UK-aid funded program.

The revelations come amid growing concerns for British father of 3 Andy Tsege, who is on death row in Ethiopia.

53 MPs and peers from across the political spectrum have written to the Foreign Office to request that ministers "make representations - privately or publicly - for Mr Tsege's release." The politicians, representing the Conservatives, Labour, SNP, Lib Dems, Greens and SDLP, criticise what they say is a set of "limited demands" that the government has made to Ethiopia so far, in relation to his case.

Mr Tsege has been imprisoned unlawfully in Ethiopia since 2014, when he was kidnapped at an international airport and rendered to a secret Ethiopian prison. Mr Tsege is a prominent critic of Ethiopia's ruling party, and his ordeal is thought to be linked to a wider crackdown on dissent in the country. In 2009, while Mr Tsege was living in London, an Ethiopian court handed him an in absentia death sentence.

The Foreign Office has stopped short of requesting Mr Tsege's return to the UK, instead focusing on a regular consular and legal access for him. However, the Ethiopian authorities have only agreed to sporadic consular access, while Mr Tsege has been prevented from contacting a lawyer. Ethiopian officials have said Mr Tsege faces no prospect of appealing his death sentence.

In 2014, the Department for International Development told Reprieve that it had cancelled a similar MSc programme because of "concerns about risk and value for money". However, the programme was restarted several months later under the 1bn pounds Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF), with the oversight of the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence.

This month, a Parliamentary committee on the National Security Strategy issued a report that heavily criticised the government's use of the CSSF, saying the Fund was dogged by a "fundamental lack of transparency". They also warned that CSSF projects carried a risk of UK complicity in abuses.

Ethiopian officials told the 'Ethiopian Reporter' newspaper in 2016 that "some 90% of the senior officials currently serving in Ethiopia's intelligence institutions have completed their masters degree in the UK on subjects related to security." They added: "The courses are fully financed by the UK government."

Commenting, Harriet McCulloch, a deputy director at Reprieve, said:

"It's shameful that the UK is funding Ethiopia's security sector, when Ethiopian forces are holding a British dad illegally on death row. MPs are right to express serious concern over the government's approach. Boris Johnson must explain why his department is training Ethiopian security officials, but refusing to negotiate Andy Tsege's return home to Britain."

Reprieve is a UK-based human rights organization that uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantanamo Bay.

Source: Reprieve, February 21, 2017

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Turkey tries soldiers for attempting to assassinate Erdogan

The trial of over 40 officers and soldiers accused of attempting to assassinate Turkey's president during the July 15, 2016 attempted putsch started on Monday. The case could be a test for the restoration of the death penalty in Turkey.

The trial of more than 40 Turkish soldiers accused of attempting to assassinate President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during last year's failed coup started on Monday.

The defendants were taken under tight security to a courthouse in the southwestern city of Mugla, not far from the luxury resort where Erdogan and his family narrowly escaped the soldiers, fleeing in a helicopter shortly before their hotel was attacked.

Calls for restoration of death penalty

The suspects include Erdogan's former aide-de-camp. They were wearing suits when they were brought from prison to the courthouse. A crowd of some 200 people waved flags and called for their execution.

Turkey abandoned the death penalty in 2002, as part of its bid to join the EU. Since the attempted putsch, calls for its restoration have increased.

"We want the death penalty. Let the hand that tried to harm our chief be broken," said one of the protesters, 61-year-old Zuhal Ayhan, referring to Erdogan. "I'd give my life for him."

Almost all of the accused were soldiers. All those on trial face multiple charges including attempting to assassinate the president, violating the constitution and being members of an armed terrorist organisation.

Crackdown on FETO

More than 240 people were killed during the July 15 failed coup and over 2,000 wounded, when a group of rogue officers and soldiers commandeered tanks, warplanes and helicopters, attacking parliament and attempting to overthrow the government.

Turkey says the coup was orchestrated by US-based Fethullah Gulen and his organisation, which Ankara calls the Fethullah Terrorist Organisation (FETO).

Gulen has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, and denies any involvement in the attempted coup. Turkey is seeking Gulen's extradition to stand trial.

The government accuses FETO of being behind a long-running campaign to overthrow the state through the infiltration of Turkish institutions, particularly the military, police and judiciary.

Since the failed coup, more than 40,000 people have been arrested and more than 100,000 have been sacked or suspended from the military, civil service and private sector in Turkey's bid to eradicate FETO.

The government says the measures are necessary, given the security threat.

Turkey launched its 1st criminal trial related to the coup attempt in December and more trials are expected.

Source: trtworld.com, February 21, 2017

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Wyoming kills death penalty repeal

The bill to repeal Wyoming's Death Penalty is no longer being taken under consideration in the Legislature's House.

House Bill 240 (HB 240), sponsored by Representative Marti Halverson proposed a complete repeal of Wyoming's death penalty law.

"I'm pretty adamantly opposed to the death penalty, so I thought that this [House Bill 240] was great." UW Professor of Philosophy Edward Sherline said.

According to the Wyoming Constitution, a person convicted of murder in the 1st degree can be punished by death, life imprisonment without parole or life imprisonment, with the exception of persons under the age of 18, who will not be given the death penalty. The present form of execution in Wyoming is death by lethal injection.

Representative Mark Baker, co-sponsor of HB 240, said that as of Feb. 15, the bill did not meet the cut-off date and is indefinitely postponed for the session.

Sherline said the death penalty has not had a significant impact on Wyoming, however, he still opposes it. The last person to be executed in Wyoming was Mark Hopkinson in 1992 and the last person sentenced to death row was Dale Wayne Eaton in 2004.

Since 2014 Judge Alan B. Johnson has overturned Eaton's sentencing on the grounds that Eaton received poor representation, which was due to the Wyoming Public Defender's office's lack of funding. At this time no one is on death row in Wyoming or being tried for the death penalty, according to the Death Penatly Information Center's website.

"I wouldn't have cared otherwise, how would it affect me?" Brian Halsey, a Political Science and History student at UW said. "It [the death penalty] doesn't dictate my everyday life so why should I worry about it? In Wyoming it is okay because it won't really be used in a state with a population of 500,000."

A bill was considered in the 2015 session to replace the state's backup method of execution. The bill would have replaced the gas chamber with a firing squad as an alternative in the event that lethal injection is not available.

A bill to eliminate the death penalty will not be considered this year, however, this may still be a step in that direction.

"Maybe this is just the 1st step in the door." Sherline said.

Source: The (Univ. Wyo.) Branding Iron, February 20, 2017

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Egypt court upholds 10 death sentences over football riot

Port Said, Egypt
An Egyptian court upheld Monday death sentences against 10 people convicted over rioting that claimed 74 lives at a stadium in Port Said in 2012, judicial and security officials said. 

The ruling by the Court of Cassation, which is final, excluded an 11th defendant who remains at large after his death penalty was also confirmed in June 2015 by another court.

The ruling by the Court of Cassation, which is final, excluded an 11th defendant who remains at large after his death penalty was also confirmed in June 2015 by another court.

The court also upheld sentences of life imprisonment for 10 people and 5 years for 12 others, including Port Said's security chief at the time, said the officials who requested anonymity as they are unauthorised to speak to the media.

Monday's ruling was welcomed by relatives of those who died in the rioting, who celebrated outside the court in Cairo.

The riot, the country's deadliest sports-related violence, broke out when fans of home team Al-Masry and Cairo's Al-Ahly clashed after a premier league match between the 2 clubs.

Ultras -- hardcore football supporters usually blamed by the authorities for violence -- were at the forefront of the 2011 uprising that unseated longtime president Hosni Mubarak.

Source: al-monitor.com, February 21, 2017

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Monday, February 20, 2017

Iran: Nine Prisoners Hanged on Drug Charges

Iran Human Rights (FEB 20 2017): Nine prisoners have reportedly been hanged in Iran on drug related charges.

Two Prisoners Executed in Dizel Abad (Kermanshah province, western Iran)

According to close sources, two prisoners were hanged on drug related charges on Saturday February 18 at Dizsel Abad Prison. 

The prisoners have been identified as Mohammad Karim Azizpanah, 43 years of age, sentenced to death on the charge of trafficking three kilograms and 350 grams of crystal meth, and Hamid Reza Reybaz, 35 years of age, sentenced to death on the charge of trafficking two kilograms of crystal meth and 200 grams of crack.

"Mohammad Karim is father to two sons. The drugs were in no way his. He was a driver who was driving a passenger to Kermashah when he was arrested and never returned," a family member of Mr. Azizpanah tells Iran Human Rights.

Prisoner Executed in Shiraz (Fars province, southern Iran)

According to the Baloch Activists Campaign, a prisoner was hanged at Shiraz Prison on the morning of Tuesday February 20. 

The prisoner has been identified as Ismael Hassanzehi, sentenced to death on drug related charges. 

The report says that prison authorities had told Mr. Hassanzehi's family to travel from Sistan & Baluchestan to Shiraz Prison in order to have their last visit with him, but when they arrived, they were given Mr. Hassanzehi's dead body instead.

Six Prisoners Executed in Birjand (South Khorasan province, eastern Iran)

According to the Baloch Activists Campaign, six unidentified prisoners were hanged at Birjand Prison on drug related charges. 

The exact dates of the executions are not known, but it is reported that they were carried out in the last few days.

Iranian Authorities Silent on Executions

Iranian official sources, including the media and the Judiciary, have not announced these nine executions.

Source: Iran Human Rights, February 20, 2017

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Malaysia: Hundreds of thousands expected to join mass rally calling for greater Syariah laws

A muslim woman is caned in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, in October 2016.
A muslim woman is caned in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, in October 2016.
HUNDREDS of thousands of protesters are expected to throng the streets of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia this afternoon in what could be the country’s largest call to strengthen the Syariah justice system, as the Muslim-majority nation reaches a major crossroads over its secular laws.

Amid a backdrop of rising Islamic sentiments and fractured race-relations, the country’s pious northeastern state of Kelantan is closer to realising its decades-long pursuit of enforcing strict Islamic Syariah laws for criminal offences, threatening to worsen religious ties in a polarized multiracial nation.

Next month, lawmakers will debate a controversial bill, known as “Hadi’s Bill”, to amend Act 355 of the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965, proposing harsher punishments to replace current sentences that have long been implemented under the civil system.

Traditionally, Malaysia’s Syariah courts focused on family and marital affairs, and handed out minor fines amounting to several thousands of ringgit and relatively light prison sentences for moral offences, which are hardly enforced.

The religious courts are restricted to imposing punishments of up to three years’ jail; RM5,000 fine or whipping of no more than six strokes — also referred to in the country as the “3-5-6” penalties — for offences against Islam.

However, if passed, the bill is tipped to grant punitive powers to the Syariah courts and allow its judges to impose up to a hundred lashes, hundred thousand ringgit fines (US$21,000) and 30-year jail sentences on Muslims convicted of the same moral offences and other victimless crimes. Save for the death penalty, the amendments will be enshrined under state jurisdiction in the Federal Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land.

Among others, examples of punishable crimes under the proposed amendments include pre-marital sex, alcohol consumption, failure to attend Friday prayers or fast during Ramadhan. If implemented, the new laws threatened to throw modern Malaysia back into a medieval plot-setting where punishments were carried out in public, in full view of an onlooking crowd, similar to what is done in the self-autonomous region of Aceh, Indonesia.

Spearheading the Islamic law reforms is the hard-line Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) and its president Abdul Hadi Awang, an influential Islamist political movement headed by ulamas and religious clerics that fell out with the country’s opposition bloc over the disputed “Hudud” aspect of Islamic jurisprudence, which lies at the core of the issue.

The United Malays National Organisation or Umno, the ruling party led by Prime Minister Najib Razak who is faced with a massive corruption scandal and declining favour among voters, is seen to be banking in on the reforms.

In its bid to shore up political support, Umno, which has ruled the country for more than half a century via the rural Malay voter bank, has shown keenness in backing the demands of the hardline Islamists as Najib mulls calling for snap polls as early as the second half of the year.

Showing their solidarity for PAS’ flagship cause, Umno top brass and grassroots members are expected to join the much-talked-about rally in Padang Merbok, a landmark field in the capital that could fit up to 50,000 people.

Medieval and barbaric punishments
Sharia Law: Medieval and barbaric punishments
Nasrudin Hassan, a senior PAS politician and director of the Himpunan RU355 (Act 355 Rally), said at least 200,000 people, from different political backgrounds will attend the protest.

He said the mass rally, which will be one of the biggest rallies to ever be held in the country, has received approval from police and will see 21 speakers talk between 2pm and 11pm on Saturday. The organisers will deploy at least 2,500 volunteers to ensure order and security while the authorities corderned off the area to traffic.

Even though Padang Merbok can only handle between 40,000 to 50,000 people, the police and city hall officials will cooperate by holding roadblocks in the surrounding area to allow us to accommodate the crowd,” he said, as quoted by Utusan Malaysia.

“We are also encouraging the rally-goers to bring their own prayer mats and mineral water bottles. We also remind bus drivers to come early to avoid congestion.”

Race-relations, biased implementation and economic impact

While the proposed laws apply only to Muslims, critics argue that they could extend to others while a sizable number of law experts have labeled the bill “unconstitutional” and open to abuse.

Malaysia’s 30 million populace is Muslim-majority, but nearly 40 percent profess other faiths such as Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism.

Past debates on the bill have also triggered much controversy and created major fissures on both political fronts.

It has led to divisions in the multiracial ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) pact – with protests from Umno’s non-Muslim allies for its support of the bill – as well as in the opposition, whose parties split with PAS in 2015 over disagreements regarding hudud.

Malaysia’s Muslim conservatives, however, insist that such laws are mandatory, not just for religious adherents but for all of Malaysia.

Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, the president of the People’s Justice Party (PKR), said the opposition party was concerned with the motion due to its ambiguity on the matter regarding the scope of punishments.

“Since the proposals involve criminal laws that conflict with Islamic laws, the proposed punishments have to be absolutely certain. Whatever amendments that deal with punishments must be precise in their meaning.

“Any proposed amendments need to be absolutely aligned with Islamic laws. We also need to consider whether the amendments fit into the framework of the Federal Constitution,” she said in the party’s official stance on the matter.

She added PKR’s position is predicated on the condition that any debate on the RUU355 motion and its amendments to existing laws is to acquire further explanation and guarantee from the Prime Minister, and to ensure that the amendments “must comply and fulfill Islamic principles of justice and fairness, and do not contradict the text and the spirit of the Federal Constitution.”

In a Facebook posting, lawyer and activist, Nik Elin Nik Rashid, said the country would be treading on dangerous ground where the courts can mete out harsh punishments for trivial issues that normally concern women.

“It can get more dangerous if fatwas issued are allowed to become laws. Because its an offence to not follow a fatwa,” she said.

Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim, a former Secretary-General of Malaysia’s Finance Ministry and adviser to the G25 group of prominent Malays, urged the prime minister not to support the bill, saying the proposed laws will carry deep ramifications for the economy.

“If you support the bill, investors in and outside the country will see this as a political game (used) by you to evade your responsibilities and what is urgent to restore the country’s economy,” he told the prime minister in a statement which was forwarded to the Asian Correspondent by a G25 member.

“RUU355 will divide people and raise concerns over the future of this multi-ethnic state. When people are not sure about the future of Malaysia, our economy will lose its strength and the people will become victims due to a leadership that infuses politics and religion.”

Source: Asian Correspondent, A. Azim Idris, February, 18 2017

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Iran: $300,000 Prize for the Execution of Salman Rushdie by IRGC Affiliated Companies and Other Regime Institutions

A fatwa calling for Salman Rushdie's assassination was issued by Ayatollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, on 14 February 1989.
A fatwa calling for Salman Rushdie's assassination was issued by
Ayatollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, on 14 February 1989.
NCRI - According to the terrorist Quds Force Tasnim news agency on February 19, participants in the fourth exhibition called digital media of the Islamic Revolution, on the occasion of the anniversary of Khomeini's apostasy verdict against Salman Rushdie, determined the award of more than one billion Toman for his death.

Tasnim further reminded a quote from Khomeini in this regard who at the time said: “I fear 10 years from now, some analysts want to question this verdict against diplomatic principles.” So to prevent disremembering of that verdict was the main reason that participants in this exhibition determined the one billion Toman award for anyone who kills Rushdie.

The prize of one billion and eighty-one million Toman ( almost 300000 dollars) is funded by by more than 40 governmental and non-governmental institutions.

It is noteworthy that last year also the Iranian regime’s state media had reported that 40 state-run media outlets have jointly offered a new $600,000 bounty for the head of British author Salman Rushdie. The announcement was made to coincide with the anniversary of the fatwa issued by Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic.

Mansour Amini, the head of the Saraj Cyberspace Organization and the Secretary of the Third Exhibition of Islamic Revolution’s Digital Medias announced on February 17, 2016 the names of the outlets that contributed money to the fund. The state-run Fars News Agency, which is closely affiliated to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), was among the largest contributors. Amini said that Fars has devoted one billion Rials, or nearly $30,000.

Cyberban also allocated one billion Rials, while Tehran Press News allocated 300 million, or nearly $10,000 and Saraj Cyberspace Organization and the Headquarters for Advocating Virtue each allocated 500 million Rials for the potential assassination.

Shahin Gobadi of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) stated: “This once again clearly shows that terrorism is intertwined with the very existence of this regime as one of the pillars of its survival.

The mere fact that even the so-called media in this regime allocate a budget for terror manifests that all of the regime’s institutions are geared toward its ominous objectives. It’s simply ludicrous to think that one can reach out to some parts of the ruling theocracy to bring about moderation.”

Khomeini issued the fatwa against Rushdie on charges of blasphemy on February 15, 1989 to cover up the defeat of his goals in the Iran-Iraq war and in order to create crisis to divert attention from the regime’s problems and people’s demands following the Iran-Iraq war.

The regime’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei and other officials have reiterated this fatwa on a number of occasions over the past 27 years. Khamenei underscored its validity on October 20, 2015.

Source: NCRI, February 19, 2017

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Alabama: The weak sedative behind botched executions

From alleged botched executions in Oklahoma and Alabama to a split decision before the U.S. Supreme Court, a single sedative -- just 1 of the ingredients in a lethal cocktail -- defines much of the recent uncertainty around the American death penalty.

Midazolam was first introduced 4 decades ago. It's a common sedative used before minor dental or medical procedures, such as colonoscopies.

It's popular and inexpensive - $95 per 10mg wholesale. The World Health Organization lists it as one of the essential drugs needed for a basic health-care system.

But in the past four years midazolam also has been used in large doses - 100 mg to 500mg - for the darker and unhealthy purpose. Prison systems in Alabama and at least 5 other states have used it to sedate death row inmates to mask the pain of the drugs they are then given to stop their hearts and breathing.

Inmates in Alabama and other states say in lawsuits that midazolam's use amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. They say the drug isn't strong enough to block the burning pain caused by the other drugs. It has resulted in a half-dozen botched executions in Alabama and elsewhere, they claim.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2015, however, in a 5-4 decision declared midazolam's use in an Oklahoma case wasn't cruel and unusual punishment. Justice Sonia Sotomayor in a dissent wasn't convinced midazolam prevents pain and likened the risk to being "burned at the stake."

Despite the nation's top court saying it is okay for prisons to use midazolam, three states have now abandoned its use in recent months. Alabama isn't among them despite lawyers for two inmates who were executed last year with midazolam claiming those executions were botched.

The Alabama Attorney General's Office is now awaiting a decision by the Alabama Supreme Court to set an execution date for Robert Melson - the man convicted in the 1994 triple slayings of employees at a Popeye's restaurant in Gadsden. Melson's attorneys filed a motion to the Alabama Supreme Court on Feb. 8 urging them not to set any execution dates yet until the question of the constitutionality of the method of execution with the use of midazolam is resolved, particularly after the Dec. 8 execution of Ronald Bert Smith was "badly botched."

The Attorney General's Office declined to comment for this story.

Prison systems in Alabama and other states began turning towards midazolam as an alternative to sedate inmates after drug manufacturers of sodium thiopental and pentobarbital began cutting off supplies because they didn't want their drugs associated with executions.

Alabama was caught by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration trying to bring in black market supplies, according to previous reports. The Alabama Department of Corrections also had no luck after contacting four other states to see if they could share their supplies, and also a few dozen pharmacies to see if they would compound pentobarbital.

So in 2014 Alabama announced it would substitute midazolam into its lethal injection cocktail.

What is midazolam?

"It is a class of sedative hypnotics known as benzodiazepine, the most famous of which is valium. ... It's (valium is) a close cousin," said David A. Lubarsky, chair of the Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative Medicine and Pain Management at the University of Miami.

What is midazolam designed to do?

"It is intended to relieve anxiety and when used as part of an anesthetic to reduce the requirement of other drugs. But it is not indicated as a sole drug for an anesthetic state," Lubarsky said.

It can be used as a sedative for minor medical procedures but not for surgery or an execution, Lubarsky said.

What won't midazolam do?

"You can knock someone out you just can't do anything to them ... The thing with midazolam it does not depress your sensations sufficiently to allow you to do surgery," Lubarsky said.

"If there's movement the inmate's not asleep, or not sufficiently asleep," Lubarsky said. "Nobody moves if they are properly anesthetized with midazolam or any drug," he said.

Even during procedures such as colonoscopies midazolam is used in combination with another drug to knock the patients out, Lubarsky said.

Gasping for breath

In several executions over the past 4 years around the nation, witnesses have seen inmates struggle on the gurneys after being injected with midazolam and before being given the other drugs.

In the Dec. 8 execution in Alabama the inmate, Ronald Bert Smith, moved around for 13 minutes, appearing to gasp for breath, snort, and move his arms. A correctional officer performed two unconscious tests before the other lethal drugs were administered. Prison officials said the execution was conducted according to its protocol. It's unclear whether Smith was given more than the initial dose of 500 mg of midazolam during his struggle.

One of Smith's lawyers later called it a "botched" execution.

An awakening

Nobody moves if they are properly anesthetized with midazolam or any drug," Dr. David Lubarsky

The definition of being anesthetized is being insensate, unconscious, and immobile, said Lubarsky, who has testified in inmates' midazolam lawsuits around the country.

An inmate can get to sleep with midazolam, Lubarsky said. But a very high urgent tone, adrenaline surge, or pain can produce an awakening, he said.

"You just won't stay asleep in the face of a painful stimulus, which is why it (midazolam) is not indicated as a single drug for anesthesia because it doesn't work," Lubarsky said.

Lubarsky noted the July 23, 2014 execution of inmate Joseph Wood in Arizona that took nearly two hours. Wood was given a total of 760 grams of midazolam combined with narcotics on top of that.

"All these drugs that we give are balanced against the condition of the day," Lubarsky said. "Meaning if someone is hyper acute and hyperaware and has their adrenaline going because they are about to die they don't succumb to these drugs that are not complete anesthetics."

Not enough on its own

Midazolam has no place for use in executions, Lubarsky said. "You could concoct some regimen using midazolam that would be okay but only as part of a regimen and not as a sole drug," he said.

Before midazolam most states used pentobarbital or sodium thiopental as the sedative, which provide a deeper level of anesthesia, Lubarsky said. The problem with that drug was that it didn't last long enough to get an execution, he said.

After manufacturers began refusing to provide sodium thiopental and other drugs for executions, prisons turned to midazolam, which lasts a little longer than sodium thiopental but doesn't provide a level of anesthesia sufficiently deep at any point in time, he said.

"So it's complicated," Lubarsky said. "State correctional facilities are trying to simplify what it takes anesthesiologists years to learn and to execute flawlessly."

Paradoxical affect

Alabama inmates also have suggested that they also could have a "paradoxical" reaction to midazolam.

Lubarsky explained that a paradoxical reaction is where midazolam produces in the patient the opposite of its intended effect. Instead of sedation the person becomes excited, hyperactive and even combative, he said.

Doctors don't fully understand why that occurs, but it occurs with between 1 to 11 % of people taking midazolam, Lubarsky said. It depends on personal characteristics, particularly those with sociopathic and violent tendencies, he said.

"I image imagine people who are being sentenced to death have all those characteristics," Lubarsky said.

Lubarsky said he is not a "die-hard" opponent to executions. But he said it should be done right. "We're not doing it right and it's important that we're better than the people we're trying to execute."

Move away from midazolam?

Alabama is among a half dozen states that have used midazolam in executions - either in combination with 2 or 3 other drugs, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The other states are Florida, Oklahoma, Ohio, Virginia and Arizona.

But in the past few months 3 of those states - Arizona, Ohio and Florida - have abandoned or are considering abandoning midazolam's use in executions.

In court actions in the past 3 months Ohio and Arizona have moved away from the use of midazolam and it appears Florida also is looking at a replacement for the drug. (what are the replacement options?)

A federal magistrate judge on Jan. 26 declared the use of a 3-drug cocktail - including midazolam - Ohio planned to use for executions is unconstitutional, according to Cleveland.com. "The Court concludes that use of midazolam as the 1st drug in Ohio's present 3-drug protocol will create a 'substantial risk of serious harm' or an 'objectively intolerable risk of harm' as required by (Supreme Court precedent)," the judge wrote.

Arizona in December became the 1st to move away from the use of midazolam. In an agreement filed in December in an on-going federal lawsuit by a group of Arizona death row inmates the Arizona Department of Corrections agreed that it "will never again use midazolam, or any other benzodiazepine, as part of a drug protocol in a lethal injection execution."

Arizona's move away from midazolam began last summer when the state said it could no longer get a supply of the drug and suggested the prisoners' lawsuit was now moot. But attorneys for the prisoners, however, questioned what would happen if Arizona later obtained a supply of that drug and worked for a permanent agreement.

In December the Orlando Sentinel reported that records showed that Florida no longer has a supply of midazolam hydrochloride. Instead, the state has been purchasing the hypnotic drug etomidate as a replacement.

Alabama, however, has shown no sign that it plans to back off its current protocol. State prison officials have denied that either of Alabama's 2 executions since the new lethal injection cocktail was put into place were botched. They say both went according to protocol and both inmates did not respond to consciousness tests after midazolam was administered, but before the other drugs were given.

Courts so far have denied the Alabama prisoners' midazolam claims. Some of the lawsuits also have been dismissed because judges ruled the Alabama prisoners did not suggest a less painful form of execution available to the state - a requirement when contesting methods of execution. The judges have rejected inmates' suggestions of firing squad, hanging and gas, saying those are not available under Alabama law.

Attorneys for death row inmate Robert Melson who may be next up on the gurney, however, say no executions should be allowed until the lawsuits challenging use of midazolam are settled.

"There are serious constitutional issues surrounding the method the State intends to use to carry out Mr. Melson's death sentence. Given the events of Ronald Smith's execution, it is premature to set an execution date for Mr. Melson when questions about the method used to carry out that sentence have not yet been resolved."

Source: al.com, Kent Faulk, February 19, 2017

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Activists Want Texas' Death Penalty Abolished as Executions Decline

Texas death row
Data from the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty shows fewer inmates were executed in 2016 than in 2015 - a trend the group says continues to go down.

"I think it's time to get rid of it," said Brian Stolarz, defense attorney.

Opponents of the death penalty say juries are becoming more aware of the risk of a wrongful conviction.

"We also see juries in cases demanding higher standards of evidence. There have been 157 people nationwide and 13 here in Texas who were wrongfully convicted and released from death row," said Kristin Houle, executive director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Defense attorneys say the political climate has changed and so have minds.

"We have a case with no physical evidence, no science at all in the case. Just witness interviews, witness statements and other things, and a man who was innocent was going to die," said Stolarz.

2 bills have been filed at the state capitol; 1 would get rid of the death penalty for people convicted under Texas' law of parties and the other would abolish the death penalty altogether.

Additionally, fewer prosecutors are seeking capital punishment "because they have the option of life in prison without parole and also because many of them don't want to burden their counties with the exorbitant expense of a death penalty trial," said Houle.

Some argue the state ought to practice restorative justice - where those convicted have a chance to repent and rehabilitate.

"Even people who have done bad things cannot be judged on that one bad thing alone. People are greater than the one bad thing they do," said Stolarz.

So far, 18 states plus DC have abolished the death penalty.

Source: twcnews.com, February 19, 2017

Lawmaker wants state funds for death penalty attorneys

The Walls Unit, Huntsville, Texas
The Walls Unit, Huntsville, Texas
A Republican Texas lawmaker is trying to pass a bill that would create and fund a statewide office of appellate attorneys to represent death row inmates.

Last week, Rep. James White, R-Hillister, filed House Bill 1676 to create the Office of Capital Appellate Defender. The state-funded office would represent inmates sentenced to death who can't afford their own lawyer in their direct appeals to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals - the time when convicts can raise issues from their trial. Currently, the convicting court appoints an approved lawyer for this step of the appeals process and the prosecuting county pays the bill.

White, who represents 5 rural counties in East Texas, said the bill is one way to help struggling counties that have had to raise property taxes while dealing with unfunded state mandates, such as paying for indigent defense. And as chairman of the House Corrections Committee and representative of the district that houses most of Texas' death row inmates, he wants to ensure the state is being thorough when handing down the harshest penalty it can impose.

White has estimated the office would cost $500,000 a year, which could put the bill in jeopardy as lawmakers work to tighten the state's budget for the coming biennium.

Source: The Texas Tribune, February 19, 2017

Conference held in Austin to abolish the death penalty

A group of Texans wanting to get rid of the penalty heard a different perspective on the act of executing someone during a conference Saturday in Austin.

The Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty brought together people who think it's unfair - and should go away.

The group invited journalists who have witnessed executions to explain why it's an important issue to discuss.

"Whether you're for it or against it, whether that coverage takes place is extremely important. I think that a lot of people who are advocates either for it or against it don't know the back story as far as what goes into the reporting on the death penalty, how sometimes the stories can be pretty dark, pretty looming, very graphic in a lot of ways," said Ryan Poppe.

Democratic lawmakers have filed bills in the Texas House and Senate to abolish it. However, Poppe says it will likely see the same fate as past bills to do the same.

It likely will not even come up for a vote.

Source: KXAN news, February 19, 2017

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Indonesia court sentences 4 to death for drug trafficking

Meth bust, file photo
The panel of judges at Tangerang District Court has handed down the death penalty to 3 Taiwanese citizens and one Indonesian for trafficking 60 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine.

The defendants have been identified as Chen Alin, Achen, Alang and Suprapto. 

Alin and Achen, through their lawyers, said that they had not decided on further action while Alang and Suprapto said they would appeal.

"For their offenses, the defendants are sentenced to death. The defendants have been proven guilty of jointly committing acts of crime," said presiding judge Tuti Hariyati said on Friday, as quoted by wartakota.tribunnews.com.

The death sentence was imposed as the panel of judges did not find any mitigating circumstances for the defendants.

Joko Priyatno, the lawyer for Alin and Achen, said his clients were not part of the drug ring that smuggled the meth as Alin came to the country as a technician and Achen as a driver. 

Edi Rustandi, Alang's lawyer, said that his client only possessed 1.06 kg of crystal methamphetamine not 60 kg.

Alin and Achen were arrested at Sun Plaza, South Tangerang, in May, in possession of 6 kg of meth. 

They said that they obtained the meth from Suprapto. 

The police then raided Suprapto's house at Paramount Cluster Alicante residential area and found 54 kilograms of meth.

Source: The Jakarta Post, February 19, 2017

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Hamas sentences 3 to death for spying for Israel, upholds 3 more rulings

Hamas militants executing alleged collaborators with Israel in August 2014
Hamas militants executing alleged collaborators with Israel in August 2014
All were convicted of treason, and some charged with causing the death and injury of Gazans

Authorities in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip have sentenced 6 men to death for "collaborating" with Israel, the Palestinian Safa press service reports. 

3 of the sentences were new while the other 3 were sentences that were upheld following appeal. 

The Associated Press reports that Sunday's sentences bring the number of people on death row to 10, and several others are appealing the same conviction. 

According to the Safa report, all were convicted of treason, and some of the men were charged with causing the death and injury of Gazans through their actions. 

Hamas authorities believe that 1 of the convicted, born in 1968, began working with Israel in 1991, said Safa. 

3 of the accused were from Jabalya, in the northern Gaza Strip, and the others were from Gaza City and Khan Younis. 

Under Palestinian law, those convicted of collaboration with Israel, murder and drug trafficking face the death penalty. 

Execution orders must be approved by the Palestinian president before they can be carried out, but Hamas no longer recognizes the legitimacy of Mahmoud Abbas whose 4-year term ended in 2009. 

In the past, Hamas has come under fire from human rights groups for executing suspected collaborators without a trial. 

Sometimes Gazans are accused of being collaborators based on mere rumor and at other times those who fall out of favor with Hamas are deemed collaborators and executed. 

Source: 124news.tv, February 19, 2017

Gaza court sentences to death 6 Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israel

Hamas militants carrying out an execution in Gaza City in October 2013
Hamas militants carrying out an execution in Gaza City in October 2013
A military court in the besieged Gaza Strip sentenced 6 Palestinians to death on Sunday after they were found guilty of collaborating with Israel.

The Gaza Ministry of Interior said in a statement that a Gaza City court upheld the death sentences of 3 defendants, rejecting a final appeal, while 3 other defendants also found guilty of collaboration could still appeal their death penalty.

7 other defendants were handed down prison sentences of up to 17 years with hard labor.

Under Palestinian law, willful premeditated murder, treason, and collaboration with the enemy -- usually Israel -- are punishable by death. However, all death sentences must be ratified by the Palestinian president before they can be carried out.

Despite this, Hamas' de facto administration in Gaza has carried out executions periodically without receiving approval from President Mahmoud Abbas since 2010.

Following a decision by Gaza-based legislators last year which made death sentences "obligatory after all possible appeals against them are completed" and reportedly to be held in public, human rights group Amnesty International, EU missions in Jerusalem and Ramallah, and the UN all admonished the practice of the death penalty and urged the the legislators to reverse the decision.

UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nikolay Mladenov said at the time that "Palestine is one and Gaza and the West Bank are its 2 integral parts. I urge Hamas not to carry out these executions and I call on President Abbas to establish a moratorium on the implementation of the death penalty."

Hamas officials maintain that due to the indefinite postponement of presidential and parliamentary elections in the Palestinian territory, and the failure of the Palestinian Authority to assume most of its functions in the besieged coastal enclave, authority for ratifying death sentences lies with the legislative council in Gaza.

Source: Ma'an News Agency, February 20, 2017

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