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Will the U.S. Finally End the Death Penalty?

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In the past, abolition efforts have faced a backlash—but Gavin Newsom’s moratorium may be different.
The American death penalty is extraordinarily fragile, with death sentences and executions on the decline. Public support for the death penalty has diminished. The practice is increasingly marginalized around the world. California, with its disproportionately large share of American death-row inmates, announces an end to the death penalty. The year? 1972. That’s when the California Supreme Court declared the death penalty inconsistent with the state’s constitutional prohibition of cruel or unusual punishments—only to have the death penalty restored a year later through popular initiative and legislation.
On Wednesday, again, California walked back its commitment to the death penalty. Though not full-fledged abolition, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a moratorium on capital punishment lasting as long as his tenure in office, insisting that the California death penalty has been an “abject…

Executed for Being Gay

 "It will always be condemned by everybody"
5 nations still outlaw homosexuality and carry out executions of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, according to a recent report by the U.S. group Human Rights First.

Currently, the nations that prescribe capital punishment for homosexuals are Iran, Mauritania, the Republic of Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

South Sudan, the world's newest country, may become a 6th nation to do so, while, if religious extremists have their way, Uganda may become the 7th.

The death penalty also is carried out against homosexuals in certain parts of Somalia and Nigeria.

Many of the countries that carry out the death penalty against homosexuals also have anti-democratic regimes, noted C. Dixon Osburn, director of the Law and Security Programme at Human Rights First.

"When other freedoms are opposed, any freedoms can be oppressed. When you don't have freedom of the press, freedom of engagement, it makes it difficult. Certainly the countries that carry out the death penalty, these are countries where just speaking up contrary to the government can have dire consequences," Osburn told IPS.

The current penal code of South Sudan - which may become the 6th county to execute gays - is a departure from the shariah law previously practiced in the region when it was part of Sudan, yet it still criminalises sodomy.

"Right now they imposed a 10-year criminal sentence, but have not adopted the death penalty yet," Osburn said.

President Stealva Kiir Mayardit of South Sudan recently said that democracy, equality, and justice do not extend to people who are homosexual.

Recognition of homosexual people is "not in our character... It is not even something that anybody can talk about here in southern Sudan in particular. It is not there and if anybody wants to import or to export it to Sudan, it will not get the support and it will always be condemned by everybody," President Mayardit said.

"I'm sad to hear that Southern Sudan, as a new nation, is considering this," Joe Beasley, president of the U.S. NGO African Ascension, told IPS. "I was hoping it would be a lot more progressive."

"Given the prevalence of homosexuality in the communities, in the families of nations globally, South Sudan isn't regarded any different, does not fall outside the human norm," Beasley said.

Meanwhile, major disputes over the rights of GLBT people in Uganda continue, with one piece of legislation having been introduced to execute homosexuals who are HIV-positive.

David Bahati, a Ugandan parliamentarian, introduced the Anti- Homosexuality Bill of 2009 in the Parliament.

"You can see it creates a very difficult environment for anybody who's gay there," Osburn said.

The legislation would also criminalise people who advocate for GLBT rights, or who provide social or medical services to GLBT people, and would require Ugandan citizens to turn in anyone who they know is homosexual.

"In Uganda, there are those trying to keep the anti-homosexuality bill from becoming law," Osburn said, adding that he does not see as much movement to overturn the existing death penalty laws in the 5 countries.

One prominent Ugandan gay activist, David Kato, was murdered in January 2011, after a Ugandan magazine published a list of prominent gay rights activists and their contact details, with a banner over the photos that urged, "Hang Them".

"It's a lynch mob mentality. You have an elected parliamentarian, Mr. Bahati, who introduced this bill and has been pushing. He believes gay people are evil," Osburn said.

"You then have him getting the support of media where gay people are under the microscope, doing this McCarthyistic list, which adds to the mentality of going after folks who are a danger in the society," he said.

One of the leading supporters of the movement to execute homosexuals in Uganda is a minister, Martin Ssempa.

Incidentally, one man connected with Ssempa who visited with his congregation in 2004, is a U.S. pastor, Peter Waldron, who currently works on the campaign of U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, a Republican from Minnesota and one of the leading candidates for president of the United States.

"The sad, frightening part of it, the homophobic stuff in Uganda is being propped up by the evangelists from the U.S. They've come over there and whipped up a frenzy," Beasley said.

And so, while the proponents of homophobic legislation in Africa argue that homosexuality is an Western import, there is evidence that the homophobia itself has been the U.S. export.

"I just left Uganda. I think it's draconian, it's totally out of step. The death penalty, regardless of what the offence is, is not in keeping with a civilized people," Beasley said.

"The ultimate decision about judging life is left to God," he added.

"My advice to the leaders is feed your damn babies, stop the neocolonialism, do that and the world will call you blessed and enlightened. With witch hunts, you're not going to be able to change human nature. I think we need to get a life. God doesn't make mistakes," Beasley said.

Source: IPS, September 1, 2011

September 5, 2011 Update: "Iran Celebrates the End of Ramadan: Six Hanged in the City Of Ahvaz, Three of Them for 'Lavat' (sexual intercourse between men)", Iran Human Rights, September 5, 2011

Related articles:

Jun 02, 2010
The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association (ILGA) has released the fourth edition of its massive "State Sponsored Homophobia" report. The most significant change in the new edition: One-sixth...
Apr 04, 2010
Punishable by death: Iranian gays run from homeland. As Hassan walked -- well, more like sashayed -- through the market in this southern Turkish city, the population on the sidewalk -- elderly women in dark veils, men ...



Shunned Ugandan bishop speaks of compassion for gays

Compassion begins when you put yourself in another person's shoes, says Bishop Christopher Senyonjo.

Often those shoes are uncomfortable, and the path they tread can be dangerous.

After Senyonjo reached out to the gay and lesbian community in his native Uganda, he was expelled from the Church of Uganda. But he continues to share the message of God's love and compassion with marginalized members of society in Uganda and to advocate for them on an international level.

The 78-year-old bishop, accompanied by his wife of 47 years, spoke to about 60 people at Sacramento's Trinity Cathedral on Tuesday evening as part of a multicity tour to raise awareness of the plight of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in Uganda.

It is illegal to be in a same-sex relationship in Uganda, and people in such relationships risk a lengthy prison sentence.

The Parliament has considered a bill that would allow the death penalty for anyone who has a previous conviction, is HIV-positive or engages in sexual acts with people of the same sex.

Senyonjo said much needs to be done to achieve equality for gays and lesbians in Uganda and worldwide.

"76 countries in the world criminalize homosexuality. It is very unfortunate," Senyonjo said.

His life changed in 1998 when young gay men came to him for counseling.

"They came to me because they were being regularly harassed, abused and misunderstood by their families, their schools and the church," Senyonjo said.

The young men said they had fasted and prayed for months about their sexual orientation, but they saw no possibility of change.

"When people are hurt, they come to the church because that is where they expect to receive compassion," Senyonjo said.

He assured them of God's love, encouraging them not to run from God but to have hope and to accept themselves as they are.

The hierarchy of Uganda's conservative Anglican Church thought otherwise. "My church said, 'Unless you condemn these people, we will not work with you,' " Senyonjo said.

The Rev. Canon Albert Ogle, president of San Diego-based St. Paul's Foundation for International Reconciliation, which sponsored Senyonjo's visit, blames Uganda's draconian measures against gays and lesbians on the influence of the Christian right in America.

The anti-gay bill, sponsored by Parliament member David Bahati, was inspired by members of a U.S. Christian movement that believes homosexuals can become "ex-gays" through prayer and faith, he said.

Through a ministry called Compass to Compassion, Senyonjo and St. Paul's Foundation is working to develop gay-straight alliances..

"Even if one doesn't believe in a religion, one can have compassion," Senyonjo said.

Jerry Sloan agreed. Commenting after the program, Sloan, president of Atheists and Other Freethinkers of Sacramento, said he came to hear the bishop because "I admire him tremendously for what he is doing."

For more information about the ministry of Bishop Senyonjo and St. Paul's Foundation, go to www.stpaulsfoundation.com.

Source: Sacramento Bee, September 1, 2011

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