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“River of Fire”: In New Memoir, Sister Helen Prejean Reflects on Decades of Fighting Executions

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The Trump administration is moving ahead with plans to resume the death penalty after a more than 15-year moratorium. This week Attorney General William Barr proposed fast-tracking executions in mass murder cases, and last month ordered the execution of five death row prisoners beginning in December. The federal government has executed just three people since 1963 — the last being in 2003. The death penalty is widely condemned by national governments, international bodies and human rights groups across the world. Experts say capital punishment does not help deter homicides and that errors and racism in the criminal justice system extend to those sentenced to death. We speak with Sister Helen Prejean, a well-known anti-death-penalty activist who began her prison ministry over 30 years ago. She is the author of the best-selling book “Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty,” which was turned into an Academy Award-winning film starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. …

Vietnam's execution cocktail dilemma

Firing squads are out. Injections are in. But who'll supply the poison?

Like many of its Communist brethren, Vietnam enforces the death penalty. The European Union abhors it.

This is a dilemma for Hanoi, which wants to use lethal injection drugs on its 500-plus prisoners on death row. Germany is a major supplier of sodium thiopental, a standard execution drug that's also used to induce anesthesia. But modern European mores dictate that enabling capital punishment is unethical and that Vietnam is unfit to receive the drug.

So, as the BBC and many other outlets are reporting, Vietnam now intends to create "domestic poisons" that will end the lives of its death row inmates.

Vietnam doesn't profess to care much about its death row inmates' condition. There's a reason Vietnam is suddenly seeking lethal drugs: last year, the government opted to quit using firing squads because it worried about the psychological toll on the shooters, not the anguish of the executed.

Those bound for execution - many of them drug traffickers - are reviled as "the seeders of white death to society," according to this excellent series on Vietnam's firing squads by the outlet Tuoi Tre. As Tuoi Tre uncovered, the firing squad was typically treated to an "alcohol-fueled party so that they could air their grievances and relieve their minds before going home."

Lethal injections are certainly easier on those tasked with carrying out state executions. But whether Vietnam's homegrown death cocktail will prove as painless to the executed as sodium thiopental - or offer a more painful death experience - remains to be seen. If it's the latter, the EU ban may inadvertently play a role in making the capital punishment system it disdains just a touch less humane.

Source: Global Post, January 24, 2013


Dead Men Waiting: Vietnam Plans To Make Own Drugs For Use In Lethal Injections

Suppliers from the European Union strictly regulated the export of drugs that are used for capital punishment, torture or other forms of inhuman treatment. Vietnam.net reported that 532 inmates are currently languishing in local jails waiting to be executed - mostly for crimes such as drug trafficking, rape and corruption.

BBC reported that Vietnam ceased using firing quads to execute prisoners in July 2011, citing, among other things, the rising costs of such procedures and the 'stress' suffered by the executioners. No executions have been carried out since that time since officials have been unable to acquire the necessary drugs required to carry out lethal injections.

But now, given that prisons are filling up with condemned prisoners, some Vietnamese officials have called for a return to firing squads.

A number of high-profile death-sentence cases have emerged recently in Vietnam.

Last November, a court sentenced a 61-year-old Filipino woman to death after she was arrested for smuggling illegal methamphetamines into Vietnam. Amodia Teresita Palacio was charged with possessing more than 5 kilograms (11 pounds) of the drug at an airport in Hanoi in April, Agence France-Presse reported.

In a trial she was convicted of repeatedly attempting to enter Vietnam from Thailand to sneak drugs in.

Vietnam boasts some of the toughest drug laws in the world -- the possession of more than 1/2 kilogram of drugs can mean the death penalty.

Other "crimes" can also lead to execution.

In late December, police arrested 14 Catholic human rights activists for "subversion" after they went online to expose incidents of corruption among Communist party officials. The official charge under the nation's criminal code was "carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people's administration."

AsiaNews reported that about 40 activists and bloggers were convicted of similar charges under a directive by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung to crack down on dissent, particularly those who disseminate information over the Internet.

Dung ordered police "to prevent the formation of opposition political organizations."

"We are deeply saddened by the actions of the government of Vietnam," Father Le Quoc Thang, secretary of the Justice and Peace Committee of the Bishops' Council of Vietnam, said in reaction to the mass arrests.

"They claim Vietnam is under the rule of law, but their behavior is not in accordance with the law."

Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division at Human Rights Watch, said that state repression in Vietnam has been tightening for years.

"Vietnam finds itself in a rapidly developing economic and human rights morass," he wrote.

"With the ascension of [PM Dung] in 2006, Vietnam has seen several intensifying trends. First, cronyism and corruption in state enterprises, and an epidemic of seizures of land by well-connected foreign and national investors, has fueled popular anger with [Communist Party] officials using their positions to enrich themselves. Second, Dung has worked closely with police allies in the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) to keep a lid on dissent, and his connections with the ministry have made him one of the most powerful prime ministers in recent memory."

As a result, Robertson added, independent writers, bloggers, religious leaders and activists who "question government policies, expose official corruption, resist land seizures and expropriations, demand freedom to practice their beliefs or call for democratic alternatives to 1-party rule are routinely subject to police harassment and intrusive surveillance, detained incommunicado for a year or more without access to legal counsel and sentenced to increasingly long prison terms in one-day trials for violating vague national security laws."

Source: International Business Times, January 24, 2013

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