Texas: Rodney Reed granted indefinite stay of execution

Stay of execution came just hours after parole board unanimously recommended 120-day reprieve
The Texas death row prisoner Rodney Reed was granted a stay of execution on Friday, 5 days before he was scheduled to be put to death for a murder he insists he did not commit.
The Texas court of criminal appeals blocked the execution indefinitely and sent the case back to the trial court in Bastrop county, where Reed was sentenced in 1998 for the murder of Stacey Stites two years earlier.
The court had previously rejected multiple appeals, but Reed’s lawyers argued that fresh evidence bolstered his claim of innocence. 
They said in a statement that they “are extremely relieved and thankful … this opportunity will allow for proper consideration of the powerful and mounting new evidence of Mr Reed’s innocence”.
Millions of people, including a clutch of celebrities, have rallied behind Reed’s cause, helping to generate momentum and public attention as the execution date of 20 November loomed an…

Syrian is 75th person executed in Saudi Arabia this year

Public beheading in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia Wednesday executed a Syrian convicted of drug smuggling, bringing to 75 the number of locals and foreigners beheaded in the kingdom this year despite international concerns.

The sentence against Ridwan Awad Mohammed Awad was carried out in the city of Qurayyat near the border with Jordan, the interior ministry said.

He was caught trying to smuggle "a large amount" of amphetamine pills into the kingdom, added the statement on the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

The interior ministry said this week that authorities had seized more than 41 million amphetamine tablets during the Islamic calendar year that ended in October.

It also said nearly 1,600 Saudis and foreigners were arrested for drug-related crimes between February and September.

The oil-rich Gulf state saw the third highest number of executions in the world last year after Iran and Iraq, according to Amnesty International whose figures did not include China.

Rape, murder, apostasy, homosexuality and armed robbery are also punishable by death under the kingdom's strict version of Islamic sharia law.

In September, an independent expert working on behalf of the United Nations expressed concern about the judicial process in Saudi Arabia and called for an immediate moratorium on the death penalty.

Source: Agence France-Presse, December 4, 2014

Families in Pakistan mourn drug mules beheaded in Saudi

Every morning, Haji Abdul Haq wakes up wondering whether his son has been beheaded. Not by the Taliban, al Qaeda or the Islamic State group, but by the Saudi Arabian government.

Haq's son is on death row in the kingdom, waiting for his name to be added to the growing roll of Pakistanis executed this year by the Saudis for heroin smuggling.

Saudi Arabia has meted out the gruesome fate to 74 [75 on Dec. 4, 2014] people in 2014, 15 of them Pakistanis convicted of drug smuggling.

Families and rights campaigners complain their trials are opaque and unfair, and accuse the Pakistani government of doing nothing to help its citizens, afraid of offending an important and hugely wealthy ally.

Haq's son Mohammad Irfan, 27, awaits his death in the Saudi prison of al Ha'ir, thousands of miles from the orange groves and wheatfields of his native Punjab, where his father told AFP his story.

4 years ago, Haq said, 2 men came and said that for $2,000 they would get Irfan plane tickets and a visa for the Gulf - for many poor Pakistanis, a passport to a better life.

Irfan sold his rickshaw and wife's jewels and his tea-seller father made up the rest of the money.

The 2 men then took Irfan to Karachi - a key transit point for heroin from Afghanistan. But in Karachi, things turned sour, Haq says.

"The 2 men changed and told him they would kill him unless he did what they wanted," Haq told AFP.

"After that they forced capsules of heroin into his anus."

Irfan was put on a flight to Saudi Arabia by his new masters. On arrival in Riyadh he was stopped by customs officers and after a brisk trial, condemned to death.

Pakistan is full of stories about drug mules, but they are little discussed in public and get little sympathy.

One official told AFP that "in most of the cases the sentence or the punishment is justified."

Rights group Amnesty International says Saudi Arabia uses the death penalty disproportionately against foreigners, particularly those from South Asia. Since 1985 around 1/2 of 2,000 people executed in the kingdom have been foreigners.

The Justice Project Pakistan (JPP), a human rights law firm, has begun trying to get Islamabad to defend them.

"These prisoners are very poor men who have been sold a chance to escape and make something of their lives," Sohail Yafat, a JPP investigator, told AFP.

Almost 1/2 of Afghanistan's heroin production comes through Pakistan on its way to Europe and Asia.

But in recent years the Gulf has become an increasingly important market, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Seizures of the drug in Saudi Arabia have exploded, from just one kilo (2.2 lbs) a year in the early 2000s to 41 kilos in 2008 and 111 in 2011, according to data given by the Saudis to the UN.

In August and September alone, nearly 400 people, including nearly 300 foreigners, were arrested for possessing or dealing heroin, according to the Saudi government.

Riyadh says it wants to protect Saudi society from the scourge of heroin, but rights groups are highly critical of its judicial system.

Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch says the absence of a penal code in Saudi Arabia makes it particularly arbitrary.

"There is no law that defines what is and is not a crime - it is really up to the judge to decide what is a crime and what level of evidence is required to establish that a crime occurred," she told AFP.

The prisoners and their families also criticise the government for sacrificing its own citizens for the sake of good relations with an ally.

Saudi Arabia supplies oil and financial aid to Pakistan, while Pakistan helps with military assistance, according to analysts.

"In the perspective of the government, the relations with Saudi Arabia are too important, too critical, to be sacrificed for individuals who, in the mind of the state, are responsible" for their acts, said analyst Ayesha Siddiqa.

Haji Abdul Haq has written to numerous Pakistani officials including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, urging them to lobby the Saudis on behalf of his son.

"The drugs mafia, it's like a tree - the Saudis are cutting the branches but the trunk and the roots are still there," said Haq, sitting with Irfan's 2 daughters. One of the girls has never seen her father.

Source: The Express Tribune, December 3, 2014

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