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Trial by Fire - Did Texas execute an innocent man?

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The fire moved quickly through the house, a one-story wood-frame structure in a working-class neighborhood of Corsicana, in northeast Texas. Flames spread along the walls, bursting through doorways, blistering paint and tiles and furniture. Smoke pressed against the ceiling, then banked downward, seeping into each room and through crevices in the windows, staining the morning sky.
Buffie Barbee, who was eleven years old and lived two houses down, was playing in her back yard when she smelled the smoke. She ran inside and told her mother, Diane, and they hurried up the street; that’s when they saw the smoldering house and Cameron Todd Willingham standing on the front porch, wearing only a pair of jeans, his chest blackened with soot, his hair and eyelids singed. He was screaming, “My babies are burning up!” His children—Karmon and Kameron, who were one-year-old twin girls, and two-year-old Amber—were trapped inside.
Willingham told the Barbees to call the Fire Department, and while Dia…

Saudi Arabia beheads trafficked drug mule after unfair trial

The Saudi Arabian authorities this week [Wednesday 5 August] beheaded a Pakistani citizen for alleged drugs offences – having failed to investigate credible claims that he was kidnapped and forced into smuggling drugs by traffickers.

Asmat Hayat – a father of six – was convicted in Jeddah in 2009, after a trial conducted entirely in Arabic (a language he cannot understand), in which he was denied translation or legal representation of any kind.

Accounts provided by Asmat and his brother describe how Asmat, a farmer with no formal education, was lured into travel to Saudi Arabia by a man who claimed to be helping people perform the Hajj pilgrimage for free, “for the good will of Allah.” However, following his arrival in Islamabad, Asmat and his brother say they were separated, and Asmat was then forced to swallow drugs and board a plane to Jeddah after threats were made to the lives of his family.

On arrival in Jeddah, Asmat was detained, and subsequently tried and sentenced to death.

Asmat was one of a number of Pakistani nationals facing the death penalty whose cases have been investigated by the NGO Justice Project Pakistan (JPP). JPP has filed litigation before the Lahore High Court on behalf of these prisoners, aimed at forcing the Pakistani Government to uphold their consular rights and target the traffickers who have exploited them.

International human rights organisation Reprieve has previously raised concerns about the complicity of a UN agency and European donors in Saudi executions, due to support provided for counter-narcotics activities in the country, and the Saudi policy of executing those accused of non-violent drugs offences.

Documents unearthed by Reprieve found that in 2013, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) “agreed to cooperation with the [Saudi] General Directorate of Narcotics Control on drug control-related matters, including support to law enforcement efforts to combat illicit drug trafficking”. UNODC has received millions of pounds-worth of funding from countries including the UK, France, Germany and Italy, all of whom have publicly expressed their opposition to the death penalty.

Commenting, Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve’s death penalty team said: “Saudi Arabia’s merciless beheading of people who by all accounts appear to have been victims of traffickers has to stop. Were Saudi trials not such an obscene travesty of justice then there might have been some hope that the terrible ordeal of people like Asmat could have been recognised. Instead, he was denied the most basic access to justice and left powerless to take part in a trial he could not even understand. The UK must refuse to work with UNODC until clear rules are put in place that prevent vulnerable and exploited drug mules becoming the victims of lethal counter-narcotics programmes.”

Source: Reprieve, August 7, 2015

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