Trial by Fire - Did Texas execute an innocent man?

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…

72% of Saudi death sentences handed down for non-violent crimes – report

The vast majority of people facing execution in Saudi Arabia were convicted for non-violent crimes including political protest and drugs offences, according to new research from the human rights organization Reprieve.

The report includes data gathered by Reprieve on 171 of the prisoners currently on death row in Saudi Arabia. It finds that 72 per cent of those prisoners whose alleged offences Reprieve has been able to determine were sentenced to death for non-violent crimes – including attendance at political protests and drug offences. Reprieve has also been able to establish that of 62 of the 224 prisoners estimated to have been executed in Saudi Arabia since January 2014, some 69 per cent had also been sentenced to death for non-violent offences.

Among those facing execution are prisoners who were sentenced to death as children, such as Ali Mohammed al-Nimr and Dawoud Hussain al-Marhoon. The two juveniles were arrested at 2012 protests, and were tortured into ‘confessions’ that were later used to convict them in the country’s secretive Specialized Criminal Court (SCC). Reprieve’s report also establishes that the use of torture to extract ‘confessions’ is widespread, with specific cases identified where prisoners have been beaten to the point of suffering broken bones and teeth.

The death sentences handed down to the two juveniles have provoked strong public concern from countries allied to Saudi Arabia such as the UK, the US and France. Yesterday, speaking to MPs both about Ali’s case and that of British citizen Karl Andree, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said: “I do not expect Mr Andree to receive the lashings that he has been sentenced to, and I do not expect Mr al-Nimr to be executed.” However, Mr Hammond provided no details of any assurances received from the Saudi government.

Speaking to human rights organization Reprieve earlier today, Ali’s father Mohammed al-Nimr, said while he was glad politicians may have received some assurances from the Saudis, “the facts on the ground leave much fear and doubt". He revealed that Ali was now being held "in the solitary cells reserved for those facing execution", adding: "I tried to visit him yesterday but they prevented me.”

Commenting, Kate Higham, caseworker at Reprieve, said: “This report shows how Ali and Dawoud’s death sentences are just the tip of the iceberg. The Saudi government appears to be routinely sentencing people, including juveniles, to death for non-violent crimes such as attending protests. All too often, these sentences are handed down on the basis of ‘confessions’ extracted through torture, as in Ali and Dawoud’s cases. Ali and Dawoud are now being held in solitary confinement and could face imminent execution at any time. The UK and other close allies of Saudi Arabia must redouble their efforts to see the juveniles released to their families – they must also send a strong message to the Saudis that these widespread abuses are utterly unacceptable.”

Source: Reprieve, October 21, 2015

Father of Saudi Teenager on Death Row Suprised By British Foreign Secretary's Comments

Ali Mohammed al-Nimr
Ali Mohammed al-Nimr
Supporters and family of the Saudi man sentenced to death by beheading and crucifixion have reacted with confusion to claims made by the British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond that he does "not expect" the execution to take place.

Hammond said in the House of Commons on Tuesday that he believed Ali Mohammed Al-Nimr, the Saudi man jailed and condemned to death for attending an anti-government protest as a teenager, would not be executed, prompting some groups to celebrate victory in their battle to have his sentence overturned.

However, rights group Amnesty International has cast doubt on Hammond's comments, saying that there is no basis for him to believe that Al-Nimr would be spared by the Saudi regime.

"As far as we know, Ali Al-Nimr's sentence has been upheld by the Supreme Court," says Amnesty's Saudi Arabia researcher Sevag Kechichian in an email to Newsweek. "The only thing that prevents him from being executed is the King declaring that he won't ratify his death sentence or that he pardons him. Unless either of those happens, Ali remains at risk of imminent execution."

Kechichian adds: "We presume that the U.K. government may have had some kind of vague assurance from their Saudi Arabian counterparts, but we can't really speculate on that. Meanwhile, Ali Al-Nimr's family are not going to get any reassurance from Philip Hammond's vague statement."

The e-mail continues: "In fact, on the same day that Hammond was declaring that he does 'not expect that Mr al-Nimr will be executed,' his family had just tweeted that they went to prison to see Ali but were denied access."

Ali's father, Mohammed Al-Nimr, who has previously described the family's torment with their son on death row, is yet to comment directly on Hammond's statement. However in an interview with CNN on Wednesday, Mohammed said that his son could be executed "at any moment."

"Usually the Interior Ministry does not notify anyone that they will kill their child ... at a specific time," he said in the interview. "We could at any time turn on the TV or the radio and hear the decision announced there."

The confusion has arisen after Hammond responded to a question from opposition Labour shadow Minister for Human Rights, Andy Slaughter, on the case of Al-Nimr and that of a British man, Karl Andree, who has been sentenced to 360 lashings in Saudi Arabia for being in possession of bottles of homemade wine.

Hammond said: "I do not expect Mr Andree to receive the lashings that he has been sentenced to and I do not expect Mr Al-Nimr to be executed."

Britain's top diplomat added: "As I've said on many occasions previously when I've been asked to comment on these judicial matters in Saudi Arabia in the House, our judgment is that we achieve most by speaking privately and regularly to our Saudi interlocutors."

His confidence that Al-Nimr would not be killed by Saudi authorities was met by jubilation by some supporters, including hacktivist group Anonymous, which has targeted Saudi websites over Nimr's planned execution.

"Ali Mohammed al-Nimr will not be executed. Huge win for. . .the Anons/supports of the operation," wrote a prominent Anonymous account on Twitter.

Al-Nimr's case has been the subject of a campaign by NGOs Amnesty International and Reprieve, as well as British opposition politicians such as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. The case has also caused divisions within the ruling Conservative government, with Justice Minister Michael Gove successfully pushing for the cancellation of a $9 million deal to train the Saudi regime how to run its prisons last week.

The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office declined to comment.

Source: Newsweek, October 21, 2015

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