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'Express lane to death': Texas seeks approval to speed up death penalty appeals, execute more quickly

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Texas is seeking to speed up executions with a renewed request to opt-in to a federal law that would shorten the legal process and limit appeals options for death-sentenced prisoners.
Defense attorneys worry it would lead to the execution of innocent people and - if it's applied retroactively, as Texas is requesting - it could potentially end ongoing appeals for a number of death row prisoners and make them eligible for execution dates.
"Opt-in would speed up the death penalty treadmill exponentially," said Kathryn Kase, an longtime defense attorney and former executive director of Texas Defender Services.
But a state attorney general spokeswoman framed the request to the Justice Department as a necessary way to avoid "stressful delays" and cut down on the "excessive costs" of lengthy federal court proceedings.
Robbie Kaplan, co-founder of the #TimesUp movement, says sweeping changes to laws in recent years have dissuaded attorneys from taking on har…

Saudi blogger Raif Badawi on hunger strike after ominous prison transfer

Hopes for a pardon for the writer are fading, worries his wife who lives in Sherbrooke, Que., and posted that her husband was taken to a remote Saudi prison reserved for those who have received a final verdict.

Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to receive 1,000 lashes for his liberal writings, has started a hunger strike after being transferred to a remote penitentiary, his wife has announced.

In a post on her Facebook page, Ensaf Haidar said that her husband’s hopes of a pardon have been dashed because Shabbat Central Prison, where he was taken Thursday, is reserved for those prisoners who have received a final verdict.

“We are very alarmed at the prison administration decision to transfer my husband to the Shabbat Central and fear it may lead to the resumption of his flogging,” wrote Haider, who lives with the couple’s three children in Sherbrooke, Quebec.

“We hold the prison administration responsible for any harm that Raif may suffer.”

Badawi’s supporters have been pushing for a review of his case, buoyed by Quebec’s offer of an immigration certificate in June and word from the Saudi supreme court that it was reviewing his case.

Last month, Swiss Foreign Minister Yves Rossier announced that negotiations for Badawi’s pardon were in the works.

“We have been given hope repeatedly that the issue is still not resolved,” said Elham Manea, a spokesperson for the family. “So from that perspective, we are trying to understand what’s happening.”

Badawi, the founder of a Saudi liberal blog, was arrested in 2012 and sentenced to 1,000 lashes, 10 years in prison, and a fine of more than $325,000 for insulting religious authorities. 

Badawi received the first 50 lashes on Jan. 9 in Jeddah, but his punishment has since been postponed indefinitely.

Badawi’s family is desperate, said Manea. “They want him back.”

“The only hope we have is King Salman and a royal pardon.”

A collection of Badawi’s writings, 1,000 Lashes, has been published in Quebec and in October, the European Union awarded him the prestigious Sakharov Prize for human rights.

Source: The Star, Marco Chown Oved, December 10, 2015

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