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In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning

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To cope with his dread, John Kitzhaber opened his leather-bound journal and began to write.
It was a little past 9 on the morning of Nov. 22, 2011. Gary Haugen had dropped his appeals. A Marion County judge had signed the murderer's death warrant, leaving Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor, to decide Haugen's fate. The 49-year-old would soon die by lethal injection if the governor didn't intervene.
Kitzhaber was exhausted, having been unable to sleep the night before, but he needed to call the families of Haugen's victims.
"I know my decision will delay the closure they need and deserve," he wrote.
The son of University of Oregon English professors, Kitzhaber began writing each day in his journal in the early 1970s. The practice helped him organize his thoughts and, on that particular morning, gather his courage.
Kitzhaber first dialed the widow of David Polin, an inmate Haugen beat and stabbed to death in 2003 while already serving a life sentence fo…

Concerns over Iran executions surge as Rouhani visits Europe

Concerns have been raised that new cooperation agreements between Europe and Iran could contribute to a surge in drug-related executions - including of juvenile offenders. 

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani is in Italy for talks today, before travelling to France tomorrow, in the first European state visit by an Iranian President for more than 16 years. Iranian media have reported that “Iranian officials accompanying the president will sign agreements for the expansion of relations in different fields.”

The EU recently helped negotiate a $20 million UN funding deal for counter-narcotics efforts in Iran that will increase the international funding available to the country’s Anti-Narcotics Police. Human rights organization Reprieve has previously raised concerns that similar UN programmes in Iran have led to arrests and executions, including of juveniles. They include Jannat Mir, who was arrested by Iranian drug police at the age of 15 and subsequently hanged for narcotics offences.

Iran’s authorities have recently executed large numbers of people convicted of drugs offences; 600 of 947 hangings in Iran in 2015 were drug-related, as were 31 of 47 executions carried out so far in 2016.

Rouhani’s visit is taking place as an Amnesty International report showed that Iran has continued to convict and execute juveniles since 2005, in violation of its international obligations. The report notes that at least one juvenile offender, Mohammed Ali Zehi, is currently awaiting execution for narcotics offences.

Today’s visit also follows the news that British Prime Minister David Cameron recently held a phone call with President Rouhani, as a step towards normalising ties with Iran. Britain’s government, while not a funder of Iran programmes, is a donor to UNODC.

Commenting, Maya Foa, head of the death penalty team at human rights organization Reprieve, said: “Iran’s government is overseeing a horrifying surge in executions, the vast majority for drugs offences. Against this backdrop, it is deeply worrying to see European countries like France lining up to support a vast package of support for Iran’s drug police. It is vital that European countries use their growing ties with President Rouhani’s government – including these donations – to urge an end to the use of the death penalty for drugs offences.”
  • Detail on the recently-signed UNODC agreement with Iran is available here.
  • Reprieve's research on European support for counter-narcotics programmes in Iran and Pakistan is available here, while more recent detail on the European Union's donations to UNODC is here.
  • An Iranian state media report on President Rouhani's visit can be seen here.
Source: Reprieve, January 26, 2016

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