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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…

Dalits and Muslims: India’s favourites for the death penalty

India's Supreme Court
India's Supreme Court
A study that will be published later this year by the National Law University shows that 75 per cent of all death sentences and 93.5 per cent of all death sentences for terrorism were given to dalits and Muslims. The obvious issue here is that of prejudice. The government shows no signs of acting strongly when upper-caste Hindus commit acts of terrorism, as the case of bombings in Malegaon shows. And there is no hurry to hang the killer of Beant Singh, while Rajiv Gandhi’s killers have had their death sentences commuted. They had also been convicted of terrorism, but not all of us are judged by the same rules. Let us leave aside the others like Mayaben Kodnani, convicted of murdering 95 Gujaratis and not even in jail.

The second issue is that of economics.

Dalit and Muslim are also synonyms for ‘poor’. Afzal Guru got almost no legal representation in the trial court stage. Given the reality, it should not surprise us that dalits and Muslims and their supporters are protesting against the government. They have every right to and are justifiably upset. They are seen as out of control and unbalanced, but they are arguing on fact. It is the BJP MPs who keep shooting off letters to Smriti Irani, demanding firm action against those who are acting on emotion.

The prime minister’s response to this has been to accuse the opposition of invention and lies. But the facts are absolutely clear on the ground. Dalits are getting a voice and are standing up for their rights. There is nothing wrong with that and if they use intemperate language, they should not be treated as criminals. It is important the Indian government engage them, and listen to their argument, not only their slogans.


Source: The Express Tribune, Opinion by Aakar Patel, February 14th, 2016

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