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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…

It's been 2 years since a UK businessman was sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan

The family of Mohammad Asghar, who is mentally ill and becoming more frail in bad prison conditions, want him brought back to Scotland.

The family of a pensioner condemned to hang in Pakistan have told how they fear he's become a forgotten prisoner 2 years after being sent to death row.

Languishing in a secure Pakistan hospital, sentenced to death for blasphemy, Edinburgh businessman Mohammad Asghar can no longer read the newspapers that used to keep him occupied.

Cataracts have robbed the 71-year-old of his vision, removing one of the last remaining links to the outside world from which he was removed 6 years ago.

Mentally ill, frail and alone, the grandfather is confined to one windowless room except for the half an hour each day when he's allowed to walk in the corridor outside.

He has suffered with vitamin D deficiency through lack of exposure to sunlight and muscles in his legs have wasted through lack of exercise.

At home in Scotland, his heartbroken daughter Jasmine Rana is renewing her call to the governments of Britain and Pakistan to finally allow her father to come home.

The mum-of-4 said: "I honestly thought that the Government would take action and get him back.

"David Cameron said he would intervene. The Foreign Office send me emails on how he is, with messages from him. He always tells us not to worry, just to get on with our lives. But that's him trying to protect us.

"We are still no further forward in getting dad back where he belongs.

"I'm terrified for him. I can't sleep, I wake up crying. My children forget what he looks like. 2 of his brothers have died since he's been in jail. Someone has to help him now."

Mohammad, who ran several grocery shops in Edinburgh, was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

The father-of-5 had suffered seizures and depression since having a stroke.

In 2010, he left Edinburgh for Pakistan - where he owned property - shortly after being discharged from hospital, where he had been sectioned under the Mental Health Act. Within weeks, he had been arrested in Punjab, accused of writing letters in which he claimed to be the prophet.

In January 2014, he was sentenced to hang, despite his legal team insisting he was too sick even to stand trial.

Blasphemy is such a highly charged crime in Pakistan that he is constantly at risk of vigilante attacks. He was only moved to hospital from jail after being shot in the back by a prison guard who was supposed to be protecting him.

Human rights group Reprieve lobbied the British government for Mohammad's release and a 70,000- signature petition was delivered to Downing Street in October 2014.

In 2014, Jasmine took a petition to Downing Street.

But despite assurances of top-level intervention, he has remained locked up far from home.

Jasmine said: "Now he's on his own, apart from the guards and the doctors who are allowed in to treat him.

"We had to argue for him to get a radio and, even then, he's only allowed certain stations.

"I send pictures of my children so he can see how they're growing. But I can't explain how terrible it feels. Whenever I'm ill, I find myself thinking it's nothing to how bad things must be for him."

In December 2014, Pakistan lifted a 7-year moratorium on the death penalty. Amnesty International say 300 people have been executed since then.

Jasmine added: "Every time I hear someone has been executed, I can't bear it. I would love to go out and see him but I'm told it's not safe for me.

"I would plead with anyone who will listen - please let him come home."

The family's lawyer, Aamer Anwar, said they had been told not to speak about the ordeal for fear of jeopardising their father's case.

But they've become deeply frustrated by the government's failure to act.

He said: "The Prime Minister said he was taking this case seriously but, 2 years on, the Asghars are no longer willing to wait for the call telling them their father is dead because of illness, a hangman's noose or a fanatic's bullet."

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office insist Mohammad's case remains a high priority.

They said: "We continue to raise it at senior levels in Pakistan to ensure he is receiving the best possible support."

Source: dailyrecord.co.uk, January 31, 2016

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