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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…

Fears for juveniles as Saudi government threatens more executions

Public execution in Saudi Arabia
Public execution in Saudi Arabia
The Saudi government appears to be preparing to execute four prisoners convicted in the Specialized Criminal Court, raising fears for three juveniles who were sentenced to death there for attending protests.

Reports in Saudi government-affiliated media suggest that the authorities are preparing to execute four people whose death sentences have been upheld in the secretive SCC. The reports say the killings will ‘complete’ the mass execution of 47 prisoners in January this year, which saw several political protestors executed – including at least one juvenile, Ali al-Ribh. Following the killings, UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond faced criticism, after claiming that the 47 prisoners executed were “terrorists.”

While details of the four in line for execution remain unclear, the reports will raise fears for three juveniles who are awaiting execution after their sentences – handed down in relation to political protests – were upheld in the SCC last year. Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon and Abdullah al-Zaher were arrested in the wake of protests in the country’s eastern Province in 2012. All were tortured into ‘confessions’ that were used to convict them in largely secret trial proceedings. Ahead of January's mass execution, reports in state-affiliated media outlets had suggested that 52 prisoners would be killed, leading to fears that the three juveniles would be among them.

News of the latest planned executions follows a Saudi appearance this week at the UN’s Human Rights Council, in which Saudi official Bandar al Ali claimed his government “promoted human rights”, and “fights torture in all its physical and moral manifestations”.

Research last year by human rights organization Reprieve found that, of those facing execution in Saudi Arabia, some 72% were convicted of non-violent crimes – including drug offences and political protest – while police torture was reported to be common.

Commenting, Maya Foa, head of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said: “These reports are deeply worrying. January's mass execution included political protestors and juveniles - these prisoners weren't 'terrorists', but ordinary people who lost their lives for the so-called 'crime' of speaking out against the Saudi regime. It would be appalling if the Saudis now executed three further juveniles who were brutally tortured into 'confessing'. The British government and others must look beyond the Saudi propaganda machine, and do all they can to prevent January's outrages from being repeated."
  • Reports of the impending executions can be seen in Okaz, here
  • Philip Hammond's remarks on the mass execution in January can be seen here, while further detail on Ali al-Ribh's case is available here.
  • A transcript of Mr al Ali's remarks are available on request, while a video of his speech is available here.
  • Reprieve's research into the death penalty in Saudi Arabia is available on the Reprieve website, here.
Source: Reprieve, March 11, 2016

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