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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…

PM writes to Ethiopia amid fears for death-row Brit

London, England
London, England
David Cameron has intervened twice to secure UK access to a Briton who was kidnapped by Ethiopian forces in 2014, it's emerged, amid Foreign Office concerns that there has been “no substantive progress” on the case.

The government has confirmed to Buzzfeed News that, since 2014, the Prime Minister has written twice to his Ethiopian counterpart to ask for regular British consular access to Andargachew ‘Andy’ Tsege. Mr Tsege is a British father of three who was kidnapped and rendered to Ethiopia by the country’s security forces in June 2014. Mr Tsege, a political activist who has called for reform in Ethiopia, appears to be held under a sentence of death that was imposed in absentia in 2009. British officials have asked the Ethiopian government for regular consular access to Mr Tsege, and for a ‘legal process’ for him in Ethiopia, but have stopped short of requesting his release. 

News of the Prime Minister's interventions came as a July 2015 briefing from the Foreign Secretary’s office to Downing Street emerged. In the briefing, officials note that the UK’s strategy on Mr Tsege's case had achieved “no substantive progress” since 2014, and that “our repeated requests for regularised consular access have not been granted" by Ethiopia; "despite multiple assurances given to the foreign secretary by the Ethiopian foreign minister.” The briefing concludes by describing the UK’s relationship with Ethiopia as an “otherwise successful partnership.”

The news follows the recent voicing of concerns for Mr Tsege by the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan Méndez. In his annual report to the UN’s Human Rights Council, which meets this month, Mr Mendez said there was “substantial” evidence that the Ethiopian government had subjected Mr Tsege to “torture, ill-treatment, prolonged solitary confinement and incommunicado detention.”

Calls for Mr Tsege’s release have already been made by the UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the European Parliament, and human rights organization Reprieve, which is assisting his family in London. 

Commenting, Harriet McCulloch, deputy director of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said: “Andy Tsege was unlawfully sentenced to death in absentia by Ethiopia’s government, and has since suffered a series of terrible abuses – including kidnap, rendition and torture. Yet, nearly two years on from Andy’s disappearance, it appears even David Cameron’s interventions aren’t moving Ethiopia to grant the UK’s basic requests. Britain must take a much firmer line, and ask Ethiopia to release Andy – as the UN and others have done.” 

Source: Reprieve, March 17, 2016. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. 
  • The Foreign Office's comments on Mr Tsege's case were revealed by the Times, here
  • Confirmation of the Prime Minister's most recent intervention was given to Buzzfeed, here
  • The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture's report is available here (reference to Mr Tsege is made from page 28).
  • Further detail on Mr Tsege's case can be found on the Reprieve website, here.
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