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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…

Saudi executions pass 80 for first quarter of 2016 – on course to double 2015 total

Public execution in Saudi Arabia
Public execution in Saudi Arabia
This year has seen Saudi Arabia execute 82 people so far, according to new research by international human rights organization Reprieve – which suggests the Kingdom is on course to behead twice as many prisoners as last year.

This week saw three executions take place, and last week four, according to statements from the Saudi Government and reports in local media. The latest executions come in the wake of a visit to the Kingdom last week by UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, during which he met with the country's Interior Minister.

The British Government has previously raised the cases of three people sentenced to death as children over their alleged involvement in political protest, but it is not clear whether Mr Fallon discussed the matter during his meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif, who runs the ministry responsible for carrying out executions.

Dawoud al Marhoon, Ali al Nimr and Abdullah al Zaher were all sentenced to death despite having been children at the time of the alleged offences, and could be executed at any time without warning. All three were convicted for alleged offences relating to protests calling for reform in the Kingdom. On January 2 Ali Saeed al-Ribh was executed for his alleged involvement in the same political protests when he was 17 years old.

The UK Government told Members of Parliament last month that: “We have raised these cases with the Saudi Arabian authorities, most recently on 12 March, at a very senior level. Our expectation remains that they will not be executed.” 

However, under the Saudi system there is no requirement for prisoners’ lawyers or families to be informed before they are executed, and British ministers have not provided any explanation of what their expectation is based on.

If maintained, the current pace of executions in Saudi Arabia would see the Kingdom kill a total of over 320 prisoners in 2016 – more than double 2015’s toll of 158, which itself was nearly twice 2014’s total of 88.

Commenting, Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said: “As Saudi Arabia looks set for yet another record-breaking year of beheadings, it is more important than ever that its allies in the UK, Europe and the US call for it to stop. The deep injustices of the Saudi system mean that those being sent to the swordsman’s blade are in many cases tortured into ‘confessing,’ guilty of nothing more than calling peacefully for reform, or even sentenced to death as children. The UK and US must immediately call for Ali, Dawoud and Abdullah’s sentences to be commuted before it is too late – given the rising tide of beheadings, vague reassurances are not enough.”
  • Details of Mr Fallon's visit to Saudi Arabia are available here, and here.
  • The British government's recent statement to MPs can be viewed here.
Source: Reprieve, April 4, 2016

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