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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 officials admit executed prisoner was a juvenile

Public execution inn Saudi Arabia
Public execution inn Saudi Arabia
Saudi security forces have admitted on camera to arresting juveniles, including at least one who went on to be executed.

In interviews with Al Arabiya, unearthed and translated by Vice News, several Saudi security officials speak of arresting people they knew to be juveniles – including Mustafa Akbar, who was killed as part of a mass execution in January this year. In the interviews, the officials describe the young people they have arrested as ‘vulnerable’; General Said al-Qahtani, Director of Police for Mecca, says “one of them hadn't reached 14 years old”, while Special Forces General Major Sultan al-Maliki says "some we arrested thought the matter was over and they would return to their families."

The comments have emerged amid concerns over the use of the death penalty against juveniles in Saudi Arabia. After January's mass execution of 47 people, it emerged that several juveniles were among those killed – including Mustafa, and Ali al-Ribh, who was in school when he was arrested in 2012, in relation to political protests.

There are also fears that three more juveniles could soon be executed for an alleged role in political protests. Ali al-Nimr, Abdullah al-Zaher and Dawood al-Marhoon were all children when they were arrested in 2012; all three were tortured into ‘confessions’ that were used to sentence them to death. The juveniles are understood to have had no access to a lawyer throughout their secretive trials in the country’s Specialized Criminal Court.

The use of the death penalty against juveniles is prohibited under international and Saudi law. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recently called on Saudi Arabia halt the practice, and “to immediately halt the executions of Ali Mohammed Al-Nimr, Dawood Hussain Almarhon and Abdullah Hassan Alzaher.”

Last week, President Obama travelled to Saudi Arabia in what was expected to be the last such visit of his Presidency. International human rights organization Reprieve urged Mr Obama to use the trip to request the juveniles' release; however, in a subsequent White House press briefing, officials said that he "did not raise individual cases" during talks.

Commenting, Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said: “It is appalling to see that Saudi officials were well aware that they were executing several juveniles on January 2nd. Any Saudi concerns over the ‘vulnerability’ of juvenile prisoners, mentioned here, were entirely absent when they executed Mustafa Akbar and Ali Al Ribh on the basis of forced ‘confessions’ – and juveniles like Ali Al Nimr, Dawood al Marhoon and Abdullah al Zaher still await beheading for the ‘crime’ of attending protests. Now more than ever, the international community must call on Saudi Arabia to halt juvenile executions, once and for all.” 
  • The videos, featuring comments by Saudi officials, were reported by Vice News here.
  • The opinion of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child is available on request.
  • The White House briefing is available here.
  • Further research by Reprieve on the death penalty in Saudi Arabia is available here.
Source: Reprieve, April 26, 2016

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