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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…

Halting executions will be a show of strength in Indonesia

President Joko Widodo
Indonesia's President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo
President Joko Widodo should seize the opportunity to show that his government has the resolve to stand up for human rights by halting the imminent executions of up to 15 people, Amnesty International said today.

The death row prisoners believed to at risk have been convicted of alleged drug offences and some did not receive a fair trial. Their cases are, like many others that Amnesty International monitored, emblematic of systemic flaws within the Indonesia justice system.

"President Widodo has the chance to show true resolve by halting these executions and ordering a full independent review of all death penalty cases," said Rafendi Djamin, Director of Amnesty International's South East Asia and Pacific Regional Office.

"It is unacceptable for a government to execute people, especially when they did not receive a fair trial and have been convicted of offences that are not among the 'most serious crimes' in clear violation of international law and standards."

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime; guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the individual; or the method used by the state to carry out the execution. The death penalty violates the right to life and is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

The imminent executions, which it is feared may take place in the coming weeks, will be the 1st this year. In 2015, Indonesia executed 14 people.

Amnesty International's research has revealed that the death penalty in Indonesia has been implemented in cases that involve torture or other ill-treatment, denial of effective legal counsel, manifestly flawed proceedings, and even the use the death penalty on juvenile offenders or have a mental or intellectual disability.

"In the cases we examined, the police tortured or otherwise ill-treated some of the detainees, including to extract 'confessions.' Many weren't given access to a lawyer at the time of their arrest and at other stages of the process," said Djamin.

Amnesty International also recorded the cases of 5 death row prisoners who were executed despite the fact that Indonesia courts agreed to hear their appeals.

In the case of 2 prisoners, there was no adequate investigation to check whether they were juvenile offenders or had a mental and intellectual disability. In such circumstances, an execution is unlawful.

Within weeks of coming to power, President Widodo rebuffed calls that death row prisoners convicted of drug-related offences should receive clemency, and suggested that the death penalty should serve as a deterrent - a claim for which there is no evidence. However, when President Widodo came to power in 2014, he had made encouraging promises on human rights.

"At a time when most of the world's countries have rid themselves of this unconscionable practice, the execution of these people would consign Indonesia to the status of an outlier," said Djamin.

"President Widodo still has time. If he halts the death penalty, commutes their sentences, and establishes a moratorium as a 1st step towards abolition, Indonesia can begin to re-establish its reputation on human rights in the region."

The Indonesian authorities have repeatedly claimed they apply the death penalty in line with international law and standards. In a 2015 report, Flawed Justice: Unfair Trials and the Death Penalty in Indonesia, Amnesty International highlighted the cases of 12 death row prisoners whose cases illustrate the manifestly flawed administration of justice in Indonesia that resulted with flagrant human rights violations. Some of these cases relate to some of the prisoners believed to be at risk of imminent executions.

Agus Hadi, Pujo Lestari and another man were arrested for attempting to smuggle 12,490 benzodiazepine pills from Malaysia in 2006. They were detained at the narcotics directorate of the Riau Islands Police Headquarters on November 22 that year, interrogated there for 20 days and then transferred to the Batam prosecution detention center. They were held in total for 9 weeks before they appeared before a judge at their 1st trial hearing in the Batam District Court at the end of January 2007. Court documents indicate that Hadi only received assistance from a lawyer on December 12, 20 days after his arrest. Lestari had legal counsel appointed by the Batam District Court on February 8, 78 days after his arrest and a week after the court had scheduled the 1st trial hearing.

Zulfiqar Ali, a Pakistani national, was arrested at his home in West Java province on November 21, 2004, and charged with possession of 300g of heroin. During his pre-trial detention, he was refused the right to contact his embassy and was not permitted any access to a lawyer until approximately one month after his arrest. According to court documents, the Chief of Tangerang District Court granted the prosecutor an extension of Ali's detention from March 4 to May 2, 2005. This means he was detained for at least 3 months before being brought to the 1st trial hearing, although there is no information as to when the first trial hearing started.

While he was being interrogated by the Soekarno-Hatta Airport district police, Ali was kept in a house for three days and punched, kicked and threatened with death unless he signed a self-incriminating statement, which he later did. After 3 days his health deteriorated to the extent that on November 24, 2004 he was sent to a police hospital, where he required stomach and kidney surgery due to damage caused by the beatings. He was in the hospital for 17 days. During his trial he described this torture, but the judges allowed the "confession" to be admitted as evidence. There has been no independent investigation into his allegations.

Ali did not speak Bahasa Indonesia. He received limited translation assistance throughout his detention and during the proceedings against him. At the trial, he was provided with translation only from Bahasa Indonesia to English only, but he understood only a little English. He was convicted and sentenced to death in 2005. His death sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2006.

Source: Amnesty International USA, May 13, 2016

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