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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Pakistan Supreme Court to consider case of juvenile facing hanging

Judges will tomorrow [Thursday 19 May] consider the case of a prisoner who could be hanged at as little as three days’ notice, despite evidence that he was arrested as a child.

Muhammad Anwar was arrested when he was just 17 years old, and subsequently sentenced to death on murder charges. Although his birth certificate shows that he was a juvenile when arrested, he continues to be held under sentence of death, in violation of both Pakistani and international law.

An execution warrant was issued for Anwar on 12 December last year, but the process was stayed at the last minute by the courts to allow the issue of his juvenility to be considered. His lawyers will tomorrow ask the Supreme Court to ensure that Pakistan’s Government complies with its legal obligations and commutes his death sentence.

Anwar was sentenced to death in 1998, five years after his arrest, and has now spent 23 years facing execution. In 2000, Pakistan introduced laws intended to bring it into line with international law banning the use of the death penalty against children. The country’s President subsequently decreed in 2001 that anyone facing the death penalty for offences committed when they were a child should have their sentence commuted to life.

Anwar’s family have since made a number of attempts to have his death sentence commuted, in line with Pakistani law, but no final decision has been taken by the authorities. They are now appealing to the Supreme Court in the hope that it will correct this historic mistake and ensure Anwar’s death sentence is commuted.

The nature of Pakistan’s death penalty system means that Anwar could face execution with as little as three days’ notice of receiving a ‘black warrant,’ which could be handed down at any time.

Maya Foa, Director of the death penalty team at international human rights organization Reprieve said: “Anwar and his family have spent years trying to get someone to take a proper look at the evidence of his juvenility. The bottom line is that he simply should not be facing execution under either Pakistani or international law. However, he has been the victim of bureaucratic incompetence by the Pakistani Government, and as a result his case has fallen between the cracks. The Supreme Court now has the chance to correct this historic wrong and commute his sentence.”

Source: Reprieve, May 18, 2016

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