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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…

"Quiet fury" will fuel artist Matthew Sleeth's film on Bali Nine execution

Matthew Sleeth hosted an exhibition by Myuran Sukumaran in 2014
Matthew Sleeth hosted an exhibition by Myuran Sukumaran in 2014
An artist who ran prison workshops with Myuran Sukumaran plans a film about the last weeks of the Bali Nine member leading up to his execution.

Matthew Sleeth has been funded to shoot Guilty, a one-hour film that will feature "a very detailed and near real-time look at the execution."

One of three projects announced for the Adelaide Film Festival's Hive Fund, which brings together artists and filmmakers, it will screen at the festival next year and then on the ABC.

Sleeth, whose A Drone Opera was performed in Melbourne last year, became an activist against the death penalty with fellow artist Ben Quilty after they ran art workshops with Sukumaran in Kerobokan Prison. Two years ago he hosted an exhibition of what he called "Myuran's wonderful paintings" at his studio.

A year after the execution of Sukumaran and fellow Bali Nine prisoner Andrew Chan, Sleeth remains very angry.

"There's a quiet fury behind this film," he says. "While Myu and Andrew were still alive, there was a restrained and necessarily disciplined campaign [for clemency] that was very effective.

"I now think there's a lot of anger to be channelled and also a lot of questions to be asked about how it came to this.

"Not so much hating Indonesia – that's too easy to do and too obvious. It's as a country, how did we let this happen?"

Sleeth believes there was insufficient understanding about what calls for the duo's execution really meant.

"I spent a lot of time in Indonesia and no one ever called for Myuran and Andrew to be killed to me – everyday Indonesians – but many, many Australians did," he says.

"So that made me ask, 'why?' It also made me ask, 'do people really know what it means to call for an execution?' So I want the film to be a very detailed and near real-time look at the execution."

Sleeth concedes this will be confronting for viewers.

"If anything should be obscene, it should be an execution," he says. "When I was talking to Myu about it, the horror was in the detail.

"What does the actual experience mean? Does the guy who's tying you to the post talk to you? What's it like to literally have your chest torn apart?

"They're the things we need to think about when we're actually calling for an execution and thinking about the rights and obligations of a state to its citizens.

"I don't think there was any country that ever had a moral obligation to stop an execution like Australia did in this case given the [Australian Federal Police, who tipped off the Indonesian police about the Bali Nine] is the reason why they were exposed to the death penalty in the first place.

"None of that will actually be in the film as such, but I hope they're the questions we're left asking at the end of it."


Source: The Canberra Times, Garry Maddox, May 4, 2016 (local time)

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