Why Texas’ ‘death penalty capital of the world’ stopped executing people

Since the Supreme Court legalized capital punishment in 1976, Harris County, Texas, has executed 126 people. That's more executions than every individual state in the union, barring Texas itself.
Harris County's executions account for 23 percent of the 545 people Texas has executed. On the national level, the state alone is responsible for more than a third of the 1,465 people put to death in the United States since 1976.
In 2017, however, the county known as the "death penalty capital of the world" and the "buckle of the American death belt" executed and sentenced to death a remarkable number of people: zero.
This is the first time since 1985 that Harris County did not execute any of its death row inmates, and the third year in a row it did not sentence anyone to capital punishment either.
The remarkable statistic reflects a shift the nation is seeing as a whole.
“The practices that the Harris County District Attorney’s Office is following are also signifi…

Clock Ticks as Indonesian Execution Spree Looms

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo
Indonesia's President Joko Widodo
Hope and Hypocrisy: Despite fighting for the freedom of hundreds of its own citizens facing the death penalty abroad, Indonesia looks set to carry out a spate of executions of foreign nationals. Can international and local activists force the populist Jokowi administration to change its course?

Sixteen executions are expected to soon take place in Indonesia, and most of the people are foreigners convicted of drug crimes.

Phelim Kine, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, says Indonesia’s “tragically misguided and wrongheaded” policy could see more than 40 people executed by the end of 2017.
“We are greatly concerned because the Indonesian government has made it clear that as soon as Ramadan is over, in early July, they will begin executions again,” Kine told The News Lens International.

Indonesia had a de-facto moratorium on the use of the death penalty until 2013, and human rights activists blame President Joko Widodo (often referred to as Jokowi) and his "War on Drugs" for restarting capital punishment.

“What we’ve seen since Jokowi took office in late 2014, is he has made the execution of convicted drug traffickers a signature policy issue,” Kine says. “He refers to this as ‘shock therapy’ for what he perceives as an emergency facing Indonesia.”

Diplomatic backlash or backlash to diplomacy?

Indonesia faced intense international criticism last year after it carried out 14 executions; ambassadors left Jakarta in protest and Brazil refused the credentials of an incoming Indonesian ambassador.

Nithin Coca, a freelance writer and social activist, says only in the case of Mary Jane Veloso – the Filipino woman who escaped execution at the eleventh hour last year – did international lobbying efforts make a “discernable impact.”

“I don’t think the current administration cares that much what the international perception of their policies are,” says Coca, who shares his time between the U.S. and Indonesia. “I think [international lobbying] had a reverse impact, domestically at least.”

Amid criticism, “especially from Australia,” Indonesians “became more nationalistic and more pro-death penalty than they would have had there been no international outcry,” he says.

Further, he suggests that Indonesians are “very cognizant of hypocrisy” – Indonesians are executed in other countries with worse capital punishment records each year, but “the world doesn’t care.”

“There is this idea, because they are westerners [facing execution], now all of a sudden you care. But if it is an Indonesian or someone else from a developing country, you don’t really care.”

Kine says although there is a perception that international pressure doesn’t work, the criticism last year has “stung the Indonesian government.”

“The biggest blowback, and the greatest pressure that the Jokowi administration has had, has been from close bilateral partners whose citizens have been executed despite strenuous diplomatic efforts to commute those death sentences,” he says.

“After the peak of that pressure in March-April, 2015, when that last spree of executions occurred, the government paused and went silent on this death penalty issue. It has only been in recent weeks where it has suddenly reemerged.”

Nationalism and the 'War on Drugs'

Using the death penalty on foreign nationals involved in drug trafficking appears to be popular among the electorate and is being used by politicians riding a wave of patriotism across the archipelago.

Coca says there has been renewed nationalism in Indonesia under the Jokowi administration. He points to Susi Pudjiastuti, Indonesia’s minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, who has been promoting an aggressive defense of Indonesia’s maritime territory.

“She’s incredibly popular,” Coca says. “She’s probably the most popular politician in the country right now.”

Pudjiastuti’s confrontational rhetoric, Coca says, is “more for PR and more for show” than a sign of effective policy. Capital punishment in the so-called ‘War on Drugs’ is used similarly to portray an “image of power.”

“The executions are not going to help actually stop the drug problem; they are really a show of force to demonstrate the government is doing something,” he says.

Polls and surveys show a large number of Indonesians favor the death penalty, Kine says.

“You could debate why that is the case, but the fact is that reflex pursuit of some kind of ‘justice’ through the death penalty is not based on the facts, science and international law,” he says.

Twelve of the 14 drug offenders last executed in Indonesia were foreigners. This February, Widodo said drug abuse “tops the list” of Indonesia’s major problems.

Coca says the statement was “ridiculous,” considering the country has challenges across electricity and infrastructure, education and literacy, and the environment, among others.

Source: The News Lens, Edward White, June 28, 2016

Joko would order cops to shoot drug dealers if the law allowed

Indonesian President Joko Wid­odo has called on police to “smash” drug dealers, and said he would order them to “shoot them on sight if existing law allowed it”.

In language reminiscent of the hard-line position taken by The Philippines’ president-elect, Rodrigo Duterte, Jokowi (as he is known) said: “If (shooting on sight) were allowed by the law then I would have ordered the ­National Police and the BNN chief to do so, but luckily it is not.

“This extraordinary crime has affected not only adults, but also elementary school and kindergarten-aged children,” he said in comments reported by the Jakarta Globe yesterday to mark the UN International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.

Indonesia drew international criticism last year when it exec­uted 14 death-row prisoners, most of them foreigners convicted of drug offences.

Among those put to death were Australian Bali Nine ringleaders Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukamaran, despite strong protests from Canberra and supporters who said the two men had amply demonstrated their rehabilitation during their imprisonment.

Clock Ticks as Indonesian Execution Spree Looms
Clock Ticks as Indonesian Execution Spree Looms
Two foreign nationals, Frenchman Serge Atlaoui, and Filipino domestic worker Mary Jane ­Veloso, were spared at the 11th hour, however, following appeals from their governments.

The Indonesian government has flagged its intention to execute a further 18 death-row drug convicts after the Islamic holiday of Idul Fitri on July 6, as well as a further 30 next year, and has already made provision for them in the budget.

But Security Minister Luhut Pandjaitan has vowed there will be no repeat of the “soap opera” surrounding last year’s executions of convicted drug traffickers, and there would be just three days’ ­notice given before the prisoners faced the firing squad.

About 60 prisoners of a total 152 currently on death row in ­Indonesia have been convicted for drug offences. Among them are two British citizens, Cheltenham grandmother Lindsay Sandiford and Gareth Cashmore, 36.

Jokowi has previously ­described the drug problem as a national emergency, citing statistics suggesting up to 5.1 million people of Indonesia’s total 250 million population (2 per cent) are chronic drug abusers.

Mr Duterte, who takes office in The Philippines on June 30, vowed to kill all drug dealers and feed their bodies to the fish in ­Manila Bay during his election campaign and has since said he will allow police to shoot to kill drug dealers.

Philippines’ National Police spokesman Wilben Mayor last week said that since Mr Duterte’s election victory on May 9, more than 40 drug suspects had been killed, compared with 39 deaths recorded in the four months preceding the election.

Late last week Adelaide man Damian John Berg was arrested in Manila for allegedly selling ­ecstasy in a police “buy-bust” raid.

Source: The Australian, Amanda Hodge, June 28, 2016

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