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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…

Pakistan hangings pass 400

Pakistan has executed over 400 people since resuming hangings in December 2014, according to new research from international human rights organisation Reprieve.

The country has become one of the world’s most prolific executioners since lifting a moratorium on hangings which had been in place for several years.

According to publicly-available data analyzed by Reprieve, June has seen four hangings so far, bringing the total since the lifting of the moratorium to 404 – although the figure could be higher as not all executions in the country are necessarily reported.

72 of those hangings have taken place in 2016, which means that Pakistan likely holds its position in the world’s top five executioners for the year so far - behind China, Iran and Saudi Arabia, but ahead of the USA. 

Pakistan has seen a number of controversial death penalty cases recently. Abdul Basit, a paralysed prisoner who needs to use a wheelchair, continues to be held under sentence of death despite concerns that there is no way to execute him that would not carry a high risk of prolonged suffering. He recently told his lawyers that, during a previous attempt to hang him, the prison authorities had built a slope or ramp up to the gallows in order to take him to be hanged in his wheelchair.

Also facing potential imminent execution is Muhammad Anwar, despite his having been arrested as a child. His case is currently before Pakistan’s Supreme Court, as both Pakistani and international law prohibit the execution of people arrested for alleged offences which took place when they were under 18.

Commenting, Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve’s Death Penalty Team said: “That Pakistan has gone from a non-executing state to executing over 400 people in little over 18 months is truly shocking. The Pakistani Government seems indifferent to the plight of the many prisoners who should not even be on death row – those arrested as children, or suffering from severe physical or mental illnesses. They need to put a halt to all executions until a full review of this chaotic capital punishment system can be carried out.”

Reprieve estimates that Pakistan’s current rate of execution for 2016 so far means it maintains its place in the world’s top five executioners, according to available figures. Reprieve is yet to finalise estimates for Saudi Arabia and Iran, but the former is believed to have executed close to 100 people, and the latter 195 (according to Iran Human Rights), in 2016 so far. Due to state secrecy, figures are unavailable for China but guesswork by human rights organizations tends to put them in the thousands. According to the Death Penalty Information Centre (DPIC), US executions for 2016 so far total 14. Due to the conflict in Iraq, it is extremely difficult to determine the use of the death penalty there, but according to Cornell Law School’s ‘Death Penalty Worldwide’ site, there have been 22 executions confirmed for 2016.

Source: Reprieve, June 7, 2016

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