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Trial by Fire - Did Texas execute an innocent man?

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The fire moved quickly through the house, a one-story wood-frame structure in a working-class neighborhood of Corsicana, in northeast Texas. Flames spread along the walls, bursting through doorways, blistering paint and tiles and furniture. Smoke pressed against the ceiling, then banked downward, seeping into each room and through crevices in the windows, staining the morning sky.
Buffie Barbee, who was eleven years old and lived two houses down, was playing in her back yard when she smelled the smoke. She ran inside and told her mother, Diane, and they hurried up the street; that’s when they saw the smoldering house and Cameron Todd Willingham standing on the front porch, wearing only a pair of jeans, his chest blackened with soot, his hair and eyelids singed. He was screaming, “My babies are burning up!” His children—Karmon and Kameron, who were one-year-old twin girls, and two-year-old Amber—were trapped inside.
Willingham told the Barbees to call the Fire Department, and while Dia…

Flawed justice in Indonesia

Activists hold posters which read "Jokowi, stop the executions!" during a candlelit vigil outside the presidential palace in Jakarta. Photo: AP
Activists hold posters which read "Jokowi, stop the executions!" during a candlelit
vigil outside the presidential palace in Jakarta. Photo: AP
Yet again on Friday morning, Indonesia showed its most brutal and ugly face to the world. Despite worldwide protests and serious questions concerning their guilt, and allegations of torture, rape and coerced confessions, Indonesia moved to execute 14 people convicted of drug-related crimes in President Widodo's so-called "war on drugs".

Only four were executed; however, the 180 riflemen assigned to carry out the executions are still on the island, and reporters have been told that the others will face an execution squad "later".

This is the third round of executions since Joko Widodo came to power in 2014. Six people were executed in the first round, but a second round in April 2015, which included Australians, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, caused international tumult, and resulted in the recall of the Australia, and Brazilian ambassadors.

Much of the controversy in the second round focused on the case of Rodrigo Gularte, a Brazilian captured at Jakarta Airport carrying 5.6 kilograms of cocaine.

Gularte, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, was in the middle of a psychotic episode when he was captured, and though appellate courts were informed of Gularte's long history of mental illness dating back to childhood, they refused to accept any of the 24 medical reports proffered.

Attorney-General Muhammed Prasetyo ridiculed his condition, but finally succumbed to international pressure and appointed four government doctors to report on his condition a week before he was executed. Their findings have still not been released.

In December 2015, Amnesty International published a report, Flawed Justice, detailing much of what is wrong with Indonesia's shambolic legal system, and stating that many of the 14 already executed had unfair trials, poor legal representation or no representation at all.

The report also says that police brutality and torture are routine aspects of the Indonesian legal process. and that bribery and corruption is endemic at every level.

But allegations of police brutality, bribery, and claims of innocence have not moved Widodo to stop this grisly and unseemly spectacle. Nor has the clamour from human rights groups, the European Union, or the United Nations, all of whom have called for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty in Indonesia.

This time, Rodrigo's cellmate, Zulfiqar Ali, who barely escaped being burnt alive when Gularte tried to burn his cell down in a psychotic rage, was due to be executed.

A textile worker from Pakistan, he was arrested in November 2004 at his home after a neighbour, Gurdip Singh, was captured at Jakarta Airport with 300 grams of heroin. He alleged – under duress – that Ali had given him the heroin; a "confession" he later recanted in court.

Ali was allegedly beaten by police for three days at his home, and in fear that they would kill him and his girlfriend, tearfully signed a confession, which he later retracted.

Ali was held incommunicado for 3 months without access to a lawyer or consular officials, and as a result of the tortures he allegedly received in police custody, he needed stomach and kidney surgery.

An internal investigation conducted into the case by Hafid Abbas, the former Director-General of Human Rights in the Ministry of Law, found Ali to be innocent, and Abbas sent a report to then President Yudhoyono, saying that Ali should be released, but it was "never acted on".

That was over a decade ago, but former president B. J. Habibie, telephoned president Widodo on Thursday, and discussed the Ali case, although it is unclear if this caused his removal from the final line-up.

Another case in the current round deserves highlighting. Merri Utami, an Indonesian domestic worker who was captured in 2001 with 1.1 kilograms of heroin at Jakarta Airport.

After the heroin was found in her baggage, she was repeatedly hit by immigration and police officials, and then taken to a hotel where she was sexually assaulted and tortured in an effort to coerce her confession.

According to the National Commission on Violence Against Women, Utami was the unwitting dupe of a Canadian named Jerry, who showered her with attention and financial support, before inviting her to stay with him in Nepal.

But after three days, he informed her that he had to attend to business in Jakarta, and asked her to stay so that she could bring back some goods for him, including a leather bag which he had stuffed with heroin.

The Indonesian government claims that these executions are a necessity in the war on drugs, but as their own statistics show, there has been no depreciation in the number of drug addicts since April 2015. In fact, it has increased. So, clearly this is not about saving lives. It's about machismo and hanging tough.

Source: The Canberra Times, Clive Simmons, July 29, 2016. Clive Simmons is the Convenor of the Facebook page, Unite and Hope: Fighting for Human Rights and Abolishing the Death Penalty.

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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

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