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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…

94% of hangings in Pakistan not ‘terrorism’ cases – new figures

New figures have shown that 94% of prisoners recently hanged in Pakistan had nothing to do with terrorism – throwing doubt on claims that an executions drive which began in the country nearly two years ago is designed to combat ‘terrorism.’

The figures, collated by human rights organizations Reprieve and the Justice Project Pakistan, show that since lifting its moratorium on executions in December 2014, Pakistan has hanged some 418 prisoners, overtaking Saudi Arabia to become the world’s third largest executing nation after China and Iran.

Pakistani officials have repeatedly said that the executions drive is necessary to prevent terrorism; in July 2015, an aide to the Prime Minister told Reuters: “You've seen the number of terrorist attacks going down drastically… One of the reasons is fear. Fear of being executed.”

However, today's figures show that the proportion of executed prisoners whose cases could reasonably be linked to terrorism is lower than ever. Since March 2015 – when the authorities announced that they would expand executions for crimes beyond terrorism – just 6%, or one in 15, of the prisoners executed could reasonably be linked to terrorism. Some 94% of those who were hanged since March 2015 were convicted in non-terror related cases. 

The 418 people executed so far have included vulnerable people such as juveniles, people who were tortured into signing fake 'confessions’, and the mentally ill. The figures are published a day after the authorities handed down a warrant for the hanging of Imdad Ali, a prisoner who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. The warrant says Mr Ali will be hanged on Wednesday (2nd), despite an international prohibition on the execution of mentally ill people. Medical assessments have described Mr Ali as “insane”, and he does not fully understand that he faces execution.

Nearly 30,000 people have signed a petition calling on Pakistan’s President, Mamnoon Hussain, to grant mercy to Mr Ali, while the UN, UK, and a group of Pakistani psychiatrists have also raised concerns.

Commenting, Maya Foa, a director at Reprieve, said: “These latest numbers show that the Pakistani government is using 'terrorism' as a smokescreen to execute vast numbers of prisoners – including innocent scapegoats, juveniles and mentally ill prisoners like Imdad Ali. Imdad faces the noose despite clear evidence that he is severely mentally ill. President Hussain has the power to prevent this serious breach of Pakistani and international law – he must grant mercy to Imdad, and undertake an urgent review of Pakistan's broken death penalty system.”

  • Reprieve's collated figures are available on request.
  • In July 2015, the Prime Minister's special assistant for law, Ashtar Ausaf Ali, told Reuters: "You've seen the number of terrorist attacks going down drastically... One of the reasons is fear. Fear of being executed." That report can be seen here
  • More information about Imdad Ali is available on the Reprieve website.

Source: Reprieve, October 27, 2016. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. 

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