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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…

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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