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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…

Fears for ‘child bride’ facing execution in Iran – Reprieve comment

Zeinab Sekaanvand
Zeinab Sekaanvand
A female prisoner in Iran who was arrested as a juvenile is facing execution after a forced ‘confession’, and could be hanged as early as today, according to reports.

Zeinab Sekaanvand was 17 when she was arrested in 2012. She was reportedly beaten for nearly three weeks before ‘confessing’ to the murder of her husband, whose abusive behaviour she had previously reported to the authorities. According to Amnesty International, she could be hanged in days. Ms Sekaanvand's execution was previously postponed because she was pregnant, and then scheduled again after she gave birth to a stillborn baby, the Times has today reported.

Iran carries out more executions per capita than any other country. Last year, the authorities executed nearly 1,000 people, the vast majority for non-violent alleged crimes such as drugs offences. Reports of unfair trials and forced ‘confessions’ under torture were common. Human rights organization Reprieve has raised concerns that the executions could be bolstered by UN counter-narcotics programmes, funded by other countries, which provide support for Iran’s police.

Last year, President Hassan Rouhani claimed that abolition of the death penalty in Iran would be “dangerous”, because “most executions” were for alleged drug offences.

News of Ms Sekaanvand’s hanging comes as Iran seeks an improvement in its relations with the international community, following the lifting of international trade sanctions earlier this year. In April, the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, visited the country and announced that EU-Iranian relations had “turned a new page.” Last summer, former Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond flew to Iran to reopen the UK embassy in Tehran, commenting during the visit that counter-narcotics was an area that Britain and Iran should be “ready to discuss.”

Commenting, Maya Foa, a director at Reprieve, said: “Iran’s government is overseeing a huge wave of executions even while Iranian leaders seek better relations with the international community – including the UK, the EU and the US. Many of the prisoners facing the noose were convicted for non-violent ‘crimes’ such as drug offences – while shockingly unfair trials and forced ‘confessions’ are the norm. The international community must urgently use their renewed links with Iran to demand a halt to this appalling wave of hangings – and to call off the execution of Zeinab Sekaanvand.” 

  • Details of Federica Mogherini's visit to Iran earlier this year are here, while Mr Hammond's visit to Iran last year was reported here.
  • Details of Ms Sekaanvand's case were reported by the Times today, here.

Source: Reprieve, October 13, 2016. Reprieve is an international human rights organization.

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