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Why Texas’ ‘death penalty capital of the world’ stopped executing people

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Since the Supreme Court legalized capital punishment in 1976, Harris County, Texas, has executed 126 people. That's more executions than every individual state in the union, barring Texas itself.
Harris County's executions account for 23 percent of the 545 people Texas has executed. On the national level, the state alone is responsible for more than a third of the 1,465 people put to death in the United States since 1976.
In 2017, however, the county known as the "death penalty capital of the world" and the "buckle of the American death belt" executed and sentenced to death a remarkable number of people: zero.
This is the first time since 1985 that Harris County did not execute any of its death row inmates, and the third year in a row it did not sentence anyone to capital punishment either.
The remarkable statistic reflects a shift the nation is seeing as a whole.
“The practices that the Harris County District Attorney’s Office is following are also signifi…

Singapore: A compassionate campaign for a cold hearted nation

Screenshot from "Apprentice" by Jufeng Boo (2016)
A recent survey on Singapore's opinion of the death penalty revealed a crushing amount of support for capital punishment. Conducted by government feedback agency Reach, the survey found that a staggering 80 % of Singapore residents supported the death penalty, while only 10 % voiced a need to abolish it.

While majority of the nation stands firm in its belief in capital punishment, a small group with a large voice finds courage to stand up to the dominant narrative. The Singapore Anti Death Penalty Campaign (SADPC) has fronted multiple campaigns against the sentencing of death-row inmates over the last few years. This month, it's fronting another campaign.

Led by human rights lawyer, Mr. M Ravi, the SADPC is now taking action to appeal the death sentence that has been dealt to Prabagaran a/l Srivijayan on the counts of drug trafficking.

Prabagaran is a 29-year-old Malaysian who has been found guilty of bringing 22.24g of Diamorphine into Singapore. He was arrested at the Woodlands Checkpoint on April 12, 2012, after immigration officers discovered 2 black bundles containing the drugs in the armrest console of his Malaysian-registered Hyundai car.

Prabagaran claimed willful blindness in his situation - the car was borrowed from a friend and Prabagaran had no knowledge of the drugs in the car. During the trial, prosecution argued that Prabagaran's accounts were irreconcilable with evidence.

The law states a 3-months period to file clemency after conviction, followed by a 3-months consideration period for a pardon, and 3 weeks immediately thereafter, an execution for the death penalty.

According to Ravi, Prabagaran's clemency was filed in March. The team is expecting the delivery of judgment from the Court of Appeal on November 15, which would set Prabagaran's execution date in the 1st week of December.

Sharing Prabagaran's story on Facebook with a video interview with Prabagaran's mother, Madam Eswari, Ravi attempts to rally the nation together to put a stop to Prabagaran's death penalty.

News of Prabagaran's impending execution in the following month has forged a sense of urgency within SADPC. Their campaign to save Prabagaran will be launched in Singapore and Malaysia, and will rely heavily on the group's international networks, including the United Nations.

Ravi aims to highlight the unequal treatment under international law in an International Court of Justice (ICJ) memorandum. 'There is a statute under ICJ which talks about customary international law - where you cannot be discriminated against. I will address this particular article of ICJ, as to how the Malaysian government can file an ICJ stay action in International Court of Justice. This is the route.'

This strategy could mark the 1st attempt by an Asian country to dispute a death penalty on the grounds of an individual's nationality by going to the International Court of Justice. 'Europeans have gone - Germans especially - it's rare to go with this route. But this is the only route that Prabaragan has in terms of the law', says Ravi.

While Ravi takes it upon himself and the activist group to provide the Malaysian government with this route, the group ultimately aims to remind through this memorandum that countries have a moral duty to defend their citizens.

Ravi recounts a similar situation in 2007, where 18-year-old Nigerian footballer, Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi, was convicted of drug trafficking in Singapore. 'If the government of Nigeria refuses to file an ICJ action, the lawyers in Nigeria can file action to compel their government in court, to file' says Ravi. Activists, who protested Tochi's innocence, carried out a hunger strike that lasted over a day, leading up to Tochi's execution. Tochi was executed by hanging on 26 January 2007 in Changi Prison.

The SADPC wants to raise awareness amongst Malaysians of the disproportionate application of the death penalty towards the minorities.

Despite the dominant Singapore narrative on the death penalty, the scene in Malaysia differs. An online poll conducted by Barisan Nasional (BN) component party Gerakan, showed 55 % of 1,523 anonymous Internet users in support of abolishing the mandatory death penalty in Malaysia. The online #BetterMalaysia poll was designed to help Malaysian policymakers better understand public perceptions and to bridge the gap between the Malaysian public and policymakers.

With regards to Prabagaran's situation, Ravi says 'at the end of the day, Singaporeans are not going to make a difference. The people who are going to make a difference are Malaysians.' With slightly more positive results from the Malaysian online poll, the SADPC might stand a better chance of overturning Prabagaran's situation.

Source: The Independent, October 17, 2016

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