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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…

The death penalty returns to Europe

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko
A box of clothes arrives on a doorstep in a European country just over 1,620km (1,000 miles) from the UK.

It contains the belongings of a man executed by the state.

They will not know when it happened or where his body is buried - they simply know it has been done.

This is the reality of the death penalty in Belarus, sometimes called Europe's last remaining dictatorship, where executions have resumed, following a two-year pause.

The majority of people are killed by a gun shot to the head and the bodies are never seen again.

The decision to resume executions comes just 8 months after EU foreign ministers removed asset freezes and travel bans for more than 150 Belarusian politicians and leaders, including President Alexander Lukashenko.

That EU move came after Belarus had released 6 political prisoners.

But at least 4 people have been sentenced to death since February.

Valiantsin Stefanovic from the Viasna Human Rights Centre told BBC Outside Source: "There is a lot of secrecy around this problem.

"Sometimes it [death] happens very quickly, in 2 or 3 months after the decision of the court.

"Nobody knows what happens to the bodies, they do not give them to the relatives. The burial place is not shown."

The death penalty was introduced in Belarus during Soviet times and covered several crimes, such as forging money, as well as murder.

Public opinion still favours executions, and polls in some parts of Western Europe draw similar results.

"Public opinion has changed though," says Valiantsin. "The majority of people still support this punishment, but that is nothing special."

Belarus has been widely criticised over its human rights issues during the 22-year-rule of President Lukashenko, who won a 5th term by a landslide last year.

About 400 people have been executed in Belarus since the country gained independence from the USSR in 1991, more than 1 a month.

We spoke with Lyubov Kovaleva, whose 25-year-old son was executed in 2012 for terrorism offences.

She claims he was forced into a confession and the verdict was to shoot the accused.

"I was allowed only 3 meetings: before the trial, after the verdict was announced and before the shooting," she told Outside Source. "His lawyer met him only once."

Strict surveillance


Ms Kovaleva was instructed to discuss only private matters and talk about just family and friends.

"There was a police officer behind me who controlled our conversation. My son was behind the window and another police officer was behind him."

Before the 1st meeting she was given a piece of paper with questions she was allowed to ask.

"I could not do anything to help him - apparently it was Lukashenko's decision to execute my son."

A human rights report last week suggested rights to a defence in capital punishment cases were being "systematically violated" and "lawyers and judges lack independence".

Internationally the Belarusian government is now under pressure.

Europe's top human rights watchdog - the Council of Europe - deplored the situation. Its secretary-general Thorbjoern Jagland said: "I am deeply disappointed that Belarus has started using the death penalty again.

"I call on the authorities in Minsk to rapidly introduce a moratorium, as a first step towards abolition."

And the European Parliament lamented the fact that Belarus was showing no sign of progress on human rights.

Source: BBC news, October 18, 2016

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