“River of Fire”: In New Memoir, Sister Helen Prejean Reflects on Decades of Fighting Executions

The Trump administration is moving ahead with plans to resume the death penalty after a more than 15-year moratorium. This week Attorney General William Barr proposed fast-tracking executions in mass murder cases, and last month ordered the execution of five death row prisoners beginning in December. The federal government has executed just three people since 1963 — the last being in 2003. The death penalty is widely condemned by national governments, international bodies and human rights groups across the world. Experts say capital punishment does not help deter homicides and that errors and racism in the criminal justice system extend to those sentenced to death. We speak with Sister Helen Prejean, a well-known anti-death-penalty activist who began her prison ministry over 30 years ago. She is the author of the best-selling book “Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty,” which was turned into an Academy Award-winning film starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. …

Turkey's death penalty plans are blueprint for future

"Wide-ranging effects on Turkey's economy and its relations with Europe."
"Wide-ranging effects on Turkey's economy and its relations with Europe."
Turkey's government is pressing on with its plans to bring back the death penalty despite the risk of dashing EU accession hopes. Tom Stevenson reports from Istanbul.

When Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) abolished capital punishment in 2004, the move was widely praised as evidence of the pragmatism and political maturity of the country's religious conservatives.

Turkey had not carried out a death penalty since 1984 but its legal abolition was hailed as a symbol of a break from the days of military rule under which figures such as former Prime Minister Adnan Menderes was hanged in 1960, and prominent left-wing activist Deniz Gezmis in 1971.

Just 12 years later, the same ruling party is in the final stages of preparing to reinstate capital punishment as part of a radical set of changes to Turkey's constitution that supporters and critics alike say will be a blueprint for the country's future.

The government's volte face on reinstating capital punishment has come directly out of the shifting grounds of Turkish politics that followed the attempted military coup against the state in July. Immediately after the coup attempt was thwarted, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim publicly raised the idea of reinstating the death penalty in law.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has since raised the issue on several occasions and used others as an example. "The US has it, Japan has it, China has it, most of the world has it. So they are allowed to have it... Sovereignty belongs to the people, so if the people make this decision I am sure the political parties will comply," he said at a post-coup rally this summer.

Yet despite the timing of the move, Prime Minister Yildirim has repeatedly made clear that if the bill is passed, it would not be possible to mete out a death sentence retroactively and therefore that it could not be applied to the suspected coup plotters.

'Part of Islam'

Getting people on the street to comment is far from easy these days, but those that are willing to talk don't mince their words. "Capital punishment is part of Islam, it is religion. If someone kills another man then he deserves to be killed too - for me it is that simple," 59-year-old Huseyin Akturan told DW, outside a traditional cafe in Istanbul's generally conservative Tophane neighborhood.

The government's main purpose in reintroducing the death penalty debate may be to whip up popular support among the country's most conservative elements, according to one academic expert on justice and democracy at a leading Turkish university who asked to remain anonymous for safety reasons.

"It looks like the consolidation of one-man rule is the immediate goal of the new regime that is being established and the ultra-nationalists have always wanted this; it's playing to their interests as a kind of political mobilization," the academic told DW.

A national referendum on a new constitution that would expand president Erdogan's constitutional power is expected to be held as early as this coming spring and the argument posits that recent, highly conservative government policies on the reinstatement of capital punishment and the liberalization of child marriage are fodder for the far-right in advance of the referendum.

"Ahead of that time they would like to foment and politically mobilize all sectors of society that are happy to see blood: nationalists, racists, lumpen elements within the society because their votes are going to be needed again," the academic said.

Should the plans to reintroduce the death penalty make it into law, there will be wide-ranging effects on Turkey's economy and its relations with Europe, particularly on the stymied EU accession process.

Anti EU-sentiment

However European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker's pledge that "if Turkey should bring back the death penalty, we will immediately stop the negotiation process" currently carries little weight in Ankara, where anti-EU sentiment has been growing rapidly since the failed coup attempt.

More pressing for Turkish officials is the concern that reintroducing the death penalty now would damage the extradition request that the government has filed in the United States for Pennsylvania-based Turkish preacher Fetullah Gulen, whom the Turkish government believes was the prime suspect behind the July coup attempt.

"The government would like to get rid of the political constraints implied in the EU accession process and international law, it cares less and less about these things and I think the death penalty will be reintroduced, because the AKP also has an ideological commitment to it," said the academic expert on justice and democracy.

Emel Kurma, the general coordinator of the Helsinki Citizens' Assembly human rights group in Turkey, says all the talk about the death penalty is a useful distraction for Erdogan and his party.

"Stirring up a debate to re-install capital punishment serves Erdogan and the government in diverting public attention from the actual political/economic challenges as concretely experienced in practical daily life," she told DW.

Kurma also argues that the AKP is using capital punishment in order to further cement its alliance with the MHP nationalist party and thereby increase its influence in parliament.

"On a much more practical basis, the capital punishment card provides good leverage to attain the support of MHP, the nationalist conservatives. Thus, it is aimed to weld their support to that of the traditional AKP electorate: the religious conservatives," she said. "The stirring up of capital punishment is a symptom of increasing adoption of authoritarian policies and practices, as the world at large is shifting into populist or authoritarian regimes and illiberal democracies."

Source: Deutsche Welle, November 29, 2016

Different voices from inside Turkey's ruling party

Deputy Prime Minister Tugrul Turkes is known to be against the death penalty. In the cabinet meeting presided by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Oct. 31, he expressed his views outright.

"Even if the capital punishment is reintroduced, you cannot hang Ocalan and Gulen," Turkes said, referring to the Abdullah Ocalan, the head of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), and Fethullah Gulen, who is blamed for the July 15 coup. When Erdogan looked at him with questioning eyes, Turkes went on, "This is because, since Magna Carta, penalties are not retroactive." While the entire cabinet and the president were listening with heightened interest, he said, "In this case, we would bring back the death penalty but we would not be able to practice it. Reinstalling death penalty would disrupt our image. They would immediately expel us from the Council of Europe and NATO.?

Upon these words of Turkes, Erdogan said, "How can they remove us from NATO? There is capital punishment in the U.S." Turkes elaborated, "This has been like this from the beginning in the U.S. There was capital punishment before NATO was formed; they did not change it afterward. They have a separate law. But we have been subject to the continental Europe law from the beginning."

On the other hand, a cabinet minister known for his notable proclamations on the EU, in his meeting with the deputy chair of the AK Party, bluntly said, "If capital punishment is brought in, I will vote negatively."

We have seen during the sexual abuse criminalization debates that the public in Turkey, since opposition remains inadequate, expects the members of the ruling AK Party to warn the government.

In this process, there are certain people the president and the prime minister have consulted in the struggle against FETO, capital punishment and the presidential system. For this reason, I would like to reflect the shared thoughts of President Erdogan and PM Binali Yildirim. These names which are only a handful but have huge respectability, I think, and represent certain sensitivity within the AK Party.

At the top of the matters is the capital punishment. "Death sentence cannot be retroactive. For this reason, it is not possible to execute Fethullah Gulen and Ocalan. It can only be practiced as of the date it is processed. It is also questionable what deterrence this would have for future acts."

There are wrongs and rights in the fight against the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETO). Here is a broader analysis:

"Our president categorized the FETO structuring to 3 levels as the top being betrayal, the middle commerce and the bottom worship. The betrayal attempted a coup in July 15. This has military and civilian connections. They have connections in military, police, the national intelligence organization. They have brothers, sisters and imams in civilian life. We should fight these.

"The commercial middle class, though, is a structure financially supporting them. In fighting these, we should determine a commercial capacity. We should target those that have a certain commercial capacity; however, we should not spread it to the street grocery store level.

"There is also the believer, the worshipper dimension. We should make them see the truth.

"Out of those who have been caught in July 15, 90 % are in the betrayal group. The judgement should start from there. Each institute should not have its own measures. There should be penalty criteria of 4 or 5 clauses. The process should function accordingly. But this is not being done. The fight is conducted irregularly. Social wounds are opened. The civilian leg has reached hundreds of thousands but the military leg has not yet reached 10,000. The fight against FETO business should not be considered as a score."

On the subject of conducting the presidential system together with the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), there is a "be careful" warning. "As a result of the presidential system, there will be a bi-party system. The MHP will erode. Why should MHP leader Devlet Baheli want a system where the MHP will lose? Where does this appetite for the presidential system come from for Bahceli? Will the MHP crash us to the wall?"

We are walking step by step to the "President of the Republic" system. It looks as if the constitutional amendment will pass in the parliament and it will be acknowledged with a significant vote rate in the referendum. Nevertheless, I still wanted to reflect different evaluations within the AK Party.

Source: Hurriyet Daily News, November 30, 2016

⚑ | Report an error, an omission; suggest a story or a new angle to an existing story; send a submission; recommend a resource; contact the webmaster, contact us: deathpenaltynews@gmail.com.

Opposed to Capital Punishment? Help us keep this blog up and running! DONATE!

Most Viewed (Last 7 Days)

Texas: Death row inmate Larry Swearingen denied clemency before Wednesday execution

Texas executes Larry Swearingen

Florida: The last words of the serial killer who was executed for murdering six gay men

Notes from inside death row in Singapore

Florida executes Gary Ray Bowles

The Execution of Stephen West

‘I refuse to accept this as my fate’: Larry Swearingen slated for execution despite claims of innocence

Australian convicted of cooking up his own cocaine could now face death penalty in Bali

Iraq has executed 100 since January, 8,000 on death row: official

El cuchillo, el jersey rojo y la guillotina