Trial by Fire - Did Texas execute an innocent man?

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…

Pakistan: Army chief signs death warrants of 13 terrorists

Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa on Friday signed death warrants of another 13 'hardcore terrorists' who were found guilty of being behind a series of terrorist attacks, including those on Charsadda's Bacha Khan University, Rawalpindi's Parade Lane Mosque and the Marriot Hotel in Islamabad.

The death warrants signed by Gen Qamar are his 1st since he assumed command of the army on November 29 and came on a day when the country was observing the 2nd anniversary of the Peshawar Army Public School attack.

The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said in a statement that those who were handed the death penalty were involved in heinous offences related to terrorism, including killing and slaughtering of innocent civilians and officials of law enforcement agencies and armed forces of Pakistan.

"These terrorists also include those who planned and executed attacks on Bacha Khan University Charsadda, Parade Lane Mosque Rawalpindi, Marriott Hotel Islamabad, Office of World Vision NGO in Mansehra and an educational institution at Nawagai Buner," the military's media wing added.

On the whole, they were involved in killing 325 people and in causing injuries to 366 others. Firearms and explosives were also recovered from their possession. These convicts were tried by military courts, the ISPR said.

Those who were handed down death sentence are identified as Latifullah Mehsud, Arafat, Wahid Ali, Abdul Rehman, Mian Said Raheem, Noor Muhammad, Sher Ali, Syed Qasim Shah, Muhammad Usman, Muhammad Riaz, Noorullah, Gul Zarin and Akbar Ali.

Unlike the previous announcements about military courts' verdicts, the ISPR this time specifically did not identify convicts' affiliation with any militant group. Instead it said all convicts were members of a proscribed organisation.

According to ISPR, Latif Ullah Mehsud, Abdul Rehman, Sher Ali and Noor Muhammad were involved in killing of innocent civilians and attacking law enforcement agencies of Pakistan,

The charge-sheet against Arafat includes attacking Marriott Hotel Islamabad and Parade Lane Mosque Rawalpindi, which resulted in death of 110 people. Wahid Ali, Akbar Ali, Muhammad Riaz and Noorullah were convicted for being behind Bacha Khan University Charsadda attack. Mian Said Raheem was involved in killing of 15 civilians

Syed Qasim Shah was involved in attacking Office of World Vision NGO, which resulted in death of 6 employees of said NGO.

Muhammad Waqar Faisal was given the death sentence for the killing of police constable Asad Abbas and in injuring a police constable and 2 civilians.

Source: The Express Tribune, December 18, 2016

Call to end capital punishment

It has been 2 years since the tragic attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar. No amount of commiseration or time can ever mitigate the horror of that day.

In response, Pakistan ended its 6-year-old moratorium on capital punishment as part of its National Action Plan (NAP). The government was adamant that only those convicted of terrorism would be executed. This was false, as the moratorium for all capital crimes was lifted just 3 months later in March 2015 - widely sounded by the state as the only effective means of fighting terrorism.

An analysis of the 419 executions that have occurred so far reveals significant flaws in that narrative.

According to data collected by Justice Project Pakistan, only 16 % of the executions carried out since December 2014 were related to terrorism charges.

The remainder have included several cases of wrongful execution such as juveniles, the mentally ill and the physically disabled, all of which are expressly forbidden in light of Pakistan's international legal obligations.

This figure is even more problematic when considering that in as many as 88 percent of 'terrorism' cases, there was no link to a terrorist organisation or anything that can reasonably be defined as terrorism.

It is a dishonour to the memory of the APS attack victims for the state to take lives in their name, when they have no bearing on curbing the menace that caused their deaths.

Pakistan has retained its notorious status of being the 3rd most prolific executioner in the world 2 years in a row. Under Pakistani law, 27 crimes carry the death sentence and an average of 258 death sentences have been imposed yearly from 2007 to 2015, explaining why the country has the highest populated death row in the world. Given these statistics, it is clear that Pakistan does not reserve the death penalty for 'the most serious crimes' as required by international law.

The criminal justice system that so eagerly imposes death sentences in the country warrants close examination. Pakistan's faulty legal infrastructure remains inaccessible, corrupt, mired in red tape, beholden to power and usurped by influence and wealth, creating a permissive environment for the routine miscarriage of justice.

This is compounded by the lack of a meaningful appellate process for capital cases, a blatant violation of Pakistan's international human rights obligations. Until March this year, the Presidency had 444 pending mercy petitions. So far, the known number of presidential pardons granted stands at zero.

NAP correctly observed that there is a need to "revamp and reform Pakistan's criminal justice system" but no significant effort has been made to do this so far. Like last year, even more cases of wrongful executions have come to light in 2016. In October, the Supreme Court acquitted 2 brothers in Bahawalpur after they spent 11 years on death row, only to find they had already been executed the year before. Another prisoner was found innocent a year after he had been found dead in his cell. There are likely many more cases like this, considering a condemned prisoner will spend an average of 11.41 years on death row.

Pakistan has a series of upcoming UN reviews in 2017, where its adherence to its international legal commitments such as the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Convention Against Torture (CAT) and Universal Periodic Review (UPR) will be evaluated.

Needless to say, Pakistan's broad scope of its application of the death penalty will feature heavily, and the country's representatives will have to explain why the innocent, the mentally ill, the physically disabled and juveniles have been executed under its watch. This will have a direct bearing on Pakistan's eligibility for the GSP plus trade status.

Sarah Belal, Executive Director of Justice Project Pakistan adds: "Widespread and fundamental failings of the criminal justice system warrant an immediate suspension of the capital punishment regime in Pakistan. JPP will always stand with the families of those affected by terrorism, and hopes that their sacrifice is honoured appropriately. This cannot be the case if Pakistan continues to wrongfully execute innocent individuals, juveniles and persons with mental and physical disabilities."

Source: The Nation, December 18, 2016

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