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In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning

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To cope with his dread, John Kitzhaber opened his leather-bound journal and began to write.
It was a little past 9 on the morning of Nov. 22, 2011. Gary Haugen had dropped his appeals. A Marion County judge had signed the murderer's death warrant, leaving Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor, to decide Haugen's fate. The 49-year-old would soon die by lethal injection if the governor didn't intervene.
Kitzhaber was exhausted, having been unable to sleep the night before, but he needed to call the families of Haugen's victims.
"I know my decision will delay the closure they need and deserve," he wrote.
The son of University of Oregon English professors, Kitzhaber began writing each day in his journal in the early 1970s. The practice helped him organize his thoughts and, on that particular morning, gather his courage.
Kitzhaber first dialed the widow of David Polin, an inmate Haugen beat and stabbed to death in 2003 while already serving a life sentence fo…

Iran: Halt imminent execution of 2 men arrested as teenagers

The Iranian authorities must urgently stop the imminent execution of two long-time death row prisoners who were children at the time of their arrest, Amnesty International said today.

One of the men, Mehdi Bahlouli, is due to be executed tomorrow morning in Karaj's Raja'i Shahr Prison, after more than 15 years on death row. He was sentenced to death by a criminal court in Tehran in November 2001 for fatally stabbing a man during a fight. He was 17 at the time of the crime.

The execution of the second man, Peyman Barandah, is scheduled to take place just three weeks later, on 10 May, in Shiraz Central Prison, Fars Province. He was arrested at the age of 16 and spent nearly 5 years on death row, after being convicted in August 2012, also for stabbing a teenager to death during a fight.

"Carrying out the executions of these 2 young men would be an outrageous breach of international human rights law that would cement Iran's position as one of the world's top executors of juvenile offenders," said Philip Luther, Amnesty International's Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

"Mehdi Bahlouli has spent his entire young adult life on death row. His shocking ordeal epitomizes the cruelty of Iran's juvenile justice system which regularly sentences juvenile offenders to death in violation of international human rights law and then subjects them to prolonged periods on death row. The anguish and torment of living their lives in the shadow of the gallows also amounts to cruel and inhuman treatment."

Mehdi Bahlouli's family told Amnesty International that they received a call from the prison on Saturday informing them to attend for their last visit. He was transferred to solitary confinement on Sunday in preparation for his execution.

Iran's recently amended 2013 Islamic Penal Code gives judges the option to replace the death penalty with an alternative punishment if they determine that the juvenile offender did not understand the nature of the crime or its consequences, or his or her "mental growth and maturity" were in doubt.

In January 2017, Mehdi Bahlouli's request for retrial was denied. This decision blatantly contradicts the Iranian authorities' statement to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in January 2016 that "all adolescents who were under 18 at the time of committing the crime are granted retrials [under Iran's 2013 new Islamic Penal Code] and their previous verdicts are annulled by the Supreme Court."

"The Iranian authorities have touted the 2013 Islamic Penal Code as evidence that the country is moving away from the use of the death penalty for juvenile offenders. However, these 2 scheduled executions show these claims are empty rhetoric," said Philip Luther.

"Instead of intensifying the mental anguish and suffering of juvenile offenders by letting them languish on death row for long periods, Iran must urgently amend its penal code to completely abolish the use of the death penalty for crimes committed while under 18, commute the death sentences of all juvenile offenders and establish an official moratorium on executions."

Background


Since the beginning of the year, Amnesty International has received reports indicating that 2 young men, Arman Bahrasemani and Hassan Hassanzadeh, were executed for crimes that took place when they were under 18 years of age. The organization fears the true number could be much higher.

The organization has identified the names of at least 90 juvenile offenders currently on death row across Iran. Many have spent prolonged periods on death row - in some cases more than a decade. Some have had their executions scheduled then postponed or stayed at the last minute on multiple occasions, adding to their torment.

In January 2017, the Iranian authorities scheduled the executions of 2 other men arrested as children - Sajad Sanjari and Hamid Ahmadi. Both were halted at the last minute, following an international outcry.

According to Amnesty International's report on death sentences and executions in 2016, Iran carried out at least 567 executions last year, including at least 2 executions of people who were under 18 at the time of the crime. The organization received information indicating that 5 other juvenile offenders may have been among those executed.

Source: Amnesty International, April 18, 2017

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