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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…

Suspected assassins of Mazen Fuqahaa to be executed in Gaza on Thursday

Execution in Gaza City
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- After a field military court in the Gaza Strip rapidly issued death sentences to the suspected assassin and two suspected accomplices for the murder of Hamas leader Mazen Fuqahaa in March, the attorney general of the Hamas-run government in the besieged coastal enclave announced that the three men will be executed on Thursday.

Attorney General Fadel al-Jdeili said in a statement Wednesday that the three "convicts" would be executed in a closed yard, in the presence of "officials, representatives of human rights groups, dignitaries, and clan leaders."

After Fuqahaa was shot dead in front of his house on March 25, authorities in Gaza imposed an unprecedented security crackdown and sealed the land and sea borders of the small Palestinian territory in search for the killer, who Hamas authorities immediately claimed assassinated the Hamas leader in collaboration with Israel.

Less than two months later, on May 16, Gaza authorities announced the investigation concluded and said that the "direct executioner" and two accomplices were in custody, and had confessed to collaborating with Israeli intelligence to commit the killing.

The death sentences were issued two days ago, with the field military court ruling that the sentences were not subject to appeal, raising alarm among international and local human rights organizations that called on the de facto Hamas government to retry the suspects in compliance with international fair trial standards.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in the occupied territory released a statement Tuesday condemning the death penalty, and said that the “special field military court" that issued the sentences "was constituted solely for this trial, the first such instance since the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007."

“International law sets very stringent conditions for the application of the death penalty, including meticulous compliance with international fair trial standards. These trials do not appear to meet these minimum standards,” OHCHR wrote.

The Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council (PHROC) denounced the “quickly issued” sentences for being based on the “unconstitutional” Palestinian Revolutionary Law of 1979 -- which was never presented to or approved by the Palestinian parliament.

“The council fears that the sentence was handed down to take revenge for the killing of Hamas leader Mazen Fuqahaa and to please public opinion in the Gaza Strip and inside the (Hamas) movement,” the statement continued.

The European Union and Norwegian missions in Jerusalem and Ramallah urged Gaza authorities to “refrain” from carrying out the death penalties, reiterating their “firm opposition under all circumstances to the use of capital punishment.”

Meanwhile, Amnesty International said in a statement that “if carried out, these cruel executions will constitute an appalling breach of international human rights law.”

“It is not too late to save these men’s lives. We are urging the Hamas authorities to immediately halt these executions and ensure that the men are given a fair retrial,” the international NGO added. “The death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment which should never be used in any circumstances.”

According to Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, its courts have imposed 85 death sentences and 22 people have been executed through legal proceedings, while the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, has “summarily executed at least 31 others, including against whom legal proceedings were still underway.”

Under Palestinian law, willful, premeditated murder and treason as well as collaboration with the enemy -- usually Israel -- are punishable by death. However, all death sentences must be ratified by the Palestinian president before they can be carried out.

Since taking office in January 2005, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to approve executions and no one has been executed in the West Bank since then, though West Bank courts have continued to issue death sentences.

However, the Hamas de facto administration in Gaza has carried out executions periodically without receiving approval from Abbas since 2010 when Hamas renewed the practice, claiming that Abbas’ term in office had expired.

According to B’Tselem, “There are currently at least 55 death row inmates in the West Bank and Gaza living with uncertainty as to their fate.”

Source: Ma'an News Agency, May 24, 2017


Human rights organizations demand retrial for 3 Gazans sentenced to death


BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- After a military court in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip issued three death sentences against the suspected assassin and two suspected accomplices in the March murder of Hamas leader Mazen Fuqahaa, human rights organizations continued to voice their staunch objection to the death penalty.

Joining the European Union Heads of Mission and the Head of Mission of Norway in Jerusalem and Ramallah, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in the occupied territory released a statement Tuesday condemning the sentences.

“Carrying out these sentences would amount to an arbitrary deprivation of life in violation of international law,” the UN agency said.

According to the statement, the “special field military court" that issued the sentences "was constituted solely for this trial, the first such instance since the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007,” adding that the sentences were final and not subject to appeal or plea for clemency.

“International law sets very stringent conditions for the application of the death penalty, including meticulous compliance with international fair trial standards. These trials do not appear to meet these minimum standards,” OHCHR wrote, and urged Gaza authorities not to carry out the death sentences of the three men and to abolish using the death penalty completely.

In a statement published Tuesday, the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council (PHROC) said it “considers the decision to form this court a dangerous precedent,” and denounced the “quickly issued” sentences for being based on the “unconstitutional” Palestinian Revolutionary Law of 1979 -- which was never presented to or approved by the Palestinian parliament.

“The council fears that the sentence was handed down to take revenge for the killing of Hamas leader Mazen Fuqahaa and to please public opinion in the Gaza Strip and inside the (Hamas) movement,” the statement continued, and demanded all three suspects be retried and guaranteed a fair trial.

PHROC affirmed its position that non irrevocable death sentences are “not a deterrent but a form of punishment that is shameful for humanity.”

Responding to the executions carried out against three Palestinians in April, who were also accused of collaborating with Israel, Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem stressed in a statement last week that “Executions -- whether they follow a real trial, a show trial or no trial at all -- are prohibited. A regime that takes lives as a punitive or deterrent measure is committing an immoral act that constitutes an intolerable violation of human rights.”

According to B’Tselem, since Hamas took control of the Gaza Striup in 2007, its courts have imposed 85 death sentence and 22 people have been executed through legal proceedings, while the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, has “summarily executed at least 31 others, including against whom legal proceedings were still underway.”

Under Palestinian law, willful, premeditated murder and treason as well as collaboration with the enemy -- usually Israel -- are punishable by death. However, all death sentences must be ratified by the Palestinian president before they can be carried out.

Since taking office in January 2005, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to approve executions and no one has been executed in the West Bank since then, though West Bank courts have continued to issue death sentences.

Meanwhile, the Hamas de facto administration in Gaza has carried out executions periodically without receiving approval from Abbas since 2010 when Hamas renewed the practice, claiming that Abbas’ term in office had expired.

According to B’Tselem, “There are currently at least 55 death row inmates in the West Bank and Gaza living with uncertainty as to their fate.”

Source: Ma'an News Agency, May 23, 2017

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