Anthony Ray Hinton Spent Almost 30 Years on Death Row. Now He Has a Message for White America.

Anthony Ray Hinton was mowing the lawn at his mother's house in 1985 when Alabama police came to arrest him for 2 murders he did not commit. One took place when he was working the night shift at a Birmingham warehouse. Yet the state won a death sentence, based on 2 bullets it falsely claimed matched a gun found at his mother's home. In his powerful new memoir, "The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row," Hinton describes how racism and a system stacked against the poor were the driving forces behind his conviction. He also writes about the unique and unexpected bonds that can form on death row, and in particular about his relationship with Henry Hays, a former Klansman sentenced to death for a notorious lynching in 1981. Hays died in the electric chair in 1997 - 1 of 54 people executed in Alabama while Hinton was on death row.
After almost 30 years, Hinton was finally exonerated in 2015, thanks to the Equal Justice Initiative, or EJI. On April 27…

Drug-Related Executions and Possibility of Change in Legislation in Iran

According to Iran Human Rights' (IHR) annual report on the death penalty in Iran at least 530 people were executed in 2016. With 296 executions Drug offences accounted for the majority of executions in 2016. In 2016, the Iranian Judiciary’s High Council of Human Rights stated in a report that 93% of all executions are based on drug-related charges. This is not true. Drug offences counted for 48% of executions in 2013, 49% in 2014, 66% in 2015 and 56% in 2016. 

Drug-related executions, and the new legislation proposed by the Iranian Parliament, Majles, will be briefly reviewed in the following sections.

The status of the cooperation between the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and Iran in fighting drugs and the ongoing debate inside Iran will be discussed in the next article.

Drug offences count for more than 50% of executions in Iran and the majority of the death sentences issued by the Revolutionary Courts. Reports collected by IHR show that those arrested for drug offences are systematically subjected to torture during the weeks after their arrest. Often, they have no access to a lawyer while in detention and by the time the lawyer enters the case they have already “confessed” to the crime. Trials at the Revolutionary Courts are often very short and there is little the lawyer can do. In addition, most of those executed for drug offences belong to marginalized groups in the Iranian society.

This last point has been emphasized by several Iranian officials, including Mohammad Bagher Olfat (picture), one of the deputies of the Head of the Judiciary, who told an Iranian news agency: “It is important to note that the individuals who are being executed are not the main drug traffickers, because the main drug traffickers are not involved in the shipment of drugs. Normally, the drugs are sold cheaply to individuals who do not have sufficient financial income”.

The Current Anti-Narcotics Law and the new bill proposed by Parliament

The current Anti-Narcotics Law requires the death penalty for the fourth conviction for drug-related offences in several instances including: planting opium poppies, coca plants or cannabis seeds with the intent to produce drugs; smuggling more than five kilograms of opium or cannabis into Iran; buying, possessing, carrying or hiding more than five kilograms of opium and the other aforementioned drugs (punishable on third conviction); smuggling into Iran, dealing, producing, distributing and exporting more than 30 grams of heroin, morphine, cocaine or their derivatives.

In December 2015, the official Iranian media announced that 70 members of Iran's Parliament signed a proposal for a change in legislation in order to end the death penalty for drug offences. After the Parliamentary elections in early 2016, the call for a change was followed up and in October 2016 the Iranian media announced that 150 of the 290 members of Parliament (Majlis) has signed the bill. At that time, Deputy Jalil Rahimi-Jahanabadi, a member of the Majlis Legal and Judicial Committee, told the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA): “In essence, we are proposing to add an amendment to the current law for fighting drugs to say the death penalty would apply only if certain conditions were met, such as carrying and using a gun, or being an international drug kingpin, or having a commuted death sentence and repeating the crime”.

Although the details of the new proposal have not been published, based on the information in the Iranian media if the new bill is approved the death penalty will be removed for some drug offences unless offenders were armed while carrying drugs or if they had been imprisoned for more than 10 years if the case is related to organized crime, or in cases where larger amount of drugs are involved.

However, it is not clear whether the new bill will be approved by the powerful Guardian Council which has to approve all new laws. It is not clear either where the Expediency Council stands in this matter. Iran’s Expediency Council has amended the country’s anti-drug-trafficking law several times: in 1988, 1994 and 2001. The last amendment decreed that being in the possession of more than 30 grams of crystal meth was the same as the possession of heroin, and was punishable by the death penalty. The Judiciary has also sent mixed signals regarding the new bill. In October 2016, Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli-Larijani told the Iranian media that: "Executions are not necessarily desirable, but narcotics are a great detriment to society and also shatter families. We have no choice but to confront the issue quickly, swiftly, firmly, and decisively. We want prosecutors in the country not to hesitate in implementing the (death) sentences," said Amoli Larijani. "We should not wait three years (before carrying out the execution sentences), until the prisoner learns how to pray in order to get amnesty...It is offensive to say that the death penalty is ineffective. If it wasn't for the strictness of the Judiciary, the situation would be much worse."

In addition, even if the bill is passed and approved there is no guarantee that it will lead to a significant reduction in the number of drug-related executions. The bill doesn’t address the issue of due process at all. As mentioned earlier in this section, lack of due process is probably the biggest reason for the high number of drug-related executions in Iran as large number of the death sentences for drug charges are solely based on confessions extracted under torture.

➤ Click here to read the full article

Source: Iran Human Rights, April 2017

Parliamentary Committee Blocks Security Agencies’ Attempts to Significantly Delay Death Penalty Amendment

Watching a public execution in Iran
Watching a public execution in Iran
A Parliamentary committee in Iran has blocked an attempt by security agencies to delay for a year a parliamentary vote on an amendment that could drastically reduce death penalty sentences for drug-related crimes.

“Unfortunately, some security and government agencies wrote a letter requesting that the final vote be delayed for a year,” Hassan Norouzi, a member of Parliament and spokesman for the Legal and Judicial Affairs Committee, told the Shargh newspaper on June 13, 2017.

“We explained to Parliament’s secretariat that there was no reason to put this bill on hold,” he said. “The committee worked on it with legal experts for six months. It is a good, solid plan.”

“If (opponents) have something to say, they should say it on the parliamentary floor as government representatives and we will give our replies,” added Norouzi.

When asked where the letter originated from, Norouzi said it was written by authorities “involved in (fighting) drugs.”

Legislators were scheduled to deliberate an amendment to the Law Against Drug Trafficking on June 7, but the letter by the security authorities resulted in the final vote being delayed until mid-July, when members of Parliament (MPs) return from their summer break.

If approved by Parliament and the Guardian Council, the amendment could spare the lives of 4,000 out of the 5,000 prisoners currently on death row in Iran for drug-trafficking related crimes by making the death penalty only applicable for “organized drug lords,” “armed traffickers,” “repeat offenders” and “bulk drug distributors.”

“Those who wanted the vote to be postponed for a year argued that the committee had not worked hard enough on the amendment,” Norouzi told Shargh on June 7.

He continued: “In fact, we drafted it after discussions with the prosecutor’s office, with authorities fighting against illicit drugs, the police and the Interior Ministry. If they have something to say, they should join the deliberations and tell legislators why they oppose the proposal. Then it will be up to the people’s representatives to decide. It was wrong to stop the proposal from being voted on, but we held some talks and it was decided to put it back on the voting track.”

Norouzi refused to identify any agencies by name, but the Iran Drug Control Headquarters (IDCH) has been a strong opponent of removing the death penalty as a punishment for low-level drug crimes.

Earlier this year, the IDCH’s Legal Affairs director Ali Alizadeh said stopping the amendment from being ratified was a “top priority” and called on the judiciary to intervene.

“Organized crime and drug enforcement experts believe if these unbalanced and unscientific reforms are implemented under the guise of human rights, society will be struck by a great wave of drug and other related crimes,” said Alizadeh on February 5, 2017.

Proponents of limiting the death penalty have pointed out the political and social costs of maintaining one of the highest per-capita execution rates in the world.

Iran: Medieval and barbaric punishments
Iran: Medieval and barbaric punishments
At least 567 people were executed in Iran in 2016, down 42 percent from the 977 who were in executed in 2015.

“The majority of executions are for drug-trafficking crimes and the Western countries and international organizations are taking political advantage of (the situation),” said MP Ezatollah Yousefian, in a parliamentary debate on November 23, 2016.

“This is extremely costly for our country,” he added. “Those who are being condemned to death are not traffickers in the true sense. The real traffickers are those who are managing the drug trade from hotels rooms in Ankara and Istanbul.”

In September 2016, the deputy director of the judiciary’s Human Rights Headquarters, Kazem Gharibabadi, said “About 93 percent of the executions in Iran are related to drugs. “

A staunch opponent of limiting executions, Judiciary Chief Sadegh Larijani has advocated for the death penalty to be carried out at a faster pace.

“We don’t think that the laws concerning drug trafficking are revelations from God. They are man-made laws that have not had perfect results. But it’s wrong to say that executions have had no effect,” said Larijani on September 29, 2016. “If the Judiciary had not been strict, we would have been in a far worse situation.”

However, some hardliners have begun admitting that the death penalty has failed as a preventative measure against drug trafficking.

“We are looking to see what punishments can replace executions with greater effectiveness for certain criminals,” said Justice Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi on October 29, 2016.”

“Of course, the death penalty will still be enforced, but not to the extent we have today,” he added.

Source: Center for Human Rights in Iran, June 14, 2017

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