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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…

Pakistan: ‘465 executed since lifting of moratorium on death penalty’

LAHORE: A data analysis by Justice Project Pakistan (JPP), a non-government organisation working for prisoners’ rights, shows a total of 465 prisoners have been executed since the country lifted moratorium on the executions in December 2014. The organisation regretted that such a high number of the executions has made Pakistan “fifth most prolific executioner” in the world, following China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

The research shows the use of death penalty has failed to curb crime, including terrorism, but it is exceedingly used as a political tool, sometimes even as a jail overcrowding solution. Punjab has emerged as a major practitioner of death penalty, accounting for 83 percent of the executions, and 89pc of death sentences in Pakistan. However, it has also witnessed only a 9.7pc drop in murder rate from 2015 to 2016.

Sindh, on the other hand, has registered a drop of nearly 25pc in the same time period – even though it carried out only 18 executions compared to Punjab’s 382.

The analysis says murder rate in Pakistan was already in decline before the moratorium was lifted, casting even more doubt on the already dubious relationship between the death penalty and crime reduction. Yearly trends of executions show that anti-terrorism courts accounted for only 16pc of the executions. In 2015, 65 people tried by ATCs were hanged, but only 8 were executed from Jan 2016 to May 2017. A majority of death sentences that have been carried out during the period were handed down by sessions courts, which do not have jurisdiction over terrorism cases.

The JPP states the government sought to justify lifting of the moratorium for all 27 death-eligible crimes by claiming it is necessary to deter terrorist threat to Pakistan. But the data indicates that the government is mostly hanging terrorists through military courts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and through ATCs in Sindh.

The research claims that executions are being used as a means to make room in prisons that are facing overcrowding. Currently, 25 of the 27 prisons in the province are significantly over the capacity and the highest number of executions takes place in the most overcrowded prisons. A statement issued by the JPP says Pakistan is heading for its first UN review under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) on July 11 that obligates it to uphold and respect the right to life for all its citizens.

It says Pakistan’s return to an executing state has been taken up in the list of issues framed by the Human Rights Council committee. It further says that more and more cases of wrongful executions were surfacing since lifting of the moratorium. In October last year, the Supreme Court acquitted two brothers languishing in Bahawalpur jail for 11 years on death row, only to find they had already been “executed” a year ago. Another prisoner was found innocent a year after he had been found dead in his cell.

JPP Executive Director Sarah Belal says Pakistan’s troubling and continued use of the death penalty has continuously fallen short of meeting its international human rights commitments and fair trial standards, as well as our own domestic laws. She believes the death penalty is not an effective tool to curb militancy and crime.

She says it is time for the stakeholders to commit to genuine reforms in criminal justice system, and until it is done, to restore the moratorium on the death penalty.

Source: Dawn, July 7, 2017

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