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Why Texas’ ‘death penalty capital of the world’ stopped executing people

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Since the Supreme Court legalized capital punishment in 1976, Harris County, Texas, has executed 126 people. That's more executions than every individual state in the union, barring Texas itself.
Harris County's executions account for 23 percent of the 545 people Texas has executed. On the national level, the state alone is responsible for more than a third of the 1,465 people put to death in the United States since 1976.
In 2017, however, the county known as the "death penalty capital of the world" and the "buckle of the American death belt" executed and sentenced to death a remarkable number of people: zero.
This is the first time since 1985 that Harris County did not execute any of its death row inmates, and the third year in a row it did not sentence anyone to capital punishment either.
The remarkable statistic reflects a shift the nation is seeing as a whole.
“The practices that the Harris County District Attorney’s Office is following are also signifi…

Iran judiciary in conflict over executions

Public execution in Iran
In 2015, Iran was executing more than one person a day.
In 2015, Iran was executing more than one person a day.

Despite a decrease in the number of executions, Iran continues to be the nation with one of the highest rates of executions in the world, mostly for drug-related crimes. According to Amnesty International, Iran executed a reported 567 people in 2016. In 2015, the number was 977. Still, at 567 people, Iran was executing more than one person a day. This issue has been openly discussed in one of the unlikeliest places: Iran’s judiciary.

Hojat al-Islam Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei, the spokesman for Iran's judiciary, in a Aug. 9 speech addressed Iran’s high execution rate with respect to drug-related crimes. “Do we want to solve all of our problems with punishments and increasing punishments?” he asked. “Some say, you have increased the punishment but there is still crime. On the issue of illegal drugs, we have laws from many years ago and many times [the punishment] has been increased and now they want to decrease it.”

Mohseni Ejei, a hard-liner who has held important positions in the Islamic Republic, including that of prosecutor general, intelligence minister and prosecutor for the Special Court for Clergy, also criticized Western organizations regarding their condemnations of Iran’s high execution rate. “Even if the executions for drug-related charges is lowered, Westerners will not say that we did right,” he said.

While Mohseni Ejei criticized those who want to eliminate the death penalty, he said he did not want his criticism of these people to be viewed as his supporting capital punishment. “I do not want to support the death penalty,” he said. He indicated that it might be a good idea to not resort to the death penalty so much in drug cases.

He asked for research studies to determine "what our goal is with the executions,” and urged that alternative punishments be put in place if the death penalty is abolished — punishments that “do not have the negative effects of the death penalty.” 

This is not the first time that Mohseni Ejei has addressed the high execution rates in Iran. He has a history of making mildly critical remarks without ever completely backing away from the death penalty. In May 2014, in his position as prosecutor general, he suggested only punishing the heads of drug-smuggling networks. Last month, he said that the death penalty should be one of a choice of punishments, and that treatment and prevention should be part of the mix. He said that if there were no death penalty at all, the situation with Iran’s drug use and smuggling would be worse.

Iran’s parliament approved a proposal in July that would amend the country’s anti-drug laws with respect to small-time drug use. The Guardian Council would need to approve any bill passed by parliament. Regardless, Iran’s judiciary chief, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, has remained steadfast in his support of the country’s use of executions. In September 2016, Larijani unequivocally denied that Iran would eliminate the death penalty for drug smugglers.

Source: Al-Monitor, August 10, 2017

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