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Will the U.S. Finally End the Death Penalty?

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In the past, abolition efforts have faced a backlash—but Gavin Newsom’s moratorium may be different.
The American death penalty is extraordinarily fragile, with death sentences and executions on the decline. Public support for the death penalty has diminished. The practice is increasingly marginalized around the world. California, with its disproportionately large share of American death-row inmates, announces an end to the death penalty. The year? 1972. That’s when the California Supreme Court declared the death penalty inconsistent with the state’s constitutional prohibition of cruel or unusual punishments—only to have the death penalty restored a year later through popular initiative and legislation.
On Wednesday, again, California walked back its commitment to the death penalty. Though not full-fledged abolition, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a moratorium on capital punishment lasting as long as his tenure in office, insisting that the California death penalty has been an “abject…

Goodbye Indonesia, I will miss you

Andrew Chan, left, Myuran Sukumaran in Bali's Kerobokan prison
Within days of my arrival, Indonesia's president, Joko Widodo, rejected the clemency pleas of Bali Nine heroin smugglers Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, despite their remarkable rehabilitation.

From this moment their death by firing squad seemed inevitable.

Reporting on the lead-up to the executions was like watching a film, heart in mouth, that you already know ends tragically. I barely slept for weeks.

Relations between the two countries soured, exacerbated by Tony's Abbott's disastrous reminder of the billion dollars in aid Australia had donated after the 2004 tsunami.

"Australia and Indonesia are like divorced parents who have to stay together for the sake of the children," one Indonesian official told me.

The anger some Australians felt towards Indonesia at the time was visceral. I deplore the death penalty – now more than ever – but felt a responsibility not to fan the flames of hate.

Many Indonesians see drug smuggling through a different prism to Australians; a crime akin to cold-blooded murder or terrorism because it can lead to the deaths of addicts.

And there were also Indonesians who were deeply affected; among them the guards and fellow prisoners who became close to Chan and Sukumaran and their indefatigable lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis, who has been fighting to end the death penalty in Indonesia since 1979.

Mulya would later describe the night the Australians were shot as the darkest moment of his life. "I failed. I lost," he tweeted, heartbroken, at 4am.

For a long time I didn't let myself acknowledge the executions had affected me. It seemed nothing in the face of the grief faced by Chan and Sukumaran's loved ones.

But I was haunted by photos of them as children, Sukumaran with a broad toothy grin and Chan an impish smirk.

For weeks afterwards I dreamed my son, 18 months old at the time, fell into a swimming pool. I would dive in and try to rescue him but each time his slippery, muscular body would squirm out of my hands until I realised I was powerless to save him. I would wake soaked in sweat, again and again.

I remember reading former Melbourne radio journalist Brian Morley's account of witnessing the hanging of Ronald Ryan in Melbourne and how it changed him. I marvelled he was still alive to tell the story. The last execution carried out in Australia seemed so long ago although it was only 1967.

Jokowi last year suggested Indonesians would eventually change their minds on execution laws, as citizens of other countries have done in the past.

I hope one day to write a retrospective piece when the death penalty seems as remote and archaic in Indonesia as it does in Australia.

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Source: Brisbane Times, Jewel Topsfield, January 13, 2018


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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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Will the U.S. Finally End the Death Penalty?