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In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning

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To cope with his dread, John Kitzhaber opened his leather-bound journal and began to write.
It was a little past 9 on the morning of Nov. 22, 2011. Gary Haugen had dropped his appeals. A Marion County judge had signed the murderer's death warrant, leaving Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor, to decide Haugen's fate. The 49-year-old would soon die by lethal injection if the governor didn't intervene.
Kitzhaber was exhausted, having been unable to sleep the night before, but he needed to call the families of Haugen's victims.
"I know my decision will delay the closure they need and deserve," he wrote.
The son of University of Oregon English professors, Kitzhaber began writing each day in his journal in the early 1970s. The practice helped him organize his thoughts and, on that particular morning, gather his courage.
Kitzhaber first dialed the widow of David Polin, an inmate Haugen beat and stabbed to death in 2003 while already serving a life sentence fo…

Iranian cleric leaves Germany under threat of prosecution over death sentences

Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi (right)
A senior Iranian cleric under investigation in Germany for alleged crimes against humanity left the country on a homeward-bound flight on Thursday, cutting short his stay at a Hanover clinic, a German official said.

Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, a former chief justice, was in Germany for treatment at the clinic of Iranian-German neurosurgeon Majid Samii when activists referred him to prosecutors, citing what they called his record of passing death sentences.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an exiled opposition group, said his issuing of "thousands' of death sentences amounted to a crime against humanity and urged German prosecutors to investigate.

Prosecutors said they were investigating the referrals, including one from senior Green politician Volker Beck. Later, the NCRI reported that Iran had reserved tickets for Shahroudi and his entourage to leave the country.

A German government official told Reuters on Thursday afternoon that Shahroudi was aboard an Iran-bound plane.

While Germany, like all European Union countries, opposes the death penalty, German prosecutors do not automatically act on cases referred to them involving executions in foreign countries.

For the issuing of death sentences to amount to a crime against humanity, they would have to be part of a systematic attack on a civilian population.

An NCRI activist condemned Shahroudi's departure. "He should have been prosecuted for thousands of executions in Iran," said Shahin Gobadi, a member of the NCRI's foreign affairs committee.

NCRI spokesman Javad Dabiran said the group had seen Shahroudi leave the Hanover hospital in a convoy before departing from Hamburg airport on an Iran Air flight at 1325 local time (1225 GMT).

It said it had filed a formal complaint with prosecutors, accusing Shahroudi of committing crimes against humanity and urging Berlin to prevent the cleric from leaving Germany.

An arrest warrant would have to be issued by Germany's constitutional court.

Shahroudi was head of Iran's judiciary for a decade and is currently the head of the Expediency Council, a body intended to resolve disputes between parliament and a hard-line watchdog body, the Guardian Council.

Reuters could not immediately reach Shahroudi for comment.

Shahroudi's visit to a hospital in Germany prompted anger among some Iranians who believe officials in the Islamic Republic should use the same health system as ordinary Iranians.

Parviz Davoudi, an official in his office, said on Monday that "Shahroudi was against traveling to Germany, and only did so after doctors insisted there is a medical emergency."

Source: Arab News, January 12, 2018


Iranian ayatollah Shahroudi in Hanover - 'Germany should not be a haven for criminals'


Volker Beck
Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi Shahroudi was responsible for overseeing hundreds of death sentences as head of Iran's justice ministry. Many in Germany were outraged by his stay in the country and filed complaints against him.

Police in the northern German city of Hanover told the newspaper Neue Presse that Iranian Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi Shahroudi has left the city. The Iranian cleric was receiving medical treatment for a reported brain tumor at a private hospital in the city.

The office of Germany's federal prosecutor says it is continuing to investigate whether to bring charges against Shahroudi.

A spokesman for the prosecutor's office said authorities "will continue to examine on a legal basis whether [Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi] Shahroudi was guilty of crimes against humanity" during his decade overseeing an estimated 2,000 executions as the head of Iran's justice ministry, regardless of whether he leaves or stays in the country.

According to the Iranian opposition movement, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), Shahroudi, together with his six-member entourage, wanted to fly back to Tehran on Thursday.

In a DW interview, German politician Volker Beck talks about the complaint he filed against the Iranian cleric.

DW: You have filed a complaint against Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi Shahroudi, stating that the top Iranian cleric was guilty of murder and crimes against humanity. What led you to take this action?

Volker Beck: I have read press reports about him. I know that he is responsible for overseeing scores of death sentences when he led Iran's justice ministry. (Editor's note: Shahroudi served as head of Iran's justice ministry from 1999 to 2009. During this period, an estimated 2,000 Iranian prisoners, including many minors, were executed.)

This should not be left unpunished. Germany should not be a haven for criminals. That's why I filed a complaint against him with the office of Germany's federal prosecutor. I also wonder how a man like Shahroudi could even get a German visa.

Is Shahroudi the only politician from an authoritarian country who came to Germany to receive medical treatment here?

No, unfortunately not. I spent many years in the human rights committee of the German Bundestag and we have repeatedly argued with the government, and also with the Office of the Public Prosecutor General, about the application of the penal code to cases involving crimes against humanity. Such cases have to be investigated. And people who commit such crimes need to know that there are no safe havens for them in this world.

What is the probability that Ayatollah Shahroudi will be held accountable in Germany?


I do not know about his current status and whether the federal government had promised him immunity or not. If so, that would be legally flawed, as he is not a member of the Iranian government, but rather only an official and travelled in his private capacity. I cannot weigh in on that issue.


Many critics in Iran accuse Germany of only being interested in economic cooperation with Iran and less of looking at the situation of human rights. What is your take on this?

I was in Iran once, in 2006. I then met many people, spoke to members of parliament and to members of various religious communities as well as Islamic foundations. I spoke to them about human rights. I formed my own impressions. As part of my work in the human rights committee, I have always followed closely developments in Iran.

Iran is simply one of the countries that - unlike Saudi Arabia - has signed the human rights charter of the United Nations, which is positive in the first place. But on the other hand, Iran is also a country that does not comply, for example, with the use of the death penalty. For instance, the country imposes the death penalty on minors.

In any case, the pact only allows the death penalty for the most serious crimes and not for homosexuality or "offenses" that are not punishable in most countries of the world. 

Germany should make it clear that, on the one hand, we are meeting our contractual obligations toward Iran in connection with the nuclear deal, if Tehran adheres to the treaty. But on the other hand, we must make it clear that we are not looking the other way when it concerns issues such as the suppression of Iranian civil society, the lack of religious freedom, the persecution of women who do not want to live or act as the the ayatollahs wish.

And I would like to ask the German government for more clarity here. I understand that we have to cooperate with foreign nations, even if we reject their form of government and rule. That's how foreign policy is made. But still, one can take a clear position.

I also have the impression that more priority has been assigned to economic relations and other issues. And I think that's a mistake; it's a mistake with Iran and it's a mistake in the case of Saudi Arabia.

Volker Beck is a German politician. From 1994 to 2017, he was a member of the German parliament, for the Green Party.

The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Source: Deutsche Welle, Shabnam von Hein, January 11, 2018


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