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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…

New Iran drug law saves thousands from the noose

Noose, public execution, Iran
Judiciary chief Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani on Tuesday ordered judges to halt death sentences for concerned convicts and review their cases. 

Thousands on death row for drug crimes in Iran will escape hanging as a new softened anti-narcotics law is enforced, local media reported on Wednesday.

Judiciary chief Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani on Tuesday ordered judges to halt death sentences for concerned convicts and review their cases, the judiciary's Mizanonline news agency said.

The new law retroactively "clarifies the fate of some 5,000 sentenced to death for drug trafficking", the Iran daily newspaper quoted Larijani as saying in a directive.

Most convicts will see their death sentences commuted to jail terms of between 25 to 30 years, he said.

Iran does not provide official figures on executions, but human rights group Amnesty International says it was the world's second top executioner in 2016 after China, with most of its hangings related to drug trafficking.

Parliament passed the amended drug law in August after years of internal debate between police, the judiciary and lawmakers.

The new law raises the amounts that can trigger the death penalty from 30 grams to two kilos for the production and distribution of chemical substances such as heroin, cocaine and amphetamines.

For natural substances such as opium and marijuana, the levels have been raised from five to 50 kilos.

The amendment maintains the death penalty for those who lead drug-trafficking gangs, exploit minors below 18 years old in doing so, or carry or draw firearms while committing drug-related crimes.

Iran's neighbour Afghanistan produces some 90 percent of the world's opium, which is extracted from poppy resin and refined to make heroin.

The Islamic republic, a major transit point for Afghan-produced opiates heading to Europe and beyond, confiscates and destroys hundreds of tonnes of illicit narcotics every year. 

Source: Agence France-Presse, January 10, 2018


Iran's easing of drug laws could halt execution of 5,000 prisoners


Public hanging in Iran
The lives of more than 5,000 prisoners on death row in Iran could be spared as a change in the law abolishes capital punishment for some drug-trafficking offences.

Iran is second only to China in the number of prisoners executed in recent years, the majority put to death for drug offences. More than 500 people were executed in 2017.

The softening of drug-trafficking laws was put into force in a communique by the head of the Iranian judiciary to all judicial officials on Tuesday.

Campaigners said it was a potentially significant step towards halting executions worldwide.

The Iranian parliament passed measures in August raising the threshold for a death sentence to possession of 50kg of opium, 2kg of heroin or 3kg of methamphetamine. Under the previous law, possessing 5kg of opium or 30g of heroin was a capital offence.

The new limits are set to be applied retrospectively, potentially saving the lives of thousands on death row. Mizanonline, the news agency affiliated to Iran’s judicial system, reported on Tuesday that its chief, Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, had asked officials to halt executions of those affected by the new amendments, reconsider their cases and commute their sentences if possible.

A young population and an abundance of cheap, addictive substances, many coming over the border from Afghanistan, pose a twin challenge to Iranian authorities. Almost 3 million Iranians are estimated to be addicted to hard drugs, out of a population of 80 million.

Iran has mostly resorted to a punitive campaign of arrests and executions to tackle drugs. Last year European countries funding Iran’s counter-narcotics programme threatened to cut off contributions if Iran continued to use the death penalty for drug traffickers.

Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, from Iran Human Rights (IHR), an independent NGO based in Norway that has monitored Iran’s use of the capital punishment and has been critical of its record, welcomed the news.

“It is potentially one of the most significant steps to limit the use of the death penalty in the world, which can lead to at least 5,000 people, according to official figures, seeing their death sentences commuted,” he said.

“This is quite unprecedented, but one caveat is that the commute is not automatic and convicts need to take the first step themselves and make sure their case is reconsidered.

“Our concern is that the majority of those on death row belong to the marginalised part of the Iranian society and may not be aware of the changes and not have the possibilities to take this step. Those who are on death row for drug offences must be given legal aid.”

Amiry-Moghaddam said that since November when the law was signed by the president, Hassan Rouhani, “nobody that we know of has been executed for such offences”. According to the Iranian parliament’s judicial committee, more than 5,000 convicts on death row could benefit from the amendment, the majority said to be aged between 20 to 30.

Despite the new measures, Iran executed five juvenile offenders in 2017 and has killed at least one so far this year. Iranian leaders have been repeatedly criticised, including by the UN, for continuing to sentence juvenile offenders to death in defiance of international treaties. According to Amnesty, at least 88 people are on death row in Iran for committing crimes while being under the age of 18.

A July 2017 report by Amnesty said the new change “fails to abolish the death penalty for non-lethal drug-related offences as is required by international law”.

Source: The Guardian, Saeed Kamali Dehghan, January 10, 2017


Two Prisoners Executed in Northern Iran


Iran Human Rights (Jan 8 2018): Two prisoners were executed at Sari Prison (Northern Iran) on murder charges.

A report by the state-run news agency, Javan, states that according to the Public Relation of Mazandaran Judiciary, on the morning of Monday January 8, two prisoners were executed at Sari Prison. The prisoners were sentenced to death on murder charges.

According to this report, the prisoners were identified as S. R., son of Hassan and A. b.

According to Iran Human Rights annual report on the death penalty, 142 of the 530 execution sentences in 2016 were implemented due to murder charges. There is a lack of a classification of murder by degree in Iran which results in issuing death sentence for any kind of murder regardless of intensity and intent.

Source: Iran Human Rights, January 8, 2017


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