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

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…

Iran: Annual report on the death penalty 2017

Public hanging in Iran
IRAN HUMAN RIGHTS (MARCH 13, 2018): The 10th annual report on the death penalty in Iran by Iran Human Rights (IHR) and ECPM shows that in 2017 at least 517 people were executed in the Islamic Republic of Iran. 

This number is comparable with the execution figures in 2016 and confirms the relative reduction in the use of the death penalty compared to the period between 2010 and 2015. 

Nevertheless, with an average of more than one execution every day and more than one execution per one million inhabitants in 2017, Iran remained the country with the highest number of executions per capita.

2017 Annual Report at a Glance:

  • At least 517 people were executed in 2017, an average of more than one execution per day
  • 111 executions (21%) were announced by official sources.
  • Approximately 79% of all executions included in the 2017 report, i.e. 406 executions, were not announced by the authorities.
  • At least 240 people (46% of all executions) were executed for murder charges - 98 more than in 2016.
  • At least 231 people (45% of all executions) were executed for drug-related charges- 65 less than in 2016.
  • 31 executions were conducted in public spaces.
  • At least 5 juvenile offenders were among those executed.
  • At least 10 women were executed.
  • At least 254 executions in 2017 and more than 3,400 executions since 2010 have been based on death sentences issued by the Revolutionary Courts.
  • At least 221 death row prisoners were forgiven by the families of the murder victims

In 2017, the process of introducing new amendments to the Anti-drug law entered a new phase. The amendments had the support of the majority of the Iranian Parliament members and were scheduled to be put to the vote during the first half of the year.  

However, the Iranian authorities continued carrying out death sentences for drug-related charges while the bill was being reviewed by the Judicial Commission of the Iranian Parliament and despite the fact that Iranian members of parliament had requested that the Judiciary stop drug-related executions until the fate of the new bill was clear. 

However, this request did not stop the Judiciary from carrying out death sentences for at least 231 prisoners, the sentences of many of whom would have been commuted according to the new law which was later passed by Parliament and approved by the Guardian Council. In the months of January and July alone, at least 120 people were executed for drug offences. 

Nevertheless, drug-related executions showed a 22% reduction compared with 2016 and as of February 2018 IHR has not received any reports of drug-related executions since the new amendments on the Anti-drug law were enforced on 14 November 2017. Whether the halt in drug-related executions is permanent remains to be seen.

Commenting on the reduction in drug-related executions in 2017, Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, IHR’s Director and spokesperson, said: “We welcome the new amendments in the Anti-narcotics law which, if implemented properly, will commute several thousand death sentences. The Iranian authorities must make sure that the cases of all drug offenders on death row are reviewed automatically and the process must be closely monitored by the international community. Moreover, this must be the first step towards abolition of the death penalty for all drug offenses”. 

While the number of drug-related executions dropped significantly, the total number of executions did not. This is largely due to the significant increase in implementation of death sentences in murder cases, so-called qisas executions. For the first time since 2009, the number of qisas executions exceeded those for drug charges with a 29% reduction in drug-related executions and a 69% increase in qisas executions. The increase in the number of qisas executions has been evident in most prisons across the country in a way that appears to be the result of coordinated action by the authorities.

The Iranian authorities kept a relatively larger portion of executions secret compared to previous years. Only 21% of executions were announced by official Iranian sources. 

In violation of its international obligations, Iran continued to execute juvenile offenders in 2017. According to our report, at least five juvenile offenders were executed in 2017 in Iran. One of the juvenile offenders was reportedly sentenced to death for drug offences while the other four were sentenced to qisas for murder charges. Execution of juvenile offenders has continued in 2018 as at least three juvenile executions were reported in January alone this year. The Iranian authorities also carried out 31 executions in public spaces in front of hundreds of citizens, including children.

As in previous years, the 2017 report examines the role of the Revolutionary Courts as a major source of arbitrariness and violations of due process within the Iranian judicial system. The Revolutionary Courts have been responsible for the vast majority of death sentences issued and carried out over the last 38 years in Iran. According to IHR’s 2017 report, at least 254 executions in 2017 and more than 3,400 executions since 2010 have been based on death sentences issued by the Revolutionary Courts. The Revolutionary Courts are not transparent and Revolutionary Court judges are known for abusing their legal powers. Short trials, a lawyer’s lack of access to documents and sentences based on confessions extracted under torture are the hallmarks of the Revolutionary Courts.

Public hanging in Iran
To launch the 2017 annual report on the death penalty in Iran, Iran Human Rights (IHR) and ECPM (Ensemble contre la peine de mort) call on Iran’s European dialogue partners to push for a moratorium on use of the death penalty and for major reforms in the country’s judicial system which does not meet minimum international standards.

Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam said: “Besides monitoring implementation of the new Anti-narcotics law for death row drug offenders, the Iranian authorities and the international community must put abolition of the death penalty for all offenders under the age of 18 and an end to the practice of public executions at the top of their agenda. Moreover, a sustainable reduction in use of the death penalty is impossible as long as there is no due process. The Revolutionary Courts, which sentence hundreds of people to death every year, are among the key institutions responsible for Iran’s violations of due process and must be shut down.”

During the final days of 2017, Iran witnessed a widespread uprising which lasted more than two weeks. According to official sources, more than 4,000 people were arrested. On January 9, 2018, the Deputy Head of the Judiciary said in an interview with Fars News Agency that “the rioters, riot leaders and those who organized and led the recent riots will be punished severely and they will receive the heaviest sentence.” Several Iranian officials have echoed this in the past few weeks.  IHR and ECPM are concerned about the safety of those arrested following the nationwide uprising and warn against a new wave of executions in Iran.

ECPM’s Executive Director, Raphaël Chenuil-Hazan, said:  “the situation of human right defenders (lawyers and environmentalists) and the lack of transparency is symptomatic of use of the death penalty for political purpose in Iran. The situation of Dr. Ahmadreza Djalali, in this area, is symptomatic of the fear of the regime for intellectuals, leaders, lawyers, professors. EU and every abolitionist democracies should always denounce this situation in every contact with iranian authorities”

Source: Iran Human Rights, March 13, 2018

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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