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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…

India: Federal law for death to rapists unlikely despite Kathua gangrape case

Gallows
The gangrape and murder of 8-year-old Kathua girl has shook the nation's conscience once again. Drawing parallels with the Nirbhaya gangrape case of December 2012, chorus for awarding death penalty for the rapists has grown in the recent days in the country.

Cutting across party lines, politicians have demanded that the rapists, particularly of minors below 12 years, should be handed out capital punishment.

Both leaders at the national level and in the states have joined chorus to press for their demand.

National leaders


Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi has asked her department to work on a proposal to amend the Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. The move is aimed at including the provision of death penalty for the rape of a minor below 12 years of age.

The present POCSO Act does not have any provision for capital punishment. The maximum sentence at present is life imprisonment for penetrative sexual assault.

Actor-turned-politician Hema Malini reiterated the views expressed by Maneka Gandhi. The BJP MP from Mathura in Uttar Pradesh demanded that rapists of children below 12 years must be "hanged to death".

State governments


Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti last week said her government would soon introduce a new law to make death penalty mandatory for those who rape minors.

Mehbooba Mufti's decision holds significance because Kathua falls in the Jammu region.

Not just Mehbooba Mufti but her PDP's arch rival National Conference president Farooq Abdullah has also demanded convening of a special session of the state Assembly to bring in a bill to award capital punishment to the rapists of minors.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal also said his government would amend the law for awarding death to the rapists of minor girls.

Kejriwal assured bringing law in the next Assembly session. He also said the AAP government in Delhi would also set up fast-track courts to complete trial of the cases of crime against women in 6 months.

Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) chairperson Swati Maliwal is sitting on an indefinite hunger strike for the past 4 days to protest the Kathua gangrape case and alleged rape by BJP MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar in Unnao.

In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Maliwal demanded that child rapists should be given capital punishment within 6 months of committing the crime.

Recent developments


At least 3 states have passed bills seeking death penalty for those convicted of raping girls under 12 years of age.

Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led Madhya Pradesh was the 1st state to legislate a bill in December 2017 which would send convicts of such rapes to the gallows.

Last month, ML Khattar government in Haryana and Vasundhara Raje government in Rajasthan too passed similar bills.

Coincidentally, all the three states are ruled by the BJP. Moreover, the bills in all these 3 states were passed unanimously.

The 3 states have made amendments to the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Developments since 1998


The demand for securing capital punishment to rape convicts is almost 19 years old.

The then home minister LK Advani was perhaps the first leader to broach the idea of sending rape convicts to the gallows. As early as in October 1998, he said in consultation with the state governments, the Centre would amend the country's criminal laws to punish rapists with death.

He explained that the consent of the state governments was required because the subject was on the concurrent list in the Constitution.

Advani was speaking in the wake of rape of 3 nuns in the tribal Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh. He rued that that the present laws were inadequate to deal with rapists.

His suggestion found support from the BJP Mahila Morcha which argued that it would discourage criminals and inculcate a sense of security among women.

Goa Governor Mridula Sinha, who was Social Welfare Board chairperson then, said only capital punishment to rape convicts could instil fear in men.

Advani reiterated the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government's stand even in November 2002. He was replying to the demand raised by Lok Sabha members. He said a final decision could be taken only after evolving a political consensus on the issue.

He recalled that his suggestion for capital punishment for rapists was opposed by several state governments and women's organisations on the ground that it could put to danger the lives of the rape survivors.

The senior BJP leader was replying to demand made by Renuka Chowdhury of the Congress for death penalty for rapists.

Union Minister of State for Social Justice Ramdas Athawale, who was then an independent Lok Sabha MP, suggested that Prevention of Terrorists Act (POTA), 2002, should be used against rapists.

The issue found resonance once again after Nirbhaya's gangrape on December 16, 2012 in the capital and her subsequent death.

The then Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government would take steps to amend law for awarding death penalty in particular cases of rape.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who was the leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha then, also advocated death penalty for the rapists.

In fact, Sushma Swaraj had posted a tweet about 2 years before the Nirbhaya case advocating death sentence for rapists. She said, "I want death sentence in all cases of rape and murder and all cases of kidnapping or abduction and murder," appealing to twitterati to retweet and support her call.

No movement


Statistics prove that violence against women is on the increase in India. A woman is raped every 53 minutes and an act of sexual violence is committed every 7th minute.

The Manmohan Singh government constituted the JS Verma committee to review the laws. However, the committee did not favour death sentence to rapists as a deterrent.

It held that certainty of punishment rather than its severity was the most important factor which can act as a deterrent.

The dismally low conviction rate has been held the culprit in rape cases. It is as low as about 4 %.

Though the demand for capital punishment has gained momentum in the wake of Kathua case, the Centre is yet to take a call.

Source: India Today, April 17, 2018


Farooq Abdullah wants bill to award death penalty for raping minors


Opposition National Conference (NC) President Farooq Abdullah on Sunday demanded a special session of Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly to bring in a bill to award capital punishment to those who rape minors.

Abdullah’s comment comes in the backdrop of a nationwide condemnation of the rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua.

“Capital punishment must be brought in for such cases,” Abdullah told reporters here.

“She (Kathua rape victim) is just like my daughter. Thank God, today the nation has woken up and they have taken it very seriously. I hope justice will be done and we will bring a bill in the Assembly session wherein (if) any such incident takes place, the hanging must be brought in,” he said.

Abdullah was speaking to reporters after chairing a meeting of NC’s provincial committee for Kashmir province at the party headquarters in Nawa-e-Subha.

The NC president said the PDP-BJP government should call a special session of the state legislature to pass the bill which would act as a deterrent against such crimes.

"Let the government call a special session of the Assembly just for this thing. When the special session of the Assembly is called and this bill is passed, it will be a great thing for the future such crimes will not take place,” Abdullah said.

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has also said her government would bring a new law to make death penalty mandatory for those who rape minors.

“We will never ever let another child suffer in this way. We will bring a new law that will make the death penalty mandatory for those who rape minors,” Mehbooba said in a tweet on April 12.

Meanwhile, a statement by the party said that Abdullah, while addressing the party meeting, expressed anguish, grief and pain at the gruesome tragedy in Kathua and demanded “exemplary punishment” for the culprits.

Abdullah said the incident was a result of politics involving “the harassment, intimidation and disempowerment of the nomadic Gujjar-Bakerwal communities”.

“Ministers of this government openly threatened the Gujjar-Bakerwal community of dire repercussions and one such minister went to the extent of reminding them of the horrors of the 1947 massacre,” said Abdullah.

“The Gujjar-Bakerwal communities have been hounded, targeted and intimidated for nearly three years now while the PDP has remained a mute spectator. Had the PDP objected to this harassment and intimidation, perhaps things would not have come to this tragic pass,” he said.

The NC president said the chief minister’s “silence over repeated attempts to harass and threaten” the Gujjar-Bakerwal communities had emboldened anti-social elements…and the consequences are here for all of us to see,” he said.

Abdullah said the PDP-BJP alliance had left no stone unturned to divide the people of the state along regional and religious lines for their personal political benefits.

“While the BJP continues to pit the people of Jammu against their brothers and sisters in Kashmir as a deeply divisive and dangerous political strategy, the PDP in Kashmir sought votes against the BJP before aligning with it post elections – eroding the sanctity of its mandate and pushing our youth towards turmoil and disenchantment,” he said.

“The ramifications of this opportunism of this brazen sellout — have been disastrous,” Abdullah said, adding that the fault lines between various regions of the state had become deeper.

“Polarising rhetoric has changed the narrative into an ‘us-versus-them’ debate in respective regions of the state. This is a very dangerous trend and the slide needs to be checked immediately before its too late and the situation becomes irretrievable,” he said.

The NC president also expressed serious concern over the law and order conditions in the state.

“The unabated spate of civilian killings is pushing the youth towards a path of unimaginable anger and hostility,” Abdullah said.

He asked the party leaders to reach out to youth and give them all possible opportunities to come forward with fresh ideas to take the state out of the “morass of hopelessness, instability and chaos”.

Source: voiceonline.com, April 17, 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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In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning