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Did Texas execute an innocent man? Film revisits a haunting question.

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Texans will have an opportunity to revisit a question that should haunt anyone who believes in the integrity of our criminal justice system: Did our state execute an innocent man? 
The new film “Trial by Fire” tells the true story of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was sentenced to death for setting a fire to his home in Corsicana that killed his three young daughters in 1991. The film is based on an investigative story by David Grann that appeared in the New Yorker in 2009, five years after Willingham was executed over his vociferous protestations of innocence.
In my experience of serving 8 years on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and 4 years as a state district judge in Travis County, the Willingham case stands out to me for many of the same reasons it stood out to filmmaker Edward Zwick, who calls it a veritable catalogue of everything that’s wrong with the criminal justice system and, especially, the death penalty. False testimony, junk science, a jailhouse informant, and ineffe…

Egypt: Verdicts expected for 739 defendants in grotesque mass death penalty trial

Cairo Criminal Court
The mass trial of 739 people, many facing the death penalty on charges related to participation in the al-Rabaa sit-in on 14 August 2013, is a grotesque parody of justice, Amnesty International said ahead of the verdicts expected to be handed down by a Cairo Criminal Court tomorrow.

Among the defendants is journalist and prisoner of conscience Mahmoud Abu Zeid, known as “Shawkan”, detained while working as a photojournalist documenting the protest. Amnesty International is calling for his immediate and unconditional release.

“The idea that more than 700 people could all stand trial together in one day, all facing the death penalty in what is clearly a grossly unfair trial that violates Egypt’s own constitution beggar’s belief,” said Najia Bounaim, Director of Campaign in North Africa at Amnesty International.

“This can only be described as a parody of justice; it casts a dark shadow over the integrity of Egypt’s entire system of justice, and makes a mockery of due process.”

Among the 739 defendants are members of the Muslim Brotherhood, now a banned group in Egypt, facing charges of participating in unauthorised protests and other charges ranging from murder, to “incitement to break the law”, “membership of an illegal group”, “illegal gathering” and involvement in violence.

During the trial sessions, prosecutors failed to submit evidence establishing the individual responsibility of each of the 739 defendants, nor did the court insist on the need to establish such responsibility, rendering this a grossly unfair trial. Amnesty International is calling on the Egyptian authorities to release and drop the charges against all those arrested for protesting peacefully; defendants suspected of committing violent crimes must be tried in a fair trial without the possibility of the death penalty or released.

30-year-old photojournalist Shawkan has been charged with 24 offences, including murder, “illegal gathering” and other violence related charges.

Shawkan was working as a photojournalist covering the demonstration, when he was arrested. The prosecution has not presented any evidence that he was guilty of murder or any other violence. Under international human rights law, Egypt has an obligation to uphold the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, a right also guaranteed in Egypt’s constitution, and the charge of “illegal gathering should not be a criminal offence.

Shawkan has been in pre-trial detention since the dispersal of the al-Rabaa sit-in on 14 August 2013. His prolonged pretrial detention is in violation of Egypt’s own laws, which establish a maximum two-year limit on pre-trial detention.

“Shawkan has now been detained without a court verdict for almost four years, twice the legal limit under Egyptian law. This is clearly punitive and aimed at silencing others who might take part in any form of journalism or activism that threatens the Egyptian authorities,” said Najia Bounaim.

On 14 August 2013, Egyptian security forces violently dispersed sit-ins at the Rabaa al-Adawiya and al-Nahda squares in Cairo, leaving at least 900 people dead and thousands more injured. No member of the Egyptian security forces has been held to account for what is widely referred to as the al-Rabaa Massacre.

Source: Amnesty International, June 29, 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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