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“River of Fire”: In New Memoir, Sister Helen Prejean Reflects on Decades of Fighting Executions

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The Trump administration is moving ahead with plans to resume the death penalty after a more than 15-year moratorium. This week Attorney General William Barr proposed fast-tracking executions in mass murder cases, and last month ordered the execution of five death row prisoners beginning in December. The federal government has executed just three people since 1963 — the last being in 2003. The death penalty is widely condemned by national governments, international bodies and human rights groups across the world. Experts say capital punishment does not help deter homicides and that errors and racism in the criminal justice system extend to those sentenced to death. We speak with Sister Helen Prejean, a well-known anti-death-penalty activist who began her prison ministry over 30 years ago. She is the author of the best-selling book “Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty,” which was turned into an Academy Award-winning film starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. …

Anti-gay laws widespread in Africa despite gains

gay africa
The death penalty is on the books, under sharia, in Mauritania, Sudan and northern Nigeria, although there have been no known executions in recent times.

JOHANNESBURG – More than half of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa have anti-homosexuality laws, although others have moved towards legal tolerance, watchdogs say.

Twenty-eight out of 49 countries have laws penalising same-sex relationships, according to Neela Ghoshal, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) specialist in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights.

The death penalty is on the books, under sharia, in Mauritania, Sudan and northern Nigeria, although there have been no known executions in recent times.

In southern Somalia, gay men are believed to have been put to death in the territory ruled by the Al Shabaab jihadist group.

However, Angola, Mozambique and Seychelles have scrapped anti-gay laws in recent years.

Last month, Kenya's high court caused widespread dismay when it refused to scrap laws criminalising gay sex.

Chad, Nigeria and Burundi have introduced or toughened legislation.

Rights groups say many anti-gay laws date from the colonial area.

They represent a peril even in countries where they are not implemented, according to campaigners, as their existence on the statute books entrenches stigma and encourages harassment.

Following is a snapshot of the legal situation in Africa, provided by AFP bureaux:

ANGOLA: In January scrapped a notorious "vices against nature" provision in its penal code, and made the refusal to employ or provide services to someone on the grounds of their sexual orientation liable to a jail term of up to two years.

CHAD: Approved a law in May 2017 to punish "same-sex sexual relations" with between three months' and two years' jail and a fine ranging from 50,000 to 500,000 FCFA (76 to 760 euros, $85 to $850).

BOTSWANA: On June 11, the High Court will rule on a case brought by campaign group Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana challenging the constitutionality of a law punishing same-sex conduct.

GABON: The first gay traditional wedding was conducted in 2013 but the couple were immediately arrested following an outcry. The pair were released and the marriage overturned on technical grounds.

LESOTHO: In 2012, approved a penal code which scrapped a common-law regime under which sodomy had been criminalised. Initiated a process in 2016 to legalise same-sex marriage, although the law is making little headway in parliament.

MALAWI: Debating the legal status of homosexuality. In 2012, the government ordered a moratorium on arrests and prosecutions for consensual homosexual acts between adults. In 2016, the High Court suspended the moratorium pending a judicial review by the Constitutional Court.

MOZAMBIQUE: In 2015, swept away Portuguese colonial laws dating back to 1886 that punished anyone "who habitually engages in vices against nature." No known prosecutions under those laws occurred after Mozambique gained independence in 1975.

MALI: No anti-homosexuality law, but conservative Islamic groups last December successfully campaigned against a Dutch-funded schoolbook on sexual education, maintaining it promoted homosexuality.

NIGERIA: Law introduced in 2014 provides for up to 14 years in jail for same-sex cohabitation and any "public show of same-sex amorous relationship". In the north, sharia makes homosexuality punishable by death in theory.

SOUTH AFRICA: In 2006, South Africa became the sole African nation to allow gay marriage. The country has become a haven for African homosexuals who flee persecution at home or travel to the country to get married before returning home.

TANZANIA: A conviction for having "carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature" can lead to 30 years in jail or more. Political rhetoric against homosexuality has increased since President John Magufuli was elected in 2015. Foreign gay rights activists have been expelled and last October, the regional commissioner of Dar es Salaam, the country's economic capital, threatened to arrest homosexuals.

UGANDA: Defying Western criticism, President Yoweri Museveni in February 2014 signed an Anti-Homosexual Bill that hiked the penalty for same-sex relations from seven years to life, and extended punishments to people found guilty of "promoting" homosexuality. However, it was annulled by the courts six months later, in what activists hailed as a victory.

ZAMBIA: Homosexuality is widely reviled and same-sex relationships can draw sentences of between a year and 14 years in jail. Earlier this year, TV regulators ordered a new locally-produced reality show, "Lusaka Hustle," to be taken off the air on the grounds that it promoted a gay lifestyle.

Source: Agence France-Presse, Staff, June 10, 2019


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