The Leader of Europe's 'Last Dictatorship' Is Facing an Unprecedented Challenge. Here's What It Could Mean for Belarus

Europe’s longest serving leader Alexander Lukashenko has long worked hard to seem invincible. He has dominated past elections that the U.S. has deemed neither free nor fair and brokered no dissent and suppressed protests. Now, he is facing an unprecedented challenge as he runs for a sixth term as president of Belarus in elections on August 9. A former teacher and political novice, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, has emerged as his main rival, pledging to topple Lukashenko’s regime and restore democracy.
Tens of thousands have rallied across Belarus in some of the country’s biggest opposition protests in a decade, amid mounting frustration over the government’s mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis, combined with grievances about the economy. Referring to Lukashenko, protestors chanted ‘stop the cockroach’ and held placards reading ‘change!’.
“For the first time in his 26-year rule, Lukashenko knows the majority don’t support him,” says Aleksandr Feduta, a former aide to the incumbent, who was i…

USA | Tennessee Governor Delays Scheduled August Execution Due to Virus

Tennessee's death chamber
Republican Gov. Bill Lee has issued a temporary reprieve to a Tennessee death row inmate who had been scheduled to be executed later this year.

A Tennessee death row inmate received a rare temporary reprieve from Gov. Bill Lee on Friday, after the Republican announced the execution would not take place this year because of the coronavirus — a reason the state's highest court had previously dismissed as cause to delaying the capital case.

“I am granting Harold Wayne Nichols a temporary reprieve from execution until December 31, 2020, due to the challenges and disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic," Lee said in a statement.

The governor, who has declined to intervene in the 4 prior executions during his 1st term in office, offered no further explanation for his decision.

The 59-year-old Nichols had been scheduled to die by electrocution on Aug. 4. He chose the electric chair over Tennessee’s preferred execution method of lethal injection — an option allowed inmates in the state who were convicted of crimes before January 1999.

Lee's Friday decision stands in contrast to the state Supreme Court, where justices had already twice declined to delay his execution because of the coronavirus pandemic. Nichols' attorneys had been looking for a delay in federal court.

According to his attorneys, the coronavirus outbreak had rendered Nichols’ legal team unable to prepare a clemency application for the governor. They also argued Nichols hadn’t been able to sufficiently meet with friends, family, attorneys or his spiritual adviser.

“We are grateful Gov. Lee granted the reprieve,” said Susanne Bales, Nichols' attorney, in an emailed statement. “Because of the COVID-19 public health crisis Mr. Nichols has been deprived of the type of legal assistance all other Tennessee inmates facing execution receive, as well as the opportunity to practice his religion and prepare for death that is afforded to all others.”

To date, only the courts have rescheduled executions in Tennessee because of the health crisis. 

Oscar Smith was slated to die in June, but his execution date is now in February 2021, and Byron Black was scheduled to die in October, until his date was reset to April 2021.

“The public health is well-served by not going forward with an execution on August 4; it removes the unnecessary risk of spreading the virus within the prison population and staff, as well as the surrounding community,” Bales added.

Earlier that Friday, Tennessee's Department of Correction confirmed that only 3 reporters had applied to witness Nichols' execution. Typically, up to 7 media witnesses are selected in a lottery system with the possibility of 2 alternates.

Tennessee resumed executions in August 2018 at a pace topped only by Texas. During that time, 7 Tennessee inmates have been put to death, with only 2 selecting lethal injection.

The Volunteer State is 1 of 6 in which inmates can choose the electric chair, but it’s the only state that has used the chair in recent years.

Lee has deflected when asked if he’s comfortable with the amount of executions that have continued to ramp up in Tennessee. He has also declined to weigh in when asked about the increased use of the electric chair in those executions. 

The U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled on whether electrocution violates the 8th Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Instead, he has repeatedly said that the death penalty is a legal option in Tennessee and that he is compelled to “abide by the law.”

Nichols was convicted of rape and 1st-degree felony murder in the 1988 death of 21-year-old Karen Pulley in Hamilton County. Court documents say he raped and hit Pulley on the head several times with a board. She was found alive by her roommates but later died the following day. Nichols was sentenced to death in 1990.

Feb. 20 was the most recent execution in Tennessee, when Nicholas Sutton died in the electric chair.

Source: Associated Press, Staff, July 18, 2020

Death row inmate Harold Wayne Nichols picks electric chair for Aug. 4 execution

Tennessee's death chamber
Death row inmate Harold Wayne Nichols notified prison officials he wants to die by electric chair if his execution goes forward as scheduled Aug. 4.

Tennessee Department of Correction spokesperson Dorinda Carter confirmed the choice Friday.

The decision comes as Nichols' attorneys are fighting to delay his death.

They asked a federal judge to stay the execution because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has affected multiple aspects of the case.

The lawyers say pandemic-related restrictions have denied Nichols his right to meet with a spiritual adviser before his death. They also say the execution protocol, which requires dozens of people to report to Riverbend Maximum Security Institution, could spark an outbreak of the virus.

That court decision is pending. 2 other executions scheduled for 2020 in Tennessee have been delayed based on COVID-19 concerns.

If Nichols is put to death next month, he will be the 6th Tennessee inmate executed by electrocution since 2018. That trend represents a remarkable resurgence for an execution method other states have phased out.

State law allows condemned inmates sentenced to death for a crime that took place before 1999 to choose between electrocution and the state's default execution method of lethal injection.

The men who chose electrocution in the past were among dozens of death row inmates who challenged Tennessee's lethal injection drugs in court, saying the method amounts to state-sanctioned torture. 

Medical experts say Tennessee's 3-drug lethal injection protocol creates the sensation of drowning and burning alive.

Nichols, 59, pleaded guilty to the rape and murder of Karen Pulley, 21, a Chattanooga college student, in the late 1980s. A jury sentenced him to death for the slaying.

Source: The Tennessean, Staff, July 17, 2020

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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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