[Deathpenalty] death penalty news-----worldwide
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Feb 27 22:47:31 UTC 2007
Death Penalty Stifling Free Speech
Zimbabwean rights activists are campaigning with unprecedented vigour for
an end to the death penalty as the country's political and economic crisis
deepens, arguing that this is essential for an open debate on the nation's
future and its joining the "civilised democracies of the world".
"The death penalty is a threat to freedom of speech," Edson Chiota, the
national coordinator of the Zimbabwe Association for Crime prevention and
Rehabilitation of Offenders (ZACRO) told IPS. He was interviewed while
attending the Third World Congress against the Death Penalty in Paris at
the beginning of February.
"The government is trying to silence the opposition. If you publicly
criticise the state leader, there's a good likelihood that you will be
charged with treason. That's a threat to be feared. Treason carries the
death penalty," Chiota said.
Zimbabwe activists recall how 2 leading politicians were charged with
treason in a campaign of intimidation before past elections.
Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the main opposition party Movement for
Democratic Change (MDC) has been charged with treason 3 times, the last
just ahead of the 2002 presidential elections. This trial lasted almost 2
years. It ended with a surprise acquittal.
Ndabaningi Sithole, the leader of the Zimbabwe African National Union
(ZANU) was also charged with plotting to overthrow the government. This
was just ahead of the 1996 presidential elections.
But he was found guilty. He was sentenced to five years in prison, but
released because of failing health. His sentencing disqualified him from
attending parliament until his death 3 years later.
Both politicians claimed they had been framed by the state security
Launching ZACRO's national anti-death penalty campaign with a newspaper
article on Jan. 4, Wonder Chakanyuka, ZACRO's information and publicity
officer, side-stepped the issue of how the death penalty was being used to
silence dissent. He stressed rather that it was alien to the country's
African traditions and left-over relic from colonial times.
"It was used to intimidate and eliminate black people and as Zimbabweans
we cannot continue having this law on our books," he wrote in an opinion
"An increasing number of African states have abolished the death penalty
and Zimbabwe cannot afford to be left behind," he added.
The article in the state-backed newspaper 'The Herald', ended with an
editorial note that ZACRO's crusade against the death penalty was not
party-based and should not be used to "demonise" the country.
This appears to confirm ZACRO's view that Robert Mugabe's regime will not
block its campaign.
"We have never clashed with the government on this issue," Chiota said.
"They are letting us go free. This means that they want to leave the
public to take up its position."
ZACRO's campaign is likely to gather strong public support from many
non-governmental organisations, churches, traditional leaders, lawyers and
even members of the justice department.
"Killing someone for an offence will not change or solve anything," David
Chimhini, executive director of the Zimbabwe Civic Educational Trust
(ZIMCET) told IPS.
"No one has the right to kill another."
ZIMCET advocates life sentences in place of the death penalty for the most
serious crime of murder.
The Human Rights Trust of South Africa (SAHRIT) has also staunchly come
out against the death penalty. The death penalty should be replaced by
life imprisonment for "reflection and reform".
"The courts can sentence someone to death, but they cannot be 100 percent
sure that the person has committed the crime," Noel Kututwa, its executive
director, told IPS.
He expressed scepticism that the Mugabe regime would listen to the voices
of the abolitionists. "I don't see the government moving an inch on the
death penalty law," he said.
Zimbabwe lawyers have also expressed concern over the possibility of
judicial error and are likely to strongly back the ZACRO campaign on this
One of the most tragic cases was that of Sukoluhle Kachipare, a mother who
was condemned to death for allegedly inciting her 17-year-old maid to
murder her own new-born child.
Only a concerned nation and international campaign saved her from the
gallows in 1997. She would have been the first woman to be executed in
Zimbabwe since 1898, when the British colonial regime executed the spirit
medium Mbuya Nehanda.
Though Kachipare's sentence was first confirmed by the Zimbabwe Supreme
Court, lawyers continued her legal battle. She was eventually acquitted,
Stanford Moyo, president of the Zimbabwe Law Society told IPS.
Church groups are expected to take part actively in the ZACRO campaign --
especially Christian churches. There are roughly seven million Christians
in Zimbabwe, just over half the population.
Anglican bishop Sebastian Bakare has publicly preached that state killing
is against "the word of God and all biblical commandments".
"It does not prevent people from committing violent crimes. Rather, it
creates an illusion that violent crime is under control and being
eliminated," he told IPS in an interview.
All groups are likely to rally behind the campaign's call for an end to
the secrecy surrounding the death penalty issue in Zimbabwe.
"The lack of public information is the biggest concern," Irene Petras, the
acting director of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, told IPS.
ZACRO's Chiota complains that his organisation is barred from visiting any
death row prisoner. "We can't say anything about them. Only the
authorities know their situation exactly."
High Court records show the number on death row totals 47. But efforts by
IPS to obtain a list of the names was met with the response "classified
ZACRO now intends to take its anti-death penalty campaign to all ten
provinces in the country. It has plans to print and distribute millions of
pamphlets and posters. Everyone in the country will be offered a campaign
But only with outside funds will it be possible to finance such ambitious
plans. Though nearly 100 years old, the prisoners' rights organisation
still operates from humble offices in the old township of Mbare in
Zimbabwe's capital, Harare.
Inflation is currently the highest in the world -- some 1,600 %.
Unemployment is over 85 % and the economy is in a free fall. 1/3 of all
men and women between the ages of 15 and 49 are HIV positive.
But rather than despairing, ZACRO activists seem undeterred.
"We are trying to get a movement going. There's never been a fully-fledged
campaign before to make this issue really visible," said Chiota.
"When the death penalty is gone, we believe that people will come out of
their shells and express their hopes and wishes."
U.S. judge refuses to block execution of former Iraqi vice president
A U.S. judge on Tuesday refused to block the execution of Saddam Hussein's
former vice president, saying he had no jurisdiction to step into the
U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman said agreeing to the motion brought
by Taha Yassin Ramadan's lawyers would be tantamount to rejecting the
verdict of an Iraqi trial court and accepting defense claims it was
Ruling from the bench, he said Ramadan wanted to force the U.S. to
overturn the court's decision. Attorneys have called the case a show trial
with no legal foundation but said the U.S. has no jurisdiction to review
"No matter how you slice it, I would be collaterally reviewing that
conviction" Friedman said.
He agreed with the Justice Department that the U.S. military is acting as
a multinational force holding Ramadan for Iraqi authorities and that U.S.
courts do not have jurisdiction to interfere in Iraq's judicial process.
Ramadan was convicted alongside Saddam for his role in the 1982 massacre
of Shiite civilians. He is being held at a U.S. military prison in Iraq
pending his execution.
His lawyers argued he would be tortured if turned over to Iraqis. As
evidence, they noted the fate of Saddam and two other co-defendants
already put to death.
Similar cases, including one by Saddam on the evening of his execution,
had already been rejected.
Ramsey Clark, a former U.S. attorney general who represents Ramadan, said
the mistreatment of Saddam and his 2 co-defendants at their executions
were barbaric and should be considered reason for U.S. courts to
intervene. "They have been taunted, humiliated, tortured and had their
heads popped off," Clark said.
(source: Associated Press)
Family to reunite on death row
An entire family of 4 in Japan is heading for a reunion on death row after
being convicted separately in a murder and robbery case.
Former gangster Jitsuo Kitamura, 63, and son Takashi, 26, were sentenced
to death on Tuesday over the case in southern Fukuoka prefecture.
Kitamura's wife Mami, 47, and other son Takahiro, 22, were sentenced to
death in October.
Judges ruled that the entire family was responsible for the 2004 murder of
58-year-old Sayoko Takami, her two sons and another boy to steal cash and
The parents "concluded that they could not carry out the murder alone and
included their sons, Takashi and Takahiro, in the murder plan", said judge
"The criminal acts were cruel and vicious, showing no respect for human
life, and the motives were extremely egotistical," he said. "I have to say
the defendants' rehabilitation would be difficult."
There was no immediate word on whether the family would be able to see one
another behind bars. But lawyers for the mother and 2nd son have appealed
The 2 sons allegedly killed Takami's 15-year-old second son in September
2004 and stole jewels.
The father and mother then strangled Takami to death and took 260 000 (R15
600) in cash before shooting dead Takami's eldest son and friend,
according to the criminal charges. P> (source: News24.com)
Last Christmas Day is etched into the memory of Kaoru Okashita, 60, a
Japanese prisoner on death row. In the distance he heard the footfall of
guards marching steadily towards his cell early in the morning -- and then
miraculously passing by without halting.
''I thought the time had finally come for me to die,'' Okashita wrote to
his friend and poetry teacher Keiko Mitsumoto. ''When the guards passed my
door, I heaved a sigh of relief.'' Okashita and Mitsumoto have been
exchanging letters through prison bars since 2004.
Okashita had every reason to feel blessed. On Dec. 25 of last year, four
of his fellow death row inmates were hanged, including Yoshie Fujinami,
72, a semi-invalid who could hardly stand, according to activists.
Their executions took place after a lull of 15 months. The new justice
minister Jinen Nagase was showing he had no qualms unlike his Buddhist
predecessor about signing execution orders. Nagase is an open supporter of
''It is important to consider the feelings of the victims and the
public,'' he has said. ''The social order has to be maintained.''
Such strong views reflect the majority of Japanese public opinion.
2 years ago, a cabinet office survey showed that more than 80 % of the
Japanese supported the death penalty. More than half the population
believed it was an effective deterrent and just retribution for any
killing, according to press reports at the time. Only 6 % expressed open
opposition to the death penalty.
But among these opponents are a growing number of individuals actively
taking a stand. Mitsumoto, 61, is one. A teacher of tanka (poetry),
Mitsumoto responded to a letter from Okashita requesting her to accept his
''I oppose the death penalty not as an issue of justice but simply on the
basis that life is precious,'' Mitsumoto told IPS. ''Through Okashitas
poetry and letters, I know that he has learnt to value life again and that
is why I want him to live.''
The touching story of the friendship between a convicted for murdering two
people in 1989, and his sympathetic poetry teacher became public here with
the December publication of a tanka anthology, The Beginning of the End.
Edited by Mitsumoto, it includes poems sent to her by Okashita in letters
he sends once or twice a month.
Okashita's poems express deep remorse for his crimes and his fear of
Opponents of the death penalty agree that the Japanese public is rigid and
unforgiving. This explains the near-total support for the death penalty,
''Japan's extremely conservative sense of social order reinforces the view
that people who commit crimes deserve the severest of punishments,'' said
Misaki Yagishita of Amnesty Japan. ''This is why there is still lingering
support for the death penalty. It's seen the best way of ridding society
Japan's anti-death penalty activists are focusing their campaign on the
country's method of execution. They said that death by hanging is
especially cruel. It can result in decapitation.
They also accuse the authorities of a callous disregard for the rights of
the person awaiting execution. Singled out is the unjustifiable practice
of keeping secret the date of the execution from the death row inmate and
family. Testament to this practice is Okashita's post-Christmas letter to
his poetry teacher.
Other death row inmates have also told of how they listen for the early
morning footsteps of their guards -- their only way of knowing of their
approaching execution. Only after the hanging will their families be
Campaigning anti-death penalty activists are now taking their campaign
into the courts. Recently, Shuichi Adachi, a lawyer based in Hiroshima,
filed a legal challenge to the practice of barring death row prisoners
access to their lawyers. The condemned are only allowed to meet with their
immediate family and religious representatives once or twice a month.
''The conditions for prisoners serving life sentences are much more
lenient,'' Adachi said. He supports replacing the death penalty with life
imprisonment. ''They can meet with their lawyers. But the crimes committed
by the two groups can be similar. This is unfair.''
Activists are bracing themselves for more executions after the last ones
at Christmas. At the end of February the number of inmates awaiting
execution in Japan reached 100. Last year saw a big increase in the number
of death sentences -- some 21 -- as Japanese courts took a tougher stand
on violent crimes.
Activists are also concerned at the likely effect of a new move by the
justice ministry to allow crime victims to speak in court. Lawyers have
protested that this will fuel passions and could lead to yet more death
But campaigners are expecting more active support from religious groups in
their effort to change public opinion. Oomoto-kyo, a Shinto-based
religious group that is opposed to capital punishment, is planning more
engagement, they say.
"Executions can be tackled by counter-arguments and focusing on the value
of life. This is an especially respected concept in Japanese religions,"
said Katsuya Kimura, a representative in its international division. "We
are planning several conferences with other religious groups to reach a
consensus on the strategy we should follow," he confirmed.
Until now, Japanese religious organisations have been divided on the death
penalty issue. Most Shinto groups, Japans indigenous faith support the
death penalty while Christian and Buddhist organisations have been firmly
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