[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----worldwide
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Sep 24 17:09:17 CDT 2007
Abolition Close, But Sceptre of Death Remains
The hastening end to state executions across Central Asia could turn out
to be only a temporary reprieve for many as the new category of 'lifers'
face the prospect of decades in jails often plagued with highly-infectious
diseases and meagre, unhealthy rations barely sufficient to survive.
All 5 Central Asian states -- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan,
Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan -- inherited capital punishment from Soviet
times. Since independence in 1991, they have moved with varying degrees of
speed towards the abolition.
"In Central Asia, there has been a clear move towards abolition. It's been
step by step process. The states all retained the death penalty when they
gained independence in 1991," Gulnara Kaliakbarova, Penal Reform
International's regional director for Central Asia, based in Almaty, the
capital of Kazakhstan, told IPS. "But now in reality the death penalty has
been abolished in 4 of these countries."
Turkmenistan was the 1st state to abolish the death penalty in 1999. Then
followed Kyrgyzstan last year, finally completing the process in June when
capital punishment was removed from its criminal code.
Kazakhstan put in place a moratorium in 2003 and Tajikistan in 2004. In
May, Kazakhstan all but abolished the death penalty with constitutional
amendments banning any taking of life. The sole exceptions to this were
for terrorist killings and for "the most serious crimes in times of war".
"Uzbekistan has not yet introduced a moratorium but it is also taking
steps towards abolition," Gulnara Kaliakbarova said. "In August 2005,
President Islam Karimov signed a decree stipulating the death penalty
would be abolished on Jan. 1, 2008. In June this year, the Uzbekistan
senate passed amendments to the criminal code replacing the death penalty
with life imprisonment."
But the steady progress towards the abolition of the death penalty had not
been matched by a modernisation of prisons and adoption of progressive
penal policies for the most serious offenders to prepare them for eventual
successful release back into the community.
Only in oil-rich Kazakhstan, had there been a big increase in spending on
prisons, according to Penal Reform International. "Over the past three to
four years, the Kazakhstan prison budget has approximately tripled,"
Gulnara Kaliakbarova said. "Spending on each inmate is currently 2,000
dollars a year. This means prisoner living conditions and their nutrition
needs are adequate."
But elsewhere in Central Asia, there was an urgent need to "to provide
minimal international standards of treatment for prisoners", said Gulnara
Kaliakbarova, whose staff monitor and advise on penal policies across the
The worst prison conditions may well be in Tajikistan, the smallest and
poorest of all the central Asian states, Gulnara Kaliakbarova suggested. A
5-year-long devastating civil war in the 1990s had thrown the country back
economically. "Official figures indicate that 86 % of the 7 million
population live below the poverty line," she said.
Tuberculosis, AIDS, gastro-intestinal and other infectious diseases were
"acute" problems in the Tajikistan jails. Overcrowding, malnutrition and
inadequate hygiene and medical facilities increased the vulnerability of
inmates, she said, adding that there were no state funds to finance the
collection of reliable statistics.
"The political will to change the system is there, but the prison
authorities lack the expertise and resources for professional training and
re-training. There is also a high level of corruption in the system," she
In Kyrgyzstan, a neighbouring republic to the south, prisons were also
death traps with rampant tuberculosis, particularly in the 2 underground
jails where most of the long-term lifers were held, Akin Toktaliev,
chairman of the rights organisation, Committee for the Protection of the
Dignity and Honour of the Kyrgyz nation, told IPS in the capital Bishkek.
Adequate medical care for those who fall sick in prison, particularly for
treatment of highly-contagious tuberculosis was lacking, Toktaliev said,
adding: "Instead of keeping them in such unacceptable conditions, it would
be more humane if they were sent to death."
"Some are held in narrow, dark underground cells without access to fresh
air. The average space allotted to the long-term prisoners is 2.5 square
metres. They virtually never leave their cells," Gulnara Kaliakbarova
confirmed, describing conditions generally throughout the Kyrgyz prison
system as "inhumane".
Primitive sanitary conditions, foul-smelling cesspits and insufficient
water were problems throughout its prison system, Gulnara Kaliakbarova
"Prisoners have noticed some improvement in the quality of the meals. But
their variety and nutritional level is still below standard, except in the
case of bread rations. Meat and fish are served in a concentrated form.
Potatoes and other vegetables are inadequate. The daily menu is porridge
for breakfast, steamed cabbage, macaroni or borsch for lunch and a supper
of a soup."
Relatives were allowed to supplement prison rations by bringing in sacks
of potatoes, fruit and vegetables during their once-monthly visits,
Nargiza Akyl of the Kyrgyz Ombudsman Office told IPS.
Despite the abolition of the death penalty and more openness about the
prison conditions, Kyrgyz prison authorities were still refusing to tell
relatives where the bodies of those executed in the past had been buried,
Gulnara Kaliakbarova said.
Penal Reform International has no information about the penal systems in
Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, two neighbouring, resource-rich countries in
Ironically, secretive Turkmenistan was the first country in Central Asia
to abolish the death penalty under its despotic leader Saparmurat Niyazov,
who died suddenly last December. He was succeeded by the former deputy
prime minister Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedow.
But in Uzbekistan prison conditions were described as "unsatisfactory" by
Surat Ikramov, chairperson of the Initiative Group of Independent Human
Rights Activists of Uzbekistan, told IPS.
About 40 % of the 70,000 Uzbekistan prison inmates had been unjustly
charged, he said. "Many are tortured, especially religious believers who
number 7, 000," he said. Relatives were only allowed to visit 4 times a
The official information blackout on the death penalty inmates was total.
"Nobody will say how many people have been sentenced to death." He did not
know the date of the last execution or the name of the person. "Officials
never publish any figures on this issue."
Ikramov estimated there were currently about 120 people on death row. But
Penal Reform International sources suggest the number could be as high as
1,000. Penal Reform International is now calling on countries in the
region to take the final remaining steps for it to become absolutely
"death-penalty-free". It also has a detailed list of recommendations to
improve prison life for lifers and their families.
"Life imprisonment should now be orientated towards re-socialisation and
re-integration into the community," Gulnara Kaliakbarova said. "Now with
the abolition of the death penalty, the time has come to adopt the most
humane alternative punishment strategies."
Mujib murder convicts allowed to appeal Proceedings in the case relating
to the assassination of Bangladesh's founding father, Sheikh Mujibur
Rahman, resumed on Sunday after remaining in cold storage for 5 years
during the rule of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leader Khaleda Zia.
The Supreme Court granted leave of appeal to the 5 condemned prisoners,
who are seeking to challenge their death sentences.
The court also extended the stay on the execution of the death sentences
until October 30.
Sunday's order of the Supreme Court means that the Appellate Division of
the court will hear the appeals of the 5. The Awami League expressed
disappointment over the court decision.
(source: The HIndu)
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