Month: June 2013

Nigeria: “They Almost Executed Him Secretly”

On Tuesday, Ebhos was dragged to the gallows in Benin Prison, Nigeria. He was forced to watch as 4 men were hanged.

He only escaped execution because, at the last moment, the prison authorities realised that his death sentence, imposed by a military tribunal, required a firing squad. It had not been prepared.

The Nigerian furniture maker had been on death row for 17 years, convicted of armed robbery. His son, Solomon, only learned that his father was about to be put to death when he read a local newspaper report that 4 men had been hanged.

“The morning after the four executions I knew that my day was on death row,” he told Amnesty International. “The article said there was still one person at risk of execution and I knew it was him. My two eldest sisters went down to the prison to try and find out what was happening.”

Solomon described his sense of despair at the news that his father may be put to death at any point from now on.

“My 2 eldest sisters went down to the prison to see him to get the full information about what was happening. When they came back they said he was sobbing. My sister said that was the 2nd time she saw my father weeping,” he said.

“They had taken him to the gallows and asked him to write a will and told him that they should pass some of the things he had to me, because I’m the only son. They didn’t call us. They didn’t even ask him if there was anyone they could contact. They almost were going to kill him in secret.”

17 years waiting for death

Ebhodaghe Solomon was barely walking when Thankgod Ebhos, was sent to prison accused of armed robbery in 1988.

Ebhos was eventually tried and sentenced to death by a military tribunal in 1995 – some 7 years after his arrest. At that time, Nigeria was under military rule. Military tribunals at the time denied defendants the right to appeal.

Amnesty International raised serious concerns about the fairness of military tribunals in Nigeria during that period, which lasted until 1999 when Nigeria returned to civilian rule.

Ebhodaghe Solomon remembers when he first visited his father on death row.

“I finally had the opportunity to see my father 4 years ago. I was around 21. I braced myself and I was happy to see him in good health, he was doing well,” Solomon said.

He describes how under a new regime of civilian rule, his father hoped he could appeal against his death sentence.

“When we met, he spoke a lot about the family, about his intentions of working, earning money, going abroad. He loves to play music. He learned how to handle musical instruments in the prison. He also loves to read and learned how to paint in prison. He is a very happy spirited person.”

Ebhodaghe Solomon last saw his father 4 weeks ago.

“Nothing much had changed. He told me that his brothers, my uncles, had been trying to find lawyers to look into the case but every time they did that it would be unsuccessful. Many of the lawyers we had spoken to couldn’t help so all we can do is pray that god would bring him out because my dad has changed completely.”

Surprise executions

There are approximately 1,000 individuals on death row across Nigeria; the country has not executed any prisoners since 2006.

But on 16 June, father’s day, things took a turn for the worse when President Goodluck Jonathan urged state Governors to sign death warrants for death row prisoners – this, in effect, allows federal prison authorities to proceed with executions of inmates on death row in prisons.

A week later the 4 inmates held at Benin Prison were dragged to the gallows and hanged.

All still had appeals pending in their cases. Their execution came only hours after a federal High Court had dismissed a lawsuit against 3 of the execution warrants. Lawyers acting on behalf of the men immediately filed an application for stay of execution. The Edo state Attorney General and the prison authorities ignored the judgement.

“The recent executions were an incredible shock to all of us,” said Lucy Freeman, deputy Africa director at Amnesty International.

“Under Nigerian and international law, executions may not be carried out while any appeals are still pending. By executing the prisoners, Nigeria has demonstrated a gross disregard for the rule of law and respect for the judicial process,” said Ms Freeman.

The relatives of those executed were not informed in advance.

Solomon said his family are distraught, knowing that their father may be executed at any moment.

“I would ask the President why he has decided that my father should have his life taken,” he said.

Amnesty International is calling for an immediate halt on the execution of Thankgod Ebhos and an end to the death penalty in Nigeria.

Source: All Africa News, June 29, 2013

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Two prisoners were hanged in two Iranian cities today, reported the official Iranian media.

Iran Human Rights, June 29
Two prisoners were hanged in two Iranian cities today, reported the official Iranian media.

One of the prisoners was hanged publicly in “Salman Farsi” crossing of Ahwaz, reported the state run Iranian news agency Fars. The prisoner was identified as “M. T.” and was convicted of buying and selling 17 kilos and 826 grams of psychostimulant drugs and selling 700 grams of crystal, said the report. The public hanging took place on Saturday morning June 29.

Iran Human Rights, June 29: Two prisoners were hanged in two Iranian cities today, reported the official Iranian media.One of the prisoners was hanged publicly in "Salman Farsi" crossing of Ahwaz, reported the state run Iranian news agency Fars. The prisoner was identified as "M. T." and was convicted of buying and selling 17 kilos and 826 grams of psychostimulant drugs and selling 700 grams of crystal, said the report. The public hanging took place on Saturday morning June 29.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urges countries to abolish death penalty

28 June 2013 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today urged United Nations Member States to move towards the abolition of the death penalty, and called on countries where the procedure is still practiced to increase transparency to allow a serious debate on capital punishment.

“The taking of life is too absolute, too irreversible, for one human being to inflict on another, even when backed by legal process,” Mr. Ban said opening the high-level event and panel discussion at UN Headquarters in New York, on “Moving away from the death penalty – Wrongful Convictions.”

“We have a duty to prevent innocent people from paying the ultimate price for miscarriages of justice. The most sensible way is to end the death penalty,” The UN chief said

The high-level event moderated by Ivan Imonoviæ, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, is the second in a series of UN panel discussion on how to move away from the death penalty.

Since 2007, the General Assembly has adopted four resolutions calling on States to establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty with a view to its abolition. Today about 150 of the UN’s 193 Member States have either abolished the death penalty or no longer practice it.

The event was organized by the Office for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and featured a film clip showing of West of Memphis, the critically acclaimed 2012 documentary that follows the events of the so-called “West Memphis Three,” a case in which three teenagers — Jessie Misskelley, Damien Echols, and Jason Baldwin — were arrested for the murders of three 8-year old children in 1993.

The three young men were subsequently convicted of murder and remained in prison for more than 18 years, before being released in 2011 with the introduction of new DNA evidence. One of those wrongfully convicted, Mr. Echols, who was sentenced to death, was among the experts on the panel.

“He is one of too many people around the world who have endured the nightmare of injustice compounded by the threat of death,” the Secretary-General said of Mr. Echols.

“We have to prevent innocent people from paying the ultimate process for miscarriages of justice: the most sensible way is to end the death penalty.”

“This cause is embraced by an ever-growing coalition – from human rights defenders, civil rights organizations and faith leaders to law enforcement officials, political representatives and families of murder victims,” continued Mr. Ban in his remarks.

The Secretary-General expressed particular concern that the application of the death penalty “is often cloaked in secrecy” as a lack of data on the number of executions or individuals on death row impedes an informed national debate on the issue.

“But it is a debate that must continue until the world is free of this cruel punishment,” he said, adding that the General Assembly call for a global moratorium is a stepping stone in the progression towards worldwide abolition.

Since 2007, Argentina, Burundi, Gabon, Latvia, Togo and Uzbekistan have abolished the death penalty. Over the past year, Benin and Mongolia initiated measures to follow suit.

However, other countries such as Nigeria and Papua New Guinea have resumed executions after maintaining a moratorium for many years, and Mr. Ban urged them to reconsider the use of this inhumane practice. (United Nations News Center, June 28, 2013)

President asks China to spare Filipino woman scheduled to be executed for drug trafficking

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III has asked his Chinese counterpart to spare a Filipino woman facing execution for trafficking 6 kilograms (13 pounds) of heroin into the country, officials said Thursday.

The 35-year-old woman is scheduled to be executed anytime between Thursday and July 2, and her family is preparing to travel to China for what could be their final meeting, said Raul Hernandez, spokesman for the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs.

He told reporters that the woman was arrested at the Hangzhou International Airport in January 2011 along with a Filipino man. She travelled as a tourist and has been convicted of hiding the heroin in her luggage. Her companion was sentenced to death with a 2-year reprieve.

Hernandez quoted Chinese authorities as saying that the woman had trafficked illegal drugs to China 18 times since 2008 and was paid $3,000 to $4,000 per trip. She pleaded not guilty but the evidence against her was overwhelming, Hernandez said.

He said Aquino’s letter asking for President Xi Jinping to commute her death sentence to life imprisonment will be delivered later Thursday.

China has previously ignored such appeals and executed 4 Filipino drug convicts in 2011.

Relations between the Philippines and China have been strained over a territorial dispute in the South China Sea, but Hernandez said that the Philippines respects Chinese laws and the verdict of the Supreme People’s court.

“The Philippine government itself has a strong anti-illegal drug policy and is closely co-operating with law enforcement agencies in China and other countries in efforts against drug trafficking,” he said.

The Philippines does not have the death penalty, while China executes more people than any other country. It keeps the data strictly secret, and no reliable estimates on its number of executions are available.

(source: Montreal Gazette)

MAN SENTENCED TO DEATH IN BELARUS

A  23 year-old man has been sentenced to death in Western Belarus on 12 June for a double murder.

Pavel Selyun was sentenced to death by the Hrodna Regional Court on 12 June for the murder of his wife and her lover in August 2012. His lawyer has appealed the sentence to the Supreme Court.

He is currently being detained in Investigation Isolation Prison (SIZO) No. 1 in Hrodna. His mother, Tamara Selyun, who lives over 300 km away from Hrodna, has not received any letters from
him since the sentence was pronounced on 12 June, and she is concerned that he may commit suicide.
She told Amnesty International: “My son is worthy of making a contribution to his country and shouldn’t be sitting where he is sitting now”.

Belarus is the last country in Europe which still carries out executions: in 2012 it executed three men. Three death sentences have been pronounced so far in 2013: Rygor Yuzepchuk was sentenced on 24 April, and Alyaksandr Harynou was sentenced on 14 June.

On 21 June, at a round table on religion and the death penalty organized by the Council of Europe, the Head of the Orthodox Church in Belarus, Metropolitan Filaret spoke out against the death
penalty: “We, Christians, cannot legitimize capital punishment since this is the sin of murder …
We, sinful people, are not to grant life to a person, neither we should decide about a person’s existence.”

Please write immediately in Belarusian, Russian, English or your own language:
-Urging President Lukashenka to commute immediately the death sentence of Pavel Selyun;
-Urging him to commute immediately all the death sentences in Belarus;
-Calling on him to establish an immediate moratorium on the use of the death penalty.

PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 08 AUGUST 2013 TO:

President
Alyaksandr Lukashenka
ul. Karla Marxa 38
220016 Minsk
Belarus
Fax: 011 375 17 226 0610
011 375 17 222 3872
Email: contact@president.gov.by

And copies to:
Chair of the Supreme Court of Belarus
Valentin Sukalo
Lenina 28
220030 Minsk
Belarus
Fax: 011 375 17 3271225
Email: scjustrb@pmrb.gov.by
Salutation: Dear President Lukashenka

Ambassador Oleg Kravchenko
Embassy of the Republic of Belarus
1619 New Hampshire Ave NW
Washington DC 20009
Tel: 1 202 986 1604
Fax: 1 202 986 1805
Email: usa@mfa.gov.by -OR- politics@belarusembassy.org
Please check with the Urgent Action Network office if sending appeals after the above date.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
In Belarus, death sentences are often imposed after unfair trials which include forced confessions; they are implemented in strict secrecy and without giving adequate notice to the inmates
themselves, their families or legal representatives. The authorities refuse to return the bodies of those executed to their relatives or even tell them where they are buried; and executions are
carried out despite requests from the UN Human Rights Committee to the government not to carry out the executions. The Human Rights Committee and others have found that the application of the death penalty in Belarus violates the human rights of those convicted and their families.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception. It violates the right to life, as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

Name: Pavel Selyun (m)
Issues: Death penalty
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Iran: 2 hanged for drug traficking


Iran Human Rights, June 26:

Two prisoners were hanged in the prison of Isfahan early this morning, reported the official Iranian media.

According to the Iranian state broadcasting, two prisoners were hanged in the central prison of Isfahan (central Iran) this morning.

The prisoners who were not identified by name were convicted of 3195 grams of crack and 1150 grams of heroin said the report.

Source: Iran Human Rights, June 25, 2013

Amnesty: Nigeria to Execute 5th Death Row Inmate

Nigeria is preparing to execute a man who was dragged to the gallows and watched four fellow death-row inmates being hanged earlier this week, Amnesty International and Nigerian human rights lawyers said Wednesday.

Thankgod Ebhos won a brief respite because his sentence by a military tribunal called for him to be shot by a firing squad.

“Cruel and inhumane do not even begin to describe the nightmare situation facing this man,” said Lucy Freeman, deputy Africa director of London-based Amnesty International.

She said it indicates “the spectacularly brutal nature of Nigeria’s sudden return to state-sponsored killing.”

Nigeria has not carried out the death sentence since 2006 under a self-imposed moratorium.

This week’s hangings come two weeks after President Goodluck Jonathan urged state governors to sign death warrants because it was the law.

“Even governors sometimes find it difficult to sign,” he said in a Father’s Day speech. But, he added, “The works we are doing have a very sweet part and a very ugly part and we must perform both. No matter how painful it is, it is part of their responsibilities.”

A presidential spokesman, Doyin Okupe, did not respond to calls and messages asking why Jonathan made the statement. It comes as Nigeria confronts the deadliest threat in years to its security, from an Islamist insurgency and holds a sixth of the country in the northeast under a state of emergency and military crackdown.

European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton on Wednesday called for governors not to sign death warrants, and for authorities to refrain from further executions.

She said the hangings counter commitments by Nigerian authorities, most recently at an EU-Nigeria human rights dialogue in March, to maintain the moratorium on executions.

On Monday, Governor Adams Oshiomole of southern Edo state signed two death warrants and other governors signed warrants for three other prisoners. Within hours, all four were hanged at the state capital’s Benin City Prison, Edo state Attorney General Osagie Obayuwana has confirmed, adding that they had exhausted all their appeals.

But there are numerous appeals pending before the Supreme Court, including one filed hours before the executions, making the hangings a violation of Nigeria’s own laws, said human rights lawyer Chino Obiagwu of the Legal Defense and Assistant Project.

All five men had been on death row for at least 16 years under sentences issued by courts when Nigeria was under a military dictatorship notorious for its unfair trials and for torturing prisoners to sign confessions, said Angela Uwandu, Nigeria director for the French group Lawyers Without Borders, or Avocats Sans Frontieres.

She told The Associated Press that police and security forces continue to use torture to extract confessions, causing serious pain, psychological trauma and physical deformity.

In addition, she said judges hands are tied because capital punishment is mandatory for murder and armed robbery.

She also charged the country has a flawed and sometimes corrupt justice system that disproportionately targets the poor.

“When you have a situation where the only ones in prison and the only ones on death row are those who do not have the means to employ the services of a lawyer of their choice, that for me is a huge problem,” she said.

Nigeria had not executed anyone since 2006, though many have been sentenced to death. In fact, few people have been executed since democratically elected governments in 1999 took over from harsh military dictatorships, in part because governors are reluctant to sign death warrants, Uwandu said.

It’s not known how many thousands of convicted criminals and others were executed by firing squad under the military.

Nigerian security forces still are accused of hundreds of extrajudicial killings, charges the military denies.

Nigeria had 1,039 people on death row by Jan. 31 this year, according to the latest figures from the prison administration. On that date, there were 50,900 inmates of whom 46,800 were awaiting trial, some of them for years. Trials themselves can last seven years because of numerous adjournments, according to Uwandu.

Some of those hanged Monday had been in jail for 20 years and more, Obiagwu said.

Those hanged are: Richard Igagu, 49, arrested in 1991 and sentenced in 1995; Chima Ijiofor, 43, arrested in 1994 and sentenced in 1998; Osarenmwinda Aiguokhian, 49, arrested in 1993 and sentenced in 1996; Daniel Nsofor would have been just 18 years old when he was arrested in 1992. He was convicted two years later.

Calls and messages to Edo state officials went unanswered Wednesday, so it was impossible to get any information about the possible fate of the fifth man, Thankgod Ebhos.

———

Associated Press Writer Bashir Adigun contributed to this report from Abuja, Nigeria.