As Thailand resumes executions of those condemned to death we look again at our bed fellows among the countries retaining the death penalty:
1 China, the major executioner;
China today announced the launch of its national organ donation system, revealing for the first time the extent of its reliance on transplants from executed prisoners.
A senior health official disclosed just how dependent are China’s hospitals on the organs from criminals, whose kidneys, livers and hearts may be removed in ambulances that wait at the execution ground for doctors to pronounce a prisoner is dead.
Despite a 2007 regulation barring donations from people who are not related to or are emotionally connected to the transplant patient, the China Daily newspaper said 65 percent of organ donations come from death row.
2. Saudi Arabia;
The death penalty continued to be applied extensively after summary and secret trials. Defendants are rarely allowed legal assistance and can be convicted solely on the basis of confessions obtained under duress or deception. As in previous years, capital punishment was used disproportionately against the poor, including many migrant workers from Asia and Africa, and women. In April, Amnesty International received secretly filmed footage of the public beheading of a Jordanian man convicted of drugs offences.
At least 102 men and women, 39 of them foreign nationals, were executed in 2008. Many were executed for non-violent offences, including drug offences, “sodomy”, blasphemy and apostasy. Most executions were held in public.
In January, the parents of Moeid bin Hussein Hakami, who was beheaded in 2007, took the unusual and brave step of lodging a complaint with the authorities about the execution of their son. He was aged 13 at the time of the crime and was 16 when beheaded. The parents were not told in advance of his execution and, according to reports, they were not informed of his place of burial.
At least 346 people were executed, including at least eight juvenile offenders sentenced for crimes committed when they were under 18. The actual totals were likely to have been higher, as the authorities restricted reporting of executions. Executions were carried out for a wide range of offences, including murder, rape, drug smuggling and corruption. At least 133 juvenile offenders faced execution in contravention of international law. Many Iranian human rights defenders campaigned to end this practice. The authorities sought to justify executions for murder on the grounds that they were qesas (retribution), rather than ‘edam (execution), a distinction not recognized by international human rights law. In January, new legislation prescribed the death penalty or flogging for producing pornographic videos, and a proposal to prescribe the death penalty for “apostasy” was discussed in the parliament, but had not been enacted by the end of 2008.
In January, the Head of the Judiciary ordered an end to public executions in most cases and in August judicial officials said that executions by stoning had been suspended, although at least 10 people sentenced to die by stoning were still on death row at the end of the year and two men were executed by stoning in December.
A typical case!
People should have no illusions about the brutal injustice of the death penalty after all of the exonerations in recent years from DNA evidence, but the case of Cameron Todd Willingham is still shocking.
Mr. Willingham was executed for setting a fire that killed his 2-year-old daughter and 1-year-old twins, but a fire expert hired by the State of Texas has issued a report casting enormous doubt on whether the fire was arson at all. The Willingham investigation, which is continuing, is further evidence that the criminal justice system is far too flawed to justify imposing a death penalty.
After the fire, investigators decided, based in large part on burn patterns on the house’s floors, that it was intentionally set. Prosecutors charged Mr. Willingham, who escaped from the burning home, with capital murder. Mr. Willingham protested his innocence until the day the state killed him by lethal injection in 2004.
The following year, Texas created the Forensic Science Commission to investigate charges of scientific mistakes or misconduct, and the panel began looking into the Willingham case. It commissioned Craig Beyler, a nationally recognized fire expert, to examine evidence.
Mr. Beyler issued a report last week that painted an ugly picture of what passes for expert scientific investigation and testimony in a capital case in Texas. The report found that the official inquiry into the Willingham fire did not meet prevailing scientific standards of the time, much less current ones.
The investigators “had poor understandings of fire science,” Mr. Beyler said, and their “methodologies did not comport with the scientific method.” He determined that the opinions of one main investigator were “nothing more than a collection of personal beliefs that have nothing to do with science-based fire investigation.”
The report concluded that a “finding of arson could not be sustained.” The Forensic Science Commission is now asking the state fire marshal’s office for its response. It anticipates issuing a final report next year.
The commission is to be commended for conducting this inquiry, but it is outrageous that Texas is conducting its careful, highly skilled investigation after Mr. Willingham has been executed, rather than before.
Are these the models for a country boasting a Buddhist culture, which teaches an inalienable respect for life, and the primacy of forgiveness and loving kindness?