Friday, September 25, 2009

Execution Chamber in Bang Kwang Prison

Having at first refused to allow filming of the death chamber in Bang Kwang prison, it appears that the prison governor allowed Aljazeera to enter! A few years ago strong protest stopped the filming of an execution in Thailand. Present policy appears to promote the deterrent effect of executions by approaching as close as possible to the actual event of execution. The permission to film throws doubt on the aversion to execution expressed by the governor of the prison.
The compliance of the monk shown in the film, is typical of Buddhist monks in Thailand. While agreeing that the death penalty may 'theoretically' be against Buddhism teaching, they support Government policy on the death penalty.
See accompanying link in right hand column to "Bang Kwang, Execution Chamber"

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Abolish the Death Penalty

UCL welcomes the following Editorial Opinion in the Bangkok Post
Death to the death penalty
Published: 22/09/2009 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: News
Late last month, on a quiet Monday afternoon, warders locked down Bang Khwang prison and prepared for two executions. A pair of convicted drug dealers, Bundit Charoenwanich, 45, and Jirawat Phumpruek, 52, were given one hour to contact their families, eat a last meal and make their peace in this world. Then they were taken to the execution room and injected with a series of drugs, the last of which ended their lives.
It was the first time in six years that authorities had ordered an actual execution. They should be the last such prisoners to die by execution. It is time that Parliament and the government end all use of the death penalty.
There are several problems with judicial executions, and no acceptable advantage. Carrying out a death sentence always risks the chance of killing the wrong person. Police, prosecutors and courts are dedicated and efficient, but not infallible. There have been plenty of wrongful convictions over the decades of Thai justice. If even one death sentence is wrongfully carried out, the death would be on the conscience of the nation. A wrongful conviction already takes months or years from an innocent person's life. Nothing could be worse than taking his or her life.
The main reason to abolish the death penalty for terrible crimes is that it brings no true result. Justice and punishment, in the form of imprisonment, parole or work programmes, are meant to prevent further crime. To an extent, they work. While many criminals continue their ways after release, others "go straight" so that they can live freely, without worry about being imprisoned. Crimes are prevented daily by the presence of police and the courts, as would-be robbers, speeders, thieves and others stick to the law in order to avoid punishment.
Study after study over the past 50 years has proved that the death sentence is no deterrent to the terrible crimes it punishes, such as drug trafficking, premeditated murder, violent and sexual abuse of children. While proponents of the death penalty argue facetiously that execution will assure that such criminals do not carry out their acts again, there are many ways to assure that. Indeed, no rational person would accept the end of the death penalty without parallel assurances that such violent acts against society can be punished by true life imprisonment, without early release.
Abolishing the death penalty in Thailand will be an unpopular act by the government, without doubt. Even in advanced Western countries, the majority of citizens always have opposed the abolition of the ultimate penalty. Yet such abolition around the world, from Canada to Cambodia, and from Austria to Australia, has never caused an upsurge of any kind in capital crimes. If anything, the threat of lengthy, even lifetime incarceration seems to be a greater deterrent than the former death penalty. Indeed, in recent cases in the United States, federal prisoners in so-called Supermax prisons have sued the government against their lifetime sentences under harsh, maximum security rules.
The only remaining argument in favour - that it provides an emotional release of sorts for victims and a horrified public - is unacceptable. Justice is not a form of vengeance, like some feel-good ending to a movie. Law and punishment are serious matters.
Last year, a majority of the United Nations General Assembly voted for the first time to oppose the death penalty. For now, the government should order a true moratorium banning more executions, pending a rewrite of the criminal code to ban the death penalty altogether.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Failed execution: after two hours of torture

In the state of Ohio, USA, an attempt on Tuesday, 15th September, to execute Romell Broom, a 53 year old condemned prisoner, failed. Those trying to carry out the execution tried to find a suitable vein to inject the poisons, in both arms and in one leg of the prisoner, but could not succeed, despite the cooperation of the condemned person who himself tried to indicate suitable locations for the lethal injection. Heavy bleeding and painful movement of the prisoner were observed, causing him to break down in tears. After two hours the attempt was abandoned. The execution is rescheduled in 10 days time. The defense lawyer will appeal a repeat attempt to execute Romell, citing the cruelty of the procedure.
The crime for which the death sentence was passed took place 25 years ago.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Resumption of Executions in Thailand

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.

3. Iran;
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.

4. USA
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?