Wednesday, May 20, 2015

I could have been Mary Jane Veloso

Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso was spared from execution at the last minute. She got a temporary reprieve but still faces execution.
Veloso is a migrant Filipino domestic worker just like me. Like me, Veloso was forced to become a migrant domestic worker because of poverty, because of a commitment to support her family, because she had no other choice.
Like me, she suffered abuse. Like me, she almost died.
While working as a domestic worker in Dubai, Veloso was attacked by her employer and hospitalized. After a month in the hospital and the trial of the perpetrator on rape charges, she went back to Philippines — her home country. But she could not earn money at home to support her children and had no choice but to sell her few possessions and become indebted to an informal agent who professed to be her friend and helped her migrate again. She was told she would be given work in Malaysia, like so many Indonesian domestic workers, but instead she was given new clothes and a suitcase and told to go to Indonesia until other work could be found for her.
Like me, Veloso was in no position to question the agent who made her migration possible. Like me, she was in debt. Like me, she trusted people who promised to help. Like me, she could not speak the local language. Like me, she needed to navigate a foreign legal system that she did not understand.
But unlike me, Veloso was a defendant in a legal case. And unlike me, Veloso had no support.
Veloso was charged with drug trafficking. But, in fact, it was Veloso who was trafficked. Like hundreds of thousands of women around the world, Veloso was controlled and made to travel as human cargo for the profit of others.
The National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) has said that Veloso should have been dealt with as a victim of trafficking and not as a criminal. Wrongly charged, she then had to sit through a trial that she did not understand.
She was given a lawyer whom she saw only during the trial. She was given an interpreter, a student who was studying English. But Veloso did not speak English, she spoke Tagalog. When asked whether she regretted what had happened, she said “No”, thinking they were asking if she had committed a crime.
Veloso is just like the 3 million Filipino women who have migrated for work. We migrate because we have to. We do not have power and money and we are put into the most vulnerable positions — physically, legally and economically.
Currently, there are 278 Indonesians on death row around the world. Many of them are just like Veloso and I — desperate people in desperate circumstances.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said he was here to govern for us, for the least powerful. He said he no longer wanted to force Indonesian women to migrate into vulnerability. But if he really wants to support us women, he should give Veloso a fair trial because she is just like us. If he eventually executes her, he will be harming us all.
We will no longer be able to call for justice for Indonesian migrant workers. Today I want to ask the President — will you kill a woman just like me? Or will you prove to us that you are listening to the people and give her a fair trial.
Saving Veloso could help save the 278 Indonesians on death row. But it can do even more. Her case should force our government to rethink the justice systems that fail migrant workers. The Philippine government intervened so late it was almost fatal. Our government must provide full legal assistance to migrant workers and prosecute the real traffickers, some of whom work as migration agents. We know that could save lives and reunite families.
But our government needs to do more. Our government should commit to real action to stop people like me and Veloso from having to migrate in the first place. If our government ensured decent work at home and stopped land-grabbing we would not need to migrate, we would not face exploitation, become victims of trafficking and we would not risk death sentences — from legal systems or at the hands of employers.
With the support of people’s movements I have obtained justice. My employer, who attacked and tortured me is behind bars, not me.
Veloso is just like me, except that I live. I am free. And I will not rest until Veloso and all women are free. Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, former Indonesian migrant worker

President Widodo, we join you in pleading for clemency for Indonesian nationals

Time is running out for Wanipah, a 28-year-old migrant worker from Indramayu, West Java, on death row at Hangzhou Penitentiary in China. According to her family’s lawyer, Iskandar Zulkarnaen, Wanipah was convicted in April 2011 of smuggling 992.72 grams of heroin into China through Xiaoshan Airport in Hangzhou in December 2010. Wanipah was sentenced to death, with a grace period of at least two years before execution. The Indonesian Foreign Ministry informed her family of her situation in August 2011. Iskandar, speaking for her family, said that his legal team planned to take this urgent matter to House of Representatives Commission IX, which oversees manpower. He also plans to seek help from the Foreign Ministry and Office of the Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister to get a stay of execution from the Chinese authorities.
Wanipah’s family said they hoped the government could provide adequate assistance and save their daughter’s life.
“I hope Pak Jokowi can help resolve her case,” Rusmini, Wanipah’s cousin, said recently, referring to President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.
“At the very least, her sentence could be reduced,” said Wanipah’s mother, Nusriah. Iskandar said that Wanipah was likely a victim of human trafficking as there was evidence that her travel documents had been forged.
Based on data from the Foreign Ministry, 299 Indonesians are now facing execution overseas, 57 of whom were sentenced to death for drug offenses. At least 467 Indonesians have been executed abroad, including 168 in Malaysia, 28 in Saudi Arabia, 15 in China, four in Singapore, two in Laos and one in Vietnam. Most recently, migrant worker Siti Zaenab was executed last month in Medina, Saudi Arabia, after being sentenced to death in January 2001. She was arrested in October 1999 for stabbing her Saudi Arabian employer to death. Siti, from Madura in East Java, had worked in that country since 1997. Just days after Siti’s execution, another migrant worker, Karni, was executed in Saudi Arabia. She received the death penalty in 2013 after killing her employer’s child in 2012.
The executions were carried out without prior notice from the Saudi Arabian government and despite requests for pardons filed by the Indonesian government earlier this year.

President Widodo, we join you in appealing for clemency for Indonesians to be executed abroad
Hear our plea for those being executed in Indonesia.

First Regional Congress on the Death Penalty in Asia

     Dear Madam/Sir,
For  fifteen  years,  the  French  association  Together  against  the death  penalty  (ECPM)
has been dedicated to the fight against the death penalty all over the world. Every three years, we organize the World Congress against the Death Penalty. The 6thWorld Congress will be held in Olso June 2016.
Prior to the World Congress, and for the first time in Asia, a Regional Congress on the Death Penalty will take place on the  11th and 12thof June 2015 at the Renaissance Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Organized in partnership with ADPAN (Anti-Death Penalty Asian Network), SUHAKAM (Human Rights Commission of Malaysia) and Bar Council Malaysia, it will focus on the specific stakes of the death penalty in East and South-East Asia.
ECPM and its partners gladly invite you to the official ceremonies and debates of the Regional Congress. Travel and living details are at your expenses.
We are at your disposal should you require any further information please contact our Regional Congress Coordinator Yi Pan at
Please accept the assurance of our highest consideration.

 Public Registration for Regional Congress please visit:

Follow Asian Regional Congress on Death Penalty on Facebook at:

For more information on the Regional Congress please visit the website:

 Respectfully yours,
Raphaël Chenuil-Hazan                             Chow Ying Ngeow
Executive Director                                       Coordinator
ECPM                                                                ADPAN

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Sister Prejean Asks for Mercy

                                        Spare Boston Bomber's Life 
In the defense’s final move to save the life of convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Sister Helen Prejean asked the jury not to execute the young man.The man responsible for the Boston bombings is “genuinely sorry for what he did,” testified Sr. Prejean on May 11 before a federal jury. “He said it emphatically. He said no one deserves to suffer like they did,” she recounted of Tsarnaev.
“I had every reason to think that he was taking it in and that he was genuinely sorry for what he did.”                                                                

Postscript: On Wednesday 24th June, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev rose in the Boston Court to say,
“I am sorry for the lives that I’ve taken, for the suffering that I’ve caused you, for the damage that I’ve done — irreparable damage.
I’m guilty of it. If there is any lingering doubt of that, let it be no more.”

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Death Sentence on Boston Marathon Bomber

  Djokhar Tsarnaev one of the two perpetrators of the Boston marathon bombers was condemned  to death on 15th May in the Federal Court of Massachusetts. We bring this case to the attention of readers of this blog as a case where the sentence of death comes closest to justification. We have presented cases of the innocent being executed, of those where a pitiable destiny in involved, but this is a case where the choice for abolition is most severely tested. It is a case which must be considered. The condemned culprit is of Chechen origin and is 21 years old. His crime caused three deaths and 264 wounded.
The death penalty has been abolished in the State of Massachusetts where the last execution took place in 1947, but death sentences can still be handed down by a Federal Court. The sentence required the unanimous decision of the jury of seven women and five men. Jury selection was particularly careful to choose only jurors not opposed in principle to the death penalty. Of the thirty accusations against Tsarnaev, seventeen were subject to the death penalty. We place before the reader a consideration of the plea of the prosecutor: “The only sentence providing justice in this case is the death penalty”
The Defence
The defence was based on the plea that the defendant acted only on the incentive of his brother, Tamerlan, who died in the manhunt that followed the atrocity. Djokhar, for his part, was a “good kid”, respected by his teachers, the family favourite. Without Tamerlan the atrocity would not have happened. But the arguments for the defense fell before testimonies of the terrible event, and an evident failure to repent by the accused. The only sign of emotion on the part of the accused was when an aunt could not give her testimony because she broke down in tears.
Families of the victims opposed the death penalty
The trial lasted four months. Bill and Denise Martin, parents of an eight year old child killed in the bombing, and of his mutilated seven year old sister, tearing apart their lives, published an appeal in the Boston Globe of 17th April, declaring their opposition to the death penalty.
It is most probable that the verdict will be appealed. Of the 80 persons sentenced to death in a Federal Court only 3 have been executed. Some died in prison or committed suicide, but most cases drag on.
An adequate punishment for a despicable crime
Loretta Lynch, minister of justice, expressed the hope that the verdict would bring a certain form of peace to the victims and their families. One victim, Sydney Corcoran who was himself injured while his mother lost both legs in the incident, expressed satisfaction that Djokhar Tsarnaev would go, and that he and his mother could continue their lives. “Justice”, he said, “is an eye for an eye”. His sentiment is shared by the killer, who wrote “The American government kills our innocent civilians. We, Muslims, are one. If you injure one of us, you injure us all. Cease killing our innocents and we too will stop.” During reading of his sentence Djokhar remained impassive.

ISLAM, justice and the death penalty

Azis Anwar Fachruddin, The Jakarta Post, 16th May 2015

In general, the death penalty is a non-issue for Islamic organisations. First, this is maybe because death penalty cases in general scarcely touch the issue of Muslim identity politics — many so-called secular Muslims are on both sides of the debate. Second, capital punishment, along with corporal punishment, is prescribed in Islamic scripture so it is very difficult, though not impossible, to have a voice of Islam that is against the death penalty.
However, 21st century Muslims should review the practices of the death penalty in Muslim-majority countries and this can be done even within the realm of Islamic teachings or sharia. Here are the premises. Sharia by many Muslims nowadays is reductively understood in terms of legalistic formulae. Sharia is associated with corporal and/or capital punishment, as if sharia is nothing but a penal code and punishments. Yet sharia literally means the way or path. In Koranic terminology, it means the path toward an objective representative of the supreme virtue of Islam, which is justice (some would add dignity of human beings and mercy and love for all creatures).
Muslim scholars, ranging from reformists, rationalists, even literalists, would agree that the supreme value promoted by Islam when it comes to dealing with relationships among individuals and/or communities is justice, as explicitly stated and commanded by God many times in the Koran. The mercy that Islam would bring to the world is justice. Included in that unjust system are dictatorships that are still embraced by many Muslim-majority countries [...]
Any action leading to injustice, in whatever name, including in the name of Islam, is therefore un-Islamic and should be opposed by Muslims. All Islamic legal opinions that are against justice are thus against the sharia of Islam. As God has commanded Muslims to be “bearers of witness with justice”, as the Koran states, Muslims should share the notion once voiced by Martin Luther King Jr that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. All unjust punishments should be an Islamic issue, including questions over the death penalty of Indonesian migrant workers and foreign and local drug convicts.
Now, the question is how justice is manifested in punishment. The traditional fiqh (Islamic law and jurisprudence) is still lacking discussion of the philosophy of justice compared to advanced discourse in the secular realm, which has led to the concept of restorative justice, distinguished from retributive justice. The idea of qisas (an eye for an eye) is mostly understood as a deterrent and/or equal retaliation within retributive justice.
Nevertheless, Muslim scholars advocating a moratorium on the death penalty are echoing these arguments: corporal punishment, stoning or the death penalty cannot be implemented within an unjust system of governance, judiciary, or an unequal society, given the fact that those punishments are irreversible. In this view, a just system is a prerequisite of such irreversible punishments. An unjust system is considered one of the shubuhat (ambiguities) based upon which the irreversible punishment must not be applied, as the Prophet Muhammad said.
Included in that unjust system are dictatorships that are still embraced by many Muslim-majority countries, where the weak and poor are more likely to be punished than the wealthy and powerful. That is the argument posed by some NU leaders in criticising Saudi Arabia’s death penalty for Indonesian migrant workers, given frequent reports of torture and other dehumanising practices by employers. With regard to restorative justice, Mutaz M Qafisheh from Hebron University in the International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences wrote that Islamic jurisprudence had many alternatives to original punishments known in modern restorative justice systems, such as compensation (diya), conciliation (sulh) and pardon (afw).
These mechanisms are stated in the Koran and were exemplified by the Prophet. Qafisheh also says that classical Muslim scholars had unique mechanisms derived from the wider principles of Islam that can be understood as restorative means, such as repentance (tawba), intercession (shafaa), surety (kafala) and expiation (kafara). He concludes: “By looking at the philosophy of penalty as detailed by Islamic jurisprudence [...] restorative justice does exist. It exists as the general rule. Retributive justice is the exception.”
That kind of reinterpreting of Islamic scripture should be advanced by today’s Muslim scholars if Muslims want to be able to respond to the discourse of international human rights.
Also, for the Muslims who are so obsessed with the rules textually prescribed in the scripture, we should consider the notion that God’s revelation is not only in the text (ayat qauliyyah) but exists also in the universe (ayat kauniyyah), in the way human beings behave. Modern sociology and criminology should be juxtaposed and mirrored with traditional fiqh by Muslim jurists in their interpretations of the scripture.

The writer Azis Anwar Fachruddin, (The Jakarta Post, 16th May 2015)  is a graduate student at the Centre for Religious and Cross-cultural Studies at Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Rejection of Accusation of Bias

Dear Sir,
Mr. Barth proposes “one simple question” implying bias in favour of Australian nationals executed on drug charges in Indonesia. His charge is simply wrong. I have monitored all accessible reports on the executions and was simply unaware of the alleged bias. Most reports treated the ten condemned on an equal basis, apart from an understandable interest in nationals of the country where the reports were published, such as particular attention to the Philippina in the Philippines.

Most noted were real causes of defects in the judgements; for example the mental illness of the Brazilian national, the legal doubts on the guilt of the Philippina. In the case of the two Australians the questioning of their execution was based on the belief that they had been rehabilitated, strong grounds for the quality of mercy. Strangely, many comments by Australians themselves approved the execution on the basis of the ancient eye for an eye argument.

On the other hand may I draw the attention of Mr. Barth to the biased action of President Widodo in refusing mercy while exerting himself to seek clemency for Indonesians abroad charged with capital crimes. Better, simply, to have done with it all and abolish the death penalty for ever and for everyone.
Danthong Breen
Bangkok Post, 6/5/2015

Friday, May 01, 2015

Indonesia: let the last two live

Enough of a bloodbath. Let the last two live.
Nothing is gained by executing them. They have already suffered too much.
Joko Widodo, are you bereft of all human feeling?

A Brazilian man executed by firing squad along with seven other prisoners in Indonesia on Wednesday had no idea he was about to be killed until his final minutes, the priest who counselled him has said.He also revealed that Mary Jane Veloso, a Filipino woman who won a dramatic reprieve, had been aware a new suspect in her case had surrendered to police but was only removed from the prison about an hour before the killings.Rodrigo Gularte, 42, was shot dead alongside seven others, including four Nigerians, two Australians and an Indonesian, for smuggling cocaine into Indonesia in 2004.
Doctors had diagnosed the Brazilian with paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. A second diagnosis, commissioned by Indonesia’s attorney general, has not been made public.

Details of the execution reveal a fiasco of justice. The time to be polite is past.
                              Spare the final two, and suspend all further executions.
                                                                  Serge Atlaoui
                                                                  Mary Jane Veloso

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