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Sunday, October 03, 2010

Death penalty enters the last mile

Death penalty enters the last mile

10 October is the eighth World Day Against the Death Penalty. Campaigners are focusing on the US this year. New Europe looks at the issue, now almost extinct in Europe, apart from Belarus.

As most nations end their use of capital punishment, a few cling on. The most well known is the US, but the use of state executions in their penal code puts them in some awkward company.

China tops the list with an unknown number of executions, estimated to be in the thousands, also unknown is North Korea, followed by Iran, Iraq and the US.

The US does seem to be moving towards abolition. Unlike many other states, the Federal government allow individual states to decide on the death penalty. 15 Northern states have abolished capital punishment and a further 10 haven’t carried out an execution in 10 years, giving a 50-50 split.

Deciding exactly how many countries have the death penalty is not straightforward, as some have it in the law books but have no intention to use it. Altogether 139 nations have abolished it, entirely or in practice. This leaves 58 still using executions. In 2009 18 states carried out executions.
The practice is controversial, not only regarding the state’s right to kill its citizens as part of the judicial process. It has also been shown that a disproportionate number of minorities are sentenced and in many cases there are doubts over the trial process and the standards of a defence legal team.

There are a growing number of cases where a guilty verdict has been overturned.

Parviz Kambakhsh
Basic principles of a free press are freedom of expression and freedom of opinion. However, in some countries merely having an opinion can lead to death penalty.

One of the recent victims is Parviz Kambakhsh, a 25 years old Afghan journalism student and a reporter for Jahan e Naw newspaper. In January 2008, he was sentenced to death for "disgracing Islam, Quran, and Mohammad and broke the constitution".
The reasons for his prosecution were printing out some atheist articles from Internet and distributing them to his class fellows.
Under the following international pressure, the death penalty for Kambakhsh was turned into 20 years imprisonment. Despite this fact, Afghanistan still proclaims its “democracy”, “human rights”, and “freedom of the press”.

Holly Wood
On 9 September, Alabama executed 50 year old Holly Wood. He was convicted of shooting his ex-girlfriend in the head while she was sleeping in 1993. He didn´t deny his guilt. The controversy of this case is his mental health - according his attorneys, he had an IQ of 70 or less. The U.S. Supreme Court prohibited the executions of mentally disabled, whose IQ is under 70, eight years ago.

Wood was represended by a lawyer who had never worked on a capital case before and had no criminal law experience. The prosecutors argued, thar Wood was not intellectually disabled enough and he was sentenced to death by a jury vote of 10 vs. 2.

Dr. Stern
Involvement of physicians in capital punishment is a highly controversial topic in American professional groups. Dr. Marc F. Stern, who supervised about 700 physicians, nurses, pharmacists and other health proffesionals, decided to give up his job in a prison due to this ethical conflict.
"If I did not recuse myself from the situation, then I would be violating the accepted ethical standards of my profession," Dr. Stern told AMNews. At least two of the three drugs used in the lethal injection were transferred due the prison pharmacy. When Dr. Stern asked the prison officials to provide the drugs from an outside pharmacy, they refused. As a result, Dr. Stern resignate.
According to the American Medical Association, "a physician, as a member of a profession dedicated to preserving life when there is hope of doing so, should not be a participant in a legally authorized execution".

Mumia Abu-Jamal
Convicted and sentenced to death in December 1981 for the murder of a Philadelphia police officer. He has been described as the best known Death- Row prisoner in the world, and his sentence is one of the most debated today.

Since his conviction, his case has received international attention and he has become a controversial counterculture icon.

He has argued that racism pervaded his trial and sentencing. Thanks to a vociferous protest campaign, Abu-Jamal was saved from death. During his imprisonment he has published several books and other commentaries.

Samantha Orobator
A Briton who could had been facing a firing squad for trying to smuggle heroin out of Laos. She was arrested in August 2008, lawyer saw her after a few months in jail. Orobator claimed she is innocent and she was forced to carry heroin. During her imprisonment she got pregnant. The court was told she became pregnant in jail by "clandestine artificial insemination", reportedly with sperm from a fellow British inmate.

Eventually the 21-year-old will not face the death penalty because Laotian law prohibits the execution of a pregnant woman. UK and Laos has signed an agreement on the transfer of prisoners recently. Orobator is currently in Holloway prison in north London along with her one year old baby daughter.

Zhao Yanbing
A brickyard employee who was hired to supervise workers in the kiln, was found guilty of manslaughter by the court in June 2010. Yanbing confessed to killing a mentally handicapped slave and he was given the death penalty.
The scandal surfaced after about a hundred parents posted a plea on the Internet about their children who had been sold into slavery in China. The workers had been forced to work in unspeakable working conditions overtime without payment.
Yanbing sentenced to death was placed in front of news cameras and described how he beat to death a mentally handicapped man for not working hard enough.
"His performance was bad, so I thought that I would frighten him a bit. When I raised the shovel over him I never thought that he would get up and confront me, so I slammed the shovel down on his head," said Yanbing who was found guilty of illegal detention and intentionally causing harm.

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