2017-10-10 13:09:47 UTC
10 October - European Day against Death Penalty
The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe decided on 26 September
2007, to declare a ''European Day against the Death Penalty,'' which is held
annually on 10 October. The Council of Europe has been a pioneer in the
abolition process which has made Europe a de facto death-penalty-free zone
since 1997. The day is a European contribution to the World Day against the
Death Penalty, which is held annually on the same day.
The 47-nation Council of Europe and the 28-member European Union have published
a joint statement to mark the European and World Day against the Death Penalty
on 10 October.
The statement underlines the 2 organisations' firm opposition to capital
punishment in any circumstances.
It also calls on countries still using the death penalty to commute any
existing sentences and to introduce a moratorium on capital punishment as a 1st
step towards abolition.
Through the European Convention on Human Rights, the Council of Europe has
created a death penalty-free zone covering 47 countries and over 820 million
No executions have taken place in any Council of Europe member state for over
6 sentenced to death
With the help of jurors, Justice Monfred Momoh Sesay on Friday 6 September 2017
at the Bo High Court convicted and sentenced to death six armed robbers for
Conspiracy and Robbery with Aggravation.
The convicts include; Augustine Omaska (aka G-Father), Daniel George, Claude
Nahas, Thomas Mando (aka Love-T), Aruna Bangura (Akon) and Steven Joel Smart.
They were convicted in the on-going High Court Special Criminal Session that
was initiated by the Chief Justice to see how best pending cases across the
country can be concluded within the shortest possible time to discourage prison
According to the prosecuting team led by Joseph A.K. Sesay, the convicts were
brought to Court as a result of being armed with guns and machete attacks
residents in Pujehun Town in March 2017 robbing them of their valuables and
He maintained during the proceedings the State argued that the 1st, 2nd, 3rd
and 6th accused conceived and planned to rob residence in Bo and that the 6th
accused being an OSD personnel at the time provided his motor bike for the 1st
and 2nd accused also OSD personnel and the 3rd accused left for Pujehun to meet
the 4th and 5th and execute their plans.
It was disclosed that the 1st, 2nd and 3rd convicts were apprehended on their
way back to Bo town after executing their plans in Pujehun on 3rd March the
this year, and that the 2nd accused an OSD personnel was unable to convinced
the personnel at the Bontiwa checkpoint for their reasons of traveling around
2:00 a.m. with stolen items in their backpacks.
Counsel representing the convicts in the trial tried to convince the Court the
6th convict was never spotted in Pujehun and the all the convicts were wrongly
identified claiming the incident occurred during odd hours.
The jurors who have been listening to the trial unanimously agreed on the
verdict that all the accused are guilty of both charges levied against them and
Justice Monfred Momoh Sesay without wasting the Court's time convicted them
with the maximum penalty levied on them sentenced to death by firing squad
As part of their legal rights, the convicts have the right to appeal their
sentence within 21 days or face the full penalty of the law as provided in the
laws of the land.
The question now is will these convicts face the law by firing squad? For
years, there has been a moratorium on the use of the death penalty despite
recent outcry by the Minister of Internal Affairs, Alfred Palo Conteh, for the
gallows to be cleaned.
'Any federating state can choose to abolish death penalty'
Today is world day against death penalty. There are arguments about the need to
abolish the death penalty and replace it with life sentence. According to World
Coalition Against Death Penalty, it is used discriminatorily, often against the
most vulnerable people and should be abolished. In this interview with JOSEPH
ONYEKWERE and SILVER NWOKORO, a former solicitor general and permanent
secretary, Lagos State Ministry of Justice, Lawal Pedro (SAN), speaks on the
issue and other topical legal matters
Where do you stand on this abolition debate?
Well, I am sitting on the fence. What do we truly want to achieve by abolishing
death sentence? Is it on humanitarian ground? If we say it should be abolished,
fine, so all convicts will remain in prison forever. What is the condition of
our prisons today?
Your position is based on the fact that the death warrants for those already
convicted never get signed?
That is the issue. To me whether you abolish or maintain it, you are within the
law. The countries we are trying to copy, for example, United State of America,
some States have it and they have retained it. Some States do not have it, so
it's a matter of choice. That is why I say I am sitting on the fence. There is
nothing stopping a state in its own criminal law from abolishing it, while the
federal government maintains its own act. So it is really a matter of choice
and what the government intend to achieve by it.
The point has been that death penalty is supposed to serve as a deterrent but
it doesn't seem to have achieved that purpose. So why can't we try to see if by
the time we remove the certainty of someone being killed when caught committing
a heinous crime, maybe violent crime might reduce. This is because, if you know
you are going for armed robbery but would not be killed if caught, you might
not want to eliminate those who may likely implicate you at end of the day. How
do you look at that argument?
I don't buy it! It is the same thing with the offences that do not carry death
penalty. Had it been of any deterrent? They have not made corruption death
penalty, but have it deter anybody? It does not! It is more than that. That is
why I said if you don't carry out execution of the death row inmates, you are
dehumanizing them. There is no justification for that. The trauma of expecting
the executioner daily is even a severe punishment for that person. So for you
to avoid that situation, we must first amend the constitution to remove capital
If tomorrow the government says we want to remove death penalty in our statute
books, will you be against it?
No, I won't be against it at all and if the government maintains it, I won't be
I am sure you must have heard or read the report by the NBS that the judiciary
is the second most corrupt institution in Nigeria. What do you say about that?
To me, it is a wrong perception. I am not saying the judiciary is corrupt free,
but it is like other institutions, organizations or the society in which we all
belong. But to have labeled it second most corrupt, I totally disagree. The
samples they got depend on whom you they talked to. I have advocated that the
best thing to do in this country is to improve and re-engineer our judicial
system such that it becomes functional. That way, it will not give room for
corruption. If the government can spend more money to improve judicial
infrastructure, its maintenance, the welfare package and manpower development,
I guarantee you that corruption will reduce to the barest minimum in this
country. Judiciary to me will be the saving grace to reduce corruption in
How do you then relate it to the recent development where the NJC recommended
the sacking of a chief judge for just taking N200, 000 bribe and a lot of
The problem is that there is a total system failure. It is not only in the
judiciary, it is also in government and you cannot separate it. You have a
judiciary that is within a community. That is why I am saying when we are
dealing with the judiciary and the executive arm is saying they are doing
theirs, I say fine, but don't forget there is one government with three arms.
If the judiciary itself fights corruption within, you must handle it well. It
is just like saying one of my arms is bad so the solution is for me to cut it
off. So if the judiciary of your country is corrupt, it is an arm of
government, so the government too is corrupt. You must not allow the judiciary
to have a bad image. That is why I said we need to pay special attention to the
judiciary. If a man knows that if he goes and steal or engage in corrupt
practices and caught, that within 3 months his trial would have been completed
and he is jailed, what do you think will happen to his colleagues outside? They
will think twice. Due to the present state of the judiciary, a criminal who is
caught and detained in Police station will be the one to tell you to charge him
to court because he knows that when he gets to court, he can wriggle out and
regain his freedom. But if we manage our judicial process such that anybody
that goes into the system can determine when he will be out or if it is a
criminal matter, he goes to jail, things will change. I recommend we do court
automation alongside manual filing because of the challenges of having internet
servers that are down most often and its associated delays. We can do both
simultaneously to fast track the process and the judges must perform oversight
function and manage the process, not only the adjudication process, even the
How can some of the innovations in Lagos be replicated at the National level?
It is already percolating to other states and even at the national level. If
you are talking about the review of civil procedures, we started it in Lagos,
then other states followed and the federal high court followed. I am talking
about the administration of criminal justice, Lagos passed its own first, even
if you are talking about criminal code laws, all the states even the federal
the criminal code that we are still using back to pre-independence, is only
Lagos that have been able to review and come up with a modern criminal law.
Most other states if not all are still using criminal code that they used in
teaching us law when we where in university in the 80's and 90's.
How can we make justice accessible to the poor at the appellate levels?
We have access to courts in Nigeria, but not access to justice and we all know
that justice delayed is justice denied. I expect judges to query certain things
without going through the pleadings. A judge should be able to go through the
file, for instance and ask why 2014 case file is just getting to him now. He
should able to look at the record and say wait a minute, my brother gave a
directive that this file should be taken to Lagos 3 months ago, why is it
getting to me now. The judge should be to ask questions, raise query and pass
it to the registrar that he wants to know what happened, the officer
responsible should be queried and disciplinary action taken.
So what name do we call this kind of activism?
I will call it judicial efficiency. That is how you can get it right. We need
to focus attention to the support staff such as the registrars and the clerks.
How many times do they train them? Are they well educated? We inherited some of
them; some have been working for 30 years and about to retire. So, what have we
done with them? In fact, some level of judicial officers in my own opinion,
should be lawyers. I suggest that there should be a guideline even if it is a
practice direction that the Chief Judges of each state can easily issue for the
support staff that on no circumstance must a file be on your table more than 24
or 48 hours, unless you have a genuine reason. That way, corruption will
reduce. Most times, if you file a process, if you don't tip, your file will be
there. If you don't tip, they won't upload the thing to the system. The
computer won't work by itself, so there is human factor that needs to be
addressed. So, when you have a guideline, a regulation that would bind the
support staff of the judiciary, it will be the efficiency I am talking about.
If a clerk knows that if the file doesn't get to his superior within 48 hours,
he will be queried, he won't wait so much waiting for money.
Will you suggest that Salami committee, which was set up by the CJN only to
look at how the judges are handling corruption cases, be expanded to oversee
support staff activities?
No, because that one has a mandate. I think each state judiciary should look
inward. It is not going to be a national or global, no, but there must be a
policy that can be done to ensure that there is speedy, efficient and
effectiveness in the judicial process. That is what will give confidence to the
people because if the confidence in judiciary is lost, we are inviting anarchy.
On the area of legal education, NBA just finished its annual conference and you
played a vital role in that. From the benefit of hindsight, how do you look at
responses of young lawyers in that conference?
To me, it was impressive for the young lawyers. In fact, more young lawyers
registered than the senior ones and this is encouraging. To me, they want to
know how it is done. To me, that is not enough, it is a follow up that is
required and I believe the NBA will tackle it. We learn everyday even the
senior lawyers will continue to learn everyday. So we must continue that
process. To me, when I look at the training of young lawyers, I am particularly
not too happy. For instance, one at 15 years, passed school Certificate
examination, took JAMB and passed, you then study law. Before 20, you are
already a lawyer and law is something that really requires experience. People
who are not lawyers can also be judges. In the past, we use to have lay
magistrates. They are not lawyers but they adjudicate. You go to the customary
court, they are not lawyers but they adjudicate fine. It shows that you don't
have to be a lawyer before you can adjudicate or even mediate. But before you
do that adjudication or mediation, you need experience and that is what I see
that is lacking in the new breed of lawyers.
Will you suggest one first get a first degree before coming to law?
I will recommend a minimum of Higher School Certificate (HSC) or you call it
GCE advance level as a prerequisite to study law. That is what made some of us.
Are you worried that is no law faculty is offering professional ethics as a
When you are well groomed at the faculty, then you go to law school where you
will be taught professional ethics. The core subjects should be taught in the
university and when it is being taught, the people who are learning should be
people with experience not just copy and paste.
Death penalty for kidnappers
To halt the heinous crime of kidnapping that has become a major threat to the
safety of Nigerians, the Senate on Wednesday October 4, 2017 approved death
penalty as the punishment for anyone found guilty of abduction, wrongful
restraints or wrongful confinement for ransom. This resolution followed the
adoption of a report by the Joint Committee on Police Affairs, National
Security and Intelligence presented by its Chairman, Senator Abu Ibrahim.
The Senate Joint Committee observed that security agencies were unable to
perform optimally due to inadequate support which it said deprived them of the
necessary funding required to procure and deploy modern technology and
equipment to sufficiently combat crimes. The Committee equally noted what it
described as "unnecessary and unhealthy rivalry among security agencies" which
denies them the benefit of synergy and intelligence sharing. Although relations
of victims were always ready to pay ransom, which tend to encourage criminals
to perpetrate their act, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu said there is
need to discourage the payment of ransom.
The Senate Committee recommended adequate funding for security agencies and
advised the federal government to ensure that deliberate efforts are made
toward creating employment opportunities for the teeming unemployed youths. The
Senate also tasked security agencies to embark on training and re-training of
security personnel for effective capacity building. Besides, it charged state
governments to make laws that will enable security agencies to prosecute
kidnappers and culprits of related offences in their respective states.
Kidnapping which started in the Niger Delta region of the country with the
abduction of foreign oil workers has gradually advanced into a flourishing
nation-wide business for criminals. Many parts of the country now suffer from
it. The ordeal that victims of kidnapping and their families go through has
made armed robbery a less feared crime. These days, mass abduction of bus
passengers has been added to the equation. The entire Northwest zone of the
country was recently hit by a gale of kidnapping. Kidnappers operated almost
freely on the Abuja-Kaduna expressway, Birnin Gwari-Kaduna road;
Obajana-Lokoja, Ajaokuta-Lokoja and Kabba-Obajana roads in Kogi state. The
Benin-Akure road in Edo State is another notorious route for kidnappers.
In the Committee's report submitted to the Senate, Director-General of the
Department of State Security [DSS] Lawal Daura was quoted as saying in October
2015 alone, Nigeria recorded 108 cases of kidnapping. He said the cases which
involved 180 victims including 26 foreigners occurred in 24 states of the
federation. In July this year, a permanent secretary with the Osun State
government Mrs. Olufunke Oluwakemi Kolawole was kidnapped on the Okene-Abuja
highway. Her body was later found on the road. On September 18, 2017 a Kaduna
businessman Alhaji Sheriff Abidu Yazid was shot dead on the Kaduna-Abuja
expressway and his wife was abducted. An Assistant Commissioner of Police with
the Zamfara State Police Command, Emmanuel Agene was abducted on Wednesday
September 27, 2017 along Birnin Gwari-Funtua road and was released after being
held for 6 days.
In spite of the arrest of a large number of suspected kidnappers by the police,
the heinous crime still rages on in parts of the country. It is also
unfortunate that even with the existence of death penalty for kidnappers in
some states including Enugu, Edo and Lagos; no culprit has yet been condemned
to death. This is why we support the adoption of capital punishment for
kidnappers. Given the traumatic experience that victims and their relations go
through, death penalty should be the just deserts of any convicted kidnapper.
We urge Police investigators to be thorough in their jobs in order to
facilitate and ease proper prosecution and eventual conviction of suspects.
While we encourage other states to domesticate the anti-kidnap law of the
Senate, we call on President Muhammadu Buhari to, without delay, assent to the
bill. All hands must be on deck to stamp kidnapping from this country.
(source: Editorial, Daily Trust)
LEDAP tasks govt on abolition of death penalty
As the world marks the World Day Against the use of the Death Penalty with the
theme Poverty and the death penalty, a rights group, Legal Defence and
Assistance Project, LEDAP, has reaffirmed its position that the abolition of
death penalty in law and practice should be the firm desire of the Nigerian
government as death penalty was cruel and inhumane treatment, which has no
place in modern society.
National Coordinator of LEDAP, Mr Chinonye Obiagwu in a statement, yesterday,
said "We contend that the application of death penalty is discriminatory in
Nigeria as it has become a punishment exclusive to the poor in society.
"LEDAP is continually in legal battles with the federal and state governments
in its quest to ensure that fundamental rights of citizens are safe-guarded and
death penalty is abolished. Currently, we have 3 cases in court where we are
challenging the imposition of death sentences and the proposal of the federal
and state governments to execute death row inmates."
"We urge state governors not to sign any death warrants as it constitutes state
murder. With high number of criminal convictions overturned on appeal,
continued execution is risky as innocent people may be wrongfully killed.
"We strongly believes that in its practical application, death penalty is
discriminatory as there is hardly any rich or influential person in society who
is sentenced to death. We contend that the reason for the discriminatory
outlook is due to the fact that the rich have the resources to settle the
police or afford the best lawyers who ensure they are not convicted.
"LEDAP therefore, takes the commemoration of the World Day Against Death
Penalty, to re-live the experiences of the inmates saved from the gallows,
inviting freed former death-row inmates to tell their stories in a media
parley. It is our conclusion that poverty is a common factor to all prisoners
on death row in Nigeria.
"LEDAP beckons on the government at all levels to ensure that they give life
rather than exercise eagerness in taking it away while we condemn the
recommendation that prisoners on death row be executed as a means of
decongesting the prisons. We believe that the government has a duty to protect
and respect the sanctity of human life rather than supervising its termination
and recommends a moratorium law be passed against executions in Nigeria."
Poor women in Jordan most vulnerable to death penalties
The World Coalition against the Death Penalty will focus this year's World Day
against the Death Penalty by looking at the close link between poverty and the
death penalty and highlighting how people living in poverty are the most
vulnerable to the death penalty.
The Association for the Solidarity of Jordanian Women, Tadamoun, has found that
poorer women who are marginalised because of their social status are more
vulnerable to the death penalty and less able to take conciliatory and tribal
measures to drop the personal right to commute the punishment either by them or
by their families.
In 2016, Jordan issued 13 death sentences. During the period 1975-2016 Jordan
carried out more than 1,226 executions, including 26 since 2014. At the
beginning of March 2017 Jordan executed 15 people, most of whom were convicted
of terrorist crimes, a first for mass executions in Jordan since 2006.
Those living with imminent death sentences in Jordan (currently 15 women) are
living under great psychological pressure, according to Tadamoun, which is
pursuing a number of cases for tribal reconciliation.
However, the weak response of the government has prevented reconciliation
taking place; authorities are unwilling to pay large sums of money for tribal
reconciliation if the offenders are female.
According to statistics from 2016 from the reform and rehabilitation centres in
Jordan, 87,442 people were admitted into rehabilitation centres that year of
which 21,117 were sentenced, 36,197 were brought before a jury and 3,128 were
(source: Middle East Monitor)
Man Executed For Drug Offence
A prisoner was executed at Qazvin central prison on drug related charges.
According to the Iranian state-run news agency Mehr, on the morning of Sunday
October 8, a prisoner was executed at Qazvin Central Prison. This prisoner was
sentenced to death for drug related charges.
"The defendant, Reza N., was sentenced to death on the charge of possessing 11
kilograms and 490 grams of meth. After the sentence was confirmed by the
Attorney General, it was carried out on the morning of Sunday October 8, while
a number of judicial authorities, the Head of the Penitentiary of Qazvin, the
Police representatives, and the forensic physicians were present," said Esmaeil
Sadeghi Niaraki, the Public and Revolutionary Prosecutor of Qazvin.
Sadeghi Niaraki added, "The defendant's case went to court and the execution
sentence was carried out by the Section for Implementation of Sentence of
Public and Revolutionary prosecutor's office of Takestan."
Kurdistan Human Rights Network identified the executed prisoner as Reza
Naalbandi, son of Ali, from Tabriz (Northwestern Iran).
The execution of prisoners with drug related charges continues to be carried
out in Iran despite the fact that the bill for the amendment to the drug law in
Iran has been approved by Iranian Parliament. However, the Guardian Council
must still approve the bill.
(source: Iran Human Rights)
Annual Report on Execution in Iran - 2017
On the anniversary of the International Day of Fighting against People's
Execution, The Department of Statistics and Publications of the Human Rights
Activists in Iran publishes an annual report on executions in Iran. This report
is intended to provide visibility to the dire situation where thousands of
people are awaiting execution. The present report concerns the individuals
executed in the 1 year period from 10 October 2016 until the beginning of
October 2017 and refers to at least 508 people executed in different parts of
Iran by hanging. The report shows a rise by about 1% in the number of
executions compared to the same period last year. Most of these individuals had
been condemned to death in unfair courts and deprived of access to lawyers.
Moreover, this report shall not be considered an accurate and comprehensive
estimate since the Iranian government has placed enormous restrictions on human
rights related activities and independent human right organizations.
Since October 10th, 2016 to the beginning of October, 2017, this organization
published 381 reports regarding the executions in Iran. These reports include a
total of 223-execution decrees out of which 508 individuals have been already
executed. Out of the 508 executions, a total of 32 people were executed in
public. Among the victims whose identity has been established, there were 6
women, and the age of 6 individuals was under 18 years at the time they
committed the alleged crimes.
In comparison with the number of executions in the same period last year, there
has been a 1% rise in the number of executions but also a 62% increase in the
number of execution decrees. The number of public executions has fallen by 5%
over the same period, and execution of women has also shown a 33% decline.
According to this report, 57% of the executions were related to the charges of
drug trafficking, 36% for murder, 4% for rape, 2% for political charges, and 1%
for miscellaneous cases.
The following pie chart illustrates the number of executions in different
provinces of Iran. The graph shows that the province of Alborz with 3 most
populated prisons and 25% executions comes in the 1st place, and provinces of
West Azerbaijan and Gilan with 11% and 6% are in the 2nd and 3rd places,
According to this report, the number of public executions has been 6% of the
total number of executions as shown in the following figure.
MP calls for death penalty in Zgharta murder as tensions mount
MP Estephan Douaihy Monday called for the death penalty in the case of a high
profile murder of a Zgharta woman, allegedly by a Syrian national, which has
triggered a crackdown on Syrians in the area.
(source: The Daily Star)
Standing against death penalty
Today, on 10th October the European Union (EU) joins many partners across the
world to commemorate the 15th World Day against the Death Penalty. Despite a
positive trend towards abolition and restriction of the use of capital
punishment in most countries, we have seen worrying evidence of serious
violations of international norms and standards where it's applied including
the non-limitation of execution to the most serious crimes, the non-exclusion
of juvenile offenders, the execution of mentally ill persons and the lack of
guarantees for access to justice and a fair trial for all.
While the death penalty is still considered constitutional in Pakistan, it is
very encouraging and promising to see a decline in executions from 333 in 2015
to 87 in 2016, and 44 until today in 2017.
However it is still too many.
Indeed, arguments can be made of the difficult security situation and the
brutal and cowardly attack on the Army School in Peshawar, which led to the
decision to lift the moratorium.
I can appreciate and understand the strong call for retribution which it
In the European Union we are also facing terrorist attacks; however, people are
keeping their commitment against the death penalty.
Evidence around the world continues to highlight that death penalty is a
discriminatory practice and that at every stage of criminal proceedings, social
and economic inequalities affect access to justice for those who face the death
Lawmakers and practices still have not taken adequate steps to ensure that the
death penalty is applied evenly across a society, or to guard against wrongful
convictions based on errant identifications of witnesses or mistakes at
False testimonies or forced confessions and prosecutorial missteps are still
Taking of a human life is irreversible and it does not make any society safer.
Evidences around the world conclusively show that death penalty does not deter
crime more effectively than other punishments.
The European Union is firmly committed to the eradication of death penalty,
torture, inhuman and degrading treatment and remains among the strongest
advocates for worldwide abolition of the death penalty.
As a sign of its strong commitment against the death penalty, the EU and
Belgium have agreed to co-host the 7th World congress against the death
penalty, in Brussels from 27 February to March 2019.
This commitment also includes the regional congress, which will take place in
the Ivory Coast, in April 2018.
The World Congress is a major triennial event drawing together over 1500 high
level participants from around the world.
I sincerely hope that Pakistan will be in position to attend as a country
having reinstated the moratorium on death penalty.
At these conferences we will reiterate our strong opposition to the death
There, we will also reiterate that we have since long done away with the
capital punishment on our territory.
Because we believe that it can never be morally justified for any state to take
Because there is no evidence that capital punishment has any deterrent effects
on the level of violent crime in a society.
Because no justice system is immune of mistakes, and executions make it
impossible to reverse miscarriages of justice.
And finally, because experiences show that death penalty is deeply socially
biased, affecting mostly the poor.
A true search of justice implies the abolition of death penalty.
(source: Jean-Francois Cautain; The writer is the ambassador of the European
Union to Pakistan----The Nation)
Australia must continue to campaign against the death penalty in our region
In a kitchen in suburban Melbourne sit 2 English lawyers who have saved
hundreds of convicted criminals from execution.
Parvais Jabbar and Saul Lehrfreund's strike rate of keeping death row clients
alive in the Caribbean and Africa is nothing short of extraordinary - more than
90 %, they say, much of it done from a cluttered London office smaller than the
kitchen we are sitting in.
Across the kitchen table is Melbourne barrister Julian McMahon, an intense,
quietly spoken criminal defence advocate.
His record is grimmer then his English counterparts, though not from lack of
effort. McMahon was recently awarded of Companion of the Order of Australia for
his efforts trying to keep Australians on death row alive.
His best-known clients, though, are dead. It is likely that McMahon will lose
more clients in Asia in the coming years. Teaming up with Parvais and Saul is
aimed at changing these odds.
In 2002, McMahon and Lex Lasry, QC, led the campaign to stop the hanging of
Melbourne man Van Nguyen?, a low-level drug mule arrested in transit in
Singapore. McMahon worked furiously on the legal case, while relentlessly
pressing journalists, diplomats and politicians.
Several things remain seared in my mind about Nguyen, whose story I covered
closely at the time. Media reports that he found religion on death row never
fully reflected the depth of his discovery, detailed in his prison diaries. At
a gathering a year after his death, friends and family shared stories about
Nguyen's transformation on death row and his bravery in facing death.
A little-known fact is that he was prepared to testify against the Australian
heroin syndicate that recruited him. His death meant he never got the chance.
Research has proven that the death penalty does not work as a deterrent, yet
even the proponents of deterrence must acknowledge that Nguyen's execution
achieved precisely the opposite effect: it allowed a syndicate to continue to
operate with impunity.
I also recall staring at a clock as it crept towards 9am on December 2, 2005,
the moment the Singapore justice system had decided Nguyen would drop into a
cavity so the rope around his neck would break it. I recall reeling at the
barbarity of the premise that I knew the precise moment that a person's life
And yet the time of death is the only certainty that criminal justice systems
can deliver. Every such system endures wrongful convictions, false confessions
and levels of corruption and inequity. It is an unavoidable truth that while a
state can chose the moment it will end a life, it cannot guarantee it will not
sometimes kill the wrong person.
The night before Nguyen was declared dead, I watched McMahon leave Changi
prison with his arm draped over Nguyen's mother's shoulder as she wept, dragged
away from her last visit.
10 years later, McMahon farewelled his clients the Bali nine members Myuran
Sukumaran? and Andrew Chan. They were shot dead in Indonesia 35 minutes after
midnight. The pair refused to be blindfolded and sung Amazing Grace before
Jabbar and Lehrfreund's success at saving lives lies partly in their use of the
UK Privy Council, which remains the last point of appeal for some common law
nations but which was not available to McMahon's clients.
Without similar legal appeal rights, Lehrfreund believes Asia and the Middle
East are set to remain "hold outs", resisting a trend his Death Penalty Project
helped engineer. In 1998, 62 % of countries retained the death penalty. Today
the figure is less than 30 %.
And yet there is hope. McMahon says Australia's relative inactivity in
advocating for abolishment is changing. In 2015, Australia made it clear that
it opposed all executions in all circumstances. This bipartisan policy is now
embedded in Australia's campaign to win a seat on the United Nations Human
Rights Council. Jabbar and Lehrfreund say this can be bolstered in a variety of
Research and polling they have commissioned has helped prove to politicians
that most people, when presented with information about wrongful convictions
and the failure of deterrence, don't support the death penalty. In Malaysia,
such research has been instrumental in changing views inside government. The
same could occur in Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam, although the prospect of
reform in authoritarian China or Rodrigo Duterte's Philippines (where the
president wants to reintroduce the death penalty) appears bleak.
Australian diplomacy on this front, say Jabbar and Lehrfreund, should also be
aimed at restricting the type of crimes and people which can receive a death
penalty. A demand for abolishment is likely to be ignored, while a campaign to
prevent the mentally ill from being executed, or to limit capital punishment to
the most extreme cases of murder, may allow governments to save face but stop
While they and McMahon keep fighting, the Melbourne barrister is sure to remain
anxious. McMahon dreads receiving an out of hours phone call from an overseas
number, the prelude to a long struggle he will probably lose and the strike of
a clock marking the moment a person's life will be taken.
(source: Nick McKenzie is an Age investigative journalist)
A service courtesy of Washburn University School of Law www.washburnlaw.edu
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