Good news from Sudan
Amnesty’s Urgent Action successful

Following the South Sudan Court of Appeal’s decision on 14 July to quash the death sentence imposed on Magai Matiop Ngong because he was a child at the time of the crime, and to send his case back to the High Court to rule on an appropriate sentence, and his removal from death row on 29 July, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa, Deprose Muchena said:

We welcome the Court of Appeal’s decision to quash Magai Matiop Ngong’s death sentence because under South Sudan and international law a child cannot be sentenced to death. Magai is one of the lucky ones.

At least two other people, who were children at the time of the crime, have been executed in the country since May 2018; their lives extinguished as well as all the hopes their families had for them.

The South Sudanese government must fully comply with national and international laws which prohibit the use of the death penalty against anyone below 18 years of age at the time the crime was committed. The authorities must abolish this cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

Background
In its annual letter writing campaign, Write for Rights, Amnesty International prioritized the case of Magai mobilizing its global membership to write to President Salva Kiir to commute the death sentence. More than 765,000 people around the world took action, calling on President Salva Kiir to commute Magai’s death sentence, and expressing their solidarity with Magai.

South Sudan is one of four countries in Sub-Saharan Africa that carried out executions in 2018 and 2019.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception regardless of the nature of the crime, the characteristics of the offender, or the method used by the state to carry out the execution.

Amnesty International post 27 July 2020.  Thanks to all those who wrote letters or sent emails for this action.  See our monthly death penalty update.


Juvenile under sentence of death

[This is a post from Reprieve]

Mohammed al-Faraj was 15 when he was arrested while leaving a bowling alley in Medina, Saudi Arabia.  He was tortured into confessing to ‘crimes’ linked to non-violent protesting, including attending a funeral at the age of 9.
By any measure he was a child when these so-called ‘crimes’ took place.

He should not have been arrested and he certainly should not be facing a death sentence today.  On April 26, Saudi Arabia announced a royal decree that would end the use of death sentences for children like Mohammed.  Yet, a loophole in this decree means that the judge in Mohammed’s case will still be able to sentence him to death. [1]
Reprieve has just taken on Mohammed’s case.  We are going to need to build up his campaign for justice quickly.

Reprieve needs your help to make sure the international spotlight is on Saudi Arabia.  We know they are sensitive to their public image right now, and we can use that to make sure they do not sentence Mohammed to death.

Please share Mohammed’s story today Facebook link or Twitter link

Together, the Reprieve community brings hope to people like Mohammed who have no one else to turn to.  Thank you for being a part of this community.

[1] “Saudi Arabia Says It Will Stop Executing Children. But Read the Small Print | Opinion,” Newsweek (May 18, 2020).  See below:

Newsweek link

See our monthly death penalty report


There is a majority of people in the UK who, for certain crimes, would like to see a return of the death penalty according to YouGov.  The current home secretary, Priti Patel, has said the same on Question time although she now resiles from this.  People in favour of the penalty should watch this film.

It concerns a female warden (governor in UK parlance) who is in charge of a prison where people are executed.  Directed by a woman, Chinonye Chukwu and starring Alfre Woodard it illustrates the tension of those in charge of actually carrying out the gruesome task.  At the start of the film, the execution process is botched and it takes quite a while for the prisoner to die, painfully.

The film charts the tension the warden experiences: on the one hand the desire to be professional and to do a good job and on the other, the doubts about the process itself.  This tension is reflected in her marriage where her husband leaves her for a while.

In Hollywood terms, it is quite unusual.  Firstly, because women feature a lot in the making of it.  Secondly, no background music which allows the natural tension to build.  The camera is allowed to linger on certain scenes and there is no frantic scene changes which are so irritating in much drama these days.  Lastly, the drama is carried along by Woodard’s expressions and face rather than just dialogue.

It is truly a powerful and quite unique film and makes the fundamental point that the process of executions damages all who are involved in it.

Amnesty is opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances.  It does not deter and levels in violence in US states with the penalty is little different to those with it.  Mistakes, which are frequent, cannot afterwards be rectified.  The process, with appeals lasting years – the average in the US is 10 years – is expensive.  It is applied unfairly with a disproportionate number of black people on death row.  An examination of the trial of Kris Maharaj in Florida is also worth a read.

The group publishes a monthly report on the penalty around the world.

Meanwhile, the pace of executions in America continues with the Justice Dept. executing three people in four days, matching the total number the US government had conducted in the previous 3 decades (Washington Post).   This is part of the ‘law and order’ promise by the President despite serious misgivings by many Americans about the fairness of the process and think it needs a complete overhaul.

The film is available on streaming services.

19 July 2020

 

Nazanin Ratcliffe

Posted: July 15, 2020 in Iran
Tags: ,

The shameful saga of Nazanin Ratcliffe continues and she is under house arrest with the risk of going back to prison at any moment.  She keeps a bag packed for the eventuality.  You can read the current situation in full on this link from Change.org.  If you haven’t signed the petition perhaps you might consider doing so on the link.


The monthly death penalty report is now available thanks to group member Lesley for preparing it.  Note that China is the world’s largest executioner of its citizens but details are a state secret.

June – July 2020 (Word)


Billy Wardlow was executed in Texas yesterday, 8 July 2020, despite massive campaign for clemency

Billy Joe Wardlow was executed on Wednesday night in Huntsville, Texas for a murder committed in 1993 when he was 18.  The campaign has focused on his age at the time of the murder arguing that at 18, he was still immature.  The campaign on his behalf was turned down by the Supreme Court.  Since 2005, the Supreme Court has held that the death sentence is unconstitutional for those who are 17 or younger, partly because of their ‘still undefined identity.’

The USA is the only country in the Americas which retains the penalty in some states at least.  In fact, the use of the penalty is in steady decline in the States even in Texas, the state with the highest number of executions (548 since 1976).  It is because of a series of factors.  More programmes on TV showing mistakes and miscarriages of justice have had an effect.  The cost of carrying out executions and years of appeals meaning large numbers spend years on death row.  Difficulties in obtaining drugs for lethal injections with European firms refusing to supply them.

According to a 2018 BBC report ‘the death penalty wouldn’t have survived in America if it weren’t for evangelical Christians’.  This is according to Shane Claiborne a Christian activist.  By contrast, the Pope has condemned the use of the penalty.

One aspect of the abolition debate is whether it is effective or not in deterring crime.  Some say it is and some not.  The Death Penalty Information Center has produced statistics comparing murder rates between death and non-death penalty states.  The murder rates between 1990 and 2003 shows a lower murder rate for non-death penalty states.  They conclude that states without the penalty fared better over the past decade.

UK

THE debate is interesting because in the UK the idea of re-introducing the penalty still receives a lot of support for certain types of crime.  A 2019 YouGov poll found that ‘Brits want harsher punishments for criminals’ and a balance in favour of the death penalty of 58% (terrorist offences); 57% (multiple murders); 53% (child murders) and 47% (murder of a police officer).  The current Home Secretary Priti Patel is quoted as being in favour of the penalty although she now denies this.  An extract from a Question Time programme in which she says ‘yes I am in support of capital punishment’ is available on this link from the Independent.

It is noteworthy that in the USA where the penalty is still practised, the mood is shifting against its use whereas in the UK, where the penalty was finally abolished in 1969*, there is still a powerful desire to have it restored.

The death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.  Amnesty opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception – regardless of who is accused, the nature or circumstances of the crime, guilt or innocence or method of execution.

*1973 in Northern Ireland


Sources: Independent; BBC; Texas Tribune; Death Penalty Information Center

 


Minister announces resumption of arms sales to Saudi Arabia used to cause so much misery in Yemen

It is sometimes difficult to keep up with government announcements.  On Monday 6 July, the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced that a number of individuals would be subject to sanctions and banned entry to the UK.  Their assets would be frozen as well.  The UK is one of the major centres for money laundering and the City is the centre of a web of tax havens around the world.  City institutions are specialists in moving huge sums into secrecy jurisdictions thus enabling a range of criminal activities to go undetected.  Dominic Raab’s announcement was a welcome first step in clamping down on some of this activity therefore and has cross-party support.  In his statement he said:

He outlined human rights violations as those that contradict the right to life, the right not to be subject from torture and the right to be free from slavery, but said they were exploring adding other human rights and looking into including those guilty of corruption.

The Foreign Secretary outlined the individuals who will be sanctioned first.  These include those involved in the torture and murder of Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky (who the Minister concluded his statement by paying tribute to), and Saudi Arabian journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, as well as those responsible for the genocide of the Rohingya population in Myanmar and for North Korea’s gulags.  Statement in the House of Commons Website (extract)

All those countries named have been subject of Amnesty and other human rights organisation’s campaigns.

THEN on the following day, we have an announcement by the Secretary of State for International Trade Liz Truss, (pictured) resuming arms sales to Saudi Arabia.  The contrast is astonishing as one of the countries included in the Foreign Secretary’s announcement was – Saudi Arabia for the murder of Khashoggi.  The announcement followed a legal case last year mounted by a number of human rights organisations, who claimed that the weapons – especially jets – were being used by the Saudis to bomb civilian targets in the war in Yemen.  The destruction there has been horrific with thousands of deaths.  Hospitals, schools, clinics and wedding ceremonies have all been attacked.  Saudi Arabia’s human rights record is dire with torture common, religious persecution rife and the dreadful treatment of women.

The Court of Appeal found against the government because it did not show, in the Court’s judgment, the question of whether there was an historic pattern of breaches of International Humanitarian Law was a question which required to be faced.  Even if it could not be answered with reasonable confidence for every incident, at least the attempt had to be made.  It was because the government had not reached findings on whether specific incidents constituted breaches of IHL as part of an assessment of clear risk, under Criterion 2c that the Court of Appeal concluded that their decision-making process was irrational and therefore unlawful.

Liz Truss’s argument is that they have sought to determine whether these “violations” are indicative of:

(i) any patterns of non-compliance;
(ii) a lack of commitment on the part of Saudi Arabia to comply with IHL; and/or
(iii) a lack of capacity or systemic weaknesses which might give rise to a clear risk of IHL breaches.

We have similarly looked for patterns and trends across the incidents which have been assessed as being unlikely to be breaches of IHL and those for which there is insufficient information to make an assessment.

This analysis has not revealed any such patterns, trends or systemic weaknesses. It is noted, in particular, that the incidents which have been assessed to be possible violations of IHL occurred at different times, in different circumstances and for different reasons. The conclusion is that these are isolated incidents

The decision to resume supplies has been roundly criticised.  Kate Allen of Amnesty said:

This is a deeply cynical move to restart business as usual when it comes to Saudi arms sales.  How the Government can seriously describe a five-year Saudi-led aerial assault on Yemen which has seen numerous examples of civilians killed in schools, hospitals, funeral halls and market places as a set of ‘isolated incidents’ is almost beyond comprehension.  This seems like an attempt to rewrite history and disregard international law.  The UK is bypassing its obligations under the international arms control framework. Its approach to this decision has effectively rendered our own protections meaningless.

Deeply cynical move – AIUK

 

Andrew Smith of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade in a statement said:

This is a disgraceful and morally bankrupt decision. The Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and the government itself admits that UK-made arms have played a central role on the bombing.  We will be considering this new decision with our lawyers, and will be exploring all options available to challenge it.

The evidence shows a clear pattern of heinous and appalling breaches of International humanitarian law by a coalition which has repeatedly targeted civilian gatherings such as weddings, funerals, and market places.  The government claims that these are isolated incidents, but how many hundreds of isolated incidents would it take for the Government to stop supplying the weaponry?

This exposes the rank hypocrisy at the heart of UK foreign policy.  Only yesterday the government was talking about the need to sanction human rights abusers, but now it has shown that it will do everything it can to continue arming and supporting one of the most brutal dictatorships in the world.


Criterion 2c.  Criterion 2c of the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria – which requires the Government to assess Saudi Arabia’s attitude towards relevant principles of international law and provides that the Government will not grant a licence if there is a clear risk that the items might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law.

Picture credit: Pink News


We are not meeting at present but hope to resume activities in the Autumn.


Women in Iran at risk

As news spreads that Iran could be facing a second wave of coronavirus due to an increase in the number of cases, the health and safety of Nasrin, Yasaman and other imprisoned women’s rights activists remains at risk.  Now more than ever, we must increase the pressure on Iranian authorities to release these women immediately.

Our campaigning has helped secure the release of prisoners of conscience in Iran before.  Please can help us do it again.  Please watch and share our post, featuring Iranian-born actress and Amnesty Ambassador, Nazanin Boniadi who has campaigned with us since 2008 on the unjust conviction and treatment of Iranian youth, women and prisoners of conscience.

 


Texas execution tomorrow

Billly Wardlow is due to be executed tomorrow 8 July 2020 in Texas.  The details are in a previous post.  If you write to Governor Greg Abbott via email, you will receive a message saying ‘messages sent to this [Facebook] account are not monitored regularly’ and giving you another means of contact.  This is https://gov.texas.gov/contact.  NB: in the phone field type a number in the US format

Our monthly death penalty report can be accessed here.


The honorary Chair of Amnesty International, Turkey Taner Kılıç is sentenced to a further 6 years in prison

We have received the following message from Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty UK:

I wanted to write to you all this evening after a very difficult day hearing the news from Istanbul that our colleague Taner Kılıç, was today (3 July 2020) convicted of being a member of a terrorist organisation and sentenced to 6 years and 3 months in jail.  Idil Esler the former Director of Amnesty Turkey and two other members of the Istanbul 10 were also given prison sentences for assisting.

This is an outrageous miscarriage of justice and it is heartbreaking to think of the impact on our colleagues and their families. It is also frightening to think of the signal that it sends to human rights defenders in Turkey. If even members of Amnesty International, with all of our strength as a global movement, aren’t safe, then who is?

I have personally attended 9 of the 12 hearings for this group of people.  The charges have been proved to be completely groundless from the start.  It is outrageous that any of these people have spent any time behind bars, let alone now being subjected to a further sentence.  They now have a right to appeal, and at the time or writing there have been no detention orders and so they are not being taken to prison from the courthouse.

The purpose of my writing to you today is to bring you up to date with what is happening and to thank you for all the work that you have done so far to fight for justice for our colleagues in Turkey.  AIUK could not have done more to exert pressure on the Turkish Authorities and to provide solidarity and support to our colleagues.  Having spent so much time with them over the past 3 years I know how much they have valued that and the impact is has had.

There will be more for us to do now as they appeal their convictions.  We will take our lead from Amnesty Turkey and the IS and no doubt we will be taking action again to try to quash these outrageous convictions I will be writing to the staff at Amnesty Turkey tonight to share our solidarity and love and I know we will all want to do all we can, and this is one of those times where being part of a global movement feels more important than ever.

I wish we could all be together at this time to provide support, solidary and inspiration, but I know we are all together in spirit.

We will share any news and future action when we have it.

In the meantime, I wish you all a restful weekend.  We will be thinking of Taner, Idil and all of the brave human rights defenders in Turkey, and it is good to know that we are doing that together, ready to continue our support for them when they need us.