The monthly death penalty report is available here thanks to Lesley for compiling it. A great deal of interest in the subject in the past month especially the executions in Indonesia. The use of hair evidence by the FBI in America – which has led to a number of people being executed or dying on death row – has now been discredited. Another interesting development is the criticism by the French President Francois Hollande of the use of the death penalty in Saudi Arabia. Like the UK, France has big arms sales contracts with the kingdom but unlike the UK, feels free to criticise them for their barbaric public beheadings. The Willie Manning case is also featured.
Great was the joy among those who want to see an end to the ‘hated’ Human Rights Act when it was announced that Michael Gove is the new Justice Secretary and Theresa May – no longer hampered by Lib Dems – will be able to introduce a new Communication Bill commonly called the ‘snoopers’ charter’.
Details will be in the Queen’s Speech at the end of the month and the act might be gone by Christmas. We look forward to seeing the British Bill of Rights when it is finally published and there is press comment that it has gone through eight drafts in an attempt to sort out the complexities.
There will be many who will be delighted by these moves such has been the press campaign waged against it. We have noted in a previous blog that a web site called Rights Info has been launched to try and counter the avalanche of negative reporting. As the debate goes by it would be worthwhile catching up with this site which seeks to set out the true story in each case. Few will read it unfortunately. The case of Abu Qatada has become to epitomise the (alleged) failings of the act and the fact that Jordan used torture was conveniently overlooked.
In common with almost any act of parliament you care to mention, the Human Rights Act is capable of improvement or reform and few would argue with that. For years the problem was individuals who had a problem had to make their way to Strasbourg to seek justice. The HRA was passed with a lot of cross party support to enable these sorts of cases to be heard in the UK. Such has been the hysteria and miss-reporting that a calm look at the act does not seem to be possible and in any event the die has now been cast. The benefits that many ordinary people derive from the act rarely get a mention.
We shall follow events with interest.
UPDATE: 16 May. Message from Kate Allen
Over the last few months we have been calling on all our political leaders to keep the Human Rights Act. Tens of thousands of you have taken action, held hustings, and discussed human right issues directly with your prospective parliamentary candidates.
With the election results now in it is likely that the Human Rights Act is will be under threat like never before.
Over the next few days and weeks we will be carefully analysing the results and planning our next steps. Together we face a huge challenge and you have a vital role to play in the next phase of our campaign if we are to be successful. We will be in touch with more information about the campaign and how you can get involved soon.
Director, Amnesty International UK
UPDATE: Piece in the Salisbury Journal
On Monday, June 15, celebrated actor Edward Fox will read extracts from Magna Carta at Salisbury Playhouse as part of a panel discussion investigating the relevance of the historic document today.
We are pleased to announce an event at Salisbury Playhouse called Magna Carta Now on 15 June at
2pm. It will involve Edward Fox OBE who will read parts of the Magna Carta and there will be a panel discussion on the relevance of these readings in the politics today.
The event is particularly relevant in view of the announcement by the new government of their plans to scrap the Human Rights Act (or the ‘hated’ Human Rights Act as some would say), details of which are expected in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech on 27th. We have waited several years now for the promised British Bill of Rights which we understand from press comment has gone through at least 8 drafts but has still not been published.
The panel is a distinguished one:
- Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty UK
- Prof Guy Standing, author of among other writings The Precariat and A Precariat Charter
- Ben Rawlence, from Salisbury, who has been a country representative for Human Rights Watch and is author of Radio Congo
Tickets are available from Salisbury Playhouse www.salisburyplayhouse.com (24 hours) or phone 01722 320333 or at the Playhouse itself.
We hope local Amnesty supporters and others will come along to what promises to be an interesting event. We should add that there will be an opportunity for audience participation at the end of the event.
The April meeting minutes are here thanks to Karen. They contain a lot of useful information about the death penalty and North Korea in particular. There is a group meeting this Thursday 14th
Willie Manning who has been on death row awaiting execution, has been exonerated. He was convicted of a murder in 1992 in #Mississippi but has protested his innocence ever since. There is a familiar story here in states such as Mississippi where to be poor and black is likely to lead to a conviction. It starts with jury rigging and a series of peremptory challenges to exclude black people from the jury. The jailhouse (prison) informant who alleged that Manning confessed to the murders has since recanted saying he was offered favourable treatment in return for the evidence. This is also an example of unreliable hair evidence being used to secure a conviction.
The Death Penalty Information Center in Washington DC is listing Manning as the 153rd death row inmate to be exonerated since 1973. They also note that the average time on death row to exoneration s 11.3 years.
One has to ask when it will be that it is realised the scale of mistakes will cause authorities and states to question the use of this penalty which cannot of course be undone. Amnesty is opposed to the use of the death penalty in all cases.
For British readers of this site, the constant tide of misinformation and one-sided commentary on the Human Rights Act will be familiar. It forms part of the anti-European opinions of the majority of our media owners who do not like the idea of a ‘right to privacy’ for the citizens of the UK. A new web site which seeks to counter the myths is very welcome therefore. Produced by the newly launched Rights Info, you can access the site from the bottom of this page.
Each of the 14 examples gives the headline story as featured in one or more of our newspapers such as the Daily Mail or the Sun, then an explanation of the facts including the legal judgement in some cases.
On a visit to Saudi Arabia, the French President #FrancoisHollande, called for a ban in the use of the death penalty AFP reports. This is significant because Saudi is in the top three countries in the world to use the penalty often carried out in public. It is also significant because it was done reasonably publicly. Our own UK government is shy of making public statements about the barbaric activities in Saudi and the reason is likely to be trade and in particular weapons sales which are huge. France is equally a big supplier of weapons and yet feels able to speak out.
Human rights issues are not confined to the use of the death penalty. Torture is routine. Many are arrested arbitrarily and held incommunicado for months and in some cases years. There is no free press and there are many, many restrictions on women who are not able to travel unaccompanied or to drive for example.
The issue of what goes on in Saudi exploded earlier this year surrounding the case of Raif Badawi who was to receive 1000 lashes and fined a million Riyalls for the crime of insulting Islam. Thousand lashes is effectively a death sentence. Following an international outcry after the first 50 lashes – given in front of a cheering crowd – the sentence was suspended, reportedly on medical grounds, and he languishes in prison.
The second event that caused an outcry was the wish to lower our flags to half-mast following the death of King Abdullah. This caused widespread concern – revulsion even – and put our government in a spot. The Independent newspaper in the UK reported a meeting David Cameron, the Prime Minister, had with some young people who questioned him about this. He is reported to have said:
We have a long-standing relationship between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and our United Kingdom here, a relationship between our two monarchs and between our governments. We don’t agree with a lot of things that the Saudi do – we don’t agree with the way they treat people for instance criminals – and we make it very clear [what] those differences [are]. Independent February 2015
Interesting the use of the phrase ‘the way they treat criminals’ here implying that the justice regime is too harsh on them and moreover, is just limited to criminals. Since torture is routine, arrests are arbitrary, people are not allowed access to lawyers, and people are flogged and executed publicly, it does seem a bit limp .
The close relationship with the royal families is also a sensitive one. Prince Charles went to the funeral of King Abdullah and the issue of the sentence on Badawi was a live one. Amnesty International said in a statement in February:
From the various briefings from the Palace this week, we’re cautiously optimistic the Prince Charles would raise Mr Badawi’s outrageous case.’
That was three months ago and no doubt the optimism was real. However, Mr Badawi is still in prison even though he hasn’t been flogged since. The contrast between the French President’s statement and our own government’s statements – or lack of them – is marked. When ISIS carried out beheadings, our politicians were falling over themselves in outrage. So far this year Saudi has executed 78 people in comparison with 87 in the whole of 2014.
The media has devoted considerable space to the #executions of five people in #Indonesia. It has been on the main news and in all of the main papers in the UK to a greater or lesser extent. There is a general sense of outrage that the execution and the manner of its doing – that is by firing squad – are barbaric. One would be forgiven for thinking that Indonesia is the only place where people are being executed.
It isn’t. We must not forget that China continues to execute more than the rest of the world put together although the precise number is not known because it is a state secret. Executions continue at a faster rate than previously in Iran. Public beheadings still continue in Saudi Arabia. And in the southern states of USA, many are executed after spending years and years on death row. Pakistan has been busy too. The list is a long one.
Amnesty is opposed to the death penalty in all cases. We should be outraged wherever it happens not just in one country such as Indonesia. If you feel outraged at the use of this penalty, why don’t you join us and write letters or send emails? Follow this site or the Amnesty site for urgent actions.