Good news! Sudan

Release of prisoner on death row

You might remember Magai Matiop Ngong, who was only 15-years-old when he was sentenced to death in South Sudan. After two years and eight months on death row, we are thrilled to share that Magai has been released.

More than 765,000 people around the world took action for Magai, which resulted in his death sentence being sent back to the High Court for a review. This week, we are celebrating his release.

This is just one example of the change we can be part of when we come together, and the incredible difference campaigning can make in the lives of people facing injustice like Magai. 

Execution is the ultimate punishment and we will always stand against it. Every human being on this planet has the right to life, and we need to ensure that right is protected no matter what. 

Write for Rights

Write for Rights. Now finished.

A reminder that we will be holding our Write for Rights tomorrow in the Cathedral cloisters starting at 11am today and finishing at 1pm.

We shall be asking people to sign for the following:

  • Mikita Zalatarou of Belarus. He is a teenager who has been sent to a penal colony following protests at the recent elections.
  • Zhang Zhan of China. She is one of the journalists who tried to get the truth out about the Covid virus in Wuhan. She was sentenced to 4 years in prison.
  • Ciham ali Ahmed of Eritrea. She was arrested on the Sudan border and nine years later her family do not know her whereabouts. Many prisoners are held in underground containers.
  • Bernardo Caal Xol in Guatamala. He was caught up in the protests against the construction of hydroelectric dams which would have seriously harmed the indigenous peoples. He was sentenced to 7 years in prison with no evidence provided.

These are of course only four examples of the hundreds of thousands who are arrested, tortured, disappeared or imprisoned for speaking out against their regimes. We hope you can spare a few moments to sign a card at the Cathedral.

We shall be at St Thomas’s Church in Salisbury on Saturday 11th starting at 10 am.

Sudan: teenager’s death sentence quashed

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.

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.

Urgent action: Sudan

This is a current urgent action concerning a boy in Sudan.  Magai was trying to stop his cousin fighting with another boy in the neighbourhood. He took his dad’s gun and fired it at the ground to scare the boy away. But the bullet ricocheted and hit his cousin, who later died in hospital.

In his trial Magai was not allowed a lawyer.  He told the judge he was just 15, but he was sentenced to death regardless. This is illegal by both international and South Sudan law.

This is just to let you know that yesterday’s Guardian featured an AI ad with a text Action for Magai.

If you would like to do this, you just need to text 70505 with SAVE1, followed by your first and last name.

If you are able to do this, many thanks.

Death penalty report

Attached is the current death penalty report thanks to group member Lesley for the work in compiling it.  Grim news on several fronts with Sri Lanka thinking of re-using the penalty.  China leads the world it is believed in the use of the penalty although details are a state secret.

On the issue of China, readers may like to read the website of the Chinese Human Rights Defenders which charts the systematic denial of human rights freedoms by the Chinese government.  Links to many human rights sites can be found at the bottom of this site.

Report – June/July (pdf)



Death penalty


No to the death penaltyGeneral 

  • USA
    • Tennessee – are reported to be considering bringing back the electric chair in the light of the recent difficulties with the use of lethal injections
    • Wyoming – are reported to be considering using a firing squad
    • New Hampshire – disappointingly, the second attempt at the repeal of the death penalty was defeated in the Senate on 22nd May. The death sentence remains.
    • Missouri – a stay of execution was granted for Russell Bucklew on 22nd May following his claim that a congenital illness would probably cause additional suffering under the current regime of lethal injection
    • A report appeared on Google that the US Supreme Court has said states must look beyond an intelligence test score in borderline cases of mental disability to determine whether a death row inmate is eligible to be executed

Urgent Actions 

  • #Sudan – Meriam Ibrahim – a Christian woman has been sentenced to hang (and to a flogging) for the ‘apostasy’ of marrying a non-muslim, and for refusing to renounce her Christian faith.  An AI email UA was circulated to the DPLWG on 26th May.  Information in media on 31.5.14 that she was to be released but there are doubts as to the truth of this.  Note – Nesrine Malik expressed concern in the Guardian (4.6.14) that western media are harming Meriam’s chances of release.  Initial local opposition had been having an effect, and Government pride is an issue.  She criticised David Cameron’s approach.  Latest news – Meriam gave birth in chains. She is to be hanged in 2 years.


  • USA – Florida – Michael Duane Zak – UA 140/14 – has exhausted his ordinary court appeals and is seeking executive commutation of his death sentence of life imprisonment. Circulated to DPLWG 28.5.14 (this month’s Urgent Action)


  • #Iraq – UA 151/13 – Osama Jamal ‘Abdullah Mahdi’s files are now with the office of the President for review. If his death sentence is ratified, he could be executed at any time. Circulated to DPLWG 30.5.14



  • Hakamada Iwao – information has been received from Caroline Butler that the Devizes Group have been in contact with AI in Japan in order to send cards and messages to Hakamada. Would the Salisbury Group like to do so?


  • #Belarus – a response has now been received from SCT with contact details of Barry Hay for seeking further advice – an email was sent on 10th June. Note: 


Belarus is the last UN member state in Europe to have retained the death penalty.  In 2013 there were no reported executions, but the death penalty was reinstated this year, and to date two men are believed to have been executed. Death row prisoners receive no advance notice and are executed by a bullet through the back of the head. This month the UN Human Rights Council will be focusing on the human rights situation in Belarus – making it a particularly appropriate time for action by Amnesty.




The case of Meriam Ibrahim has shaken the world and there have been many calls for her to be released from prison.  The basic facts seem by now to be familiar although there are some differences on details depending where you look.  Over 150,000 signed Amnesty International’s petition and there has been widespread coverage including by the tabloid press in the UK.

She is to receive 100 lashes for adultery and it has to be made clear that it is not adultery as we in the west know it – that is having sexual relations with, in this case, a man not her husband – but the act of marrying a Christian.  In two years she will be executed for apostasy.  On 27 may she gave birth whilst chained to her bed in what has been described as primitive conditions.

The issue of the death penalty for apostasy seems far from clear and some experts say that the relevant hadith actually allows someone to renounce their faith without the penalty of death.  Others say differently.  Another relevant fact which did not receive that much coverage is that it was a complaint made by a relative that caused her to be arrested and tried for apostasy.

Of course Sudan sees it differently and the embassy in Washington DC claims that her real name is not Meriam Ibrahim but Abrar Elhadi Muhammad Abugadeen although it does not explain the significance of this.  What is significant in their view is that it is not a political or religious issue but a legal one.  The problem with this in an Islamic country is distinguishing the difference particularly where the president is keen to make Sudan an Islamic state.  Indeed, one commentator suggests that it is an attempt to distract people from other problems and to be able to claim he is a ‘defender of Islam.’

The media has for the most part, focused on this one woman and ignored the wider context.  An exception is Time Magazine and an article by Kimberly L Smith who argues that ‘fundamentally, the crisis in Sudan is not one of religion but a complete disregard for the dignity of life, particularly female life’ (May 16, 2014).  She goes on to describe in horrific detail the treatment of women and some men in that country because they had the wrong skin colour.  Her descriptions come from working for 10 years in the Sudan.

Once Meriam became a cause célèbre and featured on the front pages it was not long before politicians joined in and all three UK party leaders were loud in their condemnations.  By contrast, a quick look at Amnesty’s web site under, say, Saudi Arabia, reveals two recent cases which are relevant.  One is of a Filipino women sentenced – after an unfair trial with no legal representation and who cannot speak Arabic – to 18 months and 300 lashes of which 50 have already been administered (23 May).  Another is an outrageous sentence of 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison given to a man who set up an on-line forum allegedly because it ’insulted Islam’ (7 May).  Both are prisoners of conscience.   There are pages of these but when did you hear of protests from our party leaders about any of them?

It is encouraging to see international protests and we hope for a successful result.  But in a thoughtful piece in the Guardian by a Sudanese writer, Nesrine Malik, she argues that these public interventions can be counterproductive.  There is the sensitivity she says of Sudan being an ex-colony.  She also argues that a lot of these dramatic sounding sentences are because the ‘authorities in a sudden fit of piety pass the harshest sentences, ones rarely carried out, to prove the Islamic project still exists.’  Whereas a private phone call would be made to Saudi Arabia or Bahrein, David Cameron and the other leaders chose a more public condemnation which according to Malik went down badly in Khartoum.

Condemning barbaric sentences is right but there does need to be a degree of even handedness.  There were 21 executions in Sudan last year, only slightly fewer than Saudi which are carried out in public.  Publicly condemning one country while courting another is not helpful.



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