Good news!


Good news from Amnesty

30 September 2022

“With so much injustice spanning the globe, sometimes it’s hard to remain hopeful that things will change for the better. Trust me, I know – I am often the bearer of bad news, writing to you with urgency of crises, crackdowns, and individuals at risk who have had their human rights violated. But today, we wanted to let you know that the actions of Amnesty supporters around the world really do count. They’ve not only made a meaningful impact for human rights both at home and abroad – but thy’ve also helped change lives.

“Small actions from compassionate people like you, really do have big impacts. Here are just a handful from the past few months:

The first families from Myanmar, Syria and Afghanistan arrived in Australia under a new Community Sponsorship pilot

“After years of relentless advocacy, at the end of 2021 the Australian Federal Government not only announced the rollout of a new Community Sponsorship pilot – they also finally agreed to reduce dramatically the cost of Australia’s existing Community Sponsorship Program, making it more accessible for everyday Australians to participate and welcome refugees into their communities. In August of this year (2022), the first families from Myanmar, Syria and Afghanistan arrived in Australia to begin their new lives in safety.

Charges were dropped against a New South Wales legal observer

“Under NSW’s new and dangerous anti-protest laws, back in June a volunteer Legal Observer faced a maximum sentence of 2 years in jail and a $22,000 fine, after being arrested alongside 34 protesters.

“Amnesty made representations to the NSW police, calling on them to respect the right to protest, as well as the human rights of the Legal Observer. In August, her charges were dropped. Over 30,000 supporters continue to call on the NSW police to protect our right to protest.

“Legal Observers play a vital role in monitoring police & providing legal support to protesters. Thanks to the relentless advocacy from Amnesty International, Legal Observers NSW and Sydney City Crime, my charges have been recently dropped.” – Chloe Sinclair, Legal Observer

Texas: Ramiro Gonzalez’ execution was stayed

“Back in July, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA) stayed the execution for Ramiro Gonzales – just 48 hours before it was due to be carried out in Texas. Experts concluded that Ramiro does not pose a threat of future danger to society, due to the passage of time and his significant maturity. As of April 2021, 108 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes and 144 countries have abolished it in law or practice – all thanks to the power of ordinary people, continuing to stand up for what’s right! Our fight for global abolition continues.

People power freed Ahmed Samir Santawy from prison in Egypt

“Back in July, Ahmed Samir Santawy, a women’s rights and reproductive rights researcher, was convicted of spreading “false news” and sentenced to three years imprisonment. He was subjected to enforced disappearance for five days. Ahmed’s conviction was based solely on social media posts criticising human rights violations in Egypt.

“Over 10,000 people in Australia signed the petition demanding Ahmed’s release, and almost 5,000 people called the Egyptian embassy, putting further pressure on authorities – and it worked. In August, Ahmed was finally released from prison after being given a presidential pardon. Thank you for helping free Ahmed!

Ahmed reunites with his loved ones on the day of his release. ©Wies De Graeve

New York: We sued the NYPD for surveillance of protesters – and we won!

“In New York, facial recognition technology has been used to target people of colour in protests. Back in 2020, we asked the the New York Police Department (NYPD) to publish their data on facial recognition – and they refused. So we mapped their surveillance cameras with the help of 7,000 supporters, filed a lawsuit against them, and won.

“In August, they were ordered to disclose thousands of records of how they procured and used facial recognition technology against Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters. This ruling recognizes that the NYPD broke the law in withholding this information and is a significant step in holding the NYPD accountable for its use of discriminatory surveillance.

LGBTQIA+ liberation soared across the globe 

“Thanks to LGBTQIA+ people and their allies at the forefront, back in July Switzerland’s same-sex marriage laws finally came into effect after overwhelming support of its legalisation in a national referendum last year. In August, the government of Singapore passed historic legislation to end LGBTQIA+ criminalisation. Shortly after, Vietnamese authorities said that being LGBTQIA+ should not be treated as an illness. The Vietnamese Ministry of Health called on medical professionals to ensure LGBTQIA+ people are not discriminated against, calling for an end to dangerous conversion practices – something over 40,000 supporters in Australia continue to campaign against, too. Solidarity!”

It is good to report successes from time to time.

(From and Amnesty message – lightly edited. The original contained photographs)

Death Penalty report


Death Penalty report for August – September

September 2022

We are pleased to attach the monthly death penalty report with thanks to group member Lesley for the work in compiling it. Note it contains no information about China which is believed to execute more of its citizens than the rest of the world put together, but the details are a state secret.

Urgent Action: Texas


TEXAS EXECUTION SCHEDULED FOR CRIME AT 18

Ramiro Gonzales is scheduled to be executed in Texas on 13 July 2022. He was sentenced to death in September 2006 for a murder committed in January 2001 when he was 18 years old and emerging from a childhood of abuse and neglect. He is now 39. Amnesty International is urging the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and the state Governor to grant clemency.

Texas has executed more people than any other state in the Union and five times as many as Oklahoma, the next heaviest user of the penalty. If the method is a deterrent which is so often claimed, why the need for its continuing use?

Below we attach a draft letter to the Governor which you can adapt to your own circumstances. Note that the cut off date is 13 July.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott

Office of the Governor

PO Box 12428, Austin

Texas 78711-2428

USA

Dear Governor Abbott,

Ramiro Felix Gonzales (TDCJ #999513) is scheduled to be executed in Texas on 13 July 2022.

Ramiro Gonzales was 18 years and two months old at the time of the murder of Bridget Townsend in 2001. He was emerging from a childhood of serious neglect and abuse. A neuropsychologist testified at trial that he “basically raised himself”, had the emotional maturity of a 13- or 14-year-old, and in her opinion was likely in the top 10% of emotionally damaged children.

I do not wish to minimize the consequences of violent crime, but I am disturbed by your state’s use of the death penalty, including against young adult offenders. Over 13 per cent of all those executed in Texas between 1982 and 2022 were 18 or 19 years old at the time of the crime.

When banning the execution of under 18-year-olds in 2005, the US Supreme Court noted that “the qualities that distinguish juveniles from adults do not disappear when an individual turns 18” and made clear that the death penalty be “limited to those offenders… whose extreme culpability makes them the most deserving of execution”. I urge you to consider how a death sentence imposed on a severely emotionally damaged 18-year-old meets this requirement.

I urge you to stop the execution of Ramiro Gonzales and to ensure that his death sentence is commuted.

Yours sincerely,

Additional information

In October 2002, Ramiro Gonzales pled guilty to the abduction and rape of a woman in September 2001 and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Soon after he began this sentence, he admitted to the murder of an 18-year-old woman committed in January 2001 while robbing the home of the person who supplied him with cocaine (a drug he had already consumed that day). At the time of the murder, Ramiro Gonzales was 72 days past his 18th birthday.

At the sentencing phase of his 2006 trial, the prosecution presented a psychiatrist who testified that Ramiro Gonzales would likely commit acts of violence in prison. He acknowledged that the American Psychiatric Association viewed such predictions of “future dangerousness”, a jury’s finding of which is a prerequisite for a death sentence in Texas, as unscientific and unreliable. Such predictions have long been shown to be grossly inaccurate, even if seen as effective for the prosecution’s pursuit of a death sentence. While Ramiro Gonzales has had some minor disciplinary infractions on death row, all have been non-violent.

The defence lawyers presented witnesses at the sentencing who testified that the defendant was effectively abandoned by his mother, who had huffed paint, drunk alcohol and abused drugs during the pregnancy and had twice tried to abort the child (on appeal, the claim that the defence lawyers should have retained an expert to assess Ramiro Gonzales for possible Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder for additional mitigation evidence have been rejected). His father was not present during his childhood either. Left with his maternal grandparents, Ramiro Gonzales had little or no supervision. Witnesses also gave details of physical and sexual abuse to which he was subjected, including sexually abuse by a cousin when he was six years old or younger; and by an older woman when he was 12 or 13. Ramiro Gonzales started abusing alcohol and drugs at the age of 11. A neuropsychologist testified that he “basically raised himself” and had the emotional maturity of a 13- or 14-year-old. She testified that he was a “very damaged young man”, and that in her opinion, was likely in the top 10% of emotionally damaged children. She diagnosed him with reactive attachment disorder, a condition whereby a child has been unable to form stable, emotional bonds with parents or caregivers, often because of emotional neglect or abuse at an early age.

When the US Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that states could continue executing individuals for crimes committed when they were 16 or 17 years old, the four dissenting Justices noted that “many of the psychological and emotional changes that an adolescent experiences in maturing do not actually occur until the early 20s”, and that “adolescents on death row appear typically to have a battery of psychological, emotional, and other problems going to their likely capacity for judgment and level of blameworthiness.” When the Court in 2005 banned the death penalty against individuals who were under 18 at the time of the crime, it expressly recognized young people’s immaturity, impulsiveness, poor judgment, underdeveloped sense of responsibility and vulnerability or susceptibility to “negative influences and outside pressures, including peer pressure”, as well as their potential for reform. This time the majoritynoted that “the qualities that distinguish juveniles from adults do not disappear when an individual turns 18”.

Sixty per cent of the USA’s executions of those under 18 at the time of the crime occurred in Texas. Of these 13 individuals, nine were Black (8) or Latino (1), and six of these nine (67%) were convicted of crimes involving white victims. While not subject to the categorical international and constitutional law prohibition relating to under 18-year-olds, the execution of those who were 18 or 19 at the time of the crime has followed a similar geographic and racial pattern. More such individuals have been executed in Texas than in any other state; indeed, only four other states have executed more people of any age than Texas has executed individuals who were 18 or 19 at the time of the crime. Seventy-seven of the 574 people (13%) put to death in Texas from 1982 to June 2022 were 18 or 19 at the time of the crime. Of these 77 people, 48 were African American (62%), 34 of whom (71%) were convicted of crimes involving white victims. Since 2014, Texas has executed nine people for crimes committed when they were 18; four were Black, three were Hispanic, and two were white. Ramiro Gonzales is Hispanic. The victim was white.

Two of the 13 federal executions carried out in the USA between July 2020 and January 2021 in the USA were of two Black men convicted of the murder of a white couple committed when they were 18 or 19. They were convicted in federal court in the same District of Texas in which Ramiro Gonzales was tried at state level. As the second of the two federal executions approached, the federal prosecutor who defended the death sentences on appeal revealed that she had changed her mind. She noted that “science has established that the structures of the brain are not fully developed in young men until they are 25 or 26” and that “18-year-olds are no different from 17-year-olds in both immaturities and potential for rehabilitation.”

There have been seven executions in the USA this year, one in Texas, which accounts for 574 of the 1,547 executions in the USA since 1976. Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases, unconditionally.

PREFERRED LANGUAGE TO ADDRESS TARGET: English.

You may also write in your own language.

PLEASE TAKE ACTION AS SOON AS POSSIBLE UNTIL: 13 July 2022

NAME AND PRONOUNS: Ramiro Gonzales (He/his)

Additional TARGETS

Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles
Clemency Section
8610 Shoal Creek Boulevard
Austin, Texas 78757, USA
Fax: +1 512 406 0945
Email: bpp-clemency@tdcj.texas.gov
Salutation: Dear Presiding Officer Gutiérrez and Members of the Board of Pardons and Paroles

Ms Jane D Hartley 

U.S. Embassy

33 Nine Elms Lane, London SW11 7US

Death Penalty report: Sept/Oct 2021


We are pleased to attach this month’s DP report thanks to group member Lesley for her work in compiling this. A mixture of news as ever with the situation in the USA becoming more troubling in some states. France’s action in trying to achieve a world wide ban is encouraging. As ever there is no information from China where executions are a state secret and are believed to be the worst in the world.

Billy Wardlow executed


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

 

Billy Wardlow: Texas


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.

Urgent Action: Texas USA


Urgent Action: Billy Wardlow faces execution for a crime when aged 18

Urgent Action 108/20 (AMR 51/2595/2020 USA)

Billy Wardlow’s execution is scheduled for 8 July 2020.  He is on death row in Texas, USA in connection with the 1993 murder of an 82-year-old man when he was just 18 years old.  The jury that sentenced Billy Wardlow was never presented mitigating evidence.  Since 2005, it’s unconstitutional to impose a death sentence on anyone younger than 18 when the crime occurred.  Scientific research shows that development of the brain and psychological and emotional maturation continues into a person’s 20s. Two jurors now believe that he should serve a life sentence instead. We urge Governor Abbott to grant clemency.

Please read this UA for more details and a model appeal.

Please ask Texas Governor Abbott, as the main target, to grant clemency.  Can you also please contact the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, which puts forward recommendations to the Governor on decisions on clemency:

Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles
8610 Shoal Creek Blvd.
Austin, Texas 78757
Fax: (512) 467-0945

Further details are available in this link.

The death penalty is the ultimate denial of human rights and Amnesty International opposes the sentence in all circumstances. As of 2020, 106 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes and more than two-thirds are abolitionist in law or practice. The US has executed 1518 people since 1976, and the State of Texas has accounted for 569 of those executions.

See also the Texas Campaign Against the Death Penalty TCADP.

UPDATE Note that the Governor’s email address is incorrect. 

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