Reflections on Boston

(Photo Credit: Dominic Chavez/EPA/Landov).

(Photo Credit: Dominic Chavez/EPA/Landov).

My cousin lives in Boston and I was worried that he was somehow affected by the attacks. It immediately brought me back to 9/11 and the memory of how powerless I felt watching the Twin Towers fall. Luckily, my cousin was fine. But it wasn’t true for others. The grief of losing family and friends is unbearable.

Deliberate attacks against civilians by individuals or armed groups are always human rights abuses. Amnesty International condemns the attacks in Boston in the strongest terms. The victims have a right to remedy, including to see those responsible brought to justice in a fair trial that respects human rights and reaffirms the rule of law.

The Obama administration is right to prosecute the suspect in criminal court and ignore those calling for denial of human rights and civil liberties. The trial must be fair, the suspect must be treated humanely and we must not let fear-mongering and discrimination flourish. We all want justice and security, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about it.

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New Bill Would Abolish California's Death Penalty

According to a recent study, if California were to rid itself of the death penalty and everyone on death row received the next highest penalty on the books (life without parole) it would save tax payers $184 million per year.

Execution witness viewing room (c) Scott Langley

No state, certainly not California, can afford to waste public money like this. This is a state that has cut valuable social services and funds for education in the face of serious budget shortfalls.

The death penalty is a public policy failure that does not represent the best of our values as a society that says it is committed to human rights. It is a distraction from real solutions that could prevent violent crime and bring valuable services to murder victims’ families.

What could the state do with $184 million per year to improve the lives of Californians?

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Live Facebook Chat With 9/11 Hate-Crime Victim On The Death Penalty

Rais Bhuiyan

Update: Thanks to everyone who participated in our Facebook chat! If you weren’t able to make it, the transcript of the chat is now available.

Just ten days after the attacks of September 11, 2001, Mark Stroman went on a shooting spree in Dallas, Texas targeting anyone who appeared to be Middle Eastern.

In the end, two men were left dead and a third man named Rais Bhuiyan would live to fight back.

For one of the two murders, the state of Texas sentenced Stroman to death. His execution date is next month on July 20.

But there’s a catch: Rais is now fighting to save the life of Mark Stroman — the man who tried to kill him. Rais’ message:

“I strongly believe executing him is not a solution. We will just simply lose a human life without dealing with the root cause, which is hate…”

Rais Bhuiyan will be joining us on Facebook to answer your questions on his mission to stop the cycle of killing.

Brian Evans, Amnesty’s Death Penalty Abolition Campaigner will also be participating to answer your questions about capital punishment in the US and beyond.

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Illinois Has Abolished the Death Penalty!

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Today, with the signature of Governor Pat Quinn, Illinois became the 16th state to abolish the death penalty, and the third state to do it in four years.  The Governor also commuted the sentences of the 15 men currently residing on Illinois’ death row.  In addition to Governor Quinn, State Senator Kwame Raoul and State Representative Karen Yarbrough were key players in making death penalty abolition a reality in Illinois.  Please take a moment to thank them for their leadership.

No state has made a greater effort to “fix” their broken death penalty than Illinois.  A ten year moratorium on executions was established in January 2000, and since then various commissions and studies have attempted to grapple with the challenge of imposing an irreversible punishment in an error-prone system.  After over a decade of trying, Illinois politicians came to the conclusion that it simply cannot be done – that capital punishment in Illinois is beyond repair.  The system will always be prone to error, and the punishment of death will always be irreversible.

So they did the right thing, and indeed the only logical thing.  They abolished the death penalty.  Folks in other states where the flaws and shortcomings of capital punishment have become painfully clear should look to this example.  What was true in Illinois is equally true in Connecticut, Maryland, Montana, or for that matter any other state that still keeps the death penalty on its books.   The danger of executing the innocent can never be eliminated, the drain on the treasury will always divert resources from proven crime prevention measures, and the toll on the families of victims as they are dragged through a grueling process will always be both severe and completely unnecessary.

The Illinois experience has shown that, for both practical and moral reasons, the death penalty does not work.  It is an irreversible punishment in an imperfect world, and a cruel and degrading punishment in a world where we should be striving to respect and promote human dignity.   By rejecting the death penalty, Illinois has liberated itself from this failed experiment, and has scored a major victory for human rights.

Comings and Goings at the Supreme Court

Today marks the last open session of the US Supreme Court for this term.  It also marks the last session for Justice John Paul Stevens, who resigned earlier this year, and whose proposed successor, Elena Kagan appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee today to begin her confirmation process.  As noted in an op-ed in the Atlanta Journal Constitution by former Georgia Supreme Court Justice Norman Fletcher, Justice Stevens’ career covers the entire span of the “modern” US death penalty, from its re-instatement in 1976 (which Stevens supported) to more recent decisions restricting capital punishment by banning executions for those with mental retardation (Atkins v. Virginia, 2002) and for juvenile offenders (Roper v. Simmons, 2005).

In 2008, while upholding the legality of lethal injection, Stevens wrote that he no longer felt the death penalty could be justified on constitutional grounds.  He called capital punishment “pointless and needless extinction of life with only marginal contributions to any discernible social or public purpose” and argued that as a result it is “patently excessive and cruel and unusual punishment.”

His last major act involving the death penalty was to pen the concurring opinion in support of an extraordinary evidentiary hearing for Troy Davis, a hearing that took place last week.

Tomorrow, June 29th, will mark the 38th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision, in 1972, that all capital punishment statutes were unconstitutional.  4 years and 4 days later came the decision that ruled states’ new death penalty laws to be constitutional.  Every year at this time, activists come to the US Supreme Court, braving the heat, for a 4-day Fast and Vigil, marking this unfortunately brief period of death penalty pseudo-abolition in the 1970s.  Those in the DC area should join them.

What's Next for Troy Davis

The evidentiary hearing date for Troy Davis that we’ve been waiting for is now scheduled!   Judge Clark Moore in the Savannah-based federal district court for southern Georgia has set it for June 30, 2010.   There is a chance that the date could change if the two legal teams try to negotiate with the judge around possible issues in their schedules.   We will provide an update if the date changes.

Thanks to supporters who have been following this case and have been on alert since the hearing was ordered on August 17, 2009.   This comes after several months of briefs and communications between the judge and the two legal teams in preparation for this very unusual type of hearing.   Amnesty International will continue to watch the case closely.

Unlike with a new trial, where the state would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty and convince 12 jurors; this is a hearing conducted by one judge.   The burden falls on Davis to “clearly establish his innocence”, which is an incredibly high legal standard.

So in a minimum of one day, perhaps a few more, various witnesses will provide their testimony and be cross-examined to give their accounts of what happened on that tragic night in 1989 when police officer Mark Allen MacPhail was fatally shot.   This is an immense opportunity to bring new testimony and evidence in to a court of law on a person who was almost executed three times for a murder he may not have committed.

Please “lend your face for justice” while we await this hearing.   We want to continue to keep the light on Davis’ case.   And please plan on joining us for a Global Day of Solidarity the day before the hearing begins.   We are asking people around the world to organize an activity where they live, be it a vigil, a teach-in, tabling or other activity to show your solidarity and make it clear that the world continues to watch and cry for justice to be served and for Davis be spared from execution.  Visit our site to learn more on how you can support Troy during the Global Day of Solidarity on June 29th.

Breaking! Troy Davis to get his day in court

Update (4/30/10):  Troy’s evidentiary hearing has been moved up to June 23rd

We just got word that Troy Davis will finally get his day in court.  A federal judge has scheduled an evidentiary hearing  for June 30 in the Savannah-based federal district court for southern Georgia.

Troy Davis was convicted of murdering a Georgia police officer in 1991. Nearly two decades later, Davis remains on death row – even though the case against him has fallen apart. On August 17th, the Supreme Court issued an order mandating a new evidentiary hearing for death-row inmate Troy Anthony Davis. With its ruling, the nation’s highest court decided that Davis should have another chance to prove his innocence before the state of Georgia puts him to death.

While the news of the hearing date is welcome, we must continue to let Georgia authorities know that we support full justice for Troy Davis.  Sign our petition opposing the death penalty for Troy Davis!

Troy’s evidentiary hearing has been moved to June 23

"I owe my life to Amnesty International"

“I owe my life to Amnesty International…  Now I am dedicating that life to campaigning against the death penalty and raising awareness about human rights.”

Hafez Ibrahim holds a newspaper covering his release and pardon.

Hafez Ibrahim holds a newspaper covering his release and pardon.

Earlier this month in Yemen, an emotional Hafez Ibrahim greeted Amnesty International researcher Lamri Chirouf, the man he credits with stopping his execution for a crime committed when he was a child.

Now aged 22, Hafez proudly described his determination to make the most of the life that was returned to him. He is in his third year at Sana’a University studying law, and plans to dedicate himself to protecting human rights. His story highlights the additional injustice and cruelty of the death penalty when it comes to juvenile offenders.

Hafez Ibrahim was 16 when he attended a wedding in his home town of Ta’izz. Everyone was in high spirits and most of the men were armed. At some point, the celebrations boiled over, a struggle broke out, a gun went off and someone was killed.

“The first judge sentenced me to death in 2005,” he told Amnesty International. “Then the case was referred to another judge, who confirmed the death sentence.” He was not allowed to appeal.

Two years later and half way across the world in Amnesty International’s headquarters in London, Lamri received a text on his mobile phone. It read: “They are about to execute us. Hafez”. Remarkably, Hafez had managed to get hold of a phone in Ta’izz Central Prison to send his desperate message.

Hafez knew what awaited him. He would be forced to lie face down on the ground inside the prison, and then guards would shoot him through the heart with an automatic rifle. The young man began the cruel countdown to death.

“We were devastated by this news and immediately sent appeals to the Yemeni President and authorities,” said Lamri. “We also mobilized our membership by issuing an Urgent Action on behalf of Hafez.”

The President responded by ordering a stay of execution to allow time to obtain a pardon from the family of the victim. When no pardon emerged, the execution was rescheduled for August 8, 2007.

Amnesty International again sent out appeals to the President, who ordered a further three-day stay of execution. The family of the victim then agreed to postpone the execution until after the holy month of Ramadan.

On  October 30, 2007, after the victim’s family agreed to pardon him in exchange for diya (compensation) of 25 million Yemeni riyals (approximately US$126,000), Hafez was released.

“I was so happy,” he told Lamri in Sana’a earlier this month. “I cannot describe my feelings. Until now I feel like I am dreaming. I feel that it is impossible that I am still walking.”

College students read last words of the executed

A couple of days ago, we revealed staggering statistics about countries utilizing capital punishment. Our newest report Death Sentences and Executions shows that the U.S. ranks 7th in the world. Texas leads with the number of executions performed in 2009. Without wasting any time, college students in San Antonio, TX raised their voices in protest against the death penalty.


Check out this video from the event:

Visit www.amnestyusa.org/abolish or email dpac@aiusa.org to get involved.

Troy Davis gets visitors in Georgia: Peachy with a side of Keane

By Laura Moye, Death Penalty Abolition Campaign Director

This is just a quick note from Savannah, Georgia, where I am right now with a wonderful delegation of folks from the UK who are here visiting to support Troy Davis.

Many Amnesty International activists around the world have been working hard on the Troy Davis campaign.  AI UK is one of the sections that has made Troy’s case a priority.  They wanted to send a team here to visit Troy and offer their solidarity for our struggle.  Their anti-death penalty campaigner, Kim Manning-Cooper, is here with Alistair Carmichael, a Member of Parliament, and Richard Hughes, drummer for popular British band Keane.

On Friday, September 25, we had meetings with three members of Congress’ offices and European embassy staffers.  All of these public servants have been invested in work to abolish the death penalty and create a more fair justice system.  It was wonderful to exchange perspectives and discuss strategies for a global effort to end the death penalty. That night, we flew to Atlanta.  We drove down to Jackson Saturday morning along with Troy’s mother, Virginia, and sister, Martina.  We entered the maximum security facility, lined with tall fences covered in multiple coils of concertina wire and guard towers at every corner.

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