Today, Amnesty International released its annual report on the use of the death penalty worldwide. Although 2013 saw more executions than in previous years and several countries resuming executions, there was also progress towards abolition in all regions of the world. Below, see the top 10 things you need to know from our newest report:
In advance of the release of our 2014 Global Death Penalty Report tomorrow, here are 5 of the most common misconceptions about the death penalty.
The death penalty deters violent crime and makes society safer.
There is no convincing evidence that the death penalty has a unique deterrent effect.
More than three decades after abolishing the death penalty, Canada’s murder rate remains over one third lower than it was in 1976.
The first day of spring is the beginning of a special time for Iranians and for other Persian and Kurdish speakers throughout the world as they celebrate Nowruz, the Iranian New Year. This is the time when families gather to share in ancient Iranian traditions.
But many Iranians will not be able to celebrate this important holiday with their loved ones as they are locked up in crowded and disease-ridden Iranian prisons. They are not locked up because they have committed any crime. They are locked up because of their religious faith, because of their activism to create a better world, or because they have expressed opinions the authorities don’t want others to hear.
It was the end of January 2011. Young Iranian physics whiz Omid Kokabee had just had a pleasant winter break visiting with his family in Iran and was eagerly anticipating returning to Austin to continue his doctoral studies in the Physics Department at the University of Texas. He was at the airport in Tehran when security agents approached him; instead of boarding his flight as planned, his life suddenly turned into a nightmare from which he has yet to awaken.
It is now three years later and Omid Kokabee sits in Evin Prison in Tehran, serving a ten-year prison sentence after being convicted in a Revolutionary Court of unsubstantiated charges of “communicating with a hostile government” (presumably the U.S.) and “accepting illegal funds” (apparently a reference to the stipend that graduate students at his department typically receive).
While in detention, he was held in solitary confinement, subjected to prolonged interrogations, and pressured to make a confession. His interrogators reportedly threatened that he would be tortured and that professors at Iranian universities with whom he had worked would be arrested. During questioning, he was reportedly made to write down details of individuals he had seen in embassies or at conferences, and was told by those questioning him that some of the people he had met were CIA operatives.
Amnesty International has declared him to be a prisoner of conscience, held solely for his refusal to work on military projects in Iran and as a result of spurious charges related to his legitimate scholarly ties with academic institutions outside of Iran. AI calls for his immediate and unconditional release from prison.
How many human rights activists does it take to achieve human rights victories in Iran?
The answer is a lot and they have to be persistent over a long period of time. But in the end, all the hard work does pay off as we have seen over the past several weeks.
On September 18, Iran released prominent human rights attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh, who had been in prison for three years just for representing her clients – many of them young people sentenced to death and human rights defenders such as Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi.
There are also indications that a man known as “Alireza M” – who had been subjected to a botched execution, had been declared dead and who was then discovered to be alive in the morgue the next day - will not have to face the horrific prospect of a reattempt of his execution.
Other positive signs include an announcement from Iran’s Minister of Culture Ali Jannati that censorship of books will be eased and a call from President Hasan Rouhani for the lifting of restrictions on academic freedom and for allowing Iranian scholars more opportunity to take part in international conferences.
The global community recently celebrated the release of Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and what appears to be dozens of others, among them political prisoners. However, we should reserve judgment regarding the future of human rights under the new administration in Iran until all those who remain unjustly imprisoned are freed and Iranians achieve the freedoms they have been demanding for several decades.
Sotoudeh, who had been detained in Iran since September 2010, was originally sentenced to 11 years in jail for “spreading propaganda against the system” and “acting against national security.” In reality, she is a lawyer who has defended many high-profile human rights campaigners, political activists, and juvenile offenders on death row. Throughout her career she publicly, but peacefully, challenged the Iranian authorities about the shortcomings of the rule of law and due process in the proceedings against her clients.
One of my favorite writers, William Faulkner, famously said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
I’ve been thinking about how societies wrestle with the profound historical trauma resulting from human rights violations on a massive scale since I saw the powerful new film “The Act of Killing.” It takes on the mass killings of hundreds of thousands of supposed “Communists” in Indonesia after an attempted coup in 1965, but not by using typical documentary devices of archival footage and talking heads.
Instead, the director Joshua Oppenheimer opted for a unique and unsettling approach – asking some of the perpetrators of the killings, who have never been held accountable for their abuses, to recreate their crimes, often in staged genre settings inspired by their favorite classic gangster films and fluffy musicals.
Iran’s challenges are not few, from job creation and stopping inflation to improving foreign relations. Most presidential candidates in 2013 ran on such platforms. However, there was a key issue that was not directly addressed in their political vernacular: human rights.
While many jubilant Iranians and a hopeful international community are touting president-elect Hassan Rouhani as a reformist because of his promise to ease restrictions at home, free political prisoners, and to offer more transparency for Iran’s controversial nuclear program, it should not be ignored that he remains, nevertheless, among those select few candidates approved to run by Iran’s Guardian Council.
Only one candidate is seriously addressing the issue of human rights in the lead-up to Iran’s presidential election on June 14. She is a mother, devoutly religious (albeit with an irreverence for authority), she has a well-thought out platform and a plan to initiate widespread reforms to guarantee human rights in Iran. Her name is Zahra and – oh, by the way – she is not real.
Zahra would not be allowed to run anyway as women are precluded from being the president of Iran. But that minor detail does not discourage Zahra. Undaunted, she is out there on the campaign trail, courageously speaking truth to power and confronting the authorities over their rampant human rights violations, calling for an end to the death penalty and for the release of all political prisoners.
Governments and other organizations across the world are perfecting techniques to prevent journalists from shining a light on corruption and human rights abuses. From trumped-up charges and removing work licenses to murder, here are 10 ways journalists are repressed and prevented from reporting freely and fairly.
1. Physical Attacks
In some countries such as Syria, Turkmenistan and Somalia, governments, military forces and armed groups attack and even kill journalists who are seen to be critical of their policies and practices.
In May 2012, 18-year-old citizen journalist Abd al-Ghani Ka’ake was fatally shot by a government sniper in Syria while filming a demonstration in Aleppo. Armed opposition groups have also attacked and killed journalists.