The Top 10 Things You Need to Know About Amnesty’s Death Penalty Report

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:

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5 Death Penalty Myths Debunked

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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.

MYTH #1
The death penalty deters violent crime and makes society safer.

FACT
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.

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Imprisoned For Refusing to Work on Military Projects “Harmful to Humanity”

Omid Kokabee

Omid Kokabee

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.

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Will Rouhani Create Meaningful Reforms or Play Political Games?

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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.

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2 Historical Traumas That Continue to Cast a Long Shadow Over Iran

Khavaran Cemetery (Photo Credit: Iranian.com).

Khavaran Cemetery (Photo Credit: Iranian.com).

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.

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The Future of Human Rights in Iran Under President-Elect Hassan Rouhani

People hold campaign posters of Iranian presidential candidate, Hassan Rowhani in the streets during a presidential election rally on June 11, 2013 in Tehran, Iran (Photo Credit: Majid Saeedi/Getty Images).

People hold campaign posters of Iranian presidential candidate, Hassan Rowhani in the streets during a presidential election rally on June 11, 2013 in Tehran, Iran (Photo Credit: Majid Saeedi/Getty Images).

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.

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