Afghan Couple Stoned to Death

“We love each other no matter what happens.” Those were some of the last words of Khayyam and Siddiqa before they were stoned to death for ‘eloping’. This was the first stoning in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Surrounded by many of the victims’ neighbors and even their family members, the couple received this gruesome punishment handed down by an Islamic Council.

In fact, the execution was carried out two days after the Council of Ulema called on the Afghan government to implement harsher shari’a punishments, which included public stoning, lashing and amputations.

In an interview with MSNBC’s ‘Hardball with Chris Matthews’, Asia Pacific director T. Kumar, recently spoke on the implications of the stoning in Afghanistan (see video above).

© Amnesty International

Amnesty International called on the Afghan government and the Council of Ulema not to abuse human rights by renouncing the use of stoning as a punishment. In addition, we recommended that the International Criminal court investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity in light of the “increasing brutality of the Taliban and other insurgent groups” towards Afghan citizens.

Despite continuous efforts by international human rights groups and governments, the method of execution by stoning still remains a legal punishment in several other countries. They include Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates.

The news of the couple stoned to death is a tragic and ironic remainder of ongoing abuses of human rights in Afghanistan. The Council of Ulema and the Afghan government must denounce stoning as a punishment and cease from using it.

An Ongoing Cycle of Violence

On September 28, 2010, Gaile Owens, a 57-year old mother and grandmother, is set to be executed in Tennessee – she would be the first woman executed since 1820 in the state. She was convicted of soliciting the murder of her husband, Ronald Owens, more than 24 years ago. But since the conclusion of the trial, evidence has emerged that Gaile Owens endured severe abuse at the hands of her husband, and may have been suffering from “Battered Women’s Syndrome.”  

When Owens was arrested in 1985, she was appointed a lawyer who helped out at the beginning of the case but soon had to withdraw, leaving Owens with two other attorneys. The first lawyer though, signed an affidavit in 2009 recalling Owens’ state of mind the day after the arrest:

[Gaile was] extraordinarily remorseful for hiring someone to kill her husband. But her most immediate and profound concern was the well-being of her children. Ms. Owens was clear – she wanted to plead guilty and avoid a trial because she didn’t want to put her children and the rest of her family through any more pain…Ms. Owens was also immediately forthcoming with me regarding her motivations for hiring someone to kill her husband – her husband was abusive and cheated on her regularly. Based on the information she provided, I immediately recognized that the defense in this case should be that Ms. Owens suffered from battered women’s syndrome. Based on that, I believe this case should never have been a death penalty case.

Gaile Owens did indeed agree to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence, but was not allowed to do so because Sidney Porterfield, the man she hired, did not accept the agreement. Both were sentenced to death.

Gaile Owens has received support of organizations such as the National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women and the Tennessee Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. They have called for her sentence to be commuted because:

Gaile Owens was a victim of serious abuse at the hands of her husband, including brutal sexual assaults… As organizations that work with victims of abuse, we are particularly appalled by the inadequate investigation and presentation of Ms. Owens’ psychosocial history by her trial attorney, and throughout the case. Ms. Owens was not examined by professionals with the expertise the case required, nor was relevant information presented (at all or as fully as needed) about the abuse she experienced over lifetime.

Putting Gaile Owens to death would do nothing now but make the state and people of Tennessee active participants in an ongoing cycle of violence.  If ever there was a text book case for a Governor to grant clemency and commute a death sentence, this is it.

Former witnesses against Troy come clean

By Laura Kagel, Georgia Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator for Amnesty International USA

Savannah was tranquil and warm in the early hours when people started lining up to get passes for the evidentiary hearing in the Troy Davis case. The police seemed prepared for some major disruptions, but a courteous atmosphere prevailed everywhere.

Across from the courthouse Amnesty International was a presence, along with the NAACP, under the dense foliage of Wright Square. Inside the pleasantly air-conditioned courtroom the public seemed full of anticipation and the sight of box after box of court documents entering the chamber was a sudden visual reminder of the gravity of the event.  Just before the proceedings began, Troy entered the courtroom in the company of corrections department employees. He looked straight ahead and then took a seat at the end of the row of defense lawyers and facing the witness stand. His legal team began calling witnesses straight off, because the judge had requested that they skip opening arguments.

(c) Scott Langley

The testimony of the witnesses called by the defense team really underscored the fragility of the state’s case against Troy Davis.  It was amazing to hear their stories. Over the course of the morning, the witnesses affirmed that their testimony implicating Davis was built on lies and often explained their recantations in moving ways, recounting the pressure they felt to point the finger at Troy.

Antoine Williams, who said he could not read the statement he allegedly made to the police because he can’t read, talked about being haunted with nightmares about it.  Kevin McQueen testified that he implicated Troy because he was mad at him.  When asked what he hoped to gain by his testimony today, he stated simply, “peace of mind.” When pressed about his earlier – now recanted – testimony, McQueen said adamantly, “The man did not tell me he shot anyone. Period.”


This Week in Pointless Executions

On Monday, June 14th, Ronnie Lee Gardner was denied clemency by the Utah Board of Pardons and Paroles.  Much of the attention since, and really before, has been on Gardner’s chosen method of execution – the firing squad. 

Yet there are many other issues that we should not lose sight of in our morbid fascination with old timey methods of state killing.

Following the Utah Board’s decision, Gardner’s attorneys filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court questioning the fairness of the clemency process, because the state Attorney General’s Office was simultaneously pursuing Ronnie Gardner’s execution while serving as legal advisor to the Board.

In addition to the civil rights suit, three jurors from Gardner’s trial in 1985 have come forward and signed statements expressing that they no longer support his execution.  One juror, Pauline Davies, wrote that she “felt coerced into voting for death.”

Another juror, Colleen Cline, in a phone interview said, “I think we all would have gone for life without parole if that had been an option. But in the state of Utah, it was not an option at that time.” Instead the jurors were forced to choose between capital punishment and a life sentence with the possibility of parole.  Gardner, who has the support of friends and family of the victim and who has spent 25 years on death row, faces execution this Friday, though there is still a chance Utah’s Governor could intervene. Amnesty International is urging him to do so

On Tuesday, June 15th David Lee Powell was executed in Texas for the murder of a police officer committed in May 1978. He had been on death row for more than half of his life.

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted against clemency, unanimously rejecting Powell’s powerful case of rehabilitation and change. He was in the midst of a methamphetamine addiction when the crime occurred, but Powell cleaned up in prison where a noted psychologist stated, “David Powell ha[d] an exceptional ability to reach out and educate others. He [could] trace his own untoward footsteps and paths with great clarity and wisdom.” Powell’s years in prison changed him and it became clear that he no longer posed a danger to anyone and no longer qualified for execution under terms of “future dangerousness“.  Texas was given a chance to change as well and grant clemency for once, but the execution was carried out as scheduled.

I Would Like the Firing Squad, Please

Ronald Lee Gardner faces execution on June 18 in Utah.  The media has zeroed in on the fact that he has chosen the firing squad as his method of execution – which seems kind of hard core and old school given the lengths states have gone through to try to make executions appear “humane”.   Gardner’s exact words to judge were: “I would like the firing squad, please.”

Utah’s firing squad carried out the first execution of the so-called “modern” era of US capital punishment, when Gary Gilmore was shot in January 1977, six months after the US Supreme Court allowed executions to restart under new death penalty statutes.   Another prisoner, John Albert Taylor, was put to death by a Utah firing squad in 1996. 

MVFMarchBut more important than Ronald Lee Gardner’s peculiar choice is the fact that the family and friends of his victim are opposed to his execution.  Gardner killed Michael Burdell, a defense attorney, during a 1985 courtroom escape attempt, but Burdell’s father, his girlfriend, and another friend all plan to testify on Gardner’s behalf if Utah’s Board of Pardons and Parole agrees to hold a clemency hearing.

State officials often claim that their support for the death penalty and executions is in part to honor the wishes and needs of victims’ families.  Will the state of Utah honor the wishes of this victim’s family and refrain from executing Ronald Lee Gardner?

"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 or email [email protected] to get involved.

Bangladesh Executes Five For Killing Independence Leader

I was going to write asking for readers of this blog to write to the Bangladeshi authorities and urge them not to execute the five convicted killers (Syed Farooq-ur Rahman, Sultan Shahriar Rashid Khan, Mohiuddin Ahmed, AKM Mohiuddin Ahmed, and Bazlul Huda) of Bangladesh’s first president Sheikh Mujibar Rahman.  But, I was too late– the execution happened today, US East Coast time.

The men were part of a conspiracy in 1975 aimed at toppling Sheikh Mujibhar Rahman (known as Mujib or Bangabandhu).  He took power in 1971 after a bloody liberation war that left upwards of 3 million people dead.  Mujib’s opponents believed that he was becoming increasingly autocratic and a coup overthrew his government.  He and his family, unaware of the coup plotter’s intentions, were captured by the coup plotters.  Then Mujib’s entire family (his wife and children) except for one daughter were killed (this article from today’s Daily Star in Dhaka describes the scene those many years ago).  That daughter, Sheikh Hasina, was in England studying and returned to Bangladesh where she is now the Prime Minister.

Amnesty International is opposed to the death penalty in all cases.  The death penalty is in violation of the right to life as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I can only imagine the heart break that Prime Minister Hasina feels about the loss of her family in such a tragic circumstances.  In fact, it is hard to feel any sympathy for the cold blooded murderers of her family.  But, Bangladesh’s government chose revenge over justice, and, it was the wrong choice.

A Troubling Week in Texas

The death penalty is always inhumane, and the past few days in Texas have brought to light some of its most worrisome aspects.

On Wednesday, The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles recommended that Robert Thompson’s death sentence for his role in a 1996 robbery and shooting be commuted to life imprisonment. The shooter, Sammy Butler, was convicted and received life in prison, which raises serious questions about the arbitrary nature of how the death penalty works in real life. Why wait until the last minute to discuss the disproportionality of sentencing the accomplice to death while the man who pulled the trigger is sentenced to life in prison?

Earlier this week a federal judge in Houston granted a last-minute stay to Gerald Eldridge, allowing 90 days for a review of his mental state and capacity. Executing the mentally ill is extremely problematic, and the time to deal with such a serious issue is not during a prisoner’s last meal. Such jarring, nerve-wracking changes at the last second are traumatic for everyone involved, including the victims’ families.


Imminent Execution

Kenneth Mosley is scheduled for execution on September 24. He has been on death row for the past twelve years. Mr. Mosley was convicted of killing a police officer while attempting to rob a bank in Garland, Texas on February 15, 1997.

Kenneth Mosley

Kenneth Mosley

If and when he is executed, Mr. Mosley will be among the 200+ victims of the death penalty under a single Texas governor.

Mr. Mosley has committed a terrible crime, and things look grim for him. He overcame many adversities in his life, but finally a combination of addiction and difficult circumstances led to this tragedy. Still he says:

I’m staying positive and have hope that something good will happen …

Kenneth Mosley grew up in an abusive home. His family was very poor, and racial tensions ran high in the community.  In spite of it all, Kenneth managed to finish high school and a year of college. Unfortunately, he did not have the financial means to continue his education. He left college to work in a Coca Cola Bottling Company. Soon afterwards, he met and married his wife Carol.  They had a baby girl named Amber.

Life was going well for the Mosely family, but things started to fall apart when Ken became addicted to crack cocaine. He and his wife sought treatment from many different clinics, but after losing his job, he lost his health insurance and, with it, any hope of affording treatment for his addiction. His life went into a downward spiral.

One day, with a gun in his pocket, Ken walked into a bank. A police officer, who later paid with his own life, spotted him and attempted to stop him from robbing the bank. They struggled and crashed through a window. During the struggle,  the officer was shot and killed.

During Ken’s trial, the quality of the representation he received was so poor that he may as well have been deprived of his constitutional right to effective counsel.  The lawyers failed to present evidence of several mitigating factors that may have influenced the jury’s decision to impose the death penalty.  For example, despite the fact that Ken suffered a brain injury resulting in permanent damage, his attorneys did not even examine Ken’s medical records.  Nor did they address his debilitating addiction to crack cocaine.  No evidence of either impairment was presented to the jury.

If you wish to participate in efforts to obtain clemency for Kenneth Mosley, see Amnesty’s Urgent Action for Kenneth Mosley. For additional information, visit