China, Iran and Jamaica go against trend on executions

The execution of a Chinese scientist on Friday is the latest in a series of executions that are going against the global trend towards a moratorium on the death penalty.

Wo Weihan, a 59-year-old medical scientist who was found guilty of spying for Taiwan, spent 30 minutes with his family on the day before his execution. It was the first time he had been allowed to see his loved ones since being moved to a prison hospital in March 2005.

“He was surprised and very happy to see us. Because he did not know about a looming execution, he was hopeful and did not leave any final words or will with our family,” said his daughter Ran Chen.
Wo, who holds several patents for biomedical discoveries, was denied access to a lawyer for 10 months after his detention and sentenced to death after a closed trial in May 2007.

“We, the family, have not been granted the most fundamental and universal right of information about what was happening with our father. The execution was carried out in secrecy while we hoped. Not only was my father put to death, but also our hope in the Chinese justice system,” said Wo’s daughters.

China is one of three countries continuing the policy of killing their own people, less than a week after a record number of countries in the UN supported ending capital punishment.

In Iran, ten people were hanged on Wednesday 26 November in a mass execution that took place in Tehran’s Evin Prison. The executions were reported to have been for murder, robbery, and kidnapping and brought the total number of executions recorded by Amnesty International in 2008 to at least 296.

One of those hanged was Fatemeh Haghighat-Pajouh, whose conviction to qesas, or retribution – judicial execution for the crime of murder – for the murder of her temporary husband had been upheld in 2006 following a review of the case by the Supreme Court. Courts had rejected her claim that she had acted to prevent her husband, who was a drug addict, from attempting to rape her then teenage daughter from a previous marriage. Apparently he had previously told her that he had lost the girl in a gambling match. Her lawyer was not notified 48 hours in advance of her execution, as is required under Iranian law.

Others are at imminent risk of execution. Farzad Kamangar is a Kurdish teacher whose death sentence on the vaguely worded charge of moharebeh, or enmity against God, often used to mean armed insurrection, was upheld in July 2008. His first trial, prior to which he was tortured in a series of locations, was grossly unfair. He was removed from his cell on 25 November, raising alarm that he would be executed. His lawyer has stated that his case is under review by the Supreme Court and that it is not legally possible to execute him in the absence of any warning. However, as in the case of Fatemeh Haghighat-Pajouh, human rights activists remain concerned that he may be quickly executed at any time.

At the same time, reports emerged that the Supreme Court had confirmed, in August 2008, a verdict of death by stoning, passed on Afsaneh R by a lower court in Shiraz, southern Iran. Reports suggest that the verdict was reached relying on ‘the knowledge’ of the judge, a provision in Iranian law that enables a judge to determine sentences in a subjective manner. Reports about the verdict cast doubt on the integrity of a statement by a judicial official, on the same day in August 2008, that execution by stoning had been suspended. The Head of Iran’s judiciary had announced a moratorium in 2002, although a stoning took place in 2007. It remains to be seen whether, as the case of Afsaneh R will show, the announcement in August was a hollow promise.

In Jamaica, the vote on retaining the death penalty emerged in light of discussions around the new Charter of Rights and Freedoms Bill. The new Charter seeks to replace Chapter III of the Jamaican Constitution dedicated to the protection of fundamental rights and freedom of persons.

The purpose of the vote was to decide whether provisions allowing for the death penalty as an exception to the right to life should be retained or deleted from the Charter. Following the vote at the House of Representatives, the Senate will also shortly debate and vote the motion.

The last execution in Jamaica was carried out on 18 February 1988. There were more than 190 prisoners under sentence of death at the end of 1988. Currently there are nine prisoners on death row.

“Although there appears little chance of Jamaica carrying out an execution in the near future, AI fears this vote signals the authorities’ intention to resume hanging as soon as condemned prisoners pending legal appeals allow them to,” said Amnesty International’s Piers Bannister.

“As the world increasingly turns its back on capital punishment, Amnesty International urges Iran, China and Jamaica to re-examine their policies of judicial killings. At the UN General Assembly, the international community has spoken with a clear voice that executions are unacceptable. Nations which retain capital punishment must heed this vital message.”

A large majority of states from all regions adopted a second resolution calling for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty in the UN General Assembly (Third Committee) on 20 November. 105 countries voted in favour of the draft resolution, 48 voted against and 31 abstained. A range of amendments proposed by a small minority of pro-death penalty countries were overwhelmingly defeated.

The draft resolution adopted on Thursday by the Third Committee of the General Assembly has still to be adopted by the General Assembly sitting in plenary in December.