Death Penalty: Countries continue to execute people with mental and intellectual disabilities

Countries around the world continue to sentence to death or to execute people with mental and intellectual disabilities, in clear violation of international standards, Amnesty International said ahead of the World Day against the Death Penalty (10 October 2014). Amnesty International has documented cases of people who suffer from such disabilities facing execution or being executed in countries including Japan, Pakistan and the USA. Unless these countries urgently reform their criminal justice systems many more people are at risk. “The international standards on mental and intellectual disability are important safeguards for vulnerable people. They do not seek to excuse horrendous crimes – they set parameters for the nature of the penalty that can be imposed,” said Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty International’s Global Issues Director. “We oppose the death penalty in all circumstances – it is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. But in those countries that still execute, international standards, including those prohibiting the use of capital punishment on certain vulnerable groups, must be respected and implemented, pending full abolition.” For this year’s World Day against the Death Penalty, Amnesty International and the World Coalition against the Death Penalty are putting the spotlight on capital punishment and people with mental or intellectual disabilities. “International standards clearly require that those suffering from mental and intellectual disabilities should not face the ultimate punishment. But in many cases disabilities are not identified during criminal processes,” said Audrey Gaughran. “Countries that still execute must ensure that there are resources to carry out independent and rigorous assessments of anyone facing the death penalty, from the time they are charged and continuing after the sentence.” “We urge governments of all countries that still resort to the death penalty to immediately establish a moratorium on executions as a first step towards abolition.  What we are highlighting today is yet another example of the injustice of this penalty”. The following are recent illustrative examples of the use of the death penalty against people with mental or intellectual disabilities: 

In the USA, Askari Abdullah Muhammad was executed in Florida on 7 January 2014 for a prison murder committed in 1980. He had a long history of serious mental illness, including diagnoses of paranoid schizophrenia. On 9 April Mexican national Ramiro Hernandez Llanas was executed in Texas despite evidence that his intellectual disability, as assessed in six different IQ tests over the past decade, rendered his death sentence unconstitutional. In Florida, Amnesty International is highlighting the cases of two death row prisoners -- Frank Walls and Michael Zack -- who both have a background of severe mental trauma and have exhausted their appeals process. In Japan, several prisoners suffering from mental illness have already been executed; others remain on death row. Hakamada Iwao, now 78 years old, was sentenced to death for murder following an unfair trial in 1968, and is the world’s longest serving death row prisoner. He developed severe mental problems during his decades of solitary confinement.  He was temporarily released in March 2014 pending a possible retrial. Matusmoto Kenji has been on death row for murder since 1993 and could face execution any moment – he has a mental disability as a result of mercury poisoning (Minamata disease), is reportedly paranoid and incoherent as a result of a mental illness he developed during his detention on death row, and his lawyers are seeking a retrial. In Pakistan, Mohammad Asghar, who had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in the UK in 2010 and who then moved to Pakistan, was convicted of blasphemy in 2014 and sentenced to death.