Adding the site to Technorati

Something new to try – how to get found more readily on the interwires… http://www.Technorati.com

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Belarus: Capital punishment’s last stand in Europe

Article copied from Belarus Digest. Very interesting to get some perspective on the last remaining European nation to cling to capital punishment. Belarus flies in the face of European law, and is refused membership of the EU or Council of Europe because of its stance. As with many of the retentionist nations, this status is characterised by a lack of transparency. The first step being addressed by Human Rights organisations is to push for more information on the processes and statistics around executions, so that we can have a clearer idea of what we are working with. If such nations are proud of their record on the death penalty and human rights then they should have nothing to fear or hide from the rest of the world.

Capital Punishment in Belarus

Map showing Belarus in Europe

Belarus, the last retentionist nation in Europe

Last week Belarusians Andrey Zhuk and Vasil Yuzepchuk were secretly executed in the Minsk Detention Center No. 1. They were informed of the execution only minutes before they were shot. Their families were not notified that the execution would take place, given the bodies after the execution, or told where the executied were buried. Having circumnavigated the globe by means of the foreign media, the news of the executions has still not been confirmed by the Belarusian authorities. The official notification of the punishment will probably take months.

Secrecy a-la Felix Dzerzhinsky is how the capital punishment is routinely carried out in Minsk, a city in the heart of Europe (dis?)graced with a 10.5-foot-tall statue of the founder of the Soviet secret police. Belarus is the only European country that still carries out the capital punishment. In the 21st century even Russia observes moratorium on the death penalty.

Capital punishment is prescribed “for especially grave crimes and only in accordance with the verdict of a court of law,” according to Article 24 of the Belarusian Constitution. The “grave crimes” include treason, conspiracy to seize state power, sabotage, and murder of a police officer. With a population of approximately ten million, Belarus has executed about 400 people since 1991, according to Amnesty International’s estimate.

Last week the heads of the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly have condemned the execution pointing out that “the UN Human Rights Committee was still considering individual applications” on Zhuk’s and Yuzepchuk’s cases. They have yet again “called on the Belarusian government to suspend the enforcement of the penalty.”

Responding to criticism in the past, Minsk used to call capital punishment an internal affair. It would also bring up the 1996 referendum, in which the Belarusians people voted against abolishing the death penalty (not in the least because the second best alternative was a mere 15-year-long prison sentence).

Retaining the death penalty has kept Belarus out of the Council of Europe, and by carrying out executions in secrecy Belarus has been violating its commitments as a member of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Revoking or imposing a moratorium on capital punishment – or at least making the information about the executions public – could be Minsk’s small but important step toward Europe. However, the country has not matured enough to belong to the European institutions founded on the respect for human rights, the rule of law, and democratic development.

Belarus refuses to revise its stance on capital punishment or even make executions more humane. The authorities ignore valid international criticisms that the Belarusian justice system does not accord with international standards for fair trial, prevent the use of torture (Yuzepchuk’s lawyer contended the defendant was beaten into confessing), or grant the convicted right to a public hearing.

Why are the Belarusian authorities insisting on maintaining the Soviet-like secrecy about the executions? Perhaps because had the Belarusian people aware of the true number of people sentenced to death, the domestic debate on the issue of capital punishment would have been much more energetic and constructive.  

(with thanks to Susanne Cardona of www.gcadp.org, the German Coalition Against the Death Penalty)

Hank Skinner: What should we hope for next?

It became clear on Wednesday night, as we celebrated (“crying AND doing the Happy Dance” as my friend Carol Crowe-Leonard said on Twitter), that there was a lot of remaining confusion about exactly WHAT had been granted to Hank Skinner and what that actually meant. It was a relief to see this clarification posted by Change.org. I urge everyone to read it. It looks like there are still a number of weighty ‘Ifs’ between Wednesday’s indefinite stay of execution and freedom for Hank.

Governor Rick Perry and smiling fans

Smiling Perry and fans

So – if the worst happens and the treacle of the American justice system becomes too thick for reason to prevail at the next phase – what chance remains for a reprieve? Well let’s not forget that even if the Supreme Court denies review, there is the final recourse to Governor Rick Perry to continue the stay for an additional 30 days, and to just TEST THE DNA. Would he give the instruction do so? Well, just as the Texas Board of Paroles is a closed and secretive body, it’s hard to read Governor Perry. Instinct would say it’s unlikely. He’s the beloved figurehead of the ‘Hang ‘Em High state’ after all, and he’s busy fighting the corner of his hardcore Republican fanbase on the matter of the healthcare reform bill right now amidst cries of ‘Lead us into secession, Governor Perry, save us from Washington!’. But those cries also mingle with the ones saying ‘Please, Governor Perry, run for President!’ Looking at his snakeoil charm and devout, if misguided, following, and coupling that with the past form of Texas Governors in acceding to the Presidency*, it’s entirely possible that his unstated ambition is that of one day becoming POTUS. And if so, could he in years to come enter into that race knowing that everyone in the Western world had watched him deny a man his last, earnest chance to clear his name?

Opponents of the death penalty tend to look upon Texas as an almost unassailable mountain to climb – it does after all hold the record as the State with most executions under its belt, by a long way – but I can’t help but feel that whatever the outcome for Hank, we have turned a small corner. Perry is in a difficult position, the rationale of the TBPP has again been called into question, and the entire machinery of the capital justice system, which would allow a man’s life to be callously terminated while exculpatory evidence remains, MUST be under increased scrutiny…

So we need to hope that SCOTUS reviews the case for civil appeal. We need to hope that they agree that a constitutional right exists for Hank to have access to the DNA evidence thus far denied. We have to hope the DNA is conclusively in Hank’s favor. And we have to hope that the evidence of his innocence concludes rapidly with a full pardon and release. Above all, we must hope that everything that has happened in Texas since long before Tim Cole and Cameron Todd Willingham, right up to the present day, will be ringing loud and irrepressible alarm bells in courtrooms and police stations across the land.

That’s a lot of hope. I think we’re up for it!!!

Here’s a video interview with Hank’s daughter Natalie soon after we had news of the stay.

* Governor George W. Bush notoriously once claimed that not one innocent man had been executed on his watch.

Protest the planned execution of Hank Skinner on March 24th!

Sandrine and Hank Skinner

Here for the benefit of those not on Facebook is the substance of today’s plea from Sandrine Ageorges-Skinner. With only a few days remaining for the Board of Paroles and Pardons and Governor Perry to grant a stay of execution so that critical DNA materials can be tested, it’s important to do whatever you can to petition the State and secure a chance for Hank.

Too many death row prisoners have been exonerated upon DNA proof of innocence. Too many people have been executed on unsafe grounds. The criminal justice system is not perfect. Please – Help give this man the chance for life he deserves.

*     *     *     *

Hank’s clemency petition is seeking a commutation of Hank’s death sentence to life in prison in order to enable him to prove his innocence and seek a pardon.

WRITE, FAX OR CALL GOVERNOR RICK PERRY

Governor Rick Perry
Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 12428
Austin, Texas 78711-2428
Fax: 512-463-1849

Main number: 512-463-2000
Website email contact form/ http://www.governor.state.tx.us/contact/

or use the online letter signing page set up by the Innocence Project here:
http://www.change.org/innocence_project/actions/view/order_dna_testing_for_hank_skinner

THANK YOU ALL FOR YOUR SUPPORT!

All the details of the case are available on the website, however, here are some of the points you can raise:

  • Hank was sentenced to die on the basis of a perjured testimony and circumstantial evidence
  • The accusation theory relied on that one witness, who later recanted and explained how she was threatened to make a false statement to the police and give a deposition at trial which was based on a script supplied by the district attorney’s office
  • Both the State’s star witnesses (Andrea Reed & Howard Mitchell) have testified that they believe Hank to be innocent
  • The little forensic analysis done before his trial excluded him as the killer
  • The additional and minimum testing done during his post conviction appeals excluded him too
  • The available scientific evidence proves his physical incapacitation at the time of the crime
  • The significant quantity of evidence remaining to be tested is essential to reveal the truth about his innocence
  • His motions for DNA testing have been denied although he has always offered to pay for the costs
  • The state of Texas has a very poor record in terms of wrongful convictions and DNA exonerations
  • The interest of justice is to find out the truth and to not execute an innocent
  • The state is withholding the untested evidence that can prove Hank’s innocence
  • All three of the previous D.A.s have publicly stated that they believe the evidence needs to be tested
  • The D.A. has admitted in Ch 64 DNA pleadings that the evidence is in a condition making testing possible, that the chain of custody has been maintained, that the evidence is capable of providing a probative result and identity is an issue in Hank’s case
  • Texas should not execute a man it does not know for a fact to be guilty. After Andrea Reed’s recantation, according to the state’s own experts, the remaining evidence does nothing to prove guilt at all. The A.G has stated through his spokesman that it would violate the constitution to murder someone who is innocent – that has got to apply equally to someone they do not know for a fact to be guilty

Both petitions (commutation and reprieve) as well as three statements attached to the petitions can be dowloaded in the “legal documents” section of the website.

http://www.hankskinner.org

Event: Voices for Death Row Inmates – London, UK, April 2010

Please see the Facebook Event Page.

On the 30th April Voices for Death Row Inmates have organized a day of action. This involves London, Ohio, Australia and Texas all confirmed with other locations awaiting location confirmation.

At the London event we will have several guest speakers and hopefully an exonerated former death row inmate. We are proud and honoured to announce that Gilles Denizot has confirmed that he will be there to speak about his life working to end the death penalty.

We are holding this peaceful event to show that the world have not forgotten the inmates who sit awaiting their state sanctioned murder. We urge the U.S to abolish the death penalty. They need to be heard and we are their voice.

So make the 30th April available in your diary and get yourself to London, we all fight for the same thing and so join us in solidarity.

This WILL be a day of success and will be the first of many events held by ”VOICES FOR DEATH ROW INMATES”

Venue: Outside US Embassy, London (tbc)