Asian countries putting thousands to death after unfair trials - new report

A hard-line group of Asian countries are defying the global trend against the death penalty and putting to death thousands of people after unfair trials every year, Amnesty International and colleagues in the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN) said today in a new report.

Some 14 Asian countries, taken together, execute more people than the rest of the world combined. Worryingly Thailand and Taiwan have both resumed use of the death penalty after a period of cessation.

The report, When justice fails: thousands executed in Asia after unfair trials , highlights the struggle to secure a fair trial in eight of these countries. The report calls for action for eight people facing execution in China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan and Pakistan. In each case, a death sentence was delivered after an unfair trial and in six of the cases the conviction relied on a confession extracted through torture.

Catherine Baber, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Asia-Pacific, said:

"The flawed justice systems in many of these countries, creates a situation where people are executed after blatantly unfair trials where they have had little or no access to legal advice and may even have been convicted after being tortured into confessing."

Over half of all Asian countries have officially abolished the death penalty, or have in practice not carried out executions in the last ten years.

Yet Taiwan restarted executions in 2010 after a four-year break, despite declaring a policy of gradual abolition in 2000. Thailand resumed executions in 2009, despite committing to abolishing the death penalty in its human rights action plan.

Chiou Ho-shun is Taiwan’s longest-detained criminal defendant in its longest-running criminal case. Sentenced to death for murder in 1989, he has been detained for more than 23 years. His case was described by lawyers as “a stain on our country’s legal history”.

Chiou’s case has been re-tried 11 times. He claims he was tortured into making a false confession.

Taiwan’s High Court recognised that violence was used against Chiou, but excluded from evidence sections of his interrogation tapes where the abuse could be heard.

He lost his final appeal to the Supreme Court in August 2011 and could be executed at any time.

In January 2011, Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice admitted that a previous prisoner, sentenced to death, Chiang Kuo-ching, a private in the Air Force, had been executed in error in 1997 for a murder he did not commit. The authorities acknowledged that a statement “confessing” to the crime had been made as a result of torture.

Hsinyi Lin, Executive Director the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty, said:

“Only abolition of the death penalty can guarantee that no innocent person is executed. Government apologies for execution ‘in error’ can never be enough.”

Forced confessions are regularly relied upon as evidence during trials in Afghanistan, China, Japan, India and Indonesia despite laws against the practice.

In India, Devender Pal Singh, currently on death row, claimed to the Supreme Court that his interrogators threatened to kill him and “manhandled” him to “sign several blank papers”.

Prisoners facing the death penalty in Asia often have little or no access to lawyers, either before or during trial.

Japan’s daiyo kangoku system allows the police to detain and interrogate suspects without a lawyer for up to 23 days, on the assumption that a lawyer’s presence would make it hard to ‘persuade the suspect to tell the truth’.

Maiko Tagusari, Secretary-General of the Center for Prisoners' Rights Japan, said:

“That a person can be sentenced to death when there is virtually no evidence against them beyond a ‘confession’ is the ultimate indictment of a society’s justice system.”

Hakamada Iwao is believed to be the world's longest-serving death row inmate who has spent the last 43 years awaiting execution in Japan. He was convicted after an unfair trial. In Japan no notice is given prior to the execution day, and so he faces the mental torment of never knowing if each day could be his last. Hakamada Iwao is one of Amnesty's ten priority cases for this year's letter campaign; Write for Rights. Hakamada, a former boxer, was sentenced to death in 1968. During his trial, judges raised concerns that confessions provided by the prosecution were not signed voluntarily. Of 45 documents, only one was declared admissible. He was convicted and sentenced to death. He has been kept in isolation for over 30 years.

Chinese authorities can make it difficult for lawyers to meet with clients or access case files, and lawyers have been charged for introducing evidence that “challenges the prosecution’s case”.

Under international law, the death penalty can only be imposed for intentional crimes with lethal consequences, and mandatory death sentences are prohibited. Yet some Asian countries impose the death penalty for non-lethal crimes, including drug trafficking and theft. Malaysia, Pakistan, Singapore, and North Korea are among Asian countries imposing a mandatory death penalty for possession of a certain quantity of drugs.

There are at least 55 capital offences in China, 28 in Pakistan, and 57 in Taiwan.

The Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN) launched in 2006. ADPAN is an independent cross-regional network that campaigns for an end to the death penalty across the Asia-Pacific Region. ADPAN is independent of governments and any political or religious affiliation. Members include lawyers, NGOs, civil society groups, human rights defenders and activists from 23 countries.

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