Bangladesh – 25,000 Arbitrary Detention, 200 Extrajudicial Killing since May 2018? Now, new death penalty law for drugs?

Since May, when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina revamped her government’s war on drugs, an estimated 25,000 people have been arbitrarily imprisoned, and at least 200 have died in alleged shootouts.

Bangladesh’s arbitrary actions, including about 200 extrajudicial and ‘questionable’ killings all allegedly in the name of ‘war on drugs’ since May 2018 is condemned. Now, the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Cabinet moves to table a Bill that impose the death penalty for drug offences …

Bangladesh to impose death penalty on drug dealers with an eye on the December election

The government plans tighter controls on drug trafficking. New bill seeks to stop the sale of ‘ya ba’, the mad drug. The real goal is to ensure the outgoing government’s victory in next December’s elections. Since mid-May more than 200 people have been killed in “encounter” with the police.

 

Dhaka (AsiaNews) – The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina approved a draft law last Monday imposing the death penalty for drug offences. The official goal is to stop drug use and be tough on methamphetamine dealers.

Since mid-May, more than 200 people have been shot in the crackdown. Local sources expressed concern to AsiaNewsthat dealers and drug traffickers may be treated summarily.

Drug dealers “have died in what the authorities call ‘encounters’ with the police. Those who speak the truth, that these are real shootings, are accused of spreading false information. Police are rough and arrogant. People who have nothing to do with drugs are often involved in roundups.”

“Behind tougher controls, there is probably an attempt to protect the government ahead of the upcoming December elections.”

Human rights groups have criticised the government, comparing its actions to those of another Asian country, namely thePhilippines under Rodrigo Duterte, who is carrying out a brutal campaign against drug dealers.

Officially, the fight against drugs is designed to curb the sale of “ya ba”, a low-cost drug that combines methamphetamine and caffeine. Known as the mad drug, its causes hallucinations, euphoria, aggression and addiction.

Approximately 40 million pills were seized last year, but it is estimated that 250-300 million tablets are available on the Bangladesh market. The current maximum penalty for possession is 15 years in prison.

Local sources are amazed at the sheer numbers and report that “in the past, we never even heard about drugs. Now it seems that drugs have become the most urgent problem in the country.”

According to experts, the authorities should be more cautious in enforcing the law. For many, the real goal is to control the political debate ahead of the elections. As evidence of this, they cite the police Modus Operandi.

“Increasingly, false complaints are filed. When an opposition politician organises a rally, police prepare false charges of assault, arson, threats or possession of illegal weapons against a list of 25 real people, plus 200 unknowns. Some of these are abroad; others are home-bound paraplegics. This gets into the press. What is ridiculous is that these stories are printed even when rallies are not held.” – Asia News, 12/10/2018

 

bangladesh drug warRehman Asad/Barcroft Images/Barcroft Media/Getty Images

Bangladesh’s Deadly War on Drugs

While the death penalty for drugs has existed in Bangladesh for decades, it has rarely been used. This could change dramatically if Parliament approves a government bill that could subject people who use drugs and low-level dealers to the ultimate punishment.

LONDON – The audio quality is poor and the sound of gunshots muffled, but the agony in Ekramul Haque’s voice is unmistakable. On May 26, while speaking with his family by phone, Haque, an elected official in southern Bangladesh, was gunned down by police in an apparent extrajudicial killing.

Bangladeshi authorities insist Haque was a drug dealer who died in an exchange of gunfire, but the audio evidence – captured by his wife as she listened to her husband die – suggests that the officers involved killed him and then planted drugs at the scene. The recording casts a disturbing light on Bangladesh’s new drug-control strategy.

Since May, when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina revamped her government’s war on drugs, an estimated 25,000 people have been arbitrarily imprisoned, and at least 200 have died in alleged shootouts. The parallels to President Rodrigo Duterte’sbrutal drug crackdown in the Philippines are chilling. There, human rights are routinely violated and more than 20,000 peoplehave been slaughtered since 2016. While Duterte’s campaign has drawn international condemnation, Hasina’s purge has been subject to less scrutiny.

The relative lack of international criticism seems to have emboldened the government to act even more ruthlessly. In early October, the authorities doubled down by proposing a draft law, which has now been submitted to Parliament, to expand the use of capital punishment for drug offenses. Under the proposal, possession of more than five grams of “yaba” – a methamphetamine-based drug targeted by the government’s crackdown – could be punishable by death.

While the death penalty for drugs has existed in Bangladesh for decades, it hasrarely been used. This could change dramatically if Parliament approves the government’s bill. The ferocity of the authorities’ anti-drug campaign, together with the extremely low threshold for yaba possession, means that even people who use drugs and low-level dealers could face execution.

Despite what governments claim, the death penalty for drug offenses does not target kingpins. It is the poor and the most vulnerable who suffer. This would certainly be the case in Bangladesh, where some Rohingya refugees – who have fled horrific persecution in neighboring Myanmar – rely on the drug trade for economic survival.

Moreover, there is simply no evidence that the death penalty for drug use lowers rates of consumption or trafficking. Almost 4,000 people have been executed for drug offenses in the past decade, and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime admits that the drug market is still booming. Death penalty laws are little more than grotesque grandstanding by governments seeking to appear “tough” on drugs while blindly ignoring the facts.

Bangladesh’s legislation move would move the country to the extreme fringe of the international community and buck the global trend toward abolishing capital punishment. According to Harm Reduction International’s research, of the 33 countries that retain the death penalty for drug offenses, only a handful – mainly Saudi Arabia and China – actually carry out executions. Most other countries have changed tack.

For example, drug-related executions in Iran fell dramatically after judicial reforms late last year (although the country still applies the death penalty for other offenses). Meanwhile, Malaysia’s cabinet is considering a bill to abolish the death penalty for all crimes. If it passes, the measure would commute the sentences of the 1,267 people currently on death row in the country, including 900 convicted of drug-related crimes.

Unfortunately, Bangladesh is not alone in favoring extreme measures. Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena recently said that his country would end a 42-year moratorium on executions and begin killing people convicted of drug crimes. While it is unclear if Sirisena will follow through, his threat is part of a worrying trend among populists who view the death penalty as a panacea for the drug trade. In a rambling speech earlier this year, US President Donald Trump suggested that he, too, supports such a policy.

The European Union has urged Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to reconsider their strategies, arguing that “the death penalty doesn’t act as a deterrent to crime, and any error of judgment is impossible to correct.” These are wise words, and countries everywhere – especially EU member states – must do more to reinforce this view.

Bangladesh’s Parliament still has an opportunity to reject the draft law and move the country toward a more effective drug-control policy. Enacting the death penalty would only exacerbate an already deteriorating human-rights situation. Around the world, countries are recognizing that executions, much less extrajudicial killings, have no effect on the drug trade. Bangladesh must recognize this, too.

Singapore, Stop Execution of Malaysian Prabu N Pathmanathan

The family of 31-year-old Malaysian Prabu N Pathmanathan were informed last week he would be executed on Friday..Prabu, 31, had been sentenced to death for committing several acts preparatory to and for the purposes of trafficking in 227.82g of diamorphine or heroin into the island state on Dec 31, 2014.

Law Minister to appeal to S’pore to commute Malaysian’s death sentence

PETALING JAYA: Datuk Liew Vui Keong will write a letter to the Singapore government to urge it to commute the death sentence of a Malaysian man who is scheduled to be executed on Friday (Oct 26).

The Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department said he hoped that Singapore would commute Prabu Pathmanathan’s sentence to life imprisonment.

Prabu, 31, had been sentenced to death for committing several acts preparatory to and for the purposes of trafficking in 227.82g of diamorphine or heroin into the island state on Dec 31, 2014.

“It will be a sad day. I hope they don’t do it,” he told reporters on Wednesday (Oct 24) when asked what would happen if Singapore went ahead with the execution.

Earlier on Wednesday, Lawyers for Liberty advisor N. Surendran urged Putrajaya to make “urgent and strenuous” efforts to save Prabu from the gallows.

Surendran said Prabu’s family had been informed that the execution would be held at Changi Prison on Friday for alleged drug trafficking.

“The family was only informed of the Friday hanging on Oct 20 via a letter from the Singapore Prison Services, which is less than one week’s notice.

“In the same chilling letter, the family was asked to make the ‘necessary funeral arrangements’,” Surendran said.

 

According to Surendran, there were doubts surrounding Prabu’s conviction, adding that the drugs was found in a vehicle driven by another person, and not Prabu.

He also claimed that the confessions obtained from Prabu by the prosecution for the trial were made under duress.

The Singapore Anti Death Penalty Campaign also called for the Singapore government to halt the execution of Prabu.

“Not only is it irreversible once an execution takes place, it also creates another set of victims – the loved ones of the executed,” it said in a statement.

On Oct 15, Liew had announced that the Malaysian government would go ahead with plans to completely abolish the death penalty in this country. – Star, 24/10/2018

Human rights groups urge Singapore to halt imminent executions

City-state expected to execute two men, including a Malaysian, following convictions for drug offences.

View through a vehicle window shows cell blocks inside Singapore's Changi Prison [Vivek Prakash/Reuters]
View through a vehicle window shows cell blocks inside Singapore’s Changi Prison [Vivek Prakash/Reuters]

Singapore is being urged to halt the planned execution on Friday of two men convicted of drug-related offences amid reports four people were hanged in the city-state in the past three weeks.

The family of 31-year-old Malaysian Prabu N Pathmanathan were informed last week he would be executed on Friday, human rights groups said. Another man is also scheduled to hang but has not been named.

“Singapore authorities must immediately halt plans to kill these men and put a stop to this recent wave of callous executions,” Rachel Chhoa-Howard, Amnesty International’s Singapore researcher, said in a statement.

Singapore reportedly hanged a man on Wednesday and three others on October 5 also for drug-related offences, the group said.

Lawyers for Liberty, a Kuala Lumpur-based legal firm that specialises in human rights cases, urged the Malaysian government to intervene to stop the hanging.

Executions are usually carried out at dawn at Changi Prison.

“The death penalty is cruel and inhuman and particularly so when used in drugs cases, which results in the execution of drug mules from poor socio-economic backgrounds,” the firm’s N Surendran said in a statement.

‘Barbarity’

Admitting time was “running out”, Surendran and Prabu’s mother and sister delivered an appeal for clemency to Singapore’s president, Halimah Yacob, on Thursday.

“Malaysia has recognised the barbarity of the death penalty and has recently announced its total abolition. Having taken that position, the Malaysian government must do everything possible to save citizens abroad who are facing execution,” it said.

Malaysia’s government that was elected in May has suspended executions and announced its intention to abolish the death penalty for all crimes.

De facto law minister Liew Vui Keong said he would write to the Singapore government to request Prabu’s death sentence be commuted to life imprisonment, local media reported on Thursday. Prabu was sentenced to death in relation to the trafficking of 228kg of heroin into the island state at the end of 2014.

“It is time for Singapore to re-establish its moratorium on the death penalty and follow the government of Malaysia’s example,” Amnesty’s Chhoa-Howard said.

Amnesty said it believes Singapore has carried out six executions this year, all in relation to drug-offences. It said there were eight executions last year. Singapore does not publicly disclose information about its use of the death penalty.

Capital punishment was imposed or implemented for drug-related offences in 15 countries last year, but executions for such crimes were recorded in only four – China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Singapore.

One-hundred and six countries across the world have abolished the death penalty for all crimes. – Al Jazeera, 25/10/2018

ADPAN – On the World Day Against the Death Penalty October 10, 2018

Press Statement
On the World Day Against the Death Penalty
October 10, 2018

On 10 October each year, the international community reflects on the death penalty and its futility.

This year, we also reflect on the terrible and cruel physical conditions most death penalty prisoners are forced to suffer. All prisoners on death row share the same psychological torment, as they await an unnecessary and brutal death at a pre-arranged hour, whether soon or an unknown number of days or years away.

On this World Day Against the Death Penalty, Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN, a network of organizations and individuals aiming for the abolition of the Death Penalty) reaffirms its strong and unequivocal opposition to the death penalty in all circumstances and for all cases. ADPAN considers the death penalty incompatible with human dignity.  The international research shows that the death penalty does not have any proven deterrent effect.  Whether used against prisoners who are powerless and poor, minorities who are marginalized, or political enemies, the death penalty brutalizes and diminishes each society which employs it.

On this day of the year, we call on the retentionist States who still regularly execute, to immediately put in place a moratorium, and to abandon this futile and cruel relic of history.

All too often, conditions for prisoners facing execution are cruel and harsh. Conditions vary around the world, but in some places, cruelties range from torture to overcrowding in filthy conditions to denial of basic rights such as regular access to lawyers or family, to being detained without hope for long periods, all too often in cramped, excessively hot or cold and inhuman conditions.

Systemic problems vary around the world, but these terrible prison conditions are too often accompanied by trials which have been unfair, in justice systems in urgent need of reform.

In Asia, there has been mixed development in the abolition movement in the last 12 months. On the one hand, we have seen the amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act in Malaysia, which the government then described as a “baby step” towards abolition. In this amendment, the presiding judge is given some discretion to impose imprisonment rather than death on a convicted drug trafficking offender if certain conditions are proven. Nevertheless, whether this amendment will save lives is yet to be seen. Indonesia is also undergoing a review of its Criminal Code where, if passed, the death penalty will no longer be a primary sentence. Korea is affirming its commitment to abolition, while Cambodia has resisted a call to reintroduce the death penalty.

On the other hand, there was also a steep increase in executions in this region. Earlier this year, Japan executed 13 people within a short span of time; Thailand executed 1 person after 9 years of moratorium; Taiwan executed 1 person without much warning; we have information that Singapore recently executed 3 people; not to mention the many executions in China and Vietnam which are so often done in secret. The Philippines is threatening to bring back the death penalty, only a delayed Senate vote is holding back the floodgates; so too, Mongolia is debating reverting back to executions.

In Pakistan, executions through special and military courts and trials have been carried out, in the face of criticism of the courts’ failures to adhere to their guarantees of fair trial and due process. In India, despite extraordinary delays and other systemic problems within the justice system, there has been a rush to calling for more and more executions, in the face of child and other rape cases. In Bangladesh, there has been an increase on death penalty conviction in recent years, totally as at September 2018, 1680 people on death row.

What these occasional executions and clamor for executions all too often show is that the death penalty is used as a tool for some other undisclosed political purpose.

However, we also note that there has been an increase in discourse and dialogue on this issue within society and among policymakers, which we view as most desirable and healthy. We, in ADPAN, place much emphasis on continued education and dialogue in an open and transparent environment. We are firmly of the view that wherever there is honest, courageous and careful study of a justice system, its flaws, its strengths, its purposes; in combination with a study of trials, acknowledging the reality everywhere of the inevitability in every system of some wrongful convictions; with honest assessments of state brutality when it occurs, together with the study of prison conditions, and other relevant matters, then the futility and unnecessary cruelty of state-sanctioned executions will become apparent.  So many countries of the world have already done this – rich and poor, of all political and religious persuasions. It is time for the remaining executing countries to do the same.

ADPAN envisions a world without the death penalty, and we start from Asia.  Asia covers a vast geographical area, diverse and rich in ethnicity and culture, with different forms of government. We understand the challenges, yet we believe that with the hard work of all stakeholders and the commitment towards humanity, this is not an impossible goal. History and the changes of the last 70 years show us that such goals are not merely dreams but can become practical realities.

Last but not least, on this 10th October, as every corner of the world commemorates the World Day Against the Death Penalty, ADPAN wish to take this opportunity to express our heartfelt appreciation to the abolition community and welcome all others to join the family as we call for the abolition of the death penalty, an end to state-sanctioned killings.

Issued by:

ADPAN Executive Committee

10 October 2018

contactadpan@gmail.com