Monday, January 24, 2011

Examples of Justice in Iran and Venezuela

Iran on Execution Binge

On average, one person executed in Iran every eight hours in 2011. The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran called on the Iranian Parliament and the Judiciary to immediately institute a moratorium on executions and to move swiftly to abolish the death penalty, in the face of skyrocketing executions following unfair trials and opaque judicial proceedings.

Since the beginning of the New Year, Iran has hanged 47 prisoners --an average of about one person every eight hours. Iran executes more people per capita than any other country, and in absolute numbers, is second only to China.

On Saturday, 15 January 2011, Iran hanged a Kurdish prisoner some Iranian websites have identified as Hossein Khazri, a Kurdish political prisoner on the death row. A local official in the province of Western Azerbaijan told media that “a member of the Pejak (an armed Kurdish guerilla group)” was hanged in Urumiye prison on Saturday morning. He did not name the executed prisoner. Khazri’s brother told the Campaign that the authorities have not provided any information to the family about the execution of his brother. Hossein Khazri had denied charges against him and said he was severely tortured.

“The Iranian Judiciary is on an execution binge orchestrated by the intelligence and security agencies,” stated Aaron Rhodes, a spokesperson for the Campaign. “The execution of Kurdish activists, without fair trials and following torture, increasingly appears as a systematic, politically motivated process,” he said.

In addition to the execution of Khazri, Iranian media have reported a total of 46 executions in 2011: seven in Kermanshah on 1 January, sixteen in Ahwaz on 5 January, one in Asfaryan on 8 January, eight in Qom on 9 January, seven in Tehran on 12 January, five in Khorramabad on 13 January, two in Boroujerd on 14 January.

Khazri, who is around 29 years old, was convicted of being Mohareb, “an enemy of God,” on 11 July 2009, on the basis that he “endangered state security.” He reported in a letter to international organizations that he had been tortured while in prisons run by the Intelligence Ministry and the Revolutionary Guards, but according to Amnesty International, his request for an investigation was denied. He had refused to confess to committing any of the crimes for which he was convicted.

Another Kurdish activist, Habibollah Latifi, was about to be hung on 26 December 2010, but the execution was halted. The Campaign considers him still at grave risk.

On 9 May 2010, Kurdish activists Farzad Kamangar and Shirin Alam Holi were hung.
At least 14 other Kurdish prisoners are in danger of execution: Zeinab Jalilian, Shirkoo Moarefi, Rostam Arkia, Mostafa Salimi, Anvar Rostami, Rashid Akhkandi, Mohammad Amin Aghooshi, Ahmad Pooladkhani, Seyed Sami Husseini, Seyed Jamal Mohammadi, Hasan Talei, Iraj Mohammadi, Mohammad Amin Abdollahi and Ghader Mohammadzadeh.

According to information received by and reported by the Campaign, the number of executions in Iran is apparently even higher than previously reported. Multiple and reliable reports indicate that secret, mass executions of more than a hundred have taken place in Mashad’s Vakilabad prison.

“When executions become the method of choice to solve political and practical problems, human life is being tragically devalued in Iran,” Rhodes said.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran called upon Iran to institute an immediate moratorium on executions and an independent review of all pending death penalty cases, including those of juvenile offenders who have allegedly committed crimes under the age of 18, and to take steps toward the abolition of the death penalty.

Personal Note: While reviewing these statistics it is hard for me not to keep thinking how this same Iranian Administration, while hanging some one every 8 hours, was at the United Nations complaining about how the people in Arizona are treating illegal immigrants.  --Hypocrisy has a new home in the Middle East....


I'm Hugo Chávez's Prisoner, says Jailed Judge

As a judge María Lourdes Afiuni thought courts had the ultimate power to jail people, but as a prisoner in a cramped cell she now believes Venezuela has a higher judicial authority: Hugo Chávez.

The judge has spent a year among murderers and drug traffickers in Los Teques women's jail, just outside the capital, Caracas, and if the Venezuelan president has his way she has another 29 to go.

Afiuni does not doubt her fate lies with Chávez, who demanded her detention after she freed a banker accused of corruption. "There is no judicial independence," she told the Guardian. "I'm here as the president's prisoner. I'm an example to other judges of what happens if you step out of line."

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, among others, say the jailing of the 47-year-old single mother is politically motivated and shows how an over-mighty executive has blurred the separation of powers and eroded democracy.

Afiuni's health may intensify scrutiny of her case. She was taken to hospital this week with suggestions her uterus may need to be removed. She was also checked for heart problems.

If disease does not kill Afiuni, a heavy smoker, other prisoners may, not least those she sent to Los Teques. Some have threatened to burn Afiuni with petrol, others to cut off her head and to bathe the jail in her blood.

Her plight has terrified others in the judiciary but none have dared speak out, said Blanca Rosa Mármol de León, a veteran supreme court judge. "Before there was a lot of fear on the bench but now there's panic. In 35 years in the judicial system I've never seen judicial power so submissive."

A report last year by the human rights arm of the Organization of American States said independent judges had been culled and replaced with government loyalists.
Due to retire next year, Mármol is the only judge to have commented on Afiuni's case. "It's tragic because when the judiciary has no independence or autonomy where is the citizen supposed to go for justice? Our democracy is very diminished."

The prosecutor's office and justice ministry did not reply to interview requests.

Few had heard of Afiuni until 10 December 2009 when she granted bail to Eligio Cedeño, a banker charged with evading currency controls. He had been in jail for almost three years without trial, exceeding legal limits. He fled and is now in the US seeking asylum.

Chávez, who had taken a close interest in the case, was furious. He went on TV the day after the release and said Afiuni was a "bandit" who took a bribe. "This judge should get the maximum penalty … 30 years in prison! That judge has to pay for what she has done."
He told the head of the supreme court that the case should be treated with "firmness". Afiuni was charged with corruption and abuse of power. In May prosecutors said they had found no evidence of illicit payments but accused the judge of "spiritual corruption". There is no trial date.
Government supporters have defended her detention as legitimate given suspicion over the freeing of Cedeño. "Her arrest … was not arbitrary but rather was based on solid evidence of judicial misconduct and abuse," wrote Eva Golinger, editor of the Correo del Orinoco International.

Afiuni, dressed in jeans and a sweater, said she had suspected the Cedeño case would bring trouble but not the drastic consequences.

She is not allowed to leave her cell, ostensibly for safety. She spends her time reading, watching DVDs, doing jigsaws and helping other inmates with court papers passed through a small hole in a steel door. She also tweets to a growing band of 55,590 followers, including the justice minister. When authorities confiscate her BlackBerry – she has gone through nine – supporters supply another one.

The cell, which she has to herself, has a candle, a Virgin Mary statue and a stick under the door to block rodents. Afiuni said she was shocked by conditions. Los Teques's population has tripled to 900 in four years, with five women in cells designed for two.

Prisoners prey on each other for money and sex. Afiuni denounced one gang leader who tried to intimidate her into sex. Prisoners supply mattresses and medicines or go without, and "rent" plastic chairs for visitors. "I knew conditions were tough but didn't realize just how degraded," said Afiuni. "If I was back on the bench I'd find it difficult to send anyone to jail unless the system was changed."

She also rued colleagues' silence, saying: "Occasionally I get a message that so and so sends commiserations but they're afraid to speak out. That makes them cowards and accomplices."

Here is something on the lighter side:

Live Long and Prosper....

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