April, 12 2018, 12:45pm EDT
For Immediate Release
Mariya Parodi, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mariya Parodi, email@example.com
In its annual assessment of the death penalty, Amnesty International's research points to a further global decrease in 2017, down from the high peaks recorded for total executions in 2015 and death sentences in 2016. According to the report that was published today, 106 countries had abolished the death penalty in law for all crimes by the end of 2017 and 142 countries had abolished the death penalty in law or practice.
These figures reaffirm the global trend towards abolition of the death penalty. Only a few countries carry out executions. Just four countries were responsible for 84% of all recorded executions in 2017.
Sub-Saharan Africa made great strides with a significant decrease in death sentences being imposed across the region. Guinea became the 20th state in sub-Saharan Africa to abolish the death penalty for all crimes, while Kenya abolished the mandatory death penalty for murder. Burkina Faso and Chad also took steps to repeal this punishment with new or proposed laws.
"Now that 20 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have abolished the death penalty for all crimes, it is high time that the rest of the world follows their lead and consigns this abhorrent punishment to the history books" said Amnesty International's Secretary General Salil Shetty.
How the United States Fares
People with mental or intellectual disabilities were executed or remained under sentence of death in several countries, including in the United States in 2017.
"It's shameful that the United States finds itself once again on a short list of countries that continue to execute individuals with mental and intellectual disabilities" stated Margaret Huang, Executive Director of Amnesty International in the United States. "This practice is cruel and out of line with international standards. It is inhumane to impose capital punishment upon individuals with a limited capacity to understand what they were alleged to have done."
In 2017, Amnesty campaigned on the case of Jack Greene, who was convicted in 1992 of the murder of Sidney Burnett. Greene waited on death row for over 20 years and was diagnosed by multiple doctors with severe mental illness, including delusional disorder. Fortunately, the Arkansas Supreme Court stayed his execution.
In 2017, of the 57 Member states of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, only Belarus and the United States carried out executions. Of the 35 Member states of the Organization of American States, only the US carried out executions. For the ninth consecutive year, the US remained the only country to carry out executions in the Americas.
The number of executions and death sentences in the US slightly increased compared to 2016, but remained within historically low trends recorded in recent years. For the second year in a row, and the second time since 2006, the US did not feature among the top five global executioners, with its position in the global ranking decreasing from 7th to 8th. Although the number of executions carried out and death sentences imposed in the US in 2017 remained in the low trends seen in previous years, there was a slight increase in a resort to capital punishment compared to 2016.
The US had 23 executions in 8 states in 2017: Alabama (3) Arkansas (4) Florida (3) Georgia (1) Missouri (1) Ohio (2) Texas (7) Virginia (2). Texas remained the state with the highest number of executions, accounting for 30% of the national total. Over a period of ten days Arkansas sought to execute eight men. Three executions were stopped by the courts and Governor Asa Hutchinson granted clemency in one case to Jason McGehee.
Guantanamo Bay detainees, including Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who was charged with masterminding the attack on the USS Cole in 2000, continue to face capital punishment despite the deeply flawed military commissions system and lack of effective counsel. In 2017, all three of al-Nahiri's civilian lawyers with experience in death penalty defense were withdrawn, leaving him with just one military lawyer lacking any capital punishment experience. The case proceedings of Abd al-Rahim al-Nahiri have not adhered to international fair trial standards.
Looking forward, President Trump's recent comments pushing for the death penalty as a means to address the opioid crisis remain a cause of serious concern in 2018. There is no evidence that the death penalty would lower the alarming number of deaths related to the use of opioids. Utilizing the death penalty for a public health crisis would be an overly cruel and unusual punishment for a public health problem.
Significant progress elsewhere
At least 2,591 death sentences in 53 countries were recorded in 2017, a significant decrease from the record-high of 3,117 recorded in 2016. These figures do not include the thousands of death sentences and executions that Amnesty International believes were imposed and implemented in China, where figures remain classified as a state secret.
Significant steps to reduce the use of the death penalty were also taken in countries that are staunch supporters of it. In Iran, recorded executions reduced by 11% and drug-related executions reduced to 40%. Moves were also made to increase the threshold of drug amounts required to impose a mandatory death penalty. In Malaysia, the anti-drug laws were amended, with the introduction of sentencing discretion in drug trafficking cases. These changes will likely result in a reduction in the number of death sentences imposed in both countries in the future. These changes send a message to states currently considering harsher punishments to public health crises that other countries are moving away from imposing the death penalty for drug-related offenses.
"The fact that countries continue to resort to the death penalty for drug-related offences remains troubling. However, steps taken by Iran and Malaysia to amend their anti-drugs laws go a long way towards showing that cracks are appearing, even in the minority of countries that still execute people," said Shetty.
However, distressing trends continued to feature in the use of the death penalty in 2017. Fifteen countries still imposed death sentences or executed people for drug-related offenses, going against international law. The Middle East and North Africa region recorded the highest number of drug-related executions in 2017, while the Asia-Pacific region had the most countries resorting to the death penalty for this type of offense (10 out of 16).
Amnesty International recorded drug-related executions in four countries - China (where figures are classified as a state secret), Iran, Saudi Arabia and Singapore. The secrecy that shrouded capital punishment in Malaysia and Vietnam made it impossible to determine whether executions for drug crimes occurred. Singapore hanged eight people in 2017 - all for drug-related offenses, and double the amount in 2016. There was a similar trend in Saudi Arabia, where drug-related beheadings rocketed from 14% of total executions in 2016 to 40% in 2017.
"Despite strides towards abolishing this abhorrent punishment, there are still a few leaders who would resort to the death penalty as a 'quick-fix' rather than tackling problems at their roots with humane, effective and evidence-based policies. Strong leaders execute justice, not people," said Shetty.
"The draconian anti-drug measures widely used in the Middle East and Asia-Pacific have totally failed to address the issue."
Governments also breached several other prohibitions under international law in 2017. At least five people in Iran were executed for crimes committed when they were under 18 and at least 80 others remained on death row. Amnesty International recorded several cases of people facing the death penalty after "confessing" to crimes as a result of torture or other ill-treatment in Bahrain, China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. In Iran and Iraq, some of these "confessions" were broadcast on live television.
With at least 21,919 people known to be under sentence of death globally, the campaign against the death penalty remains as essential as ever.
"Over the past 40 years, we've seen a huge positive shift in the global outlook for the death penalty, but more urgent steps need to be taken to stop the horrifying practice of state killing," said Shetty.
"The death penalty is a symptom of a culture of violence, not a solution to it. We know that by galvanizing the support of people worldwide, we can stand up to this cruel punishment and end the death penalty everywhere."
Amnesty International is a global movement of millions of people demanding human rights for all people - no matter who they are or where they are. We are the world's largest grassroots human rights organization.(212) 807-8400
Uproar in Italy as Fascist Government Attacks Right of Same-Sex Parents to Adopt
"It is an obvious step backwards from a political and social point of view," said the mayor of Milan. "I put myself in the shoes of those parents who thought they could count on this possibility."
Mar 18, 2023
Hundreds of people hit the streets of Milan, Italy on Saturday to protest the far-right government's assault on the parental rights of same-sex couples.
"You explain to my son that I am not his mother," read one woman's sign, while children wore shirts declaring, "It is love that creates a family."
Italy legalized same-sex civil unions in 2016, but it stopped short of granting gay and lesbian couples the right to adopt amid opposition from the Catholic Church. Since then, courts have made decisions on a case-by-case basis in response to lawsuits from prospective adoptive parents.
Some municipalities, however, "decided to act unilaterally," Agence France-Pressereported Saturday. "Milan had been registering children of same-sex couples conceived overseas through surrogacy—which is illegal in Italy—or medically assisted reproduction, which is only available for heterosexual couples."
"But its center-left mayor Beppe Sala revealed this week that this had stopped after the interior ministry sent a letter insisting that the courts must decide," the news agency noted.
In a podcast, Sala said that "it is an obvious step backwards from a political and social point of view."
"I put myself in the shoes of those parents who thought they could count on this possibility in Milan," he added, vowing to fight back.
"This government is the maximum expression of homophobia."
AFP reported that "about 20 children are waiting to be registered in Milan," citing leading LGBTQ+ rights campaigner Fabrizio Marrazzo. "A mother or father who is not legally recognized as their child's parent can face huge bureaucratic problems, with the risk of losing the child if the registered parent dies or the couple's relationship breaks down."
Earlier this week, Marrazzo said that "when a law is unjust and discriminatory those who engage in politics must have the courage to disobey it."
In the words of Gabriele Piazzoni, secretary-general of Arcigay, "The ban is one of the most concrete manifestations of the fury that the right-wing majority is unleashing against LGBTI people."
Last year, before she was elected to lead Italy's far-right coalition government, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni of the fascist Brothers of Italy Party said in a speech, "Yes to natural families, no to the LGBT lobby!"
Earlier this week, The Associated Pressreported, "a Senate commission blocked an attempt to recognize birth certificates of the children of same-sex couples issued by other E.U. states."
Alessia Crocini, president of Rainbow Families, warned that "this government is the maximum expression of homophobia."
"Meloni says that for a child to grow up well, they need a mother and father, even if decades of research say otherwise," Crocini told AP. "It is insulting to hundreds of thousands of families with two same-sex parents."
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'Beautiful': Minnesota Becomes 4th State to Provide Free School Meals to All Kids
"Let this serve as a reminder that poverty is a policy choice," said one advocate. "In the richest country in the world, it is absolutely inexcusable that millions of our children go to school hungry because they are living in poverty."
Mar 18, 2023
Surrounded by students, teachers, and advocates, Democratic Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz on Friday afternoon signed into law a bill to provide breakfast and lunch at no cost to all of the state's roughly 820,000 K-12 pupils regardless of their household income.
The move to make Minnesota the fourth U.S. state to guarantee universal free school meals—joining California, Maine, and Colorado—elicited praise from progressives.
"Beautiful," tweeted Stephanie Kelton, a professor of economics and public policy at Stony Brook University.
"No child should go hungry for any reason, period."
UC-Berkeley professor and former U.S. labor secretary Robert Reich wrote on social media: "Let this serve as a reminder that poverty is a policy choice. In the richest country in the world, it is absolutely inexcusable that millions of our children go to school hungry because they are living in poverty."
An estimated 1 in 6 children in Minnesota don't get enough to eat on a regular basis. But 1 in 4 food-insecure kids live in households that don't qualify for the federal free and reduced meal program, leading to "mounting school lunch debts in the tens of thousands of dollars," Minnesota Public Radioreported.
Tens of thousands of children are set to benefit from Minnesota's new law, which could be operational as early as summer school in July. Some of them were there to thank Walz at the signing ceremony, where the sense of elation was palpable.
"As a former teacher, I know that providing free breakfast and lunch for our students is one of the best investments we can make to lower costs, support Minnesota's working families, and care for our young learners and the future of our state," Walz said. "This bill puts us one step closer to making Minnesota the best state for kids to grow up, and I am grateful to all of the legislators and advocates for making it happen."
The Minnesota House—led by the Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party, the state's Democratic affiliate—first passed the bill in February in a 70-58 party-line vote. The state Senate—where the DFL holds just a single-seat advantage—approved it on Tuesday by a 38-26 margin. The state House rubber-stamped an amended version of the bill on Thursday.
In a now-viral clip from the state Senate's debate over the bill earlier this week. Sen. Steve Drazkowski (R-20) questioned whether hunger is really a problem in Minnesota—even as the state's food banks reported a record surge in visits last year, months before federal lawmakers slashed pandemic-era Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
"I have yet to meet a person in Minnesota that is hungry," Drazkowski said before voting against the bill. "I have yet to meet a person in Minnesota that says they don't have access to enough food to eat."
During Friday's signing ceremony, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan (DFL) said, "To our decision-makers who believe they have never met someone who is experiencing or has experienced hunger: Hi, my name is Peggy Flanagan, and I was 1 in 6 of those Minnesota children who experienced hunger."
"By providing free breakfast and lunch to all of our students, we are removing barriers and removing stigma from the lunch room," said Flanagan. "We are helping family pocketbooks, especially for those 1 in 4 who don't qualify for financial assistance with school meals. We are leading with our values that no child should go hungry for any reason, period."
"This is an investment in the well-being of our children, as well as an investment in their academic success," Flanagan added, calling the "generation-changing" bill "the most important thing" she's ever worked on in her life.
"By providing free breakfast and lunch to all of our students, we are removing barriers and removing stigma from the lunch room... This is an investment in the well-being of our children, as well as an investment in their academic success."
As Minnesota Reformerreported: "The majority of Minnesota schools receive federal funding from the National School Lunch Program, which reimburses schools for each meal served, though it doesn't cover the cost of the entire meal. Under the new law, schools are prohibited from charging students for the remaining cost, and the state will foot the rest of the bill—about $200 million annually."
MPR noted that "the legislation is similar to a program that was introduced during the pandemic to provide meals for all students, but was discontinued at the end of last year."
Last month, The Star Tribune editorial board opined that providing free breakfast and lunch to all of Minnesota's students, including affluent ones, is "excessive."
Pushing back against this argument for means-testing, Darcy Stueber—director of Nutrition Services for Mankato Area Public Schools and public policy chair of the Minnesota School Nutrition Association—asserted that meals should be guaranteed to all kids at no cost, just like other basic learning necessities.
"We don't charge for Chromebooks and desks and things like that," she told MPR. "It's a part of their day and they're there for so many hours. It just completes that whole learning experience for the child."
Minnesota Rep. Sydney Jordan (DFL-60A), the bill's lead author, made the same point to counter GOP lawmakers' complaints following the initial passage of the legislation.
"We give every kid in our school a desk," Jordan said last month. "There are lots of kids out there that can afford to buy a desk, but they get a desk because they go to school."
Walz, for his part, stressed Friday that his administration is "just getting started" when it comes to boosting education funding.
"The big stuff," said the governor, "is still coming."
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'Threat to the Nation': Trump Calls for Protests to Stop Potential Arrest in Echo of Jan. 6
Trump has recently "excused or dismissed the violence of January 6," one journalist warned. "He is an authoritarian willing to (again) use violence for his own ends."
Mar 18, 2023
Former U.S. President Donald Trump claimed Saturday on his social media platform that he "will be arrested" on Tuesday and implored his supporters to "protest" and "take our nation back," sparking fears of additional right-wing violence.
Trump's call to action was reminiscent of how, six weeks after losing the 2020 presidential election, he took to Twitter to urge his supporters to join a "big protest" in Washington, D.C. on January 6, 2021. "Be there, will be wild!" he wrote. Hundreds of far-right insurrectionists showed up and, after Trump told them to march from a rally near the White House to the Capitol, stormed the halls of Congress in a bid to prevent lawmakers from certifying President Joe Biden's win. Multiple people died as a result of the failed coup, which was fueled by Trump and his Republican allies' incessant lies about voter fraud.
Trump is expected to be indicted by a Manhattan grand jury in a criminal case involving hush money paid to women who said they had sexual encounters with the former president, but its timing is unclear.
Just before 7:30 am ET on Saturday, Trump baselessly declared on Truth Social: "Illegal leaks from a corrupt and highly political Manhattan district attorney's office... indicate that, with no crime being able to be proven... the far and away leading Republican candidate and former president of the United States of America will be arrested on Tuesday of next week. Protest, take our nation back!"
Alluding to Trump's prior use of social media to provoke the Capitol attack, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington asked, "Will Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube allow him to use their platforms to incite riots?"
Mother Jones' D.C. bureau chief David Corn, meanwhile, noted that Trump has recently "excused or dismissed the violence of January 6."
"He is an authoritarian willing to (again) use violence for his own ends," Corn tweeted. "That is a threat to the nation."
As HuffPost's senior White House correspondent S.V. Dáte pointed out, "The coup-attempting former president... began inciting civil unrest if prosecutors came after him more than a year ago."
At a January 2022 rally in Texas, Trump promised to pardon January 6 rioters if he wins in 2024 and urged huge protests if prosecutors investigating his effort to subvert the 2020 election and other alleged crimes try to bring charges.
"If these radical, vicious, racist prosecutors do anything wrong or illegal, I hope we are going to have in this country the biggest protest we have ever had... in Washington, D.C., in New York, in Atlanta, and elsewhere because our country and our elections are corrupt," Trump told a crowd of his supporters 14 months ago.
According toThe New York Times:
Early Saturday morning, there was little evidence yet that Mr. Trump's new demand for protests had been embraced by extremist groups.
But Ali Alexander, a prominent organizer of "Stop the Steal" rallies after the 2020 election, reposted a message on his Telegram channel on Saturday suggesting that he supported mass protest to protect Mr. Trump.
"Previously, I had said if Trump was arrested or under the threat of a perp walk, 100,000 patriots should shut down all routes to Mar-a-Lago," Mr. Alexander wrote. "Now I’m retired. I'll pray for him though!"
Lacking the platform provided by the White House or the machinery of a large political campaign, it is unclear how many people Mr. Trump is able to reach, let alone mobilize, using his Truth Social website.
After the FBI in early August searched Trump's Mar-a-Lago palace and removed boxes of documents as part of a federal probe into the ex-president's handling of classified materials, many anonymous and some well-known reactionaries called for "civil war" on Twitter, patriots.win, and elsewhere.
Three days later, Ricky Shiffer, a Trump loyalist with suspected ties to a far-right extremist group and an unspecified connection to the January 6 insurrection, was shot and killed by police after an hourslong standoff. Shiffer, wielding an AR-15 and a nail gun, allegedly attempted to break into the FBI's Cincinnati office and fled to a nearby field when he was unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, Trump continued to lie about the Mar-a-Lago search on Truth Social, sparking an "unprecedented" surge in threats against FBI personnel and facilities.
As Dáte noted on Saturday morning, many people downplayed warnings issued ahead of the January 6 assault.
"Many of Trump's core supporters want authoritarianism," the journalist tweeted. "They believe in neither democracy nor the rule of law."
As the Times reported:
Although prosecutors working for the [Manhattan] district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, have signaled that an indictment of Mr. Trump could be imminent, there was no immediate indication as to why the former president appeared confident that he would be arrested Tuesday. People with knowledge of the matter have said that at least one more witness is expected to testify in front of the grand jury, which could slightly delay any indictment.
Three people close to Mr. Trump said that the former president's team had no specific knowledge about when an indictment might come or when an arrest could be anticipated. One of those people, who were not authorized to speak publicly, said that Mr. Trump's advisers' best guess was that it could happen around Tuesday, and that someone may have relayed that to him, but that they also had made clear to one another that they didn't know a specific time frame.
Trump is expected to be charged in connection with payments his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, made to silence adult film actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal—both of whom alleged affairs with Trump—in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.
Cohen has testified that at Trump's direction, he orchestrated payments totaling $280,000 to Daniels and McDougal. According to Cohen, the Trump Organization reimbursed him $420,000 and classified it as a legal fee. Trump's former fixer pleaded guilty to federal campaign violations in 2018.
Trump has so far evaded charges but that could soon change, as prosecutors are expected to accuse Trump of greenlighting the false recording of expenses in his company's internal records.
Citing five unnamed officials familiar with the matter, NBC Newsreported Friday that local, state, and federal law enforcement and security agencies are preparing for the possibility of a Trump indictment as early as next week.
If indicted, Trump would become the first U.S. president to face criminal charges in or out of office. Trump, who has denied all wrongdoing, says that he will keep campaigning regardless of whether he is arrested.
The Manhattan D.A.'s hush money probe is just one of Trump's many legal woes. The twice-impeached president is also facing a state-level criminal investigation in Georgia over his efforts to overturn that state's 2020 election results, as well as federal probes into his coup attempt and his handling of classified government documents.
Nevertheless, Trump is still seen as the front-runner to win the GOP's 2024 nomination.
David Aronberg, the state attorney for Palm Beach County, Florida, said Saturday morning that if Trump is indicted in New York, "there will be protests here," warning: "You have to worry about potential violence."
He pointed out that questions remain as to whether Trump would surrender to New York authorities or face extradition. Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, another authoritarian demagogue who is widely considered Trump's leading rival for the GOP's 2024 nomination, "has to sign off [any] extradition orders," said Aronberg.
The Times noted that if "Trump is arraigned, he will almost certainly be released without spending any time behind bars because the indictment is likely to contain only nonviolent felony charges."
However, The Associated Pressreported that it is not clear when the other investigations into Trump "will end or whether they might result in criminal charges."
"But they will continue regardless of what happens in New York," the outlet explained, "underscoring the ongoing gravity—and broad geographic scope—of the legal challenges confronting the former president."
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