Sunday, 25 September 2011

Troy Davis’s execution – Abolish Death Penalty

I haven’t posted anything on my blog for a while because I was away in Ghana on a reporting trip. I’ll write about it later.  While I was away, Troy Davis was executed by the state of Georgia and this is what I want to write about. 

Davis was put to death by lethal injection on Wednesday September 21 for the killing of off-duty policeman Mark MacPhail in 1989, despite serious doubts about his guilt. He became the 34th person executed in the US in 2011 – eight more death-row prisoners are scheduled to be executed this year.

Davis, 42, was sent to his death despite a mass of evidence casting his 1991 conviction in doubt, including recantations from seven of the nine key witnesses at his trial. No DNA evidence conclusively linked him to the murder.  His death was delayed for hours while the US Supreme Court considered an eleventh-hour appeal for clemency and his execution date had already been changed three times.

Outside the prison, hundreds of people gathered chanting: "They say, death row; we say, hell no".

Davis counted Pope Benedict XVI and former US President Jimmy Carter among his supporters, as well as US conservative figures like former member of the House of Representatives Bob Barr and former FBI director William Sessions. 

While on death row, he received up to 100 cards and letters a day from Amnesty International supporters. It helps to think he knew that people all around the world believed in his innocence and fought against his execution.

Davis maintained his innocence to the end, saying: “I did not have a gun. For those about to take my life, may God have mercy on your souls. May God bless your souls.”

As he lay strapped on the gurney, he told the family of MacPhail lined up behind a glass screen in front of him:  "I did not personally kill your son, father, brother.” 

After the Georgia pardons board denied clemency, Davis’ supporters – including  Amnesty International – began a public, viral campaign to encourage the local prosecutor and local judge to withdraw the execution order.

But it was in vain: it usually takes extraordinary circumstances and new evidence that decisively rules out the person convicted to change the legal presumption that the jurors made the correct decision and the defence lawyers and prosecutors did their jobs honestly and to the best of their abilities.

Davis’s execution has provoked an extraordinary outpouring of protest in the US and around the world, refocusing the debate on death penalty and the American south. 

Death penalty supporters are mostly from the southern or midwestern states. While the calls for Davis's reprieve poured into Georgia from all over the country and the world, few were likely to come from Georgia.   And that probably mattered more for the local prosecutor, judge and state-selected board than calls from more famous people out of state and abroad. 

Though 34 of the 50 states still have the death penalty, only 12 states carried out executions last year, and 80% of all executions take place in the south - and black people are over-represented.  Black males make up 15% of the population of Georgia, but they fill almost half the cells on its death row.

Davis’s execution has now created a groundswell in America of people "who are tired of a justice system that is inhumane and inflexible and allows executions where there is clear doubts about guilt,” says Brian Evans of Amnesty, which led the campaign to spare Davis's life. He predicted the debate would now be conducted with renewed energy.

Amnesty is urging people to re-double their commitment to abolish the death penalty worldwide.  Please sign their "Not IN MY Name Petition"  here.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Ten years after 9/11 – Journalism and the war on terror

As the world prepares to mark the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks on New York and Washington, I am thinking of its impact on my profession and my colleagues.
These strikes have been followed by the so-called “war on terror” and its legacy on journalism is enormous.

On the plus side, coverage of foreign policy and global conflicts has increased significantly, but the new terror laws have also deeply affected freedom of speech and the way journalists can report events.  Journalists and media staff have also been among some of the war on terror most prominent victims.

The 9/11 attacks unleashed a decade of conflict and tragedy across the globe. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; terrorist strikes in Great Britain, Spain, Indonesia and Turkey; state-sanctioned torture in the name of democracy; and a range of unprecedented laws and policies that have enfeebled civil liberties and human rights protection everywhere.

The International Federation of Journalists ( IFJ) - the world's largest organisation of journalists - and its regional organisation the European Federation of Journalists, are holding a two-day conference in Brussels on September 10th and 11th to examine the legacy of 9/11 and the terror laws on journalism.

The conference entitled "10 years after 9/11: Journalism in the shadow of terror laws", will bring together journalists, human rights advocates and campaigners, trade unionists, academics and politicians to discuss this crisis for free speech and for press freedom, and the risks for journalists covering conflicts.

Says IFJ: “In every corner of the world, journalism has been diminished by the shadow of terrorism. Unscrupulous politicians have taken advantage of public anxiety and, in the name of counter-terrorism, governments have introduced laws, forms of surveillance and monitoring of peoples' lives that increase the power of the state. Journalists have been subject to restrictions on their freedom of movement. Spies have infiltrated newsrooms. Telephones have been tapped. Prosecutions have been launched to discover sources of information.
At the same time there have been numerous incidents of secret governmental co-operation to increase covert surveillance of citizens travelling from country to country and, worse, to sanction and condone the detention and torture of people alleged to be implicated in terrorist activities.”

Speakers include:
Mary Robinson, Chairperson of Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, former President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Martin Scheinin, former UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counterterrorism
Sami Al Haj, Al Jazeera journalist imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay for six years
• Moaiad Al Lami, President Iraqi Journalists’ Union
• Jason Parkinson, UK photographers’ campaign “I’m a photographer, not a terrorist”
The IFJ Federation represents around 600.000 members in more than 100 countries.