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October 2004
China: School trips to watch death sentences

1 October 2004

In a bizarre holiday celebration several hundred schoolchildren were taken to watch six men being sentenced to death at a public sentencing rally, according to a Chinese internet report.

"The Chinese government regularly 'celebrates' national holidays by executing large numbers of criminals," said Ingrid Massage, Asia director at Amnesty International. "This year, the Mid-Autumn Festival falls in the same week as China's National Day on Friday 1 October and there has been a surge of executions."

The schoolchildren were part of an audience of 2,500 people. Held in a gymnasium in Changsha, capital of central Hunan province, the sentencing rally was timed to coincide with the Mid-Autumn Festival on 27 September. The six men were then taken to an execution ground and shot, according to the report on the 'Tom' web portal.

Pictured wearing their school uniforms, the children are described as elementary and middle school students, between the ages of six and seventeen. They heard the details of the convicts' crimes read out in public -- including murder, assault and kidnapping -- and then witnessed the criminals being sentenced to death.

Taking children out of school to attend sentencing rallies appears to contravene the Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by China in 1992. This states that education should be directed at the "development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms".

The six men in Hunan are among at least 100 people executed in recent days in China.

Both in law and practice, China’s criminal justice system does not currently offer fair trials under international legal standards. This is particularly alarming in criminal cases where the death penalty is passed. Confessions may be extorted through torture, access to lawyers is limited and the appeal system is fractured and decentralised. Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all circumstances and is calling on China to halt all executions immediately with a view to abolishing the death penalty in law.

To see the 'Tom' report (in Chinese), go to:

Further information on human rights in China:


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Amnesty International Releases New Report on Belarus and Uzbekistan

4 October 2004

Amnesty International Releases New Report on Belarus and Uzbekistan

The report, "Belarus and Uzbekistan: the last executioners. The trend towards abolition in the former Soviet space" notes that both countries are the only remaining states from the former Soviet Union that still carry out the death penalty. Not only are both criminal justice systems seriously flawed, but neither the prisoners nor their relatives are told of the execution dates. Furthermore, the inmate's body is not turned over to the relatives, and relatives are not told of the burial's location.

Anti-Crime Legislation Passes Congress

9 October 2004

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Anti-Crime Legislation Passes Congress
Senators Reach Agreement on DNA and Victims' Rights Bill Without Objection

Spokespeople Available Including Legislative Staff,
1st DNA Exoneree Kirk Bloodsworth & Debbie Smith, Rape Survivor

WASHINGTON, October 9, 2004 - The US Senate today passed by voice vote an amended version of the "Justice for All Act of 2004" (HR 5107). This anti-crime bill includes the "Advancing Justice Through DNA Technology Act" (HR 3214/S 1700) and crime victims' rights legislation. The amended bill will be sent back to the US House of Representatives for final approval. This amendment has already been agreed upon in negotiations between the House and Senate.

The legislation provides much-needed funds to test a nationwide backlog of more than 300,000 rape kits and other crime scene evidence, funding for victims' services through grants to prosecutor and defender offices, ensures access to post-conviction DNA testing for those serving time in prison or on death row for crimes they did not commit, and it authorizes grants to states to improve the quality of death penalty trials as well as assist families of murder victims.

"I commend the Members of Congress who voted today to make the justice system more fair and more accurate for everyone," says Kirk Bloodsworth of The Justice Project, whose case was the first capital conviction to be overturned as a result of DNA testing. "Today's passage is an important step in fixing a flawed system. I hope the President will make justice a priority and sign this important legislation into law."

The bipartisan legislation has enjoyed the support of dozens of leaders from the victims' rights community, who endorse both the Debbie Smith Backlog Grant and the Kirk Bloodsworth Post-Conviction DNA Testing Programs.

"I couldn't be happier to hear this news," says Debbie Smith, a Virginia rape survivor who waited six years for the evidence in her rape kit to be tested. "Americans, especially victims and those wrongfully convicted, need to have confidence in our justice system. This bill will give states the funding they need to serve justice more quickly and accurately."

# # #

About the Justice for All Act of 2004 (HR 5107):

Two core components include:

  1. Crime Victims' Rights:

    This portion of the bill provides substantive rights for crime victims, as well as mechanisms to enforce these rights. It also authorizes $155 million in funding over the next five years for victims' assistance programs at the Federal and state level, including victim/witness assistance programs at the offices of the United States Attorneys, enhancement of the victim notification system at the Department of Justice, organizations that provide legal counsel and support services for victims, and creation of state-of-the-art victims' rights laws and compliance systems in the states. This component of the bill includes provisions very similar to S 2329, the victims' rights bill sponsored by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), which in April 2004 passed the Senate by a wide margin.

  2. DNA Testing:

    The Advancing Justice Through DNA Technology Act (HR 3214 / S1700) is the product of a bi-partisan, bicameral compromise led by Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Ranking Member Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT). On November 5, 2003, HR 3214 passed the U.S. House of Representatives by an overwhelming vote of 357 to 67. The Senate version of the bill (S 1700) passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee by a vote of 11 to 7 on September 21, 2004.

    The House-approved version of the bill (HR 3214), which is now a part of the Justice For All Act, will provide much-needed funds to test the DNA backlog, provide funding for victims' services through grants to prosecutor and defender offices, and ensure access to post-conviction DNA testing for those who may be in prison or on death row for crimes they did not commit. The bill:
  • Enacts the Debbie Smith Backlog Grant Program, providing $755 million to test the backlog of over 300,000 rape kits and other crime sceneevidence awaiting analysis in our nation's crime labs;
  • Enacts the DNA Sexual Assault Justice Act and the Rape Kits and DNA Evidence Backlog Elimination Act, authorizing more than $500 million for programs to improve the capacity of crime labs to conduct DNA analysis, reduce non-DNA backlogs, train examiners, support sexual assault forensic examiner programs, and promote the use of DNA to identify missing persons;
  • Creates the Kirk Bloodsworth Post-Conviction DNA Testing Program and authorizes $25 million over five years to help states pay the costs of post-conviction DNA testing; and
  • Authorizes grants to states for Capital Prosecution and Capital Defense Improvement, which will be used to train, oversee, and improve the quality of death penalty trials, as well as assist families of murder victims.

The Justice Project [ ] (TJP) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that addresses issues of social justice here and abroad. TJP's Campaign for Criminal Justice Reform [ ] is a national initiative focused on addressing flaws in the American justice system. The Justice Project is affiliated with the Criminal Justice Reform Education Fund [ ].

Oslund Case Begins This Week

13 October 2004

The trial of Richard Ashton Oslund,29, formerly of Rosemount, Minnesota, began yesterday in District Court.  Oslund, who has previous felony convictions for drug related offenses and first-degree burglary, has been charged with federal robbery affecting interstate commerce, murder with a firearm during a robbery affecting interstate commerce, and being a felon in possession of a firearm.  The charges stem from the November 1998 robbery of a Brink's truck parked outside of a busy Bloomington Target store and the fatal shooting of Guard William Ray Strelow. 

Despite the fact that Minnesota removed the death penalty from state sentencing laws in 1911, it was still possible for Oslund to be sentenced to death, if convicted, under federal sentencing guidelines, because of the interstate nature of the crime.  Authorities considered the death penalty for Oslund but ultimately Attorney General John Ashcroft rejected the possibility.  There was no comment made as to why the death penalty was declined in this case.  Oslund faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted. 

Compiled from: 

The Star Tribune, A Onetime 'Likable Kid' Goes on Trial, by Jim Adams, and Thisweek Online,  Rosemount Man Will Not Face Death Penalty for Murder Charge, by Brett Andersen


China: Move to reduce executions?

14 October 2004

The Supreme People's Court will in future review all death sentences passed in China, according to the Court's vice-president, Huang Songyou, quoted in the official Chinese media. Amnesty International welcomes this announcement as it could mean a fall in the huge number of people executed.

"This is a step in the right direction," said Amnesty International. "We hope that extra scrutiny by better qualified judges will bring about a significant reduction in the numbers of people executed in China."

"We will be watching closely to see if the reform translates into any concrete improvement," continued the organization. "Of course it will be hard even to tell if there has been a drop, as China refuses to publish full national statistics on the death penalty."

A senior Chinese legislator estimated earlier this year that China executes "nearly 10,000" people a year.

Amnesty International warned that this measure must be seen as the beginning of a process towards full abolition of the death penalty. There are still a host of failings in the Chinese legal system which jeopardize the lives of people suspected of capital crimes. There is no presumption of innocence; political pressure to pass heavy sentences intrudes into the judicial process; 'confessions' extracted under torture can be used as evidence in court; and lawyers need not be present at the initial police interrogation.

"Under such circumstances, the Chinese criminal justice system is in no position to offer fair trials to those facing the death penalty," said Amnesty International.

Extra scrutiny by the Supreme People's Court would not necessarily guarantee a fair trial. For example in December last year the Court retried a high-profile case where a gangster's death sentence had been overturned on appeal by a provincial court. It ruled that Liu Yong's death sentence was still valid despite evidence of his confession being extorted through torture, and ordered an immediate execution.

The present system of reviewing most death sentences in China allows for judges in a provincial high court to approve a death sentence that they themselves have passed. The move to re-centralise the system back to the Supreme People's Court in Beijing is expected to be enacted during the current legislative session, which ends in 2008, the year that Beijing hosts the Summer Olympics.

"Such reforms will help to protect the rights of detainees," said Amnesty International. "But they must not be seen as a substitute for full abolition of the death penalty in China, starting with a halt to all executions."

China applies the death sentence for the "most serious" crimes, which under Chinese law include corruption and many other non-violent crimes, despite an international standard which states the death penalty should be "a quite exceptional measure". Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases on the grounds that it is the ultimate cruel and inhuman punishment and violates the right to life.

Take action! Protect Uighur refugees from forcible return, visit

China in the AI Report 2004:

The death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. It violates the right to life. Visit Amnesty International's dedicated Death Penalty pages at


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Japan Executes Man who Killed Eight School Children

15 October 2004

On September 14th, 2004 Japan executed forty year old Mamoru Takuma for the 2001 stabbing rampage at a school in western Japan that claimed the lives of 8 school children and injured 15 others.  Mamoru was hanged less than a year after his death sentence was finalized, a sentence that was carried out with unusual speed.  Human rights activists have expressed concern that the rights of the convicted are not being sufficiently protected - usually there is a gap of at least four years between sentencing and execution.

Japan's secretive system of capital punishment has long been criticized by human rights activists and international organizations.  Under the capital punishment system currently in place, inmates are arbitrarily selected from death row and they, their families, and their legal representatives are only notified of their pending executions on the day it is to take place. 

As a result of increasing international pressures, there was a recent symposium on capital punishment held October 8th, 2004 in Miyazaki, Japan.  The symposium was part of the annual human rights meeting of the Japan Federation of  Bar Associations, which is Japan's largest association of lawyers.  The Association criticized the secrecy and the due process defects inherent in the Japanese system and drafted a resolution calling for the Japanese government to abolish the out-dated system, or at least to introduce a four-year moratorium until the system can be revamped. 

The Japanese government has largely been unwilling to change its stance on the death penalty or even to provide a proper forum to address concerns relating to the system.  This policy could be on the way out as The Council of Europe is considering temporarily revoking Japan's observer status unless it suspends executions.  More importantly, Tokyo is now seeking a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, which will be difficult to attain if Japan continues to ignore the United Nation's concerns over its death penalty system.

Compiled from:  Khaleej Times Online, Japan Executes Man Who Killed 8 Schoolchildren 14 September 2004, Go Asia Pacific,  Japan Executes Man Who Killed Eight School Children, 14 September 2004, and Japan Economic Newswire, Japan Does Not Need Death Penalty in 21st Century, 8 October 2004.


Supreme Court to Decide Issue of Juvenile Executions

15 October 2004

Currently being played out before the United States Supreme Court in the case of Roper v. Simmons is the issue of juvenile execution. The case revolves around Christopher Simmons, who has been sentenced to die in Missouri for his part in the 1993 kidnapping and murder of Shirley Crook. Simmons was only seventeen years old at the time of the crime.

Eighteen years has long been thought to be the age of majority or adulthood in the United States. The Justices must decide if executing an individual under the age of eighteen violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. 

Supporters of the juvenile death penalty cite deterrence and the heinous nature of the murders committed in cases where the death penalty is sought as reasons to maintain the status quo. Opponents cite scientific studies which show that juveniles' brains are underdeveloped and immature, particularly in the areas of the brain which control reason, decision-making, and impulse control.  In addition, they point to the fact that 31 states bar the death penalty for juveniles, while only 19 states currently allow it (Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah, Texas, and Virginia). 

Additionally,when rendering their decisions, courts are increasingly considering the weight of international opinion and international law. The international consensus is strongly opposed to the practice of juvenile executions. This point was made clear when Justice John Paul Stevens asked, during oral arguments, if the court should ignore the fact that America's global respect is on the line over the issue of juvenile executions. Justice Anthony Kennedy also mused earlier on in the arguments that the "world opinion is against us" in regards to juveniles and the death penalty. It seems clear that international pressures could likely play a significant role in the outcome of this case.

The Supreme Court itself is deeply divided on the issue and the decision is anything but certain. The three most conservative members of the Court, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, and Justices Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas are expected to uphold the decision to execute juveniles. On the other hand, the more liberal Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David H. Souter, and Stephen Breyer have voiced their distain for the "shameful" practice. Moderate Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony M. Kennedy hold the key swing votes which will ultimately decide the issue for the American public.

Compiled from:, High Court Hears Arguments on Executing Juveniles, by Tony Mauro, October14, 2004, and, Court Divided Over Teen Executions, October 13, 2004


Iowa is Faced with a Capital Punishment Trial

21 October 2004

Iowa has not dealt with a death penalty case in forty years. Dustin Honken, 35 years, is convicted of seventeen charges (murder, witness tampering, and conspiracy), ten of which carry the possibility of the death penalty. Honken was found guilty of killing five people--two men, a woman, and her two children. The men were drug dealers who planned to testify about Honken's drug dealing. The woman and her children were friends of one of the drug dealers. Honken was arrested in 1993 and 1996 for drug charges. The murders took place in 1996; however, authorities did not discover the bodies until 2000. Honken's former girlfriend drew a map for a government snitch. Honken was already in prison for a 27 year sentence for drug dealing. The jury is deciding Honken's fate: either life imprisonment without parole or the death penalty.

Compiled from: The Des Moines Register, 21 October 2004.

Rodriguez to Face Death Penalty if Convicted

29 October 2004

On Thursday Attorney General John Ashcroft approved a recommendation by federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty for Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., if he is convicted of the 2003 kidnapping and murder of 22 year-old NDSU student Dru Sjodin. 

Rodriguez, defended by two court appointed attorneys, has pleaded not guilty despite DNA evidence linking Sjodin's blood to his car.  Prosecutors and defense attorneys have been debating the death penalty issue since May.  This will be the first time that a U.S. attorney general has sought the death penalty in North Dakota.  The last reported capital case in the state was in the last century.

Compiled from:  The Associated Press, Feds to Seek Death Penalty in Sjodin Case, October 29, 2004