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September 12 2010 | BANGLADESH


President Zia Rahman has pardoned 20 inmates sentenced to death

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Halperin's R news   AsiaNews

Dhaka, the president halts executioner. 20 prisoners on death row pardoned

Zia Rahman has revoked the death penalty for a group of representatives from Awami League, condemned in 2006 for murder. Catholic activist welcomes the decision of the President and calls on the Government to abolish the practice. According to the Ministry of Interior there are at least 407 people sentenced to death in the country.

Bangladesh President Zia Rahman has granted clemency to 20 Awami League activists, sentenced to death for murder. The provision dates back to September 6 and prisoners – who were jailed in central Dhaka and Rajshahi – have been released. The news of the President’s decision was welcomed by a Catholic activist, who calls on the Government to abolish the death penalty. However, sources from the Ministry of Interior (on guarantee of anonymity) have told AsiaNews that at present there are at least 407 inmates on death row awaiting execution, including 107 in central prison in the capital.

The sentencing of 20 activists of Awami League dates back to August 24, 2006 and was issued by judge Riroze Alam, of Dhaka court. The convicted include S.M. Feroze, general secretary of AL in upazila, Naldanga Thana, also implicated in the murder of Sandy Gama Hossain, former leader of Jubo Dal. There are 21 people involved in the affair, but one of the condemned - Akbar Ali - became a fugitive and the police never managed to capture him. The murder occurred on February 7 of 2004, six years on the pardon granted by President of Bangladesh seems to have closed the case.

Meanwhile, Interior Ministry sources have revealed to AsiaNews – under a guarantee of anonymity - that there are at least 407 inmates on death row in prisons in the country, including 107 in Dhaka Central Jail. Among those convictions already carried out to great public debate is the hanging of five prisoners on 28 January 2010: they were involved in the murder of former president and founding father of Bangladesh Sheikh Muzibur Rahman, who was killed along with the family August 15, 1975 by members of the army.

In a 2nd case, 6 members of armed groups were hanged for killing 2 judges during suicide attacks dating back to 2005. Since the birth of Bangladesh in 1971, the Executioner has performed over 250 hangings.

Annie Halder, a Catholic activist, welcomed the pardon granted by the Head of State and calls on the Government to abolish the death penalty from the legal system. The woman recalls how the practice is still widespread in Bangladesh and is subject to numerous crimes ranging from murder to attempt to undermine state security, from the circumvention of an incapable to force him to suicide to the fabrication of false evidence in murder cases to frame an innocent. It is also used to punish the perpetrators of acid attacks, a crime widespread in the country that permanently signs the lives of victims.

The death penalty is also applied to the adulteration of food or the production of false documents and currency, violating the principle that it should be imposed - under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), signed September 6, 2000 - "only in the most serious cases." Bangladesh, stresses the activist Catholic, signed the paper but has not yet ratified the Optional Protocol and is not included in the list of countries that promote the moratorium.

The legislative authorities of Bangladesh state that the death penalty is necessary to control the spread of crime and make it clear to criminals that serious crime means death. Those in favour of the practice add that it helps maintain peace and ensure justice in society. However, Annie Halder replies that is not effective as a "deterrent" and serious crime "is increasing every year." According to statistics provided by the police website, there were 4,219 homicides in 2009 compared to 3592 in 2005.

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