April 2017 e-Newsletter


In early March, The Asian Law Centre of the University of Melbourne joined with the Ho Chi Minh City University of Law to host the first Vietnamese conference taking comparative death penalty law and practice in Asia as its focus. The conference was supported by a grant from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's human rights program in Vietnam.  The one day event, attended by a large number of faculty, students, judges, officials and numerous others explored recent research and issues surrounding the death penalty. Vietnam continues to be an executing country, one of the worst in fact, apparently executing well over 400 people between August 2013 and mid 2016. Professor Pip Nicholson, the Asian Law Centre Director, was one of the hosts of the day. A number of HCMC University of Law academics spoke, with guest speakers on recent research and issues from as far afield as India, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Australia.  Julian McMahon spoke on the question of discretion in death penalty cases in Singapore.   

The event was a great success. A wide variety of views were heard and discussed, with many questions from the audience. The HCMC University of Law was a great host, and there is no doubt everyone benefitted from the exchanges. We look forward very much to continuing these valuable discussions. Very few executing countries have taken the excellent step taken of this conference, of having speakers from around the world discuss the issues, with debate and dialogue.


China Report 2016.  Since 2009, Amnesty International has not included the statistics from China in its annual report counting executions from around the world. This is because China is so secretive about how many people it executes that any numbers from China are unreliable. However, the dreadful reality seems to remain that China executes more people than the rest of the world combined. 

China continues to grow in prominence this century; its role as a world leader becomes ever more present and important.  However, leading the world as the State which kills more of its citizens than any other is hardly a win. China still has huge structural problems in its justice system. Torture, disappearances, unfair trials, secrecy, are only some of the many legal issues needing reform.  On 10 April 2017, Amnesty released a report reviewing the death penalty in China and calling on China to move into the modern era when it comes to justice and the death penalty.


ECPM, Ensemble contre la peine de mort, is one of the most important groups in the world fighting the death penalty. They have joined up with Iran Human Rights to provide a report on executions in Iran in 2016.  Iran’s justice system is deeply flawed. Trials are often unfair, torture is common, there are massive numbers of executions. To speak out can be very dangerous.  Courageous advocates, whether lawyers, writers, artists, or others who do speak up can expect terrible consequences, including long jail sentences.  

At least 530 people were executed in Iran in 2016, that is more than 10 a week. 

The report is an important document, and provides valuable insights into the brutal realities of Iran. For example it states:  

“In 2016 the Revolutionary Court in Tehran sentenced the human rights defenders Narges Mohammadi and Atena Daemi to 10 years and seven years in prison respectively for their activities against the death penalty.”… 

“Atena Daemi has been sentenced to seven years in prison for peacefully defending human rights, including: writing posts on Facebook criticizing the authorities’ execution record; painting anti-death penalty slogans on walls; distributing anti-death penalty leaflets; participating in a peaceful protest against the 2014 execution of a young Iranian woman called Reyhaneh Jabbari; visiting the graves of those killed during the protests following the 2009 presidential election; and sending information about abuses against political prisoners to human rights groups based outside Iran.”… 

“On August 2, 2016, Shahram Ahmadi and 24 other Kurdish prisoners of the Sunni faith were executed, charged with cooperation with militant Sunni groups. IHR has credible information that many of these prisoners had been subjected to torture to extract forced confessions. The death sentences were issued by the Revolutionary Courts after trials lasting less than 15 minutes and without any possibility of defense. The prisoners were hanged without having a chance to see their families for the last time. The Iranian authorities confirmed 20 of the executions.”  

See report here

The Philippines

Since coming to power as President in June 2016, President Duterte has been determined to reintroduce executions to his country. In an earlier newsletter, we spent some time reviewing the extraordinary number of deaths happening on the streets. These fall into two categories:  the shooting of those allegedly resisting arrest, and those murdered by assassins usually on motorbikes. The ensuing slaughter, apparently now in the order of well over 7,000 corpses, is a catastrophe for human rights and the rule of law in the Philippines. 

The lower house of Parliament in the Philippines has recently passed a bill reintroducing the death penalty. The upper house, or Senate, is due to recommence its considerations of the bill in the near future.

The Philippines has previously abolished the death penalty, and in 2007 ratified the most important international document in the world committing countries to oppose executions, called the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (the ‘ICCPR’), committing countries to oppose executions.

As a matter of law, it is an extraordinary and severe step for a country first to sign such a protocol, but then to reverse its position.  It is effectively a rogue step, calling into question how a country conducts itself. An eminent Australian barrister, Dr Christopher Ward SC, has written a legal advice on this issue, which we are pleased to be able to provide to you here.   


On April 15th, 2017, The Economist wrote that "Turkey is sliding into a dictatorship".  We provide the story to keep you abreast of developments, because there are increasing calls for the reintroduction of capital punishment into Turkey. As a secular democracy, with a Muslim majority, Turkey has stood out in the Islamic world as a non-executing Muslim majority country. There are fears that may change, as the President grows in strength at the expense of democratic institutions.  These two links look at some issues facing Turkey, and the death penalty developments:


The very small island Kingdom of Bahrain, one of the Persian Gulf States, has traditionally executed very few people, about 5 people in 40 years.  However, for the first time in 7 years, it recommenced executions in January 2017. Three men were executed, accused of a bombing in 2014 which killed 3 policemen.  Media reports suggest serious inadequacies in the trial and treatment of the accused.  In February 2017, the European Parliament passed a resolution condemning these executions.  

Bahrain has strong links with both the USA and the UK, including hosting the US 5th Fleet.  In 2016, Bahrain abstained, rather than opposed, at the regular UN vote in favour of an international moratorium on the death penalty. Such a position indicated no willingness to support executions, yet executions proceeded in January.  It remains to be seen whether this recommencement of executions is an aberration or a signal of worse to come. There have been many other worrying human rights issues in Bahrain in the last 12 months. In July 2016, the European Parliament condemned recent human rights abuses, and called for an end to ongoing repression.