2015: Shafqat Hussain

1 comment August 4th, 2015 Headsman

Minutes before dawn prayers today, Pakistan hanged Shafqat Hussain in Karachi Central Jail.*

He’s the latest casualty of Pakistan’s wild death penalty resurgence following last December’s bloody terrorist attack on a Peshawar school — leading Islamabad to break a moratorium on carrying out the death sentences that it was continuing to hand down.

And how! According to the BBC, today’s hanging brings to 193 the total of people put to death in the little more than half-year since; Pakistan could stop hanging today (it won’t) and easily rank among 2015’s execution leaders by the end of the year.

Though the first victims of the new policy were people previously death-sentenced for terrorism, and thereby at least thematically linked to the Peshawar massacre, Pakistan by March had dropped the distinction and commenced hanging prisoners by the fistful for ordinary crimes, too.

Shafqat Hussain’s name has repeatedly entered the news cycle during that time, as he has faced and then avoided multiple execution dates, most recently this past June 9. Some have gone to the very brink, and seen the young man reprieved moments from donning his hanging-shroud.

Hussain denied committing the crime laid at his door — the abduction and murder of a 7-year-old boy in the area where he worked as a watchman — but a confession “allegedly” obtained by torture doomed him. Guilt aside, the matter garnered worldwide headlines (and advocacy) largely on account of his youth: Hussain and his advocates say he was a minor of age 14 or 15 when arrested; Pakistani courts have found him to have been 23. (!) It is this dispute about the age that has been at the center of Shafqat Hussain’s recent heart-stopping cycle of appeals and stays.

Shortly before his execution, Shafqat Hussain put his byline to a compelling first-person testimonial for CNN about life on Pakistan’s death row and the experience of nearing an imminent execution date.

When the jailer tells me that my execution date has been set, he separates me immediately from the other prisoners. I spend all seven days by myself in a cell in the barracks for prisoners about to be executed. They conduct a physical exam every one of those seven days. They weigh me every day, take my blood pressure and temperature as well.

On the last two days they also measure my height, my neck and my body for the clothes I am to wear when they hang me.

One day before my hanging, they tell me about my final visit with my family and that I need to execute my will. I cannot really say what I am thinking in those last seven days. My brain is thinking all sorts of things.

* According to a brother, who told AFP that “there is a cut mark on his neck and half of his neck is separated from his body,” they did not hang him very well.

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2014: Thirteen Xinjiang terrorists

Add comment June 16th, 2015 Headsman

One year ago today, China executed as terrorists 13 separatist militants.

According to Xinhua, the 13 were condemned in 7 different cases from Aksu, Turpan and Hotan — all prefectures of the western Xinjiang region.


Xinjiang. By TUBS [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Muslim Uighurs comprise a near-majority of that province’s population, and although Xinjiang is formally an “autonomous region” many Uighurs find it not nearly autonomous enough. Going tension has fomented a separatist movement that has appeared to gain strength — or at least visibility — during the past decade, including multiple spectacular and deadly terrorist attacks as well as several riots.

“The execution of criminals involved in terrorist attacks and violent crimes answers the calls of all ethnic groups, deters criminal activities, and demonstrates the resolve of the Communist Party of China and the government in cracking down on terrorism,” a Chinese court spokesman said, speaking of three of this date’s condemned who were sentenced together for a series of attacks in Lukqun (Turpan prefecture) that slew 24 police officers.

The executions on this day were surely coordinated for their demonstrative effect, days after Chinese authorities announced a “one-year crackdown” in Xinjiang one day after two SUVs bombed a market in Ürümqi, killing 43 people and injuring over 90 others.

Notwithstanding China’s strenuous attempt to frame the “crackdown” as one targeting only terrorists, security measures have bled insensibly into a crackdown on Muslims, targeting conservative Islamic cultural markers like veiled faces. It’s a sure bet that we haven’t heard the last of this flashpoint.

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2014: Mahafarid Amir Khosravi, billionaire

1 comment May 24th, 2015 Headsman

Businessman Mahafarid Amir Khosravi, once the wealthiest man in Iran, was hanged one year ago today for embezzling $2.6 billion.

Khosravi rocketed up the world’s rich lists — Forbes estimated that he would slot in around no. 219 in 2012 — during the late 2000s, when he launched the Aria Investment Development Company. This firm sprouted up from a strapling of 50 million rial (just a couple thousand US dollars) to 20 billion rial in just three years — thanks, as investigations ultimately revealed, to a series of bank loans obtained by means of forged documents that bank managers were tricked or bribed into accepting, then using those loans to purchase state-owned companies like Khuouzestan Steel at sweetheart rates.

According to the Associated Press, “Khosravi’s business empire included more than 35 companies from mineral water production to a football club and meat imports from Brazil.” His fall was a gigantic scandal, generally reckoned the largest financial scam in the history of the Islamic Republic.

The condemnation of a top business magnate on the nuclear “corrupt on earth” charge could hardly fail to raise uncomfortable questions about top government officials. In this case allegations of untoward connections were alleged by to go all the way to then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as a political football to discredit the more liberal elements in Ahmadinejad’s Cabinet.

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2013: Steven T. Smith

5 comments May 1st, 2015 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

At 10:29 a.m. on this date in 2013, 46-year-old Steven T. Smith was executed in Lucasville, Ohio for the 1998 murder of his girlfriend’s daughter, Autumn Breeze Carter.


Killer and victim.

The Ohio Parole Board called him “the worst of the worst” and concluded, “It is hard to fathom a crime more repulsive or reprehensible in character.”

No wonder: Smith had literally raped six-month-old Autumn to death.

Summing up the case in January 2002, the Ohio Supreme Court wrote,

We find nothing about the nature and circumstances of the offense to be mitigating. For ten to thirty minutes, Smith brutally raped and murdered Autumn Carter while her mother was asleep in the apartment. The violent nature of the attack was demonstrated by the fact that Autumn’s hair was ripped out, her vagina and anus were seriously damaged, she was suffocated by the weight of Smith on her small body, and she suffered subarachnoid and retinal hemorrhages. The crime is nothing less than a horrific, senseless murder committed against a small, defenseless baby.

Little Autumn died on the night of September 29, 1998. Her mother, nineteen-year-old Kesha Frye, woke up at 3:30 a.m. to discover a naked and extremely drunk Smith placing the baby’s naked body on the bed. Autumn’s tiny pink sleeper was found under the living room coffee table, clumps of her hair were on top of the coffee table, and shreds of her diaper were scattered around the room. The rest of the diaper was in a trash can outside.

According to court documents, paramedics summoned by Frye’s frantic 911 call

observed injuries on [Autumn’s] head and bruising around her eyes. They began CPR, and Autumn was transported to the hospital. The emergency room doctor testified that upon her arrival, Autumn had no pulse and had suffered a retinal hemorrhage. In addition to her visible bruising, the physician also stated that Autumn had bruising around her rectum and that the opening of her vagina was ten times the normal size for a baby her age…

They spent an hour trying to revive her, but it was too late.

Smith denied knowing anything about it: “I didn’t do anything. I’m not sick like that.”

He would keep up his denial for the next fourteen and a half years.

The cause of death was determined to be compression asphyxia and blunt force trauma to the head. Medical experts would testify that Smith could have suffocated the child by accident about three to five minutes into the assault, which may have lasted up to half an hour. The prosecution, however, contended he had deliberately beaten Autumn to death.

(During the trial, the coroner used a baby CPR doll to demonstrate how Autumn was injured. The doll’s head and one its legs actually came off in the process. One is reminded of the “Brides in the Bath” case where, when they were demonstrating how the defendant might have drowned his victim, they nearly killed their model.)

Five witnesses testified on Smith’s behalf during the sentencing phase of his trial. Relatives stated he’d started drinking at age nine or ten and struggled with an alcohol problem his whole life. His biological father was absent and his first stepfather was a violent substance abuser, but his second stepfather was a “decent guy” and his grandmother was also a positive influence early in his life.

A clinicial psychologist who tested him placed his IQ in the low-average range and could find nothing wrong with him mentally other than alcoholism and chronic, mild depression. A corrections officer testified Smith rarely broke the rules in jail and was always respectful of the guards. Prior to his arrest for Autumn’s murder, Smith’s only criminal convictions had been for DUI.

The month before his death, when he appealed to the parole board for clemency, Steve Smith finally admitted his crime. He said he hadn’t meant to kill Autumn and offered the lame excuse that he was too drunk to realize what he was doing. His attorneys called it “a horrible accident.”

That Steve Smith was very, very drunk that night was never in doubt. Eight hours after the attack his blood alcohol level tested at .123, well above the legal limit. The police found ten beer cans in the trash bin with Autumn’s diaper. An expert who testified for the defense believed Smith’s blood alcohol level was somewhere between .36 and .60 at the time of Autumn’s murder — enough to kill most people, but Smith had developed a tolerance.

Smith’s last meal consisted of fried fish, pizza, chocolate ice cream and soda. He declined to make a final statement. He only stared at his daughter behind the glass. She and her cousin wept after Smith was pronounced dead; Autumn’s family cheered.

The various people involved in the case had different reactions to Smith’s execution.

Kesha Frye: “I’m glad he’s dead, and I hope he burns in hell.”

Patrick Hicks, Autumn’s grandfather: “Because of him, Autumn never had a chance to take her first step, she never had her first birthday or a first day at school. It’s just unfortunate that this man gets to die a peaceful death after the torture he put Autumn through.”

Brittney Smith, Steve’s 21-year-old daughter: “I know my dad’s innocent. I do not believe he did this, and you know, he raised all my cousins, my sister before I was even born, and he never did anything [sexual].”

Steve’s attorney: “He was well-behaved and sober while in prison, causing no problems in the institution and living each day with the guilt and grief caused by his alcohol-fueled crime. While some may trumpet his execution as appropriate revenge for his crime, Ohio is no safer having executed Steven Smith than had he lived the remained of his natural life in prison.”

Maybe so. But Ohio probably felt better for it.

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2015: Eight drug smugglers in Indonesia

2 comments April 29th, 2015 Headsman

Moments after midnight today, Indonesia shot eight men for drug trafficking.


Coffins and grave markers for the condemned, readied prior to their executions.

Bitterly controversial in Australia and dominating headlines there at this hour, the execution’s most prominent victims were Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, condemned as ringleaders of an Australian drug-smuggling ring dubbed the Bali Nine. (The other seven members of the ring have prison sentences.)

Australia has reportedly withdrawn its ambassador to Indonesia to protest Jakarta’s turning a deaf ear to the many public and private appeals it has floated on behalf of its citizens.

The others shot early this morning were:

  • Nigerians Okwuduli Oyatanze, Martin Anderson, Raheem Agbaje Salami, and Silvester Obiekwe Nwolise
  • Brazilian Rodrigo Gularte
  • Indonesian Zainal Abidin

The party of eight was initially to be as many as ten. Frenchman Serge Atlaoui mounted a legal challenge that has for now delayed his execution; Filipina Mary Jane Veloso, who has claimed that she was completely unaware of the heroin hidden in her luggage when she arrived in Indonesia as an Overseas Filipina Worker, was spared just minutes before the execution at Manila’s urgent request when the woman alleged to have been her handler turned herself into police in the Philippines. But neither Atlaoui’s nor Veloso’s death sentence has actually been lifted, and both could eventually be shot to death

Chan’s and Sukumaran’s executions in particular are playing worldwide as a stark culture clash relative to a West that is more and more backing off the drug war,* especially given the widely advertised rehabilitation of Bali Nine duo. Chan found god; Sukumaran, a passion for painting.


Myuran Sukumaran’s ominous painting from just a few days ago: “Time is Ticking: Self-Portrait”

But one of the most self-evident readings of the affair is as a banal exercise in political expedience.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who hasn’t the firmest grasp on power in his country, has a surefire political winner in executing drug smugglers — plus a cherry on top for defying Australian meddling into the bargain.

Not that Widodo was ever likely to waver, but his southern neighbor’s great gnashing of teeth probably only strengthened his resolve to pull the trigger. If the intent of Indonesia’s death sentence is to scare prospective mules off crossing Indonesian soil, it was so much free advertising.

“This cannot be simply business as usual,” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said — but both leaders know the score. Countries don’t undo statecraft for common criminals.

Feelings are sure to be raw for the immediate future, and matters might develop quickly for the still-ongoing sagas of Serge Atlaoui and Mary Jane Veloso. Live blogs at the Guardian have a fascinatingly wide spectrum of reaction (Twitter intervention by @AxlRose!) from the evening of the execution and its aftermath.

* What’s past is prologue.

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2015: Four more in Pakistan, but not Shafqat Hussain

Add comment March 19th, 2015 Headsman

In what by this week’s measure constitutes a slackening pace, Pakistan hanged four more prisoners today, all for murder: Gulistan Zaman, Abdul Sattar, and brothers Mohammad Asghar and Ghulam Mohammad.

Meanwhile, the controversial scheduled Thursday hanging of Shafqat Hussain was postponed for further investigation by the Interior Minister at the very last moment.

“They dressed him up in white uniform for the execution,” Hussain’s brother* told the press. “Then they asked him to write his last will. He wrote: ‘I am innocent. They want to hang me for a crime I have not committed, to save others who have been freed.'”

Shafqat Hussain’s family reportedly produced a birth certificate supporting its contention that Hussain was 14 when arrested. Pakistan has contended that he was 23.


Shafqat Hussain

* Some news stories are naming that brother as “Gul Zaman” which is also the name reported for one of the killers hanged today. I’m not sure if this is media sloppiness, or if there are two distinct people involved in the day’s drama who happen to share a name.

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2015: Nine more in Pakistan

Add comment March 18th, 2015 Headsman

Today, one day after hanging 12 of its 8,000 condemned prisoners, Pakistan extended its newfound mass-execution campaign. Nine more men went to the gallows at various jails in several Punjab cities.

On the heels of Tuesday’s executions, this binge surely portends a return for Pakistan to the ranks of the world’s most active executioners, sub-China division. Human rights organizations are predictably horrified.

Dawn.com reported the identities of the hanged men — all murderers — as:

  • Lahore (1) — Tahir Shabir
  • Jhang (2) — Ghulam Muhammad and Zakir Hussain
  • Faisalabad (2) — Shafqat and Saeed
  • Rawalpindi (2) — Shaukat Ali and Muhammad Shabir
  • Mianwali (1) — Ahmed Nawaz
  • Attock (1) — Asad Mehmood Khan

More hangings are planned for Thursday, including the controversial execution of Shafqat Hussain, whom advocates say was condemned as a juvenile based on a torture-adduced confession. The shadow of the noose also appears to have triggered a scramble among at least some of those due to be executed to reach private settlements with their victims’ families. Dawn.com reported that Qadeer Ahmed in Rawalpindi and Azhar Mahmood and Muhammad Zaman in Gujrat were both reprieved from Wednesday executions by producing such arrangements at the eleventh hour.

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2015: Twelve in Pakistan

Add comment March 17th, 2015 Headsman

Repudiating its former death penalty moratorium with bombast, the government of Pakistan hanged 12 men today.

From 2008 to 2014, Pakistan while continuing to hand down death sentences had suspended their completion; a soldier condemned by court-martial and hanged in 2012 was the sole execution during that period.

As these pages have recently noted, the December 16 Peshawar school massacre abruptly ended that moratorium.

Islamabad resumed executions almost immediately thereafter, explicitly as a response to that atrocity. Those were, at first, hangings of prisoners convicted of terrorism-related offenses — not connected to Peshawar per se but tit-for-tat in at least a thematic fashion.

Approximately 27 terrorists with pre-existing death sentences hanged over the ensuing weeks.

But in keeping with the tradition of our age, “just terrorists” was just the camel’s nose under the tent.

Earlier this very month, the Interior Ministry announced an end to the death penalty moratorium for all crimes — casting many more people under the pall of potentially imminent execution.

The execution of death sentences may be carried out strictly as per the law and only where all legal options and avenues have been exhausted and mercy petitions under Article 45 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan have been rejected by the president.

Pakistan has continued even during the moratorium to be one of the most active death-sentencing countries in the world, and has an estimated 8,000 “ordinary” condemned criminals. Because many — up to 1,000 — of those prisoners’ judicial processes and clemency appeals ran their course during the time of the moratorium, and because President Nawaz Sharif has shown an avidity in the three months since Peshawar for the hangman’s services, it has been feared that Pakistan’s execution toll this year could easily vault straight into the triple digits.

That prospective hecatomb is yet to be determined — but today’s start will not reassure human rights advocates.

Different media outlets are giving slightly different rosters of the executed this morning, and Zafar Iqbal confusingly appears to be a name shared by two different prisoners — so this list (via the Pakistan Tribune) is offered only tentatively pending more definitive revisions. It appears to me that all or nearly all committed murder, often in the course of some other crime such as robbery or rape.

  • Multan (1) — Zafar Iqbal (another man there named Wazar Nazir was reportedly reprieved at the last moment)
  • Karchi (2) — Muhammad Faisal and Muhammad Afzal
  • Faisalabad (1) — Muhammad Nawaz
  • Rawalpindi (2) — Malik Muhammad Nadeem Zaman and Muhammad Jawed
  • Gujranwala (1) — Muhammad Iqbal
  • Jhang (3) – Muhammad Riaz, Muhammad Sharif, and Mubashir Ali (or Abbas?)
  • Mianwali (2) — Rab Nawaz and Zafar Iqbal

The hanged Muhammad Afzal’s shrouded body is received by his brother in Karachi.

A second man in Multan, named Wazar Nazir, was reported reprieved at the last moment, as was an Asghar Ali in Dera Ghazi Khan.

According to Dawn.com, these executions bring the count of those executed since Peshawar to 39.

At least one more hanging is scheduled for this week: Shafqat Hussain, allegedly tortured into confessing to a murder at the age of just 14 or 15.

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2014: Amin Abdullah Mohammed Al-Mu’alimi, an American spy in the Arabian peninsula

Add comment March 6th, 2015 Headsman

On this day last year, Al-Qaeda’s Ansar Al-Sharia group (Partisans of Islamic Law) executed an alleged American spy in the town of Shahr, in southeast Yemen.

Al-Qaeda also released a video (titled “An American Spy in the Arabian Peninsula”) in which a man calling himself Amin Abdullah Mohammed Al-Mu’alimi denounced himself as a spy and saboteur, who had placed tracking chips that enabled the U.S. to target militants with drones.

His bullet-riddled body was found lashed to the goalposts on a dirt football pitch.

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2015: Sajida al-Rishawi and Ziyad Karboli, Jordan’s revenge on ISIS

Add comment February 4th, 2015 Headsman

This morning at Swaqa prison south of Amman, Jordan executed two operatives of al-Qaida in Iraq in retaliation against ISIS for the murder of a captured Jordanian pilot.

ISIS yesterday posted a video showing a caged and gasoline-drenched Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh shrieking as flames devour him. The slickly produced 22-minute piece with the stomach-turning climax can be found online here, but don’t say we didn’t warn you. It’s nightmarish.

The unfortunate pilot had been used as a prop in ISIS’s provocative hostage diplomacy along with the Japanese captive Kenji Goto, who were both offered in exchange for Sajida al-Rishawi, a terrorist already on Jordan’s death row Jordan’s death row who had been widely forgotten. Video of Goto’s beheading came out several days ago.

Jordan last week agreed to trade al-Rishawi, if ISIS could prove that al-Kaseasbeh was still alive. Jordanian television has reported that the almost jeering video reply was actually filmed on January 3, indicating that the “hostage” negotiations had been a sham all along. (And/or deflecting some of the public anger away from the government; initial reports today had some crowds chanting against Jordan’s King Abdullah, who hastened home from meetings in Washington, D.C. after news of Lt. al-Kaseasbeh’s fate surfaced.)

Al-Rishawi, an Iraqi woman condemned to death in 2005 for taking part in a suicide bombing,* was promptly hanged in revenge by an enraged Jordan. Her crime predated ISIS, of course, but here’s guessing it was a public relations maneuver for the Islamist quasi-state to involve the al-Rishawi gratuitously and invite Jordan to martyr a female prisoner who turned terrorist after she lost a husband and three brothers killed fighting American troops.


Sajida al-Rishawi

Jordan has vowed an “earth-shaking response” extending far beyond hanging al-Rishawi and Ziyad Karboli, another al-Qaida in Iraq prisoner who was also executed.

“While the military forces mourn the martyr, they emphasize his blood will not be shed in vain. Our punishment and revenge will be as huge as the loss of the Jordanians,” a spokesman said in a prepared statement today.

“My son’s blood is worth more than those two,” Lt. al-Kaseasbeh’s father agreed — adding that Jordan’s true revenge must be “to destroy this terrorist group.”

* Her explosive vest failed to detonate, but the attack killed 57. Despite the notoriety of the bombing, al-Rishawi was understood as a small-timer by Jordanians who widely favored setting her free if that could actually secure the release of the lieutenant.

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