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Mumia still on death row, executions of journalists on wane

13 October 2011

Mumia still on death row, but executions of journalists on the wane

(RSF/IFEX) - 7 October 2011 - On the eve of the 9th World Day Against the Death Penalty, Reporters Without Borders and the Paris-based NGO Together Against the Death Penalty (ECPM) would like to point out that being a journalist, editing a website or keeping a blog can still expose a person to the possibility of the death penalty in some countries.

The charges of "subversion," "endangering state security" and even "apostasy" can be used in some countries to convict and execute someone who has criticized the government, made fun of a leader in a cartoon or just covered a highly sensitive subject.

Around 10 people, mostly bloggers and netizens, are awaiting execution or are facing the possibility of a death sentence in Iran and Vietnam. What will become of Vahid Asghari, 25, who has been jailed since 2008 in Tehran and who was sentenced to death on a date that was never made public?

As well as a negation of justice, capital punishment is also a deadly threat that encourages self-censorship. China, which leads the world in executions, has no fewer than 55 capital offences of which three are direct threats to freedom of expression: "endangering public security," "instigating the country's division" and "divulging state secrets."

In Uganda, the imprisoned journalists Augustine Okello and Patrick Otim are still waiting to know whether the charges of subversion and treason that have been brought against them will cost them their lives. Abdelrahman Adam, a Sudanese radio journalist who has been held since October 2010 on a charge of violating state secrets, is in the same situation.

Nonetheless, the number of journalists being sentenced to death is declining. Even in Iran, which ranks second in the world in the number of executions, death sentences are being commuted or quashed. Capital punishment neither deters crimes nor compensates for the damage caused. Still less can it destroy the inalienable right to inform, question and speak out.

Of the few journalists actually under sentence of death, the one who has been in the situation longest has become a symbol of the campaign for abolition. He is not an Iranian, Vietnamese or Sudanese. He is a citizen of the United States. Sentenced to die for the murder of a policeman at the end of a trial marked by irregularities and racism, Mumia Abu-Jamal will soon complete his 30th year on death row.

Would he have suffered the same fate if he had not been what he called the "Voice of the Voiceless," a voice that still makes itself heard from his cell ( Would he still today be the victim of judicial persecution by a Pennsylvania district attorney, who is trying to block a new sentencing hearing?

Thirty years on death row is a long time. But 30 years since France abolished the death penalty and scrapped the guillotine is not. The coincidence reinforces the symbolism. All the more reason to insist that, after Troy Davis' execution, Mumia Abu-Jamal is not subjected to judicial murder too.

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