Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Testifying in New Hampshire

In New Hampshire yesterday, victims' family members Renny Cushing (Executive Director of MVFHR) and Arnie Alpert (chair of the New Hampshire Coalition Against the Death Penalty) testified against a bill that would expand the state's death penalty. From an article in today's Concord Monitor:

A state senator and Attorney General Kelly Ayotte urged lawmakers yesterday to support a bill seeking to expand the state's narrow death penalty law to include murderers who kill multiple victims. Critics, meanwhile, challenged the proposal as immoral and expensive.

The bill would expand the state's number of death penalty cases considerably. Since 2003, there have been eight multiple-victim murders. Go back further, to 1996, and the number climbs to 18. By contrast, the state is currently prosecuting its first two death penalty cases since 1990, and the state hasn't executed anyone for nearly 80 years.

The bill's sponsor, Republican Sen. Joseph Kenney of Union, said his proposal is a response to this summer's triple killing at an Army-Navy store in Conway, for which Michael Woodbury of Maine is serving a life sentence without parole. Ayotte said the absence of a provision about multiple killings from the state's current death penalty law is a "glaring omission."

The state's existing law covers six types of murder: murder of a law enforcement or judicial officer; murder for hire; murder in prison while already serving a life sentence; and murders during a kidnapping, rape or drug sale.

"We have a narrow (death penalty) statute, and that is appropriate," Ayotte said. "But this should be covered."

Ayotte introduced an amendment to Kenney's bill that would include murderers who kill multiple people either at once or over a period of time. A sister of one of the victims in the Conway case spoke in support of the bill. Jennifer Walker Blake, whose brother James Walker was killed, said Woodbury's prison sentence is better than he deserves, especially since it includes meals, shelter and other amenities. It's unfair, she said, that someone who kills three people gets the same sentence as someone who kills one person.

Kenney's bill drew more opponents than supporters yesterday. Three supported it; five didn't. It will likely face a tough fight on two grounds: moral and financial.

Church leaders and others argued the first point.

Diane Murphy Quinlan, chancellor of the Catholic diocese, said the use of capital punishment contributes to the culture of violence. "State-sanctioned killing in our name diminishes all of us," she said.

Renny Cushing of Hampton, the founder of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights, said the state should be proud that it hasn't executed anyone for nearly 80 years. "Killing murderers will not bring anyone back," said Cushing, whose father was murdered. "What it does is creates another grieving family."

Read the rest of the article here.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

To Every Corner of the World

The Death Penalty Information Center recently posted a link to a collection of articles published last November by the Inter Press Service (IPS). The collection is titled "Crime and Justice: Abolishing the Death Penalty," and contains articles about work against the death penalty in Europe and Central Asia, Africa, the Mideast and the Mediterranean, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the United States.

Among the many articles is an interview with Bill Pelke about The Journey of Hope and about his opposition to the death penalty as the family member of a murder victim, and an article titled "Executions Create Generations of Victims," which includes excerpts from MVFHR's report Creating More Victims: How Executions Hurt the Families Left Behind.

In the introduction, Mario Lubetkin, Director-General of IPS, writes:

It was a historic year. In 2007 the tide of opinion against the death penalty gathered in strength as never before, sweeping to every corner of the world. The number of abolitionist countries rose. The number of executions declined. Long in place moratoriums held and new ones came into force. And as the year drew to a close, proof of this seemingly irresistible tide of change came with the powerful vote in the U.N. for a global moratorium on executions. The IPS 'Death Penalty Abolition Project', supported by the European Union, has recorded the voices of many of those who have played a key role in this fast-moving journey towards a death-penalty-free world. In doing so, IPS has been guided by the purposes and principles contained in the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Eating Me Up Inside

We've added another Tennessee member to our Gallery of Victims' Stories: Shane Truett, whose brother Timothy was murdered in 1992. Shane, an attorney, works with the Tennessee Justice Project, a nonprofit organization devoted to criminal justice reform with a specific emphasis on death penalty issues.

In an op-ed piece in the Tennessean this past May, Shane wrote, "I have struggled for years with my feelings on capital punishment. All the hatred and anger I felt as a result of my brother's murder was eating me up inside. Eventually, I found out my brother's murderer had died in prison. His death didn't make me feel any better, as I once thought it would. I realized that there are some wrongs that just can't be made right again."

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Working with Prisoners

Two Massachusetts members whom we've just added to our Gallery of Victims' Stories have in common the fact that they have chosen to work against violence by working with prisoners in some way. Milton Jones, whose son Elijah was killed in 1993, founded the Community Re-Entry Program for prisoners preparing to be released from county jails. Milton, who testified against reinstatement of the death penalty in Massachusetts a few months ago, says, "“At first, we felt that we wanted the killers dead. But at some point, I looked at what being in that frame of mind was doing to me and my family. What does it make me if I continue to harbor those feelings? It makes me no better than the person who did the crime. All the death penalty really does is perpetuate hurt and pain and violence."

Dick Nethercut, whose daughter Jaina was killed in 1978, has been leading Alternatives to Violence workshops in prisons since 1992. Dick also testified against reinstatement of the death penalty in Massachusetts; he says, “From my perspective, the death penalty only adds to the suffering of the victim’s family, rather than lessening it. I believe the work I do now in prison and with ex-prisoners honors and gives significance to my daughter's life."

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

9/11 Families Added to Gallery of Stories

We've added to our online Gallery of Victims' Stories two family members of people who were killed in the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks: Terry Greene, whose brother Donald Greene was a passenger aboard United Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania, and Loretta Filipov, whose husband Alexander Filipov was a passenger aboard American Airlines Flight 11, which crashed into the World Trade Center towers. Both Terry and Laura are members of the group September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, and both were on the MVFHR panel of victims testifying against reinstatement of the death penalty in Massachusetts last October.

Visit our entire Gallery of Victims' Stories here. Other September 11th victims' family members in the gallery are Anthony Aversano, Orlando Rodriguez, and Robin Theurkauf.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Connecting and Remembering

The NCADP annual conference is always a great opportunity to see in person the friends and colleagues that I'm in touch with mostly by email and phone during the rest of the year, to meet new allies in our work against the death penalty, and to be reminded again of why the work is so important.

The power of victims' voices was evident throughout the conference. New Jersey Senator Ray Lesniak, lead sponsor of the death penalty repeal bill, said in his lunchtime speech that the testimony of victims' family members was what was most effective in reaching lawmakers. In the workshop session "Family Members of Murder Victims: Stakeholders in the Debate," MVFHR board member Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty organizer Laura Porter, and Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation board member Cathy Ansheles talked about integrating victims' family members into death penalty abolition work and finding common ground with victims' organizations.

MVFHR executive director Renny Cushing offered a quick training session on "Working with Murder Victims' Families," and New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty Victims' Outreach Coordinator Marie Verzulli held a caucus of victims' families sharing ideas and experiences. And in the workshop session on "Case Studies of Success," Derrel Myers described how his son's murder so devastated him that he began making plans to take his own life, and how connecting with other anti-death penalty victims' family members and other activists helped him regain a sense of purpose and commitment.

There was much else of interest at the conference as well, from former Texas district attorney Sam Millsap's talk about how he pursued the death penalty for a defendant, Ruben Cantu, whose guilt is now in serious question, to the activists from outside the U.S. like those from the Puerto Rican, German, and World Coalition Against the Death Penalty and the Italian Community of Sant Egidio.

These are just a few examples of many. Thanks to NCADP for another successful conference.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Gone Conferencing; Back Next Week

Off to San Jose for the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty conference. Hope to see many blog readers there! We'll report on the conference next week.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Report from the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty meeting

This photo shows the steering committee of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, whose members come from Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and the United States. MVFHR is a member of the steering committee, and Renny Cushing (seated, far right) attended the annual meeting in Paris a few weeks ago. Renny reports that the Coalition will be focusing its efforts on Asia in the coming year, and on China in particular. The international death penalty abolition movement is hoping to take the opportunity of China's hosting the 2008 Olympics to urge the country toward greater transparency about its death penalty practices and toward some meaningful reforms.

Another interesting note from the steering committee meeting is that the newly formed Arab Coalition Against the Death Penalty just joined the World Coalition. This group, based in Jordan, is a program of Penal Reform International. Here's a press release that the group sent out expressing its support for the UN Resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions:

The Arab Coalition against the Death Penalty (ACADP) welcomes the resolution of the UN General Assembly calling on all states which have not so far abolished the death penalty to suspend its application as a first step towards its abolition.

The ACADP believes that this UN resolution will strengthen human rights and will give further support to international and regional efforts to oppose the death penalty particularly those of the World Coalition against the Death Penalty as well as the regional and national coalitions.

The ACADP commends all those states that supported the resolution establishing a formal moratorium on the death penalty and applauds in particular Algeria’s courageous position in voting for the resolution in the face of continuous terrorist attacks.

The ACADP expresses regret that some Arab states which have been observing an informal moratorium on the death penalty for more than ten years absented themselves while others abstained from voting on the resolution. Furthermore, it calls upon all Arab States to strictly observe the resolution.

The ACADP will continue its endeavours to restrict the application of the death penalty and will continue working with governments and the civil society to reduce the number of cases punishable by death with a view to abolishing the death penalty as it represents the most inhuman punishment and violates the sanctity of human life.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

More Tennessee Families

Last Thursday's post about unsolved murders talked about Tennessee MVFHR member James Staub. James just published an opinion piece in the Tennessean titled "Spotlight on death penalty lays bare its many flaws."

We continue to add Tennessee victims' family members to our online Gallery of Victims' Stories. We've just added pages for Clemmie Greenlee and Regina Hockett, both of whom lost a child to murder and now work to help victims and prevent further violence.

Regina, whose daughter was killed in 1995, is now president of Victorious Mothers of Murder, which provides support groups, retreats, and one-on-one counseling to families in the Nashville area. Clemmie, whose son was killed in 2003, now works as an organizer for the Nashville Homeless Power Project and as outreach coordinator for an effort called the Peacemaker Campaign, through which Clemmie works to connect with gang members in the community and create events that promote non-violent solutions to conflict.

Both Clemmie and Regina do frequent public speaking events with the Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Kililng, and opposing the death penalty is an important component of their anti-violence work. Says Clemmie, "Why would I, the Mama of a murdered son, want to see another Mama's son murdered? I can't live with that." Regina says, "“When people ask me why I’m against the death penalty, I just tell them I look at those young men who killed my daughter. I look at where they came from and I look at where I came from. Those young men could be my sons. In fact, my own son went to school with them. It’s not right that they killed my daughter, and it wouldn’t be right if the state killed them, either."

Monday, January 14, 2008

I Did Not Need to See Anyone Die

The ABC news show that we mentioned last week, featuring MVFHR member Aba Gayle and author Joan Cheever, is now available online. You can view Aba Gayle's segment here and Joan Cheever's segment here.

In other news, Mark Weddleton, Field Organizer for Nebraksans Against the Death Penalty, sent around an article from the 1/7/08 Lincoln Journal Star that had the headline "Police captain, sister of murder victim speak against the death penalty." The article quotes Miriam Kelle, whose brother, James Thimm, was tortured and killed in 1985 by cult members on a farm in Rulo, Nebraska. Read that article here.

Thanks to Mark for sending, as well, a copy of the op-ed piece that Miriam Kelle had published in the 1/9/08 Omaha World Herald. Here is that piece in its entirety:

I have been opposed to the death penalty all my life. Nearly 25 years ago, that belief was put to the test when Michael Ryan took the life of my brother, Jim Thimm.

Jim wanted to do more for the farmers in trouble during the 1980s farm crisis. Food drives for the community food bank did not seem enough to offset the losses he saw. He looked for answers from a minister he'd met, the Rev. James Wickstrom.

As I heard more of Wickstrom's teachings, I became concerned. How could he be a Christian and preach hate? Wickstrom had ties to the Posse Comitatus, an offshoot of the KKK.

Despite our family's dismay, Jim joined a Nebraska cult based on Wickstrom's teachings. The cult was led by Michael Ryan. His new cult thinking began to drive our family away from each other.

Jim had reached a point where his philosophy was more important than his family. I tried to convince Jim that the love of Christ was missing from Ryan's group, but Jim moved to Rulo with the cult and disappeared from our lives.

Our contact was severed until one day when I heard some members of the Rulo group had been arrested. I knew another member of the cult, (John) David Andreas, so I visited him in jail and offered my help and support.

At this point, I was unaware of what had happened to my brother. David talked to me, but he was very nervous and couldn't bring himself to tell me that Jim was dead. In ignorance, I promised David I would try to help him in whatever way I could.

It was not until several days later that I learned that my brother Jim was dead, and not just dead but tortured to death. The details revealed that Jim challenged Michael Ryan's teachings of hate, and Ryan chose to make a terrible example of him.

Difficult as it was after the funeral I went to see David again. I visited him in jail because I had given him my word. At the time, I thought he may very well face the death penalty. (He was one of five men convicted of charges related to Thimm's murder. Only Michael Ryan was sentenced to death—editor.)

As more facts came out about what Michael Ryan and David had done, my family and the lawyers all agreed that the men deserved the death penalty. I didn't know what to do or what was right. How could I alone disagree? Maybe it was right. I began to struggle with my own conviction that killing was wrong, no matter who was doing the killing.

During this time, I continued to visit David in prison. I hoped to help him, and I kept praying he would leave behind the cult thinking. I saw positive change and was hopeful for his future. Finally, he was released from prison.

My husband and I went to the party to celebrate with him. It was a very tearful but meaningful event. I was strengthened in my conviction that the death penalty was wrong.

Perhaps it was easier for me to forgive David because I had known him prior to my brother's murder. But since then, I have met James Haverkamp, who also was involved in Jim's death. I was able to do this because I believe all human beings have value, no matter what horrible things they've done.

I also have seen Michael Ryan. I saw him behind bars. I could leave. He could not. This was enough for me. I confirmed for myself again that I did not need to see anyone die for my peace of mind.

My heart seems to not let me rest, with the death penalty coming very close for Michael Ryan. We must get Nebraska legislators to end this terrible things of capital punishment at last.

I have decided to speak publicly on my own experience to share the message I have learned: Love has more to do with our world than hate.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

When the Murder Remains Unsolved

The newspaper article about Bess Klassen-Landis that we posted yesterday mentions that the murder of Bess's mother remains unsolved. Several MVFHR members are in this situation -- the murder of their loved one has never been solved -- and we are planning to do a story about their experience for our spring newsletter, so watch for that, and if you fit that description and want to talk to us about it, by all means get in touch.

Meanwhile, we've just added Tennessee member James Staub's page to our online Gallery of Victims' Stories. James's mother was murdered in Georgia in 1995; she was apparently struck in the back of the head with a tire iron, but no one was ever caught and the murder remains unsolved. James is one of several Tennessee members whom we are adding to the Gallery during this crucial period during which Tennessee's new death penalty study committee is reviewing all aspects of the issue.

Visit the entire Gallery of Victims' Stories here.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Victim Opposition to the Death Penalty in the News - part 2

Bill Pelke sent us an article that was published on December 30th in the Valley News, a Vermont newspaper. (The original article is no longer available online.) The article tells Bill Pelke’s story and the story of victim’s family member Bess Klassen-Landis, and talks about the work of the Journey of Hope.

Some excerpts:

It's no surprise that Bess Klassen-Landis, a politically liberal thinker who was raised in a pacifist, Mennonite tradition, would be opposed to the death penalty. The twist is that the 52-year-old Windsor woman came to feel this way decades after her mother was stolen from her, raped and murdered in her Indiana home while Klassen-Landis, then 13, and her three sisters were at school.

After growing up fearful -- her mother's killer was never caught -- and suffering years of post-traumatic stress symptoms, Klassen-Landis says she has been transformed by talking and singing about her life, including with a national group that travels the country speaking out against the death penalty. …

Helen Bohn Klassen, who was 41, was beaten, raped, strangled and shot five times in her Indiana home in 1969. One of Bess's sisters found her after school. Helen Klassen's girls never talked to a therapist, says Bess; it wasn't what families did back then.

After her mother's murder, young Bess Klassen lived in a household of pent-up grief. In an interview in her art-filled Windsor home and in her Rotary Club speech, Klassen-Landis recalled that her father told his daughters that their shattered family must put on a good face for their community. It was something Otto Klassen, now proud of three of his daughters' work against capital punishment, would later deeply regret.

At the time, the anguished widower, a psychiatrist, felt the authorities weren't doing their job. After work, he would go to the police station, follow potential suspects -- police had identified seven -- and, at home, sleep very little. His daughters were always on edge, Bess said. Their father "looked like he could explode at any second."

A high school honor student, Bess played sports and sang in a folk band. Yet she walked with her head bowed and stuck her nose in a book to avoid having to speak to anyone. Inside, she simmered with "utter despair, grief, fear, or rage," she said. "I needed to pretend for others that I wasn't being torn apart inside, that I wasn't afraid to live in a home with bullet holes in the floor."

"There was a real sense of discrepancy between what you were showing on the outside to your teachers, your aunt and uncles, to anybody, to your family, and what you're feeling on the inside," she said.

Klassen-Landis grew up, got married and had two children, now grown, all the while coping with what she says was "the physical and psychic stress of being hyper-vigilant for many years." She suffered an overactive immune system and environmental and food allergies. Then her oldest sister Ruth, who had had her own difficulties as a result of their mother's murder, asked Bess to accompany her on a speaking tour with a group called "Journey of Hope … From Violence to Healing."

The Anchorage, Alaska-based organization each year targets a state in which there is a political fight over the death penalty and sends teams of witnesses to speak in churches and schools, on radio stations and to newspaper reporters, to legislators, to anyone who will listen. The teams pair someone who has had a family member murdered with the relative of someone who has been executed or is on death row awaiting execution.

Bess agreed to accompany Ruth, despite her fear of public speaking and the spotlight. She did it for her sister, Bess said. Her first trip with Journey of Hope, to Texas, was in 2005. For the first time, Klassen-Landis told her story to an audience full of people who, like her, had had a loved-one murdered.

"I just can't tell you what an open door that is, to free parts of yourself that have not been free. It's probably the most taboo subject you can think of. It's not something I've talked about a lot in my life. You don't bring up the fact that your mother's been murdered because it'll stop any conversation," said Klassen-Landis. "So being in that room, all of a sudden there is a place you can talk about it."

If her first Journey tour was about taking care of herself, Klassen-Landis's second trip, last year to Virginia, was about opening her heart to others, to people who had done terrible things. Klassen-Landis said she had always been "theoretically" opposed to capital punishment, but there was a part of her that "smugly" felt that murderers, "well, they deserved" to die.

Then Klassen-Landis had her next epiphany. She began to feel that if her mother's murderer had been apprehended, she would be able to sit with him, talk with him and "visit (him) over and over again until I could find that within him that I could call friend."

"I surely couldn't have said that," before 2006, she said.

It was a transformation Klassen-Landis said she also saw in her traveling companion, a man who had spent a decade on death row before being cleared in a murder he did not commit. The man believed in the death penalty and thought the murderers he knew in prison should die for their crimes. While in prison, he had become best friends with a murderer, who was executed.

"It just tore him apart. He realized that this man had good in him. That this man had the capacity to relate to others in a loving way," Klassen-Landis said. "My need to help abolish the death penalty right now is not only to save these peoples' lives - it's to help people become less hateful, to actually find forgiveness within themselves."

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Victim Opposition to the Death Penalty in the News - part 1

A story published yesterday in the Frederick (Maryland) News-Post, titled "Families of Victims Reject the Death Penalty," tells about a talk that MVFHR board member Vicki Schieber and her husband Sylvester gave at a church on Sunday evening with Maryland victims' family members Mary and Chris Wilson. Here's a brief excerpt from the article:

Every day, [Vicki] and her husband work to accomplish even the smallest tasks in Shannon's honor. Shannon had hoped to make a difference in the lives of other people, so the Schiebers hope to do just that, including making strides against the death penalty.

The couple has been talking to people across the country. Sunday night's discussion was part of a church program, Together Growing in Faith.

Mary and Chris Wilson, of Frederick, also spoke to the crowd about the murder of a loved one. Chris' father was killed in Frederick in 1994. The Wilsons learned of his death on their 22nd wedding anniversary.

They talked about how difficult it was for them to process the news ----a man had broken into Chris' father's home and killed him.

The Wilsons came to the same conclusion as the Schiebers about the death penalty, though it was not an easy decision.

"It stressed our family to no end," Mary said.

Neither the Schiebers nor the Wilsons regret giving the killers a chance to live. Holding on to anger does nothing but cause damage, Mary said.

The two couples encouraged the crowd to speak up to local government leaders, informing them of their beliefs.

"There's a fine line between justice and vengeance and anger," Mary said. "By killing one guy, you're not going to bring back the other."

Read the full article here.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Talking About Baze

Today the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments in the Baze v. Rees case, which is about the constitutionality of the current method of lethal injection (does execution by lethal injection violate the 8th amendment's ban against cruel and unusual punishment?). Watch the death penalty blogs (several good ones are on our links list at the right) for news and commentary on this case.

This Friday, January 11th, MVFHR member Aba Gayle and author Joan Cheever will appear on ABC News Now's program "All Together Now" to talk about the death penalty and Baze. The first airing will be at 5:30 p.m., Eastern Time, on the 11th. The show will then air over that weekend and throughout the following week at various times (check local listings at

From the press announcement:

Aba Gayle’s 19- year-old daughter Catherine Blount was murdered in 1980. Aba Gayle spent eight years filled with anger and rage and wanted revenge for her daughter’s murder, being assured by the district attorney that the execution of her daughter’s killer, Douglas Mickey, would result in healing. He was convicted of capital murder and sent to Death Row in San Quentin. But eight years later, Aba Gayle believed that it was time to forgive Mickey in order to start the process of healing; she wrote him a letter to tell him and began her own journey of reconciliation and forgiveness. Aba Gayle has visited San Quentin many times over the years to visit Douglas Mickey, most recently Thanksgiving Day 2007 where she spent the day with him. Aba Gayle is president of the Catherine Blount Foundation and travels across the country and the world speaking and teaching about the healing power of forgiveness. Aba Gayle’s journey from revenge and anger to love and healing is told in Erika Street’s 2006 documentary, “The Closure Myth.”

Joan Cheever’s book Back From The Dead: One woman's search for the men who walked off America's Death Row tells the story of 589 former death row inmates who, through a lottery of fate, were given a second chance at life when the death penalty was abolished in 1972 in the case of Furman v. Georgia. The death penalty returned to the U.S. four years later. In her book, Cheever describes her travels across the country and into the lives and homes of former Death Row inmates, armed only with a tape recorder, notepad, a cell phone that didn’t always work, and a lot of faith. Back from the Dead tells of Cheever’s own journey and reveals tales of second chances: of tragedy and failure, racism and injustice, and redemption and rehabilitation. (John Wiley & Sons 2006).

Thursday, January 3, 2008

After Abolition

On January 1st this year, Uzbekistan's abolition of the death penalty took effect. We were delighted to learn last June that legislation abolishing the death penalty had passed in Uzbekistan, and now we're glad to hear that nothing has gotten in the way of its actually going into effect. The work of MVFHR member Tamara Chikunova was central to this effort. Tamara is the founder and director of the Uzbek group Mothers Against the Death Penalty and Torture. You can read about Tamara's son's execution in this post that we published last fall.

Alongside our celebration of Uzbeki abolition, we also remember that abolition of the death penalty does not automatically eradicate the suffering of families of those who have already been executed. If abolition occurs in a jurisdiction that has executed people within the past decade or even two decades, the needs of families of the executed will still remain. As we have seen, executions harm surviving family members in ways that can linger long after the execution itself, and can even carry into the next generation. Even when further executions are halted, a society should still attend to the needs of the families for whom abolition did not come soon enough.

Here are excerpts from the statement that The Community of Sant'Egidio sent out regarding Uzbekistan's abolition of the death penalty:

The Community of Sant’Egidio and Mothers Against the Death Penalty have been working for years to end capital punishment in Uzbekistan and throughout Central Asia. They greet this historic step with joy and appreciation, noting that it follows a similar decision taken last year by Kyrgystan. Kazakhstan also has begun moving toward a moratorium and complete abolition, as the president of the Kazkhstan Senate, K.J.Tokayev, announced in Naples in October at the global interreligious meeting for peace sponsored by the Community of Sant’Egidio and the Archdiocese of Naples.
Uzbekistan is the 134th country in the world to abolish the death penalty and -- after Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan -- the third former Soviet republic in Central Asia to do so. ...

The move is tied to the extraordinary work of Uzbeki abolitionists, and particularly the group Mothers Against the Death Penalty, founded by Tamara Chikunova, who, with the Community of Sant’Egidio worked in Uzbekistan and around the world to sensitize the public to the need to defend the rights of those condemned to death and to ensure they had a proper legal defense. The group was closely involved in the entire process leading to the moratorium and adoption of the death penalty ban in Uzbekistan and was a strong supporter of the U.N. Resolution for a Universal Moratorium. ...

The Community of Sant’Egidio supported the birth of the Association of Mothers Against the Death Penalty, made up of parents of executed prisoners, and has assisted its work. Twenty-one people condemned to death have been saved from execution thanks to the creation of a pool of qualified legal assistants and local actions to defend human rights despite the many difficulties and even the personal risks run by Tamara Chikunova, who was often threatened, as the association sought legal recognition from the government. International attention, the interventions of Italian and European representatives in Tashkent, at the urging of the Sant’Egidio Community, helped Mothers Against the Death Penalty secure government recognition and ensured the safety of Tamara Chikunova.

The Community of Sant’Egidio congratulates the Government of Uzbekistan for the strength and meticulousness with which it carried out such a great act of civility, one which gives honor to the country and represents a decisive contribution to the achievement of a more humane justice in the world.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Building Bridges for Peace

Happy New Year, everyone. We've added a new page to our online Gallery of Victims' Stories: Jo Berry, whose father, a member of the British Parliament, was blown up by a bomb planted by the IRA. Here's an excerpt from Jo's gallery page:

"The man responsible, Pat Magee, received eight life sentences; the judge branded him "a man of exceptional cruelty and inhumanity.” He was released in 1999 as a condition of the Good Friday Peace Process.
In 2000, Jo met Pat Magee in order to hear his story. Since then, they have met many times, and Jo has begun to understand the reasons that led him to choose violence. They now work together for peace, nationally and internationally. Jo has set up the organization Building Bridges for Peace, and has presented workshops at prisons, schools, universities, and victims’ groups. Jo and Pat were featured in a BBC documentary in which Jo talks about her abhorrence of the death penalty and how it cannot bring closure; the film has been used by U.S. anti-death penalty groups."

See the rest of Jo's gallery page, including photos, here. Visit the entire Gallery of Victims' Stories here.