Cases of condemned prisoners that have given impetus to the abolitionist campaign

13 May 2017 :

  • Pietro Venezia - On 27 June, 1996, the Italian Constitutional Court said "no" to the extradition of Pietro Venezia (an Italian citizen who pleaded guilty to a murder committed in Florida). Moreover, the Court stated that as the Italian Government had abolished the death penalty, it should not extradite offenders toward countries that inflict it. Following this sentence, some of the treaties between Italy and retentionist countries have been reviewed. Convicts cannot be extradited secretly to countries where they risk being put to death. The Constitutional Court´s decision came after over six months of mobilisation, led by Hands off Cain.
  • Joseph O´Dell - On 23 July, 1997, Joseph O´Dell, was executed in Virginia for rape and homicide. The highest authorities in the Italian Republic, the European Parliament and the Pope intervened in favour of the condemned prisoner, while thousands of Italian citizens, informed of O´Dell´s case by a commercial on RAI Channel 2, bombarded the Governor of Virginia with messages on the Internet. Hands off Cain said that Virginia´s laws were mainly at fault, as they stipulate that new evidence must be presented no later than 21 days after the sentence has been pronounced.. O´Dell was executed, but his case gave added impetus to the abolitionist movement in Italy.
  • Karla Tucker - On 2 and 3 February 1998, Hands off Cain took part in the demonstrations in Texas against the execution of Karla Faye Tucker, the first woman to be killed under Texas law in a hundred years. Millions of Americans began to discuss the death penalty for the first time in their lives, asking what sense there is in a justice system that after 14 years kills someone who is no longer the same person who committed the crime. On the day of the execution Hands off Cain was outside Huntsville Prison with an enormous banner, reading: "From Europe: Texas, don´t kill!". This was a message from European abolitionists and from Europe itself, asking that Karla Tucker´s life be spared. Images of the largest abolitionist demonstration ever held outside a U.S. prison were seen the world over.
  • Joe Cannon - On 22 April 1998, Joseph "Joe" Cannon, a 38-year-old white condemned to death for a murder committed in 1977 when he was 17, was put to death at Huntsville Prison in Texas. After having kept him on death row for more than half his life, and after having raised, educated and "reducated" him, the State of Texas killed him. Joe Cannon brought to the attention of the international community the fact that the United States, together with a very small number of other countries, continues to put to death people who were minors when they committed the crime. The Joe Cannon case also pushed the British Presidency of the European Union to ask the American Government to withdraw its reservation to the article forbidding the execution of minors that the United States had entered when it ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This was the first time the EU had taken such a position on the death penalty towards the United States.
  • Rocco Derek Barnabei - Hands off Cain, together with the Sant´Egidio Community and the City of Rome, campaigned to urge citizens and parliamentarians to send messages to the Governor of Virginia, asking him to suspend the execution of Rocco Derek Barnabei, aged 33, an American citizen of Italian extraction under death sentence for the murder of his girlfriend. A computer was set up in order to enable people to send their messages of support via Internet to Governor Gilmore. The night before the execution, which took place on 14 September 2000, thousands of people gathered in front of the Coliseum in Rome to stage a demonstration which was covered by the leading Italian and international media.
  • Bobby Lee Harris –: January 18/October 23, 2001: Bobby Lee Harris is one of those sentenced to death photographed by Oliviero Toscani for the campaign "We, on Death Row." Harris became the emblem for urgent action promoted by Hands Off Cain and that from their sites allowed people to send messages to the governor of North Carolina, Mike Easley. The execution of Harris was scheduled for January 19 and had been postponed a few hours before. The case was adopted because it regarded the death penalty and the mentally retarded. On August 4, 2001, Governor Michael Easley ratified a new law banning the execution of the mentally retarded. The new law obviously applied also to those already on death row. On October 23 ,2001, judge Wade Barber of the North Carolina Appeal Court vacated Harris’ sentence because of procedural errors during the trial.
  • Marietta Bosch - February 9, 2001. Hands Off Cain has mobilized on the case of Marietta Bosch, a white South African woman sentenced to death in Botswana for killing the wife of her lover. The mobilization was linked to the fact that the death sentence had been upheld by an appeal court where some of the judges were from abolitionist countries. The jury was composed by Sir John Blufeld, English, Lord Weir, Scottish, Timothy Agudar, Nigerian, Patrick Tebbutt, South African and one from Zimbabwe. Hands Off Cain had addressed appeals to the Presidents of the countries involved. Marietta Bosch, however, was hanged on March 31, 2001.
  • Timothy McVeigh -  June 11, 2001. Timothy McVeigh, sentenced for the Oklahoma City bombing, was executed by lethal-injection in the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana. That of McVeigh was the first federal execution since 1963. Hands Off Cain had promoted a mobilization on the case because McVeigh was a “Cain of our days”, who had confessed a terrible murder. HoC hoped above all that it would be maintained the moratorium on executions at the federal level that at that point existed for 38 years in America. On June 7, HoC had sent an appeal to President George W. Bush, signed by dozens of Nobel Prize winners, to avert the resumption of executions at the federal level.
  • Safiya Hussaini - 25 March 2002. A Nigerian sharia court has acquitted the mother of five who, in October 2001, was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery with a ruling that had raised international outrage. The Court of Appeal of Sharia law in the northern city of Sokoto has disavowed the lower court on procedural level because Hussaini was sentenced on the basis of a law that did not yet exist at the time of the alleged crime. Some days before, the Nigerian government had considered unconstitutional the implementation of sharia, and ordered to the states that applied it to change the harsh penalties such as stoning for adultery and amputation of hands for thieves. HoC that, together with other organizations, had raised the case, expressed in a statement its satisfaction for the outcome of the story. "We have never stopped in recent months to have confidence in the Nigerian government and, in particular, in its President Olusegun Obasanjo, a man who has spent many years in prison, who has seen a lot of people passing in front of his cell sent to the gallows, and who, released from prison, wrote a book –“This animal called man” - that is a very strong abolitionist manifesto. In the Nigeria of the year 2002 and of President Obasanjo it could not happen that a woman would be stoned to death for a non-crime. We continue now to make confidence to Nigeria and its President, because the principles of a secular state and religious freedom, especially for Muslim citizens, contained in the Federal Constitution of the country, prevail on fundamentalism and on the political use of the Koran that are doing the governors of the northern states of Nigeria, where they continue the death sentences by stoning."
  • Amina Lawal – 25 september 2003, the Shariah Court of Appeal ruled that Amina Lawal´s conviction was invalid because she was already pregnant when harsh Islamic Shariah law was implemented in her home province. Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo had said if Lawal´s case reached the Supreme Court, he would make sure it was overturned.
    On Amina Lawal´s acquittal, Hands Off Cain declared that the sentence shows the political and propagandistic nature of Nigerian Sharia law: an acquittal was preferred in the Islamic state in order to avoid a declaration of unconstitutionality on behalf of the secular Federal Supreme Court. Hands off Cain trusted in assurances from President Olusegun Obasanjo, and for this reason gave up our efforts to save Amina more than a year before.We have had to instead witness in these months tenacious demonstrations, on behalf of abolitionist organisations, radio program s and national parliaments, which have resulted in the criminalisation of Nigeria and its President, making it seem in the world´s eyes that the country is one where stoning take place and its president one of many military heads which have governed Nigeria in the past.
    All this took place whilst Sharia law and stoning were being implemented and carried out in countries such as Iran, and President Khatami was hailed by Europe as a "great reformer", invited and received in the European capitals as the most welcome of guests.
    We know that Nigerian Sharia is not the same as Iranian Sharia, it is instead a "political Sharia", a weapon used by the Northern states against Obasanjo. We knew that Amina was protected at Federal level, not just by the President, but by the Nigerian Constitution, which is tolerant and secular and allows for the study and dissemination of the of the Holy Koran, but not for the practice of Sharia Law, whether it be stoning or other punishments.
  • Saddam Hussein- 2006. Following the death sentence against Saddam Hussein ruled Nov. 5, 2006, Hands Off Cain promotes the campaign "Hands Off Saddam" with an appeal aimed at averting the execution, and at the proclamation of a universal moratorium that is signed by eminent personalities from the world of culture and politics. In addition to numerous intellectuals, writers, Nobel laureates and and singers, among the signatories appear the names of Francesco Cossiga, Giuliano Vassalli, Marco Pannella, Emma Bonino, Giovanna Melandri, the artist Moni Ovadia and the writer Sandro Veronesi. Among the public events, also one promoted by the Italian Singers Football Team, as part of Medfilm Rome Film Festival, that saw the involvement of artists such as Enrico Ruggeri, Niccolò Fabi, Andrea Mingardi and Andrea Miro, the actor Alessandro Haber, the director Pasquale Squitieri and cartoonist Stefano Disegni. In that occasion, Sergio D'Elia, Secretary of the association says: "A court of Shiites and Kurds sentenced to death the Sunni Saddam. It is not even victor's justice on the vanquished, it is the revenge of victims against their tormentor. In this way, Saddam became a symbol of the death penalty and also applies to him our “Hands Off Cain". On December 26, Marco Pannella started a thirst strike to demand the Italian government "to engage immediately and seriously to avert the immediate execution of Saddam Hussein," and offered to immediately go to Baghdad "to achieve the conversion of the death penalty in thirty years' imprisonment." Marco Pannella contextualizes the nonviolent initiative in the campaign "Free Iraq”, pointing out that "in 2003, despite the extremely wide majority vote in the Italian Parliament for the exile of Saddam Hussein as an alternative to war, the government and Italian opposition have not honored that decision. Saddam knew that our initiative. Saddam Hussein alive could prove invaluable and unique tool of pacification and delegitimization of the army of killer bands who performs with impunity continual slaughter of the Iraqi people. " According to Pannella, "We face an extraordinary opportunity to blow up inside the heart of the Middle East a great act of peace, a great debate in the peoples and consciences, the scandal of nonviolence as an alternative to dictatorship and war." On 30 December, Saddam Hussein is hanged in the former general military intelligence headquarters in the Shia district of Baghdad, at 6am local time. Its execution will reinforce the reasons for the urgency of a ruling of the General Assembly of the United Nations for a worldwide moratorium on executions.
  • Tareq Aziz – October 2010. On October 26, hearing the news of Tareq Aziz being sentenced to death, Marco Pannella has launched a new non-violent initiative, explaining: "As with Saddam, they want to hang him to keep him from talking. I immediately go on a total hunger and thirst strike, asking them not to proceed with the execution of Tariq Aziz. I ask Silvio Berlusconi, who almost obsessively claims to be friend, and not only accomplice, with the powerful of the Earth, and especially Bush, Blair, Putin and Gaddafi. I ask him to demonstrate it to us on this occasion, he has a duty having been among those responsible for the outburst of the war in Iraq to prevent Saddam's exile, and the peace, in that case deceiving Parliament and the Italian people.”