Kerry meets with Abbas to discuss Middle East Peace Talks

By Darrin Simmons
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has met the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in order to salvage foundering peace talks that were dealt a new blow when Arab leaders said they would never recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Kerry and Abbas during the peace discussions (photo courtesy of Reuters)

On Wednesday, Abbas spoke to reporters and said he still was waiting to receive a formal framework proposal from Kerry. He said there have been no talks on extending negotiations beyond the April deadline, adding that the coming month would be “a very important period.”

Kerry and Abbas spoke for more than four hours over a working dinner in the Jordanian capital of Amman that U.S. officials said were “constructive.” No other details of the meeting were released.

Kerry flew from Rome to Amman to see Abbas as negotiations approached a critical April 30 deadline for a settlement. The Palestinians have threatened to walk away before then unless Israel releases a group of prisoners, as it agreed to, by Saturday.

Kerry planned further talks with Abbas and with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the coming days.

Wednesday’s announcement by the Arab League, blaming Israel for a lack of progress in the Middle East peace process, put up another roadblock. The communique, issued at the end of a two-day summit, also rejected “the continuation of settlements, Judaisation of Jerusalem, and attacks in its Muslim and Christian shrines.”

In Amman, Kerry met first on Wednesday with Jordan’s King Abdullah II before the dinner with Abbas. Kerry planned his return to Rome on Thursday to join President Barack Obama at meetings with Pope Francis and Italian officials.

The League’s announcement that it would not recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people rejected a key demand of Netanyahu. The Palestinians say such recognition would undermine the rights of Palestinian refugees and Israel’s Arab minority.

Kerry will then join Obama in Saudi Arabia on Friday and Saturday.

For more information, please see the following: 

Al Jazeera-Kerry meets Abbas as peace process founders-27 March 2014

Reuters-Kerry interrupts Rome visit to salvage Mideast peace talks-27 March 2014

U.S. News-Secretary of State Kerry meets Palestinian leader Abbas in bid to salvage peace process-27 March 2014

Washington Post-Kerry meets Abbas as peace process founders-27 March 2014


Japan Releases Death Row Inmate after 48 Years, Evidence Found to be Fabricated

By Brian Lanciault

Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

TOKYO, Japan–After forty-eight years of professed innocence and incarceration, thirty of which were in solitary confinement, Iwao Hakamada was freed Thursday. On June 10, 1966 when two children and their parents were stabbed to death and their home set ablaze, Hakamada, the longest-serving death row inmate in the world, was arrested, thrown in jail and ultimately sentenced to death for it.

Iwao Hakamada, former Japanese featherweight champion, was held for 48 years on death row, and finally released on Thursday after a tribunal determined that evidence was fabricated. (Photo courtesy of Reuters).

Hakamada, a former professional boxer who is now 78, was released Thursday morning after a Japanese court concluded investigators had likely fabricated evidence during his 1968 trial, according to Associated Press reports. Hunch-backed and wearing a yellow button-down, he struggled into an awaiting car, surrounded by a crowd flashing cameras. The decision to free him comes a month after the exoneration and release of America’s longest-serving death row inmate, Glenn Ford.

Blood on a shirt prosecutors alleged Hakamada wore during the family’s murder turned out not to contain his DNA. The court ordered a retrial, calling Hakamada’s original verdict an injustice. Prosecutors reported that they will seek appeal.

The order marks only the sixth time in Japan’s postwar history that a death row inmate has been granted retrial. The decision is expected to ignite more criticism of a capital justice system that has come under attack before. Japan and the United States are the only two Group of Seven nations to maintain the death penalty, and it holds high popularity in Japan.

Critics report significant problems with the system. Death row inmates, who are hanged, don’t know the date of their execution until the morning of the event. “For decades,” Reuters reports, “Japan did not even officially announce that capital sentences had been carried out.” Perhaps most troubling of all, police obtain confessions in closed-door interrogations, opening the door for false or fabricated confessions.

This is exactly what Hakamada claims happened to him.

In 1966 Hakamada had taken a job in the town of Shimizu situated along Japan’s southern coast at a food-processing factory. On June 30 of that year, the factory’s manager and his wife and two children were found stabbed to death. Someone had also stolen 200,000 yen — $2,000 –from their house, which had been razed.

Two months later in August, Hakamada was arrested, charged with murder, robbery and arson. While in custody, he said he did it. He later recanted the confession, but it was too late. On September 11, 1968, a three-judge panel sentenced him to death.

The case wasn’t nearly as solid as it appeared. The sentencing haunted one of the judges. “I have thought about his trial for many years,” Judge Norimichi Kumamoto told reporters in 2007. ”The guilty verdict was based solely on Hakamada confessing to the killings. But he confessed after being confined and tortured in a small room for 20 days. … The police use shocking, barbaric means to extract confessions and those who make them do so only out of despair.”

“I have felt sadness and disappointment over this,” Kumamoto continued.

Despite that admission, Hakamada languished on death row for seven more years, always unsure if every day was to be his last. He was eventually admitted into the Guinness Book of World Records as the globe’s longest-serving death row inmate.

If previous cases offer guidance, Hakamada’s chances at retrial are good. Four of the other five death row inmates who were tried a second time were acquitted. The other case is pending.

For more information, please see:

The Telegraph– World “longest serving” death row prisoner released–27 March 2014

Washington Post– Japan frees world’s longest-serving death row inmate after more than 45 years— 27 March 2014

Japan Times– Hakamada released after 48 years— 27 March 2014

ABC News– Japan Frees World’s Longest-Held Death Row Inmates— 27 March 2014

Houston Police Arrest Five Men for Kidnapping 115 Immigrants

by Michael Yoakum
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

HOUSTON, United States – Police arrested five men on Tuesday, charging them with kidnapping 115 people at gunpoint and holding them in a small Houston area home.  The 115 people are suspected illegal immigrant, who were told by their captors that they must pay a ransom in order to continue their entry into the United States.  Sixteen of the 115 captors were minors.

Police found ninety-nine men and sixteen women in a 1300 square foot Houston area home last week. (photo courtesy of BBC News)

The five men – identified as Jose Aviles-Villa, Jonathan Solorzano-Tavila, Antonio Barruquet-Hildiberta, Jose Cesmas-Borja and Eugenio Sesmas-Borja – appeared before a federal judge Tuesday on hostage taking, weapons, and conspiracy charges.  The judge denied bail to all five suspects, believing them to be a flight risk for trial.

Conviction for the hostage taking charges could result in a 10 year sentence with a potential for 20 years for the conspiracy charges, plus fines.

A criminal complaint drafted by agents from the Department of Homeland Security claimed that agents found the 115 hostages in the Houston area home last week stripped of their shoes and most of their cloths.  The complaint said they were threatened with violence if they did not comply and there were instances of some being kicked and beaten and females being groped.

The captives told authorities that they were held under armed guard, the doors were locked with deadbolts, and the windows were covered with plywood to prevent their escape.  Authorities recovered a shotgun, rifle, stun gun, ammunition, and wooden paddle from the home.

Police found the 115 captives after a Chicago resident contacted Houston police about the possible abduction of her daughter.  The criminal complaint alleges that she paid $15,000 for the return of her daughter and two grandchildren.  After she paid the original ransom, the complaint claims the captors demanded an additional $13,000.

Houston police traced the phone call from the captors and began surveillance on the house, ultimately finding the captives.  Stash houses of more than one hundred captives are not rare in South Texas, but this was the largest in the city in several years.

For more information, please see:

ABC News – 5 Charged in Houston Human Smuggling Operation – 25 March 2014

BBC News – Five charged with holding 115 hostages in ‘stash’ house – 25 March 2014

The Guardian – Five men charged with hostage-taking after 115 people found in Texas house – 25 March 2014

Star Tribune – 5 charged in Houston human smuggling operation after more than 100 immigrants rescued – 25 March 2014

USA Today – Police find more than 100 immigrants in stash house – 20 March 2014