Living with death row

Besides lawyers, academics, politicians, educators and activists, family members and former death row inmates were present at the 6th World Congress Against the Death Penalty in Oslo. Throughout the three days, they shared their stories with us. Some of them were:

Celia Veloso, mother of Mary Jane Veloso

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Celia Veloso, mother of Mary Jane, sat on the panel about migrants, minorities, and the death penalty. She said “Mary Jane is not the only one who has been suffering behind bars. All of us, especially her two sons, have suffered along with her.” She also described how little the Filipino government had assisted Mary Jane (via consular services), and that they had only stepped up their efforts 5 years after she was sentenced to death, and when the case received public attention. Celia thanked the organisations from around the world who had offered their assistance and who had encouraged the family to fight on.

Hideko Hakamada, sister of former death row inmate Iwao Hakamada

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Hideko Hakamada, the sister of Iwao Hakamada, the world’s longest serving prisoner on death row, shared her experience of fighting against her brother’s death sentence. She also spoke about the impact the sentence had on her family, as well as her brother’s mental health. After 48 years of fighting against her brother’s death sentence, he was finally proven innocent thanks to the use of DNA analysis.

Antoinette Chahine, former death row inmate from Lebanon

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Antoinette Chahine spoke about her experience of being tortured while being incarcerated for a murder she did not commit. Upon her release, she has been actively campaigning against the use of capital punishment and torture.

She said “For 5 1/2 years, I was dreaming of kissing my mother without being able to hold her. I was behind a mesh wire. I will not forget. I went through surgery for a foot injury caused by torture, and it was done in my cell without anesthesia. That’s why I am here. That’s why I am against torture and the death penalty.” She also added that her work against the death penalty has given her a new direction in life.

“Our struggle is not in vain, but is essential.”

Byson Kaula, former death row inmate from Malawa

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Byson Kaula was on death row for 9 years, in which he became suicidal. In the 9 years on death row, he was listed to be executed thrice and had escaped being executed. Following a change in political regime, his sentence was then commuted to life imprisonment. He then became a teacher in prison. Byson was released from prison in 2015 following a re-trial, and has since continued to volunteer as a teacher in the prison.

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