Texas, America's most prolific practitioner of the death penalty, has launched an extraordinary attack on the international anti-death penalty charity Reprieve, accusing it of intimidating and harassing drug companies and likening the group to violent prison gangs responsible for the eruption of prison riots.
The attack comes from the Texas department of criminal justice, TDCJ, which each year carries out the lion's share of executions in America. In a letter to the attorney general of Texas, Greg Abbott, the TDCJ accuses Reprieve of "intimidation and commercial harassment" of manufacturers of medical drugs used in lethal injections.
In astonishingly vivid language, the TDCJ says that Reprieve, which is headquartered in London, "crosses the line from social activists dedicated to their cause to authoritarian ideologues who menace and harass private citizens who decline to submit to Reprieve's opinion on the morality of capital punishment by lethal injection".
Reprieve's tactics present the risk, the Texas prison service claims, of violence. "It is not a question of if but when Reprieve's unrestrained harassment will escalate into violence against a supplier."
In the most colourful accusation, the TDCJ compares the human rights organisation to gangs operating in Texas prisons. It writes that Reprieve's methods "present classic, hallmark practices comparable to practices by gangs incarcerated in the TDCJ who intimidate and coerce rival gang members and which have erupted into prison riots".
The Texas letter takes the war of words between US states still practising executions and anti-death penalty campaigners to a new level. Reprieve has long had fraught relations with states practising capital punishment in the US, but never before has it been accused of fomenting violence.
Maya Foa, Reprieve's specialist campaigner on lethal injection, said the accusation was absurd. "Pharmaceutical manufacturers have been objecting to the use of medicines in executions since the lethal injection was invented – Reprieve didn't create these ethical scruples! And far from harassing them, Reprieve defends these companies and their ideals and we have excellent relationships with them.
"Medicines are made to improve and save lives, not to end them in executions. This principle is at the core of the pharmaceutical profession, and companies have long objected to the misuse of their products by US departments of corrections."
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