Do you believe in the death penalty?
There was a song from my goth-punk youth called “Do You Believe In The Westworld?”, one of Theatre Of Hate’s finest, and to riff on that: do you believe in the death penalty?
Strange question to ask a reader of a human rights blog reader? Well no, not entirely. Because people do tend to say things like “Oh, I’m against the death penalty … except for child murderers or those that kill police officers. Or terrorists.”
It’s an important point because I think you’re either against the death penalty or … you’re for it. Qualified support is still support, just with limits over how widely you’d want to see capital punishment used.
So, though it doesn’t make Amnesty flavour of the month in everyone’s minds, I think Amnesty is totally right to campaign on the “hard” cases as well as the “easy” ones. For example, the punishment of death by stoning for the “offence” of adultery – as with the case of Kobra Babaei in Iran – is so obviously abhorrent that it’s relatively straightforward to be opposed to it. But what about the man in Saudi Arabia who’s been found guilty of kidnapping five children, raping them and leaving one to die?
Still against it? I hope so. Because being against the death penalty means being for the basic principle that the death penalty is the ultimate denial of life. It’s about being for the idea that state should be trying to preserve life and not taking it away in the name of justice. And it’s about being for the idea that a justice system can be tough, it must be fair and even-handed, but it should always avoid reproducing some of the cruelty of a criminal’s behaviour in its own punishments.
As it happens, Muhammad Basheer al-Ramaly, the man facing execution in Saudi Arabia, was sentenced to death after a trial shrouded in secrecy (like virtually every capital trial in this country’s notoriously abusive justice system), was denied even a lawyer to represent him and may, according to some reports, be suffering from a psychological disorder. More detail here. The fact that he’s going to be crucified – meaning that after he’s been beheaded by a sword his decapitated body and his head will be stuck on a pole and displayed in a public square to act as a supposed deterrent – to me only confirms how degraded this approach to responding to crime actually is. This smacks of posturing. Acting tough rather than dealing responsibly with crime.
Finally, a word about the Khristian Oliver case, subject of a recent post. This, you’ll remember, is the case where a man was sentenced to death in the US state of Texas after a majority of jury members used the Bible to help come to their decision that he should die. Sadly he was executed late last night (the 20th person to be judicially killed in the state this year). Thanks to all who sent appeals. If you ask me Khristian Oliver’s case is yet further evidence of how arbitrary and unfair capital punishment actually is.
So, do you believe in the death penalty?
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.