Don’t look now? Video of hangings in Iran
I think there are some things Id almost rather not see. Witnessing an act of cruelty is itself mentally painful.
For instance my girlfriend will positively not look at (or even hear accounts of) anything to do with animal cruelty, and I completely sympathise. In a way, why should she? Instead she donates to animal charities and drools over every dog in the street.
So why look? Why put yourself through it? You know it goes on, why actually watch videos, read the stomach-churning reports? Well, I also flinch and look away (not least in films where youre watching a giant screen and something horrible is clearly about to happen), but I kind of think its still important to see things for yourself.
For example, take this video showing three men being hanged in the Iranian city of Kermanshah earlier this week (Tuesday in fact). Its only 26 seconds but its enough. In front of a huge crowd, including children, three men are on top of single-decker buses parked beneath a road bridge with nooses around their necks. Their hands are tied. Their crimes are announced over a loud speaker and the buses drive forward Media report here.
Its actually not the most graphic video. It stops just before the men are actually killed. But its grisly enough. (There is a longer version on YouTube, but be warned: you do see the men actually hanged and it is horrific).
From my student days I recall the French theorist Michel Foucault saying how public executions during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were politicised spectacles. The monarch was demonstrating his/her power over their subjects. The victims were subject to the most extreme and grisly punishments imaginable: hanging, drawing, quartering. Irans grotesque display of state power in these public executions is basically the 21st-century equivalent (buses and motorway bridges instead of carts, horses and gallows).
Irans record on the death penalty (as with much else) is abysmal. It keeps the numbers secret, but last year at least 252 people were executed. Others, including Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, remain under sentence to be stoned to death.
Irans approach is a mix of secrecy and horror-show publicity. This year theres been a rise in the number of public executions (as well as a rise in executions overall). The authorities acknowledge about 28 public executions, but Amnestys heard of at least another six. (Please take action to try to get executions in Iran stopped: go here).
Meanwhile, the snuff video-like business of filming someones judicial killing has also just occurred in the US state of Georgia. Here it was to try to stop future executions by helping to demonstrate the cruelty and suffering involved in lethal injection executions as the authorities put to death Andrew Grant De Young (full story here).
Georgia is the state still intending to execute Troy Davis, the man whose conviction is much-doubted. Sometimes it is necessary to watch the near-unwatchable. Lets hope that the video of De Youngs death could at least play some part in helping to prevent the killing of Troy Davis and others still faced with the barbarity of capital punishment.
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.