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Death penalty and political games

Capital punishment should not be an election tool

Death penalty and political games
Father Franco Mella, Hong Kong
Hong Kong

April 16, 2013

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Amnesty International released its annual report on the death penalty last week, showing at least 682 people were executed in 21 countries last year.

In general, the Asia-Pacific region saw some disappointing setbacks in the 2012 report, with India, Japan and Pakistan resuming executions after long periods of being execution free.

The last death sentence handed down in Hong Kong was in 1966 and capital punishment was formally abolished in 1993.

Our Hong Kong Joint Committee for the Abolition of the Death Penalty was formed 14 years ago. Progress perhaps has not been so great, but it cannot be denied.

When we conduct signature campaigns for worldwide abolition in the streets, we find that more and more people are willing to support and sign up; fewer and fewer people express opposition.

It is especially so of young people. If they are given the opportunity to know more about the death penalty, they become interested in learning more and more. 

Among us, some international and local organizations and social groups from a previous position of neutrality now fully support abolition.

Nowadays Hong Kong people are increasingly concerned about democracy, freedom and social justice.

Experience tells us that if people have more opportunity to learn about capital punishment, they will also change a negative or indifferent attitude into one of interest and understanding.

Some even change from opposition to support for the abolition of capital punishment.

Therefore, we have reason to doubt the claim by some Asian countries that they have the vast majority of their people’s support for the death penalty – as much as 80 percent according to some opinion polls.

We believe that these so-called opinion polls are not completely fair and independent. The way the questions are formulated could be problematic. 

For example, the question: "Murder or drug smuggling, which one should be punishable by the death penalty?" If the answer is "murder," then this person is classified as a supporter of capital punishment.

In fact, we believe these Asian countries should treat the death penalty as a human rights issue, not as a tool of mean political interests.

For example, the Democratic Party of Japan had expressed support for the abolition of the death penalty for a long time, but later, after they took power, taking into consideration electoral votes, they allowed executions to be carried out.

After the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) regained power in Taiwan some years ago, they allowed executions to be carried out again in order to win more support from voters. 

Due to international pressure and the move toward abolition around the world, mainland China also made changes five years ago in its judicial procedures, claiming that the death sentences were going to be reduced by one third.

According to the latest Amnesty International report, the 682 people who were executed last year excluded thousands of executions carried out in China since such data is considered a state secret.

It is believed that China executed more people than the rest of the world put together, followed by Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the US and Yemen.

Earlier this year, the Chinese public criticized live broadcasts of the last few minutes of four criminals who were due to die by lethal injection. Maybe now there is an opportunity to change the traditional Chinese mindset of an eye for an eye.

Capital punishment is nothing more than a lack of respect for the fundamental right of a person to life. It should not be used for the sake of serving political interests. Nobody should use the law to kill people. That kind of law is illegal, is not law.

We hope that more and more people will contribute toward the abolition of the death penalty all over the world!

Father Franco Mella of the Pontifical Foreign Missions Institute is a member of the Hong Kong-based Joint Committee of the Abolition of Death Penalty

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