‘EXECUTION IS A TERORIST’S TOOL: Stop the cycle of violence’, screams a powerful poster brought out by the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty (www.worldcoalition.org) for the World Day against the Death Penalty, October 10th 2016!
The focus this year is on ‘terrorism’ and whether the death penalty is actually a deterrent to an act of terrorism.
A handout by the Coalition states that: “Since the 1980’s, there has been a global trend towards abolition of the death penalty which continues to this day. Today two-thirds of countries (140) are now abolitionist in law or in practice. However, despite this global trend towards abolition, many governments have in recent years resorted to use of the death penalty following terrorist attacks on their countries, in the name of protecting their countries and peoples.”
India has the dubious distinction of being among those countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nigeria that have adopted laws that expanded the scope of the death penalty, adding certain terrorist acts to the list of crimes punishable by death.
The Coalition says this of India: “The death penalty for terrorism can be imposed under authority of the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act passed in 1987 (amended in 1993), and in the Prevention of Terrorism Act passed in 2002. India has executed people for crimes related to terrorism on several occasions: the only survivor among those responsible for the attacks in Mumbai in 2008 was executed in 2012 and the man sentenced for planning the attack in December 2001 against the Indian Parliament, causing nine deaths, was executed in 2013.
In July 2015, India carried out the execution of Yakub Abdul Razak Memon, who was sentenced for participating in implementing several bomb attacks which caused 257 casualties in Mumbai in March 1993. This man had been sentenced to death in 2007 under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act which does not conform to the principles of international law relating to fair trials, particularly in terms of arbitrary detention, torture and obtaining evidence, and all legal avenues have been rejected since then. In August 2015, the Law Commission of India, the executive body charged with reforming the law, recommended abolition of the death penalty, except for offences related to terrorism and any offences which attack the State.”
The Coalition has been very vigorous in its campaign against the death penalty. It cites ten major reasons to end the use of the death penalty, the first one being that ‘No State should have the power to take a person’s life’.
The World Congress against the Death Penalty held at Oslo, Norway in June this year underlined the necessity to take further significant steps towards the complete and universal abolition of the death penalty.
In a message to the Congress Pope Francis also called for a world “free of the death penalty.” He said “the practice brings no justice to victims, but instead fosters vengeance. Indeed, nowadays the death penalty is unacceptable, however grave the crime of the convicted person. It is an offence to the inviolability of life and to the dignity of the human person; it likewise contradicts God’s plan for individuals and society, and his merciful justice.”
When Yakub Memon was executed in July 2015, several Indians were very vocal in their protest, highlighting that the cause of justice was not served. Of course, the flag-bearers of the death penalty (and these are very selective on ‘who’ should be given capital punishment), were quick at branding those who felt that Memon’s execution was not justified, as “anti-national” and “anti-patriotic”.
The proponents of the death penalty seem oblivious of the fact that ‘execution is a terrorist’s tool’. One only legitimatises the heinous act of a terrorist with the death penalty. The cycle of violence has to stop! Capital punishment is a barbaric act. No civilised country should even think of having it!
On this day, we need to recommit ourselves to do all we can for the abolition of the death penalty!
(Fr Cedric Prakash sj is an Indian Jesuit priest and a human rights activist. He is currently based in Lebanon and engaged with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in the Middle East on advocacy and communications. He can be contacted on email@example.com).