The current controversy over whether Taiwan should abolish capital punishment shows no sign of dying down. Over the past couple of weeks, political talk shows on TV have been a platform for pundits to air their views on the issue, but rarely if ever do they discuss in a rational way why they believe the death penalty should be retained or abolished.
In addition, there is zero reflection on what might have caused those on death row to take a life in the first place.
One thing that is clear is that, while plenty of perpetrators have been executed, their deaths fail to provide victims’ families with the kind of spiritual succor they need.
Pai Ping-ping (白冰冰) is a case in point. Long after the ringleader of the gang who kidnapped and murdered her daughter was put to death, her heart is still full of hatred, so much so that she has threatened to mobilize voters to “abolish” the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).
Pai’s hatred may even be strong enough to force the government’s hand. One gets the impression that the selection of the new justice minister following the resignation of death penalty opponent Wang Ching-feng (王清峰) has been made just to please Pai.
If a person’s heart is full of hatred, his or her soul will never be at rest. As South African Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu says, there is “no future without forgiveness.” Tutu has stressed again and again that forgiveness is the best path to ending pain and putting a stop to anguish. Shooting condemned criminals cannot diminish the hatred or relieve the pain in the hearts of victims’ families. It really cannot!
If we carefully reflect on the issue, it is not difficult to conclude that many of the factors that push people into delinquent behavior are the fault of society. In other words there is plenty of guilt to go around so it is not right to think only about the guilt of those who commit the crimes. Let us consider two examples.
In 1985, Taiwan was shocked by the case of Tsou Aboriginal youth Tang Ying-shen (湯英伸), who was sentenced to death for murder.
However, the origins of his crime could be traced back to the way he was treated by teachers at Chiayi Normal School. Tang really was an outstanding young man. In 1985, he passed the school’s entrance exam, but his teachers and military instructors categorized this lively young man with his many ideas as a problem-student and ultimately had him thrown out of school.
Tang then went to work in a laundry. Why did his boss at the laundry confiscate his identity card so that he couldn’t go home for Chinese New Year?
The treatment Tang received at school and work can be traced back to the sense of cultural superiority felt by Han Chinese and the way this causes many to look down on the disadvantaged Aborigines.
At the time, representatives of more than 100 civic, cultural and religious groups in Taiwan called on the authorities to grant Tang clemency and commute his death sentence to life imprisonment.
The petitioners felt that to do so would not only allow him to live out his life, but also help dispel many of the misunderstandings that exist between the Han and the Aborigines.
Despite these pleas, the execution was carried out as scheduled.
I also remember Nov. 18, 1997, when fugitive Chen Chin-hsing (陳進興), leader of the gang that kidnapped and killed Pai’s daughter, broke into the home of South African military attache McGill Alexander and took his family hostage.
Talking to Chen on the telephone, TTV news anchor Simon Tai (戴忠仁) asked him what he would do if he could start all over again. Chen replied: “I would study hard so that I wouldn’t be put in the slow learners’ class.”
Who had the idea of making schools separate their students into “gifted,” “high ability” and “low ability” classes? When, at the time, everyone was condemning Chen for his crimes and calling for the harshest penalty, Buddhist Master Shih Chao-hwei (釋昭慧) responded to a reporter’s question with one simple sentence: “Everyone in Taiwan is an accomplice in the Chen Chin-hsing case!”
My point in raising these two cases is to express a basic notion — that shooting these inmates did not help the families of their victims in any way.
I believe the death penalty should be abolished, but in order to do that we first need to institute a raft of complementary measures. For example, when those who would have been condemned to death are instead sentenced to life imprisonment, they should not be eligible for probation, pardons or amnesties, and so on.
Such prisoners should spend the rest of their lives behind bars, they should not be allowed visits from their families, and they should have to work in prison to pay for the cost of housing and feeding them. In this way, such individuals would be completely cut off from society. These are just three possible measures that come to mind; I am sure there is plenty of scope for further discussion.
Lu Chun-yi is pastor of the Taipei East Gate Presbyterian Church.
TRANSLATED BY JULIAN CLEGG
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