Sun, Jul 07, 2013 - Page 8

Execution ‘bloodlust’ wrong

The recent move by a court in Taiwan to reduce a convicted murderer’s sentence from death to life in prison has generated significant media commentary and public outrage, while reigniting the debate over the efficacy, necessity and cost of the death penalty.

Support for, and implementation of, the death penalty is at a record low worldwide, and the number of countries banning the practice is on the increase.

Of 196 independent nation-states, Taiwan is one of the 41 (20 percent) that maintain capital punishment in both law and practice.

One hundred nations (51 percent) have abolished the practice altogether, seven (4 percent) retain it for crimes committed in exceptional circumstances such as war and 48 (25 percent) permit its use, but have not used it for over 10 years.

In practice, this means that about 80 percent of nations have effectively ended use of the death penalty.

However, the death penalty is still used in countries whose populations comprise about 66 percent of the world’s total, including the US, China, India, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Palestine and Taiwan, among others.

In Taiwan, capital punishment is reserved for treason, espionage, hijacking, murder, robbery with murder, rape, arson, piracy and kidnapping.

From 2006, Taiwan joined those nations with an effective moratorium on the death penalty. However, despite little obvious need to reverse course, President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration made a point of resuming executions in 2010.

This year alone, six have been carried out, yet this policy change has not had any apparent impact on the murder rate in Taiwan.

If anything, it has only emboldened supporters of executions in their demand for more to be carried out. Their shrill insistence on killing as the best means of deterrence and achieving “justice” and closure for the grieving families of murder victims gains more media attention than the arguments of those whose studies consistently demonstrate the inhumanity and inefficacy of this punishment.

In a country where the death penalty was used by the dictatorships of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) to control political dissent and suppress moves toward freedom and democracy, one might be forgiven for assuming that most Taiwanese would be all too aware of the dangers of keeping a practice that can easily be subverted for the purposes of political persecution.

It is puzzling, then, to see such vitriol directed at abolitionists each time the media focuses its sensationalizing lenses on a murder case.

One might call the “bloodlust” for revenge the “Pai Ping-ping (白冰冰) Effect” — a visceral, public baying for a lynching that has, in many ways, been enabled by unscrupulous and exploitative media such as the China Times, which in 1997 published a photograph of Pai’s daughter’s mutilated body.

In resuming the use of the death penalty for no discernible or logical reason, the Ma administration has only served to encourage supporters of this reactionary, immoral and demonstrably error-filled practice.

Ben Goren