The national debate on the abolition of death penalty received renewed attention on the heels of the death of an eight-year-old girl after her throat was slashed open by an attacker at her elemanetary school on Friday.
The gruesome nature of the crime sparked public outrage and prompted questions about the efficacy of the nation’s justice system at deterring crime.
Angry netizens flooded the Facebook page of Social Democratic Party legislative candidate Miao Po-ya (苗博雅), a well-known human rights campaigner who headed the legal affairs division at the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty.
Commenting on Friday’s attack, Miao said that the death penalty fails to address the underlying reasons behind acts of murder committed against strangers.
“Extreme cases of criminal behavior indicate that society has become pathologically ill, but public opinion often neglects the true remedy [for the phenomenon] after gulping down the holy water of the death penalty,” Miao said.
She said that extreme cases of violence were often perpetrated by individuals who saw no hope in a society with rampant social injustice and a widening disparity of wealth.
“If we kill only [convicted murderers], but fail to block the paths through which monsters are cultivated, then tragedies are still bound to happen without end,” Miao said.
Netizens accused Miao of lacking empathy with the relatives of the slain girl and of coming to the defense of the suspected murderer.
Taipei City Councilor Wang Wei-chung (王威中) of the Democratic Progressive Party posted on Facebook that he opposed the death penalty, saying that it contravenes two UN covenants on human rights that Taiwan signed into law in 2009.
His page was swarmed by angry commenters, with many saying that they would refuse to vote for him again.
Separately yesterday, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said he was deeply shocked by the incident and has been grieving for the girl.
Ma said he had spoken to Premier Mao Chi-kuo (毛治國) by telephone to instruct the Executive Yuan to notify campus authorities nationwide of a need to heighten awareness and take precautions.
It is of equal importance to probe any motives behind the assault, Ma said.
He also made the point to National Policy Agency Director-General Chen Kuo-en (陳國恩) by telephone early yesterday morning, Ma added.
“The existence of people like the [alleged] killer pose a significant threat to urban public order,” Ma said. “The government must take it seriously and prevent recurrences.”
It is important to take precautionary measures to prevent assaults and to improve society’s ability to deal with such crises when they occur, particularly with a notification system that can ensure that assistance to victims is prompt, Ma said.
Asked to comment on calls for the death penalty to be retained in the wake of the slaying, Ma said that the issue has always been contentious.
Some think that the death penalty does not deter crime, while others believe that abolishing the death penalty could spur crime, Ma said.
The two sides have confronted each other for a long time and it might take some more time to see how public opinion evolves, he added.
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