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The Death Penalty and What It Really Means

22/04/2014 17:02 BST | Updated 22/06/2014 10:59 BST

On 15 April 2014 Balal, an Iranian sentenced to death for the murder of Abdollah Hosseinzadeh, was saved by the victim's own parents. Some interpretations of Shari'a have family members of the victim participating in the execution by pushing the chair out from underneath the criminal. However in this case a rare act of forgiveness, or at least the absence of vengeance, saved the condemned man from the noose. Hosseinzadeh's mother chose to forgive her son's killer and his father removed the noose from around Balal's neck to spare him from the death penalty. This display of compassion and humanity gives hope to many, but it is still just a drop in the ocean when public executions like this still happen at an alarmingly high rate in countries such as Iran.

Last month Amnesty International published a report on the 2013 figures for the number of Death sentences and Executions. Despite four countries reinstating the death penalty (Indonesia, Kuwait, Vietnam and Nigeria) and an increase in the number of executions in comparison to 2012, only 20% of executions occurred outside of Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia (excluding China whose figures remain unreliable).

With the majority of the world against the death penalty it is therefore surprising that so far this year in Iran, there have been executions at a rate of nearly two per day. The death penalty is being used as a solution for crime and the public nature in which it so often occurs is criticised by many activists and organisations, as children witness these acts of human violence. By having public executions, the Iranian authorities are not only glorifying this punishment but also perpetuating a society whose values are based on violence and inhumanity.

Albert Camus said that "Capital punishment is the most premeditated of murders". The use of the death penalty only acknowledges violence as a way to resolve conflict between two people. It is true that sometimes an act of murder is reported that is so inhumane, cruel and truly horrific, that the death penalty seems the only just way to punish such a criminal. However this goes against everything that we as a global community accept to be right and moral. One must also remember that the death penalty is not only given for crimes that are universally deemed severe, but also for acts such as blasphemy, and in certain countries where mental illness is not as recognised as in the Western world can be a punishment for the mentally handicapped.

Capital Punishment satisfies a base instinct that intrudes on our otherwise developed civilisation and that we must fight against. It is not and should never be in our power to decide who should live and who should die. The fact that so many executions occur in China and Iran, among other countries, in secret only confirms the fact that it is an act of shame and dishonour. To be ashamed of your own judicial punishment system suggests that you know it is wrong and flawed. This is not a new argument and yet progress towards the total abolition of this inhumane punishment is slow and ineffective.

The true significance of the death penalty is as a symbol of man's inability to create a completely peaceful and civilised society. We can blame violent video games and television programmes for the violent crimes that appear in the news every month, but until we abolish a punishment that legally acknowledges violence as a viable means of justice, problems will continue to persist. It is still shocking that the United States of America, a society so advanced, maintains Capital Punishment as an appropriate way to deal with criminal individuals within their community. Former warden of the San Quentin State Prison Jeanne Woodford, now executive director of Death Penalty Focus (an organisation opposed to capital punishment) encompasses all that is wrong with this punishment by stating "The death penalty serves no one. It doesn't serve the victims. It doesn't serve prevention. It's truly all about retribution."