Why is Asia clinging to the death penalty?

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Singapore’s suspension of the death penalty for a mentally disabled Malaysian has once again highlighted the straightforward manner in which Asian countries execute convicts.

Following appeals from the international community and rights groups, Singapore on November 8 suspended the execution of 33-year-old Nagaenthran Dharmalingam, who was convicted of smuggling 42.72 grams of heroin.

Passengers passing through Singapore’s Changi Airport are aware of airline warnings that the city-state imposes the death penalty for drug-related offenses.

Singapore is one of four countries known to have executed people for drug offenses in recent years. The Asian nation is believed to be home to 50 people on death row.

On November 4, in what appears to be a first, two Japanese prisoners facing the death penalty filed a complaint about how prisoners are informed just hours before an execution is carried out.

While political crimes, financial frauds and reckless industrial accidents that claim the loss of thousands of lives go unpunished in most Asian countries, death is inflicted on hapless individuals caught for crimes that could face prison terms. , offering a chance for rehabilitation.

At least 28,567 people facing the death penalty by the end of 2020 around the world, according to Amnesty International

Although the Philippines banned the death penalty in 2006, President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened to reintroduce it, especially for drug crimes, since taking office in 2016.

In fact, Duterte de facto introduced a form of capital punishment as part of his violent “war on drugs” campaign. A conservative estimate said the campaign had killed more than 12,000 people – many of whom were innocent and all without trial – since 2016.

According to Amnesty International, 483 executions were carried out in 18 countries in 2020 against 657 in 2019, a decrease of 26%.

Most of the executions took place in China, Iran, Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia – in that order.

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Saudi Arabia, which follows the Islamic code of Sharia law, is the only country where beheading is used as a method of execution. Others include hanging, lethal injection, and shooting.

Communist China is the world’s first executioner, Amnesty International said, adding that exact figures are difficult to come by because the death penalty is classified as a state secret in the totalitarian state.

In 2019, Indonesia killed at least 80 people, up from 48 in 2018. In Iraq, 100 executions were carried out in 2019, the figure falling to 45 in 2020. In Saudi Arabia, executions have fallen sharply, passing from 184 in 2019 to 27 in 2020 following a moratorium on the death penalty for drug-related offenses.

According to Amnesty International, at least 28,567 people were facing the death penalty by the end of 2020 around the world.

By the end of 2020, 108 countries had abolished the death penalty for all crimes and 144 had abolished the death penalty in law or in practice.

Although the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution in 2020 calling for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, Asian countries are not in the mood to heed it.

Of the 10 nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Cambodia, Malaysia and the Philippines supported the resolution. Singapore and Brunei opposed, while the other five countries abstained.

Eight of the 10 ASEAN states retain the death penalty and only Cambodia and the Philippines have abolished it. Timor-Leste, which is not an ASEAN member state and a predominantly Catholic nation, has also abolished the death penalty.

In launching a discussion on the death penalty, the General Assembly observed in 2007 that “there is no conclusive evidence of the deterrent value of the death penalty”.

Why is Asia clinging to the death penalty? Because governments across the largest continent continue to stick to an old-fashioned zero-tolerance approach to crime despite evidence that capital punishment is an ineffective deterrent.

Asian governments often define crimes in vague terms. For example, Japan maintains a high degree of secrecy about prisoners facing the death penalty and the details of their misdeeds.

Despite the Catholic Church’s centuries-old opposition to the death penalty, several popes and religious leaders have tacitly authorized the use of legal executions in exceptional cases.

The lack of transparency in the imposition of the death penalty is contrary to article 7 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and article 1 of the Convention against Torture.

Despite the Catholic Church’s centuries-old opposition to the death penalty, several popes and religious leaders have tacitly authorized the use of legal executions in exceptional cases. Sometimes, for example, opposing the execution of a terrorist can lead to societal backlash.

The 1995 Encyclical of Pope John Paul II Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) condemned the death penalty except “in cases of absolute necessity”. However, he called for its abolition four years later.

The abolition of the death penalty has been Pope Francis’ top priority. In 2018, the Pope revised the Catechism of the Church to describe the death penalty as “an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” which is “inadmissible” in all circumstances.

In his encyclical of 2020 Fratelli Tutti (All Brothers), the Pope ratified the Church’s position against the death penalty and urged Catholics to seek its abolition around the world.

Although prison ministries are active in national churches in Asia, they do not go beyond counseling and charity activities inside prisons.

When it comes to influencing change at the political level, Asian Catholic hierarchies and their prison ministries are distracting from Nelson. It is time for the tiny Catholic community in Asia to become the biblical “leaven” to effect a change in the social perception of the death penalty in Asia.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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