Death Penalty – Stop that killing!

World Day Against the Death Penalty – October 10

Oct 08, 2021

By Charles Hector

A hood is placed over the prisoner’s head. The lever is pulled. Just 15 seconds later, the person is gone. A half-hour later, the doctor confirms: dead. A human person has been killed by the State. Taxpayers paid for the long incarceration in inhumane conditions on Death Row and the State-sanctioned killing.

Today is World Day Against the Death Penalty.

There has been a gradual progression in the Church’s teaching until a change in the Catechism in 2018 and Pope Francis’ calling all Christians and States to abolish the death penalty.

Human life is sacred. From its beginning, it involves the creative action of God and remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end (Catechism of the Catholic Church No 2258). Every human person is made in the “image and likeness” of God (Genesis 1:27). God is the sole master of life. The death penalty simply disregards the inherent dignity of the human person and the God-given value of human life.

Accused persons must be tried fairly, then freed or sentenced justly. We do not condone what the criminal has done. Any punishment must commensurate with the crime. However, when a person is sentenced to death and executed, that is killing. If a government insists that killing is wrong, then it should not kill either.

The administration of justice always involves human persons, be it police or other law enforcement personnel, prosecutors, lawyers, or judges. Being human, one is not infallible. We certainly do not want any innocent person to be wrongly sentenced to death and thereafter executed. There is a high risk of miscarriage of justice. Wrongful executions have happened on many an occasion in different parts of the world. Subsequent realisation of a mistake cannot resurrect the dead person. Neither can a profuse apology or even monetary compensation do it. Once done, it is irrevocable. No human system is error-free. Injustice cannot be done in the name of justice.

In Malaysia, the death sentence, in the majority of cases, is meted out for murder and the possession or trafficking of dangerous drugs. Sometimes, investigators or prosecutors have “tunnel vision” and are determined to have a detained or accused person convicted at all costs, maybe even disregarding justice and truth. As a safeguard, yes, there is a right to two appeals. We have seen on numerous occasions that higher courts have overturned the decisions of lower courts, and so an accused escapes the gallows or is sentenced to death. This is a clear indication of the fallibility of human judgment. Anywhere in the process, from the beginning to the end, human weaknesses can exist.

In 2014, Yahya Hussein Mohsen Abdulrab, 31, was sentenced to death by hanging by the Tawau High Court in Sabah. Later, he was able to get another lawyer and, in 2020, the Court of Appeal quashed the conviction and sentence, noting the flagrant incompetence of his lawyer during the High Court trial. This decision was affirmed by the Federal Court two months ago. Yahya could afford to find a good and competent lawyer. Poverty and other factors may deny others the capacity to appeal and/or find good lawyers. No wonder it is said that capital punishment is punishment for those without capital!

The families of the accused are the real victims. By taking away the life of the perpetrator, yet another family becomes a victim. Is it in the best interest of the child for a person to be executed? Children too have rights, do they not?

Jesus was confronted with the possible stoning to death of a woman who committed adultery (John 8), which was the law as stipulated in the Old Testament (Leviticus 20:10). Jesus’ response was clearly rehabilitative when he said, ‘Go your way, and from now on, do not sin again’. The right to take away life belongs solely to God. The woman was restored to her original God-given dignity.

‘Fear and resentment can easily lead to viewing punishment in a vindictive and even cruel way, rather than as part of a process of healing and reintegration into society’ (Fratelli Tutti 266). Every person needs a second chance, even if he is found guilty with overwhelming and incontrovertible evidence.

Repentance, with God’s grace, is surely possible. A person can change. The death penalty denies this and is seemingly, retribution. In what way does it do justice to the accused and his family or protect society?

In Malaysia, all the governments have been shifting policies in regard to the death penalty. There just seems to be no political will to abolish it. It is easy to blame the State or government. We must remember that it is we who vote in a government. We need to hold them accountable and responsible for laws and enactments. Just voting once in five years or so is not what democracy is all about. We also have a duty to lobby and do the needful to ensure the death penalty and other unjust laws are abolished.

In fact, the Pope goes so far as to say that even life imprisonment is a “secret” death penalty. Pope Francis calls upon all Christians to work for the abolition of the death penalty. That is our call. Our mission. For God’s sake and Humanity’s sake: Stop the Killing!

--Charles Hector is a legal practitioner and blogger. A founding member of the movement, Malaysians Against the Death Penalty (MADPET), he is a parishioner of the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Mentakab, Pahang

Total Comments:1

Eddy W.
Death penalty has never been condemned by the Catholic Church until the new papacy arrived nor does the Bible condemns it. Otherwise, how to explain all the killings in the Bible? This does not mean the Church supported it but only allows it as the last resort to save the perpetrator from further damnation of his soul. People often miss the key thing in John 8 , sin no more. A non-repentant dictator, serial killer, rapist, etc are be to justly penalized according to the measure of their crimes, to restore order and safety of the people, and provide space and time for rehabilitation and more importantly repentance for the criminals. A criminal sincerely repented for his crimes in jail and willing gives up his life on death row as just punishment for his crimes will have his reward in heaven. Just ask priests who work in prison ministries of the miracles that happen for the repentants. These are the glorious stories of conversions rarely told. Praise be Jesus Christ, now and forever. Amen.