Lethal justice from two nations poles apart




The two executions were carried out in separate continents on the same day.

They took place for different reasons, but both the deaths of Troy Davis in the US and teenager Alireza Molla-Soltani in Iran sparked international debate on the question – should there be capital punishment?

There are 58 countries in the world that have the death penalty, according to Amnesty International.

Twenty-three of them carried out executions in 2010.

China topped the list with an estimate of at least 1000 executions, following by more than 250 in Iran and more than 60 in North Korea.

Australia abolished the death penalty in 1973, but Australian Bali Nine members Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran face the firing squad in Indonesia for drug offences.

Almost one million people signed a petition calling for clemency for Davis, who was convicted of killing an off-duty police officer in 1989.

Former deputy attorney general under US President George W. Bush, Larry Thompson, said for death penalty cases, moral certainty and not just due process was needed, especially where there was a lack of evidence or conflicting witness testimony.

“There are legal standards and the judge [who reviewed the case] who is a very good lawyer applied the legal standards and concluded that he couldn’t change the sentence,” he told Reuters.

“Given the moral certainty that you should have before you execute somebody, I have concerns about this case. … I am not opposed to the death penalty and I’m not saying that this person was innocent.”

But while Davis’s case attracted international attention, including a plea from France to halt the execution, there was little comment from US politicians, Reuters noted – perhaps reflecting the American public’s more than 60 per cent support for capital punishment.

One of the frontrunners of the Republican presidential nomination, Texas Governor Rick Perry, called executions the “ultimate justice”. He has overseen the most of any governor, Reuters reported.

In Iran, Alireza Molla-Soltani’s execution by public hanging was carried out in front of a large crowd of people, Agence France-Presse reported, quoting the official IRNA news agency.

Although he was only 17, Iranian prosecution spokesman Ali Ramezanmanesh said he had reached “religious maturity” according to the Islamic lunar calendar, which is about 11 days shorter than the solar calendar – which countries like Australia use.

The execution was criticised by numerous foreign governments, including the British Foreign Office, which said it was an “abhorrent” punishment that “has no place in the modern world”.

“Iran’s own President Ahmadinejad has previously declared that Iran does not execute children under 18 years of age,” Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said in a statement.

“To do so contravenes the international obligations Iran has signed up to. I call again on the Iranian authorities to end these inhumane practices.”

Writing in The Guardian overnight, columnist and editor Michael White said the issue remained complex and held no black-and-white answers.

“States and societies have reserved the right to execute people for a variety of crimes – from treason to stealing a loaf of bread – down the ages, and some still do. The pendulum of intellectual fashion, if I can call it that (I think I will) moves both ways over time, allowing everyone to take a turn at feeling superior,” White wrote.

“During the course of the 20th century, we [Britain] seem to have executed nearly 700 people. Were mistakes made? Of course … But the other side can argue, and does, that mistakes that allow killers to kill again also results in the deaths of innocents. It’s a powerful point too. …

“It’s never wise to second-guess learned courts which have been through the evidence [in the Troy Davis case] as the US supreme court – African American members included – has done and upheld the verdict of lower courts. Why has this case become a cause celebre when others do not?

“Perhaps because the weight of evidence against a safe conviction is … so heavy. But perhaps for other reasons.”



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