Monday, 10 April 2006

South Korea death penalty hearing

South Korea's National Assembly held its first public hearing on the death penalty last week (Tuesday 4 April).

The Korea Times reports the hearing was held as government and opposition parties agreed to debate a bill replacing the death penalty with a non-commutable sentence of life imprisonment.

Tuesday's hearing was addressed by academics, lawyers, religious leaders and human rights activists, and included opponents of the death penalty as well as those in favour of retaining it as a punishment for serious crime.

Leaders of South Korea's religious community issued a statement calling on the National Assembly to pass the bill abolishing the death penalty.

The Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) reports that the statement was issued by the Pan-Religion Union for the Abolition of the Death Penalty, signed by leaders from the Catholic, Protestant and Buddhist communities.

The coalition of religious leaders is made up of members of Buddhist, Catholic, Chondo-gyo, Confucian, Protestant, Won Buddhist and Korean folk religions.

UCA News quoted the statement as saying: "It is a well-known fact that the death penalty has no impact on deterring the outbreak of crimes. If the government sticks to the penalty, it means that it gives up its duty to correct criminals."

It said the statement argued in favour of the proposed alternative of life imprisonment. "The life-sentence system can punish the criminals and give them a chance for true atonement and revival of their conscience."

In December 2004, 175 members of the National Assembly sponsored the Special Bill on Abolishing the Death Penalty. The National Assembly consists of 299 members in total.

The abolition bill has previously been stalled in the National Assembly's Legislation and Judiciary Committee (LJC). The LJC has to vote in favour of the bill before it is sent to the National Assembly for a final vote.

In February, the Ministry of Justice announced it was reviewing the death penalty and considering replacing executions with life imprisonment. The ministry has previously opposed moves to abolish the death penalty.

Amnesty International reports that at least 900 people have been executed in South Korea since its independence in 1948. The last executions were in December 1997 when 23 people were hanged.

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