Saturday, 28 February 2009

South Korea: Murders spark debate on death penalty

[Please note: long post]

Police investigations into an alleged serial killer in South Korea have sparked renewed debate about the use of death sentences and the execution of convicted murderers.

Ministers from the ruling Grand National Party (GNP) have decided on a series of "countermeasures" against crime, including increased sentences and a genetic database, and called for the government to retain and use the death penalty for the worst offenders.

According to The Korea Herald, Kang Ho-soon allegedly confessed to killing seven women in the past two years and "calmly demonstrated his crimes, without signs of regret or agitation" during a two-day investigation at the crime scene in early February.

The maximum penalty for murder with rape is life or the death penalty.

GNP parliamentarian Park Jun-seon said the death penalty was the "only way'" to deal with criminals such as Kang.

"I believe every South Korean citizen demands the serial killer be put to death," he said.

"Maintaining the death penalty would help reduce such crimes and serve as a 'last resort' in keeping those gravely undermining social safety away from society permanently."

The party's 'first policy coordinator' Chang Yoon-seok said he had told the government that public opinion was in favour of enforcing the death penalty.

"I communicated to the government that there is high level of public opinion that the death penalty must be enforced," Chang said, according to The Hankyoreh.

But he said there was no agreement with the government on whether this would occur.

The Justice Ministry recently released the results of a survey that found more than 60 per cent support for the death penalty.

The survey of 3000 people over 19 years old found 64 per cent of respondents were in favor of a resumption of executions. About 18 per cent of those surveyed said they were against it and 17 per cent were undecided.

'Executions no solution'
Human rights organisations and religious groups condemned calls for a resumption of executions.

"The prevention of violent crimes is not a problem solved through the execution of violent laws," a representative of the Catholic Human Rights Committee said.

Enforcement of the death penalty and the establishment of a gene bank would represent "a major step backward for the human rights policy that South Korea has been improving all this time".

The country's human rights watchdog expressed its concern about the debate and called for the complete abolition of laws providing for the death penalty.

"South Korea needs to scrap the death penalty completely to become an advanced nation in terms of human rights protection," the National Human Rights Commission of Korea said in a statement.

"The commission is concerned about the resumption of the death penalty being discussed across society lately. South Korea would degenerate into a backward country in terms of rights protection if capital punishment is resumed.

"A mature society does not obtain security by sacrificing human rights and human life."

Amnesty International's Secretary-General Irene Khan wrote to President Lee Myung-bak acknowledging public concern over the murders but urging him not to return to carrying out executions.

"I would like to stress that our opposition to the death penalty does not in any way distract from the sympathy for the victims of violent crimes and their loved ones," she wrote.

"However, Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases and considers it a violation to the right to life and the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment."

She said a resumption of executions would run counter to a "clear international trend toward abolition of the death penalty".

"I urge the Government of South Korea to signal its embrace of the international trend to move away from using the death penalty and to refrain from reintroducing executions," she said.

Abolitionist in practice
Justice Ministry figures show there are currently 58 people on death row in South Korea, but the country has not carried out any executions for over 10 years.

Amnesty International declared in December 2007 that South Korea was therefore an abolitionist country "in practice".

The last executions in South Korea were on 30 December 1997, when 18 men and 5 women were hanged in prisons across the country. The mass hangings were the first executions in the country for two years.

Kim Dae-Jung, himself a former death row inmate sentenced to die on trumped up political charges, began the practice of not carrying out executions when he took office in 1988.

The constitutional court is set to consider a challenge to the death penalty in June.

Justice bureaucracy sceptical
The Korea Herald reported that the Justice Ministry was sceptical about carrying out death sentences again, despite public support for it.

"In the past scandalous serial murder cases, public opinion also demanded the death of the killers, but it was just not enough to resist the worldwide legal trend of capital punishment abolishment," the paper quoted an unnamed Justice Ministry official.

"The very nature of the death sentence is controversial, and Kang's case alone will probably not reverse the present flow of criminal punishment."

The ministry has previously opposed moves in the National Assembly to abolish the death penalty, but in February 2006 it announced it was reviewing the death penalty and considering replacing executions with life imprisonment.

But in April 2008, the ministry announced it would seek sentences of life imprisonment or the death penalty for the sexually assault and murder of children under 13 years of age.

Related stories:
South Korea: Challenge to death penalty law -- 13 October 2008
South Korea: Death penalty for child murders? -- 09 April 2008
South Korea: Renewed calls for abolition -- 12 October 2007
South Korea: death penalty not on 'roadmap' -- 19 February 2007
Call for South Korea to show 'leadership' -- 27 June 2006
South Korea death penalty hearing -- 10 April 2006
South Korea: Kim Dae-jung's call for abolition -- 06 March 2006
South Korea – former president calls for abolition -- 27 February 2006

Thursday, 19 February 2009

More lethal injections for Chinese province

Another province in China will replace firing squads with lethal injection as its method of execution.

Official newsagency Xinhua reported the chief justice of Liaoning province in northeast China last Saturday announced the end of execution by shooting (14 February).

Lethal injection was first used in Liaoning in November 2001, but shooting was still used to carry out death sentences in six of the province's 14 cities, said Wang Zhenhua, president of the Liaoning Provincial Higher People's court.

"Lethal injection reduces the pain and fear of the condemned. It is a more humane way for them to die," said Mou Ruijin, associate professor of the Law School of Northeast University.

According to Xinhua, "officials from the Liaoning Provincial Higher People's Court said lethal injection was more acceptable for convicts and their family members".

In June 2006 Zhejiang province in eastern China announced it would carry out all executions by lethal injection from 1 September that year.

A senior official of the Supreme People's Court (SPC) said in January 2008 that lethal injection would eventually replace shooting in all executions ordered by intermediate courts.

SPC vice-president Jiang Xingchang said at the time that half of the country's 404 intermediate people's courts, which carried out most executions, currently used lethal injections.

"It is considered more humane and will eventually be used in all intermediate people's courts," Jiang told China Daily.

He said the SPC would assist local courts by distributing the toxin used in lethal injections.

Yunnan province in southwest China was the first to move exclusively to lethal injection in 2003.

According to Xinhua, the first lethal injection in China was carried out in Kunming on March 28, 1997.

Human rights campaigners have long rejected claims that lethal injection was "more humane" than other forms of execution, arguing the scientific evidence showed it could actually cause convulsions and a prolonged and painful death.

Related stories:
AI condemns China's expanded lethal injection -- 5 January 2008
Minister wants ‘tranquil’ killing: Japan -- 29 October 2007
Indonesia considers lethal injection -- 19 March 2007
China: Another province takes up the needle -- 20 June 2006