Thursday, 8 July 2010

Victims call on Taiwan: End death penalty

Victims rights activists urge Taiwan government to reconsider death penalty
By Dennis Engbarth
Taiwan News, Staff Reporter
3 July, 2010

A group of murder victims from the United States and Japan are holding a series of lectures in Taipei and other cities this weekend to support calls by local activists for a cessation of capital punishment in Taiwan.

Under the theme of "Don't Kill in My Name," four members of the U.S. - based "Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights" arrived Friday for a four day visit during which they will hold four public lectures and meet with Kuomintang government officials, murder victim support groups and persons and organizations both supporting and opposing abolition of the death penalty.

Participants in the MVFHR Asia Speech Tour in Taiwan program include Robert Meeropol, the son of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg who were executed in New York's Sing Sing prison in June 1953 on charges of atomic weapon - related espionage for the Soviet Union; Aba Gayle, whose daughter Catherine was murdered at 19 years of age; MVFHR Executive Director Renny Cushing, whose father was murdered and who became an advocate of victims rights; and Toshi Kazama, a photojournalist and victim of a violent crime who initiated the "Ocean" victims support group in Japan.

During a news conference held at the National Taiwan University Alumni Association Friday morning to announce the program for the "Victims, We Care!" speaking tour, Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty Executie Director Lin Hsin-yi related that "many people in Taiwan tell advocates of abolition of the death penalty that victims of murders and other violent crimes support the death penalty and that advanced countries like the United States also still have the death penalty."

Lin stated that the MVFHR members "have come to South Korean, Japan and Taiwan "to share their views and experiences on why they as survivors or relatives of victims oppose the death penalty."

Cushing, who is one of the founders of the MVFHR which was formed on Dec. 10, 2004, said "we have all had members of our families murdered but we oppose the death penalty as a violation of the right to life and as a form of torture."

Given Taiwan's past history of "white terror" in which thousands were subject to state sanctioned killings, Cushing said that "we are particularly saddened to see the government of a democratic Taiwan going back to the policy of killing prisoners."

Referring to his experience and thoughts after seeing his father shot before his eyes, Cushing said that "if we let those who kill turn us into killers, then evil will triumph and we will all lose."

"As a survivor, I oppose the death penalty because I do not want to live in a world where governments kill people and I look forward to discussing in Taiwan why we should not kill people in the name of the victims," the MVFHR executive said.

Kazama, who planned the Asian speaking tour and who has photographed execution sites in the Taipei and Kaohsiung detention centers in 2005, stated that "we should hate crime and violence, but not hate yourself or hate those people."

"If you support the death penalty, you should realize that it means that you must have the guts to have a gun in your hand and shoot someone in the name of justice," said Kazama.

"Can you pull the trigger?" asked the Japanese photojournalist, a resident of New York City since 1980, who related that "I have met many executions who suffer emotionally because they have had to kill people like that."

Aba Gayle, a MVFHR member whose daughter Catherine was murdered in 1980 at the age of 19, stated that she learned after 12 years of "a dark time" that "I have a choice about how to live and I chose to stop being a victim."

Gayle related that "I got stuck in anger and rage" for eight years but said that she "realized that anger and rage is detrimental to our health and can destroy us."

"When I heard the letter drop in the mailbox, all the anger, rage and ugliness I had kept in my body for 12 years vanished and I was filled with inner peace and I knew at that moment that I did not need to have anyone executed for me to be healed," Gayle said.

In addition to lectures in Hsinchu City and Taichung City Saturday, the MVFHR group will hold a seminar and concert program Sunday afternoon at the Eslite Hsinyi Bookstore featuring the themes of "Victims of the State Machine?" and "Civic Movements to Protect Victims."

Before leaving Monday, the delegation will also hold private meetings with Justice Minister Huang and victims support groups, human rights organizations and personages and organizations both for and against the death penalty.