On October 2nd, Washington Post journalist and critic of the Saudi Arabian government and monarchy, Jamal Khashoggi, was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Now, in an attempt to distance their connection to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, five suspects have been sentenced with the death penalty. The prosecutor held back from naming anyone directly connected to the Crown Prince, and obviously did not suggest the hit was ordered by him or his advisors. But is the death penalty really justice, or is it simply justified murder?
The majority of countries have abolished the death penalty, and when you look at a list of those who still retain it and, more importantly, use it, some conclusions can be drawn. For starters, a number of dictatorships populate that list. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, China, North Korea, etc. all have high and ultimately unknown numbers of killings, whether under law or extrajudicial. Other countries, like the United States and Japan, still have the death penalty and currently have people on death row. Others have it technically but have not carried it out for many years. Some only use it in cases of crime committed during wartime.
In the case of dictatorships, such sentences are generally politically motivated. Anyone who speaks out against the Saudi monarchy end up locked up or potentially dead – like Khashoggi, although that was assassination, not capital punishment. In Japan and the US, it is reserved for specific crimes, or a combination of crimes, such as murder. While such deaths in countries like Saudi Arabia are condemned, the US still debates whether it should be carried out. Most of the international community, and human rights groups, have called for its complete abolition.
But even if you take it from the viewpoint of developed nations like the US and Japan, where it is only considered under specific circumstances, can it still be justified? Most would probably say that a mass murderer or a serial sex offender may deserve to die, and I won’t disagree. But it’s morally questionable to try and judge such a person while at the same time willingly calling for their sanctioned death. The usual arguments are that it’ll deter others from committing similar acts, or that it’ll free up jail space and save money. The latter has been touted here in Australia as a reason to reinstate capital punishment. But both are realistically false and should not be considered proper arguments for its return.
In the US, the threat of death does not appear to alleviate the number of people who wish to cause harm to others. The result is an increased number of people on death row, and many of these people end up on life sentences or spend years in prison anyway. Something consistent with both the US and Japan is its treatment of such prisoners. Amnesty International documented cases of forced confessions and abuse of prisoners in Japan, and the US’ privatised prison system has endless occurrences of mistreatment, and no small amount of racism too.
So the death penalty, whether carried out by a dictatorship or a developed nation, cannot morally be justified, and in the latter states, it is not practical. Cases of abuse and botched executions snatch headlines at times, but still many believe the answer to crime is another crime sanctioned by law. It’s a grey area that I don’t pretend to have answers to, but at the very least it seems to be a hypocritical and impractical solution, and at most a prolific abuse of human rights.