On the pretext of issuing death penalty for Mohammad Ali Taheri, the founder of Erfan-E-Halghe, by Tehran Islamic Revolutionary Court. This interview with Miss. Esther Brown and Mr. Saeed Salehinia by Kaveh Taheri, was published by Iranian.com on Dec 17, 2014.
The death penalty has no place in a civilized society, when will it be abolished?
Once again, China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the United States were the five biggest executioners in the world.
Executions rose by almost 15% in 2013, compared with 2012. Amnesty International recorded almost 100 more executions around the world in 2013 compared to 2012.
Experts have classified the death penalty in three distinct categories in different periods of history; 1. Personal Revenge 2. Private Justice 3. Public Justice
In the Hammurabi Code, individuals were punished with the death penalty for such offenses as stealing ( at the home of a king or at shrines), kidnapping, bribery, undercutting market wholesale or retail prices, adultery with a married woman and sexual intercourse of a father-in-law with the bride of his son. The guilty party was punished either by drowning, sealing up in a wall or by burying in the ground.
In Iran’s pre-Islam, some behavior and actions were punished by the imposition of the death penalty; lesser crimes were punished with lashes.
With the Advent of Islam, the death penalty continued to be used. During the Safavid Dynasty, brigands were punished brutally. The feet of the guilty received lashes, and for more grievous crimes, hanging was the penalty used by the Safavids in Iran. If the culprit did not die, the stomach was torn open.
During the Qajar Dynasty, offenders were either loaded into cannons or crucified. In addition, other penalties such as “Blindfolding”, “Cutting ears and nose off”, “Decapitation “, “Immersion into boiling water”, and “Burying alive ” were also used by Qajar authorities.
Before the Renaissance in Europe, legislators were pressed to deal with crime and thought that cruel codifications were the best solution for managing society. Gangs were punished, and it was thought that people learned what not to do by being spectators at public tortures and executions.
After the Renaissance, not only was the severity of punishment not reduced, rather in some cases it actually increased.
Will Durant in his The analysis of quality punishment in England, which deals with the years 1714 to 1756, states that public brutal punishment made people more bloodthirsty. There were gallowses in all London districts which displayed the corpses of the guilty who had been hung to death.
Capital punishment in religions:
Judaism; whoever did not obey the Ten Commandments of the Law of Moses was sentenced to death.
Christianity; the death penalty was used for apostasy, which was seen as the most serious of crimes.
Zoroaster; the most important sentences of “Vendidad” were lashes and execution.
Islam; execution is used for some cases such as blasphemy, murder, adultery, insult to the Prophet Muhammad, Moharebeh, claiming that he is a prophet, skepticism of the prophet of Islam. Islamic methods of execution can be noted as decapitating with a sword, stoning, finger and hand cutting or pulling down wall on the guilty.
Execution in the US:
The first recorded death sentence in the British North American colonies was carried out in 1608 on Captain George Kendall, who was executed by firing squad.
Esther Brown is the Executive Director at Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty.
Kaveh.Taheri: Ms Brown, in your opinion, what is the reason for the death penalty in society and does it have Social-Religious roots?
Esther Brown: I believe that the death penalty originates in man’s insecurities and in his most basic need, which is survival. In order to survive he lives in groups and is threatened by all who appear different or appear to threaten his security or way of life. Societies and therefore religions have established certain norms and rules to enhance survival, and when these are not adhered to, order is restored by the elimination of those who threaten it. Elimination or executions are swift and simple and mean that one does not have to examine root causes or contributing factors, nor does one have to address them. Swift and easy!
Kaveh.T: U.S is one of the top countries for carrying out Capital Punishment in the world; do you think executions have contributed to the reduction of the murder rate?
Esther.B: Absolutely not! It is a fact that the murder rate is highest in those states in the U.S. that have the death penalty and lowest in the ones that don’t. In fact, the African American Association of Police Chiefs rated the death penalty as least helpful in reducing crime.
In order for something to act as a deterrent it has to be something that is thought about before the commission of the crime. A few years ago we did an informal poll among our Board on death row. One of the questions asked was whether they had ever thought about the death penalty before coming to death row. The majority replied that they had never thought about the death penalty or talked about it with anyone before they were convicted.
Kaveh.T: the U.S government criticizes Human Rights violations in other countries, especially the surge of execution, so why does it not take any steps to abolish the death penalty in the US?
Esther.B: the answer to that is that there are federal and state laws. The death penalty is governed by state law, although a stay of execution, and laws governing the death penalty do come from the U.S. Supreme Court. At this point, although some states have abolished the death penalty, the majority has not and until the majority does, it is unlikely that the U.S. Supreme Court will act to abolish it.
Kaveh.T: what is the view and reaction of Americans to Capital Punishment? And is there any public execution carried out in USA?
Esther.B: At this point the majority of U.S. citizens are in favor of capital punishment although such things as botched executions and exonerations have made some inroads in this support. Promising is also the fact that more and more conservatives are speaking out against it for various reasons, economic ones being some of them. Few tax payers realize that it is much more expensive to execute someone than to incarcerate them for life.
There are no public executions at this point in time.
Kaveh.T: does USA have strong Socio-Economic backgrounds which contribute to the imposition of the death penalty?
Esther.B: I mentioned the cost of executions in my previous answer. Very important factors as to who is sentenced to death and who is not are poverty and race. In the 31 years that I have been associated with the death penalty I never met a rich death row inmate. One wonders about that!
Indigent defendants are appointed attorneys who are often overwhelmed, incompetent, underpaid or not well versed in death penalty law. Experts are not hired; investigations are not done, and clients end up with poor representation and are sentenced to death. There is a saying in the South, money talks and bullshit walks. Exactly!
In addition, race is a large contributing factor as to who will be sentenced to death and who not. On Alabama death row, 50% are African American and yet the makeup of the population in this state is 27% African American. 80% on death row were convicted of killing a white victim, yet more African Americans are murdered than whites? What is the message? Are white lives more valuable? The modern lynching? Interesting that it is in the slavery states in the South where we see the highest execution rates!
Kaveh.T: you as a civil activist and “Executive Director at Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty”, what is your strategic recommendation to stop or decrease crimes in America?
Esther.B: Most probably education heads my list. On the whole one finds that people are very poorly informed and out of this ignorance are ready to judge and throw away the key on people, as the saying goes. In order to educate one has to go where the other is, acknowledge his/her concerns so that perhaps one too can be heard in return.
It is important to reach out to groups like law enforcement, family members of murder victims, churches, marginalized groups, organizations, or to put it in a nutshell and as our founder mandated: Be the Other Voice, whenever and wherever possible.
Another very important recommendation would be to address issues of poverty and race not only in our legal system but also in our communities as these are the two important factors as to who receives a death sentence.
Kaveh.T: finally, what is your assessment of the international community and Human Rights organizations’ role in advocating for the elimination of the death penalty in the U.S and other parts of the world?
Esther.B: I cannot say enough of just how important the role of the international community is in helping us eliminate the death penalty. We have already seen the results what happened when European drug companies refused to supply the execution drugs. The international community has an important voice whether because of trade or possible economic sanctions.
In Alabama, the international community is sponsoring a petition with Daimler A.G, the German company which has a plant in our state. We are asking it to take a stand on the death penalty with our Governor and legislators. As we like to say: together we can do it!
In the second part of the interview we went to Mr. Saeed Salehinia the Iranian researcher and writer.
Kaveh.T: what is the effect of public execution on society? And can it be used as a preventative measure to decrease crime in Iran?
Saeed Salehinia: First, I appreciate the chance you gave me to be part of this panel discussion. I believe the movement against public execution is global and within next one or two decades, humanity will get rid of this barbarity.
To answer your first question;
A-Public execution is a well-designed murder by states, who claim, by this punishment, justice prevails, and crimes decreases. State, as an element of the authority rules by fear and historically, states in Iran have been an authority, based on fear. Within last few thousands of years; Persian emperor has used public executions to keep its control, to “punish”, wrong dowers. States have been symbol of the “God’s will” and people, have been the subject and mean to present the greatness of the state.
People in Iran, historically perceived states with public executions. The state in Iran is a unique tool for the ruling class, and public execution is the traditional tool, for the state, even before the establishment of incarceration in modern history to keep people, in track!
B-Nowhere in world, public execution has been found to be an effective measure to decrease crime, and Iran is no exception. Like in U.S, the Islamic regime in Iran is a living document to prove that killing by state has caused more crimes and Islamic state, actually has been the biggest criminal in Iranian society!
Sociologists and researchers have consensus that present Iran is the best proof that the public execution just simply doesn’t work! Criminal activities are highest in society and opposition against Islamic Regime has never stopped, in spite of thousands and thousands of mass executions!
In Iran, public execution has been used to systematically eliminate political opposition, and at times Islamic regime has used “execution of criminals” just as an excuse to get rid of opponents.
Kaveh.T: in your view, why the Republic Islamic of Iran uses the death penalty to prevent the social crime instead improve socio-economic infrastructures?
Saeed S: A-I believe they do not have a real choice! The Islamic regime, in my view, has not been able to establish its authority since 1979! Waves of opposition started from first days of Islamic dictators and followed waves of public executions. Since Khomeini came to power to the present time, Iran society has witnessed the public execution as the “way of being”, life of the Islamic regime is dependent to public execution!
B-the Islamic regime in Iran is representative of the capitalistic system. The problem of expansion of capitalism in Iran is another level of discussion: Traditionally, the oil industry has been the core resource for the state budget. So states would need public support to stand on their feet!
States could naturally rule, as long as they have physical control on masses. The problem at this time is that the state capitalism is not able to respond to people’s need anymore! Both in international level, where the world order has been changing, and privatization is the only choice, and internal crisis, caused by constant clashes between regime’s factions have played a constant destabilizing effect.
C-The new world order, the privatization, dictates that the “state capitalism” should be transferred to “private sector”, during last three decades, the Islamic regime has had difficulties to follow such orders. The main reason is the paradox between privatization of capital (decentralization) and nature of the Islamic regime that is rooted from central religious authority. The statistics have shown that the Islamic regime is extending corruption and is not able to transit the Iranian economy to what World Bank is seeking in Iran.
D-an in other difficulty of “improving socio-economic structure” through privatization of capital, stems from the nature of “economy without oil, design”. Infrastructure in Iranian economy is not designed to produce without state support. To privatize economy, the state needs to reduce labor salary and oppose unions by force, which means more oppression and more executions to suppress opposition!
In conclusion, any attempt to improve Iran economy through “privatization” is logically attempt to suppress masses! The public execution , along with incarcerations, censorship are the tools, the Islamic regime is using to survive, on the daily basis to maintain itself, and improving the Iranian economy has become the failed challenge for the system!
Kaveh.T: many experts and people believe that the execution is rooted in Islam; do you agree on the point of view?
Saeed S: A-Islam is not “religion of peace” as presented in Western Media. The Islamic law considers execution as an approved way of punishment with many applications. “Mohammad’s God” is fearful to its enemies and though to unbelievers. Islam is not also the religion of tolerance. Ranges of life styles are prohibited and punished by executions with different styles, including beheading, stoning to death and dismembering.
B-In other hand, public execution in Iran, is not limited to present the regime in Iran. Thousands of years, before Islamic law controlled Iranian life, when Zoroastrianism was in control of power, people were facing execution. History of Iran does not support the above claim that execution is “rooted” from Islam.
C-Religion in general is ideology of punishment. Gods in Iran are defined by punishment. States as the representative of God have been ruling Iran, and Iranian culture has not experienced renaissance yet!
As long as Iranian culture and politics, stays in “pre-modern Era”, the state execution, accompanies Iranian society!
Kaveh.T: “We see the large numbers of executions are related to drug trafficking according to the legislation of Iran. We are trying to change this rules. Eighty percent of executions will be disappearing if we succeed to passing this law in parliament”, as Director of Human Rights Headquarters of Iran’s judiciary said. Is any promising change in the Capital Punishment in this message? And why the change will be possible only for the cases of drug trafficking?
Saeed S: A-I do not believe so! The Islamic Regime in Iran, without state execution, cannot survive! The above statements target Western Media and politics. The Islamic state is in deep crisis and has been trying hard to present “better face” to the Western states. Iranian people have been witness the other side of Regime. As you know, “President Rouhani” has broken the records of public executions, even comparing to Ahmadinejad!
B- Drug trafficking and problem of addiction is overwhelming problem in Iranian society and the Islamic regime does not have any answer to this problem. The state factions have been traditionally involved with drug trafficking. I do not believe the empty promises of the regime’s authorities.
Kaveh.T: What practical solution must be implemented to abolish the death penalty by the international community and Human Rights organization in Iran?
Saeed S: A-I do believe, under the Islamic state, the capital punishment will continue. The present political system cannot be reformed, and capital punishment will continue to be the face of the present regime.
B-I do admire and support human right activities, inside and abroad, against the capital punishment in Iran at the same time. Such activities can empower movement against the Islamic regime and build up and organize opposition to overthrow the whole system.
C-I do believe, the problem of the capital punishment is not only rooted in the political structure, but also stays deeply in Iran culture, as I mentioned before. Human right activities, are not only facing the regime, but facing our pre-modern culture too!
Kaveh.T: as an expert who is following the situation in Iran and the world, how do you see the perspective of Human Rights situation in Iran?
Saeed S: A-I am very optimist, not through “wish for gradual reform of the present regime”, but through movement of enlightenment, modernity, and radical change.
B-I do believe that Human right situation in Iran and the whole world is in crisis. Global crisis of capitalism is the main cause for this crisis. Human rights movements in Iran are a strong element to radical change that should target the barbarity of capitalism and end this final root of the barbarity and injustice.
C-the capital punishment is just a form of the state punishment. Incarceration, “jail sentences” and all kinds of the state punishments should end. Humanity should find better tools to improve human behavior. Within next few decades, the rest of states will give up the capital punishment. The global consensus against capital punishment is the turning point. The global and local communities, human rights activists, NGOs and public education are the keys to change this upside world; we are witnessing.
Globalization of humanity and human values is the answer to the present problem of Iran and anywhere else!
Thank you for giving me the chance to express myself!
Saeed Salehinia is a political and labor communism activist since 1977. This Iranian theorist and penman has been spending many years in order to protest and promote the freedom and equality. He has Subspecialty of Neuropsychoanalysis and Neuropsychiatry.