Monday, July 21, 2008

Stoning in Iran - 9 Adulterers to die

On 12th July UCL held a one day seminar with Muslim scholars and people in Bangkok on Muslim perspectives on the death penalty. The stringent requirements for four witnesses and a just process were emphasized as necessary elements in a Muslim system of justice. However, the practice in Iran today is very different. It is reported that 9 adulterers are due to be stoned at any time. The case is carried by several news agencies. The following is a report in the UK Telegraph.

"Shadi Sadr, a lawyer and women's rights activist, said the nine were convicted of adultery in separate cases in different Iranian cities.

"Their verdicts are approved, and they may be executed at any time," she said, adding that trial protocol was not applied properly in the cases.

Six of the nine were convicted based solely on judges' decisions with no witnesses or the presence of their lawyers during their confessions, she said.

Most of the nine come from areas of Iran that have low rates of literacy and some did not understand the cases against them, she said. One had pleaded guilty to adultery even though she did not know the meaning of the charge.

The nine are between 27 and 50 years old, among them a male music teacher who was convicted of adultery for having an affair with one of his students, the activists said.

"We are trying to stop the implementation of their verdicts. And secondly, we want to amend the country's penal law, in which death by stoning is prescribed," she said.

Under Iran's Islamic laws, adultery in the only capital offence punishable by stoning. Other capital offences in Iran include murder, rape, armed robbery, apostasy, blasphemy, drug trafficking, prostitution, treason and espionage.

The punishment is also applied in some other countries such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Sudan and Nigeria.

A man is usually buried up to his waist, while a woman is buried up to her neck. Those carrying out the verdict then throw stones until the condemned dies.

Stoning was widely imposed in the early years after Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution. But in recent years, it has seldom been applied, though the government rarely confirms when it carries out stoning sentences. The last stoning death confirmed by the government was in July last year."

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Muslim Perspectives on the Death Penalty

On Saturday 12th July 30 participants gathered in a seminar held in the Foundation of Islamic Centre of Thailand to discuss Muslim Perspectives on the Death Penalty. The position of Thai Muslims can be summarised in the statement of a Thai Muslim lawyer:
"Muslims cannot abandon the death penalty"
While this may appear to be an uncompromising stand there were interesting aspects to the seminar. Pairoj Pholphet, secretary general of UCL remarked that the occasion was unique, it being most unusual for Thais to exchange beliefs. There were expressions which suggest approaches to further discussion on the issue.
"Islam belongs to everybody, not just to Muslims"
"Punishment is between humans, not between God and man"
" There is a traditional belief that if punishment is evaded in this life, then it will come in the next"
"On the value of a moral act: A prostitute who gives water to drink to a dog may thereby earn heaven"

To Moslems the imported legal systems of the west found in most countries are not their affair, although such laws must be obeyed. They look to the establishment of a sharia system of law. Capitalism is a religion with its own morality where consumption and exploitation of others are part of an accepted moral code.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Second Seminar on Buddhist Perspectives on Death Penalty

Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University Ubon Ratchathani

On 7th July, UCL organized the second of a series of seminars on religious aspects of the death penalty. The seminar took place in Wat Mahasawatnakphutaram of Ubon Ratchathani. 80 monks from throughout the province attended the one day seminar.

The topic was novel to most of the monks. Some were strongly in favour of abolition, others believed that the death penalty was karma due to bad actions; a middle group believed that a reform of society on Buddhist principles would make the death penalty superfluous. But all welcomed the opportunity to hear new viewpoints and discuss various aspects.

In summary, these monks subscribe to a basic Buddhist ethic. Good comes to those who do good, evil to those who do evil. If people listen to the teaching of the Buddha and follow the five basic precepts all evil will be eliminated from society. If not, they deserve their fate, including the death penalty. Nevertheless, compassion for oneself and others must be the basis of individual behaviour. There are unresolved issues in renouncing responsibility for the actions of government and society.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

A Thai Buddhist Perspective on the Death Penalty

On Monday 30th June the first of a series of seminars on religious perspectives on the death penalty was held in Wat Suan Dok, a campus of Mahachulalongkorn Buddhist University, Chiangmai. 34 monks participated and several civilians. There follows a summary of the discussions.

  1. All speakers recognized that capital punishment contravened the basic Buddhist prohibition against killing, ‘even of a mosquito’ in the words of one speaker.

“The death penalty is a concept that humans have created”

“If we wish to promote Buddhism, and are Buddhists, we should abolish the death penalty to follow the Buddha.”

  1. The punishment of criminal offences is considered the responsibility of civil authorities, and therefore ‘political’. As political matters were considered to be strictly outside the sphere of interest of Buddhist monks, the issue of the death penalty was avoided. One speaker recalled an old prohibition by which a monk could not walk in an area where executions were carried out but must detour to avoid any incursion into such a civic location. This attitude throws light on the apparent indifference of Thai monks to the death penalty which is so at variance with their beliefs. (There also appeared little sympathy among Thai monks for the ‘political’ involvement of their compatriots in Burma. A prominent Vietnamese monk remarked to me once his incomprehension of the lack of involvement of Thai monks in social issues. The interest of the speakers at the seminar in the death penalty may be a relic of a now forgotten militancy of monks in the northern region)
  2. However, Buddhism places a high value on repentance and reform of life. Pivotal to this attitude is the lesson conveyed in the story of Angulimala, the criminal who had killed 999 people before attempting to kill his own mother and the Buddha. Under the influence of the Buddha, Angulimala repented, changed his life and entered the monkhood. The peaceful outcome of the story is heightened by contrasting the reform of the robber murderer due to the Buddha’s teaching in contrast to the failed attempt of the king and his soldiers to eliminate him by force.
  3. Buddhism does not see the death penalty as an isolated issue but rather as a failure to resolve problems in the whole of society. If peace and harmony were established in society, capital crimes would no longer be committed, and the death penalty would no longer be an issue. Abolition of the death penalty must be accompanied by a vast effort to reform society.
  4. The monks were very conscious of the immense deficiencies in the Thai legal system, such as in the absence of an investigation into the deaths of human rights defenders (including a famous Chiang Mai activist monk), wrongful convictions, execution of innocent people.
  5. Religion aims to promote a society where people can grow, be good, ‘making people live, not die'.