As Amnesty International invites those with a concern for Human Rights to blog on Wednesday 16th October John, parish assistant reflects on…
Over the past week, Mathew (our Indian verger) and I have talked a few times about the Indian Penal Code and the severity of its punishments, including the death penalty. Amnesty International categorizes India as a “retentionist” country, meaning it retains the death penalty for ordinary crimes, and – according to Amnesty statistics – at least 78 death sentences were handed down in 2012 (though only 1 actual execution). Unusually, in a time when most countries are tending towards abolition, India has recently extended the application of the death penalty. In December 2012, the widely reported gang rape (and subsequent death) of a 23 year old female student in Delhi led to a change in the law that introduced the possibility of the death penalty for serious sexual offences, and upon conviction last month the 4 defendants in that case received death sentences.
Amnesty describes the death penalty as the ultimate denial of human rights and the abolition of the death penalty is self-evidently an important and worthwhile cause. However, I can’t help thinking that sometimes it’s also a fairly safe non-challenging cause for citizens of an abolitionist country like Britain to get behind – it’s easy for us to slip into feeling somewhat superior and enlightened in relation to countries that still kill people in the name of justice. We’re much less likely to acknowledge where some of our own institutions are implicated in state-sanctioned killing: 186 deaths in British prisons from non-natural causes in 2012, 23 deaths in police custody, and – most alarming of all – approximately 1 death each day of a person in psychiatric detention with no legal provision for independent investigation of those deaths.
The inquest into the death of 17 year-old Ryan Clark from Leeds is currently taken place. Ryan was being held on remand on suspicion of robbery at Wetherby Young Offenders Institution. He wrote to his mum to wish her happy Mother’s day and said: “I just hope the time I’m going to spend in here is for the best and hope it’s going to teach me a lesson.” Within 2 weeks he had killed himself, “scared to death” by the culture of bullying and intimidation at Wetherby.
If this is a topic you’d like to find out more about then INQUEST is a charity that provides a free advice service to bereaved people on contentious deaths, with a particular focus on deaths in custody. Visit https://www.facebook.com/inquestUK
And the next two meetings of the St Chrysostom’s Justice and Peace Group will discuss issues relating to mental health (17th Oct) and prisons (21st Nov) – both at 7.30pm.