[FOUNTAIN]The fairness of the ultimate punishment

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[FOUNTAIN]The fairness of the ultimate punishment

On March 16, a small village in Iran was stirred in the early morning. Police cars went around the streets and told the villagers to gather at the town square at 9 a.m. Some 5,000 villagers assembled, with children in the trees and seniors in front row seats. In the town square was a gallows.
The crowd was there to see the execution of Muhammad Bijeh, a 24-year-old Iranian better known as the “Vampire of the Tehran Desert.” Mr. Bijeh was convicted of kidnapping, raping and murdering 21 children. After being abused by his step- parents, Mr. Bijeh said he wanted to take revenge on the world. The serial killer was handcuffed and lashed 100 times first, the punishment for the rapes. At every sound of the whip, cheers and moans were heard. As the bleeding Mr. Bijeh was dragged to the gallows, the brother of one of his victims lunged and stabbed him. One of the victims’ family members came out and put a noose around his neck.
As Mr. Bijeh’s body hung in the air, the crowd began cursing and throwing rocks.
Capital punishment still exists in most Muslim nations. Murderers are punished by death according to Islamic teachings, and Arab tribal societies have a strong tradition of considering revenge as an honor.
China executes the most people in the world. Every year, at least 1,000 condemned criminals are executed. The Chinese Internet newspaper, Sina.com, reported on March 16 that a serial killer had been caught and confessed his crime, including a murder he committed 10 years ago. However, the man supposedly responsible for the crime was already executed. The mother of the falsely accused man, who was 21 years old at the time, wailed and said her son had been tortured and forced into making a false confession.
Opponents of the death penalty stand against capital punishment because of its irreversible nature. They call it a “judicial murder.” Public executions have been criticized as an inhuman punishment. Even the most heinous criminals have the right to retain dignity in the face of death. Public executions are also considered to have little effect in preventing crimes.
This week a Japanese television station aired shocking video footage of public executions in North Korea. The offenses were less heinous than the crime of the Vampire of the Teheran Desert, but the punishment seemed more harsh than the executions held in China.
The condemned man could have saved his precious life if he had been born in the South.


by Oh Byung-sang

The writer is the JoongAng Ilbo’s London correspondent.
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