[FOUNTAIN]Debate the death penaltyDecember 22, 1849. It was morning in Semenov Plaza, in Petersburg, Russia. Twenty-eight-year-old Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky was brought to a scaffold prepared in the square, along with twenty other prisoners. He had been arrested and charged with treason for participating in the Petrashevsky Circle, a group that studied and spread Socialism.
There was a blizzard in the square that day and it was minus 22 degrees Celsius (-7 F). Three people, including Petrashevsky, mounted the scaffold. Their hands were tied and their eyes blindfolded. A priest said, “Death is the cost of sin.” Soon, the command “prepare to fire” was heard. Dostoevsky, while waiting for his turn with the next group, said farewell to his fellow members. Right at that moment, Emperor Nikolai I’s messenger arrived with the message, “The king has shown mercy and commutes the sentence to penal servitude.”
Dostoevsky later spent four years in a prison in Siberia. He wrote of Petersburg Plaza in his novel “The Idiot” as follows: “I now only have five minutes left to breathe in this world. How should I use it? Two minutes for saying goodbye to my fellow members, two minutes in looking back on my life and one last minute looking at the world for one last time.” Dostoevsky said, “Execution is blasphemy against the spirit.” French novelist Victor Hugo wrote in his book “The Last Days of a Condemned,” “Execution is not just cutting off the head of the sinner, but also the heads of his family.”
Recently, a Vietnamese-Australian was arrested for smuggling in Singapore and was executed. The Australian government and civic organizations tried to stop the young man from being sentenced to death but their efforts failed. On the same day, the 1,000th execution was carried out in America since execution was reinstated in 1976. In Korea, there are condemned criminals, but no one has been executed since 1998.
The debate regarding execution has a long history. King Sejo, the seventh king of the Joseon Dynasty, tried to abolish executions, but failed because of objections from his courtiers.
However, Rousseau supported the death penalty, saying, “If we don’t want to be victims of murderers, we must agree to get up on the scaffolds ourselves in case we murder someone.” Kant and Hegel thought the same. In the 21st century, how should we view execution? Why is the National Assembly, which showed so much interest at the beginning of the year, so quiet? A bill proposing abolishment of the death penalty was presented long ago to the Legislation and Judiciary Committee but it is just gaining layers of dust.
by Lee Sang-il
The writer is a deputy international news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.