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World Day Against the Death Penalty

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 6th November 2019.

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Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

I thank Bill Kidd for initiating this debate. I will state clearly that I unreservedly endorse Amnesty International’s statement that it opposes

“the death penalty in all cases without exception regardless of the nature of the crime”.

I note from its briefing that Amnesty has found it difficult in several countries to get actual numbers of death sentences that have been carried out.

I also condemn countries including North Korea, where, it is understood, prisoners are intentionally worked or starved to death, and China, where there is evidence of organ harvesting—prisoners being deliberately killed for their organs.

I endorse members’ comments that capital punishment does not work and is, of course, irreversible. However, I will take a slightly different direction from others by making some comments from a faith perspective. A number of faiths have scriptures that appear to support the death penalty for certain crimes—Christianity, Judaism and Islam among them. However, on closer examination, we see that the Christian faith has both the Old Testament and the New Testament. The former, which is similar to Jewish scripture, includes provision for the death penalty. However, when Jesus was questioned about some of those Old Testament teachings, he said that they had been allowed because of our hardness of heart, and that he now expected a higher standard. He taught that we should be ready to forgive our enemies, including people who have done terrible things to us. Following that kind of teaching, even some survivors of the Holocaust were able to forgive their prison guards and persecutors. Many of us would find that hard to comprehend.

We often hear people say that all that they want is justice. However, that can easily slip into wanting revenge, such as, “I lost my child through murder, so that family should lose theirs, too.” That attitude is, in many ways, understandable, but we do not want our justice system to be like that.

Another angle of Christian teaching is that people can change. In the Bible, we read of Paul, who had been heavily involved in persecuting Christians, who happened also to be Jews. at that time. God met him and changed his whole perspective: he confessed his sin, sought forgiveness and was given new life. At that point, he had metaphorically died from his old life and had been presented with a new one as a free gift.

That is a key reason why I am opposed to the death penalty. Even if someone is hugely evil and has carried out murder or other horrendous crimes, they can change. If we end their life as a punishment—it can be argued that they might deserve that—we remove the opportunity for them to change.

I welcome today’s debate. I deplore use of the death penalty and hope that we will see a continuing reduction in its use throughout the world.