Hangin Yousef

One of those stock fiction characters, particularly in Westerns, is that of the hanging Judge who sends anyone who comes before him off to the gallows for the slightest thing. The Mel Brooks film Blazing Saddles even had one not only hangs everyone, but horses too. However what is not funny is the behaviour of one Egyptian judge who has exceeded even any fictional or satirical portrayal of a judge.

One Judge Joussef in Minya Egypt has over the course of two days sentenced 1,200 to death mostly based on fairly flimsy evidence linking them to a protest that had turned violent leading to the death of police officers. I mean one of those sentenced to death suffers from polio and is in a wheelchair (what did he do, run over the cops? Did they find tire tracks one wonders!). One worries in the UK what sort of a judge you’ll get when going into court, but one can scarcely think of a worse loony psycho to end up in front of.

There are many compelling arguments against the death penalty, one of them of course being that courts and the police do make mistakes (e.g. Birmingham six, Guilford four) or indeed can be corrupt enough to cover things up and fake evidence (Stephen Lawrence, Plebgate). And that’s in the UK, police in some other countries can be corrupt to the core. Adopting a pro-hanging point of view is to accept that innocent people will be sentenced to death (roughly 4% of the time), which is about as immoral as one can get.

Still another argument is that fact that killing people is often a messy grizzly business (as Charlie Brooker points out in his typically dark take on the topic). America has played around with various ways of trying to sanitise this process (most recently with lethal injection), but as recent events in the US showed (another botched execution), it is simply not possible to devise a way of executing someone which is guaranteed to be humane.

But as events in Egypt show one of the main reasons for prohibiting the death penalty is that it can very easily be turned into a tool of political oppression. Is it quite obvious that these death sentences in Egypt are politically motivated. Elements of the military regime trying to kick the Islamists while they are down…which will inevitably mean a return to events of the past. And this is by no means a one off. Look at the French revolution or the Red Scare in the US during the 50’s or indeed most totalitarian regimes. Indeed I would argue that as a result the death penalty is simply not compatible with a democratic system of government.

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