Oljororok MP John Waiganjo has drafted a Bill that seeks to abolish the death penalty. Kenya has not executed anyone in more than 30 years and the number of death row convicts continues to accumulate. Also, retired President Mwai Kibaki commuted all death sentences to life ones.
The MP says in the Bill that “the punishment is immoral, ineffective as a deterrent, and has failed to adequately restore victims of the crimes for which it is prescribed”.
He is right on the punishment being ineffective and it failing to restore victims; but wrong to call for its ban.
To best illustrate why I think an eye for an eye makes sense, let us revisit a decade-old Iranian case that concluded this April.
Ameneh Bahrami was in 2004 going home when she met a man named Movahedi Majid, who threw a bucketful of acid onto her face.
The attack left Ameneh, who had several times refused to get married to Majid, blinded and horribly disfigured. He had threatened to kill her for refusing to marry him, and in the end he decided that if he couldn’t have her, he would make her undesirable to any man.
At the time of her attack, Ameneh had big ambitions and was an engineer who worked for a medical company.
TRAUMATISED HER FAMILY
The attack traumatised her family so much that her elder brother committed suicide.
Majid was fined and sentenced to prison. However, Ameneh, through her lawyer, petitioned the courts to have him blinded. Due to the fact that the Islamic Republic of Iran runs on Sharia law, the judges, after a long review process, in 2011 agreed to have Majid blinded.
Even then, the judges only agreed to blind Majid in one eye instead of two, like Ameneh. She had to appeal again to get the courts to agree to blind her assailant in both eyes.
Amnesty International complained that the sentence amounted to torture, and the Iranians gave in to international pressure and refused to carry out the sentence. Later on, they agreed to the sentence, and doctors gouged out one of the attacker’s eyes in March this year.
My empathy lies solely with Ameneh, and I think that her wish to have her attacker blinded should have been carried out immediately by the government.
Sometimes retribution does not give you back your eye, but sometimes justice and fairness demands barbarity. Punishment is meant to be punishment, not act as a deterrent. It is an end in itself.
We may have been brought up under the overbearing influence of the New Testament that demands we turn the other cheek, but we need to be reminded that even the Bible sentences the wicked to eternal punishment. In fact, this celestial eternal torment is in the New Testament, and is far worse than anything ever imagined in the Old Testament.
An eye for an eye is an attempt at proportionality. Death for death is the same. An eye for an eye attempts to forestall generational squabbles, to kill killers. The lex talionis, or law of retribution, is deeply ingrained in us and our culture.
It is almost unanimously approved by religion, in Christianity as “an eye for an eye”, and in Islam as the law of qisas. It is an attempt to impart equality and fairness.
Popular culture and literature are filled with instances of revenge, from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice to every movie where the bad guy gets it in the end. The State has no right to forgive someone on behalf of a victim, or to compel someone to forgive one’s assailant.
Quite often, there is trauma, emotional pain and notions of honour bound up by some crimes committed against us and our loved ones. It is excruciating to tell the parents of a child who has been defiled and murdered that the death penalty is not on the table.
The social, emotional and psychological cost is too high to be borne by the family and, sometimes, the victims. If something as damaging as what happened to Ameneh happened to members of our families, most of us would be clamouring to kick the stool from under the bastard who committed the act when they finally string him up. Those who choose to forgive should not stop the rest of us from demanding our pound of flesh.
There are crimes so vicious, acts so heinous — such as harm of little children — that the only recompense is a violent death, otherwise proportionality is not achieved.
I know retribution does not deter criminals, but we are justified as a community in expressing the full measure of our outrage by meting out capital punishment. Then, and only then, is the score settled.