Death penalty: to be or not to be?

By Sebastian Sonntag via Wikimedia Commons
18.05.2017

Capital punishment is an issue that has brought a lot of arguments so far. Russia has had the moratorium on death penalty since 2009, however, taking into account events that have happened during last years, the idea to bring back the death penalty, for example, for terrorism, is being discussed more and more.

People, who endorse this idea, think that it will help to prevent further crimes: a person has to think ten times before commit a crime. People, who are against the death penalty, highlight that these measures will not decrease the number of crimes, and it is necessary to concentrate more on preventive work with the youth and provide social welfare to citizens. 

However, let’s remember the history…

What does the Bible say?

One of the controversial issues is what the Church thinks about the death penalty. The issue how to match retribution and the commandment “not to kill” is still disputable.

However, we understand that the old Testament admits the death penalty but the new Testament tells about the abolishment of the death penalty. The main crimes that led to the death penalty were fornication, bestiality, blasphemy, idolatry, incest, kidnapping, killing, corruption, sodomy, disrespect for parents, witchcraft. People who violated these taboos were beaten by rocks, burns, beheaded or strangled.

The object of discussions was, for instance, a phrase from the Epistle to the Hebrews in the new Testament: “anyone who rejected the Law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses”. Or a phrase from the Epistle to the Romans:”… For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer”.

Anyway, the Church can occasionally convince the secular authorities to smooth a punishment for some criminals because it is better to reeducate sometimes than to act rashly. And mostly the work of a priest is to guide an offender on the true path.

Precedents in Russian History

The chronicles remind us about cases when people were executed for a betrayal, a rebellion and crimes against the Christian faith. For instance, the Code dated to 1497 says that the punishment could be used in case of killing a master, state and religious crimes. The Code dated to 1550 tells about in details.

When it is said that, in 1744, Empress Elizaveta, Peter I’s daughter, abolished the death penalty – it is not correct. She only asked not to use the arbitrariness locally and waited for the Empress’ order. However, the death penalty was used again after Elizaveta. But it is known that the death penalty was not used during her period. Criminals were punished with whip or their tongue was pulled or they could be exiled to Siberia without any property instead.

Also, this decree had its advantages and disadvantages. For example, sometimes, the ban on the death penalty locally could create evil deeds and people like the noblewoman Saltichiha tortured servants till death.

After the Decembrist uprising, only shooting and hanging were used for a long time. Also, the code of laws dated to 1832 included capital punishment (exceptional measure in case of military crimes) and the code dated to 1845 (for state and quarantine crimes).

After the revolution, the death penalty was formally abolished several times but everyone knows how many punishments were committed without a court and investigation.

In the Soviet Union, according to the criminal code of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic dated to 1960, the death penalty could be used for the following crimes: state treason, spy, killing an official or foreigners in order to deteriorate the international relations, grand stealing, desertion and so on. In 1962, the paragraphs about a rape and bribery were added. Then, the separate paragraph – for a terroristic attack that caused a death – appeared in a new edition.

On November 19, 2009, under the presidency of Vladimir Putin the Constitutional Court took a decision that the courts cannot condemn to the death penalty in Russia. This moratorium has existed so far.

The current legislation assumes the death penalty for a murder with aggravating circumstances, attempted murder of an official, a public person or a law enforcement officer or genocide. However, the moratorium has “frozen” this part of the law.

Modern discussions

The hot discussion renewed in 2012 when the Chairman of the State Defense Committee Franz Klincevich suggested bringing back the death penalty in case of military criminals, pedophiles and grand corrupt officials. Some endorsed it, but the others were afraid of the arbitrariness.

Anyway, even the president admits that it is counterproductive and can only cause “the violence from the side of the citizens towards each other and the state”.

“In order to fight effectively against crimes, it needs to have a sensible, effective, economic policy, effective social policy, competent and modern civilized work of penitentiary system and all low enforcements,” the president highlighted.” All of these are much harder to do rather just use the death penalty”.

After a tragedy in Belgorod, when a murder shot 6 innocent people, the president was asked a question: maybe, the death penalty should be returned? Putin admitted then that “your hand wants to take a pen automatically so as to sign documents connecting with the death penalty”. However, the president assured that before taking such responsible decisions, it is necessary to consult specialist.

Many politicians and public people have been offering to implement the death penalty during last years because the current conditions are similar to military ones.

However, there is always a question of price if a mistake happened. For instance, while the police were finding out who was the maniac Chictilo, several innocent people were executed. Let’s remember the Soviet period when a simple slander could cause the reason for shooting.

That’s why, mostly likely, the abolishment of the moratorium can happen in an exceptional case: if the war starts or terrorists start attacking. There is no reason for this now: our state, unlike the Europeans countries, copes with anti-terrorist attack tasks. And while president Putin is the guarantor of our security, the discussions about the abolishment of the death penalty should be postponed.