The understandable desire by the Australian community to see the end of the sickening smiling face of Bali bomber Amrozi bin Nurhasyim is no excuse for condoning
the use of the death penalty. John Howard and Simon Crean should not be making
exceptions in this case. They should argue for life imprisonment for Amrozi and
make the point that just as the death penalty is not part of the law in Australia
nor should it be in Indonesia.
Sentencing Amrozi and those of his ilk to death simply makes them heroes in the
minds of some in the world who see anyone and any country that does not follow
their warped mindset as being corrupt and evil. For this reason alone, one wonders
why the Prime Minister and Mr Crean, along with elements of the Australian media
are so keen on seeing it happen in this case.
But there is a broader issue here. If politicians and the community are prepared
to sanction the death penalty in some cases where Australians have been killed
or maimed, this might eventually lead to pressure for the reintroduction of the
death penalty for certain crimes in Australia.
On the latter point, if Amrozi and his fellow perpetrators had carried out their
terrorist act on Australian soil, one can imagine the enormous pressure that the
Howard government might have felt to legislate for the death penalty in the case
of acts of terrorism. This is not a far-fetched scenario if one examines the UK's
experience with the IRA in the 1970s and 1980s.
In 1974, after a spate of IRA bombings in Northern Ireland and in England, the
then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Willie Whitelaw, came under intense
public and political pressure to reintroduce the death penalty for those convicted
of perpetrating the bombings that were killing, literally, hundreds of people.
He resisted the political kudos that would have come if he had recommended to
his Prime Minister Edward Heath that the death penalty should come back onto the
statute books for terrorists. As a former political foe, Roy Jenkins, said in
July 1999 on the occasion of Whitelaw's death, although the latter "had been
in favour of the death penalty [he] became convinced in Northern Ireland that
it would make the problem worse rather than better".
Whitelaw was right. And John Howard and Simon Crean and those Australians who
are not prepared to argue against the death penalty for Amrozi or any other perpetrator
of terrorism should heed this lesson of history. In Whitelaw's view to hang convicted
IRA bombers would simply strengthen the cause of that group in Northern Ireland.
Secondly, and perhaps of greater weight, is the fact that given the large numbers
of people often involved in the various stages of a terrorist act there can be
miscarriages of justice - in short, innocent people are sent to their deaths.
In fact, it was the strength of the second argument that meant even when British
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was at the height of her powers after the horrific
bombing at the Conservative Party conference at Brighton in 1984, she could not
convince her Party to support the reintroduction of the death penalty for terrorist
And it is well that she did not succeed. As the trials of the Guildford
Four and the Birmingham
Six demonstrated, innocent people got convicted for terrorist offences. The
10 accused in these cases were convicted for their part in IRA bombings during
the 1970s - in 1989 in the case of the Guildford Four and in 1991 in the case
of the Birmingham Six, the UK Court of Appeal overturned the convictions because
the authorities framed the accused. If Mrs Thatcher had been successful in her
death penalty campaign these men could have been sent to their deaths.
And so it might be in Indonesia or any other country where Australians are killed
as a result of terrorism. In the case of Amrozi the evidence seems clear but there
may well be future cases where people are wrongly convicted and sentenced to death.
If the miscarriage of justice is subsequently discovered, how will Mr Howard and
the Australian media feel if they have stood by and watched innocent people go
to their death?
The death penalty is always wrong - anytime and anywhere. Mr Howard, Mr Crean
and the media here should be saying so loud and clear, even now.
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