Oct 312019

Today it is Samhaim, I spotted an off-the-cuff remark on Twitter about women being executed for ‘witchcraft’ in the past, and I also knew that many men were executed for ‘witchcraft’ in the past, so I decided to see if I could get some half-reasonably accurate data on the genders of executed witches.

I got rather rough lists of names from both Wikipedia and here. Processing the two lists was not fun :-

  1. First I removed duplicates where possible.
  2. I flagged as M(ale) all the names that were obviously (to me) male. Or where there were other clues (“husband”).
  3. I flagged as F(email) all names that were obviously women, those where there was some doubt, and those where there was a hint (“daughter”).
  4. I flagged as F(emale) all surname-only names.

This quite possibly over-estimates the number of women executed for witchcraft, and is nowhere near accurate (a list of 477 names out of tens of thousands is a hopelessly small sample).

Out of that list of names, 384 were women (approximately 75%) and 113 were men (approximately 25%). This is nowhere near equal, but neither were male executions so rare that you can honestly say “women were executed for witchcraft”; it has to be “women and men were executed for witchcraft” (or some variation of that).

Having said that, it would be nice to see some proper historical statistical work done to see if a more accurate ratio could be determined.

The Red Door
May 142016

Pfizer now no longer supplies drugs to be used in the US lethal injection executions. Which means that there is now no major pharmaceutical company prepared to supply drugs to be used for executions. Or in other words even large capitalist-driven organisations that the major pharmaceuticals are find executions so morally repugnant that they want nothing to do with them.

So those US states have a number of options :-

  1. Try to find the drugs from “unauthorised” sources, which basically translates as obtaining drugs under false pretences.
  2. Try to find an alternative method of execution.
  3. Or finally do the right thing and stop executing people.

It’s time the US grew up and joined the civilised world.


Jun 052014

Apostasy can be loosely defined as renouncing a religion either to become an atheist or to convert to another religion. It has been in the news recently because of a Sudanese woman sentenced to death for apostasy.

Of course in her case it’s not apostasy, but following her childhood religion – her mother was a christian and her absent father was a muslim. But Sudan does not recognise the mother’s religion in such cases.

However you slice it, the concept of apostasy is ridiculous – it basically forces people who have “lost their way” to pretend to follow a religion. Forcing someone to go to a mosque (or a church, etc.) will just annoy and bore the victim. And yes listening to some holly roller prattle on about his imaginary friend is very boring.

It is noticeable that only islamic countries have a criminal sanction for apostasy, and probably only for deserting islam. In fact that is not quite true – other countries have had laws against apostasy … or herest which to an unbeliever is pretty much the same thing. After all apostasy is along the lines of “you don’t believe in what we believe” and heresy is merely a slightly different flavour of “you don’t believe what we believe”. The “best” example of a christian country executing someone for apostasy is probably Poland,

Although there are plenty of other examples.

But countries with a history of christianity have progressed on from a primitive medieval society that executes people for “crimes” as ridiculous as apostasy. Ignoring the rights and wrongs of it, apostasy is another group’s convert. And executing someone for being a protestant, a jew, a muslim or an atheist is nothing more than persecution of a minority group and will sooner or later (hopefully very much sooner) lead to all sorts of problems with such a society.

After all, a persecuted minority does not have much interest in protecting the status quo – they might well want to start a revolution and kick out the leaders.

Islamic law-makers need to look at implementing apostasy laws even handedly and prosecute christians, jews, and atheists who convert to islam – because they are apostates too. And of course babies are not born with a knowledge of islam, so they can be considered apostates as well. If you threaten to execute islamic apostates, then you need to threaten to execute all the other apostates too.

And then you might realise just how foolish laws against apostasy are.

Oct 242011

Our old friend Gaddafi was killed sometime on the 20th October, and due to doubts over how he died, there are some who are concerned with how the future of Libya will suffer because he was potentially lynched. These concerns are ridiculous.

Of course we can agree that a lynching (or a summary execution … or whatever it was) is bad, and that a properly conducted trial would be better. But it will hardly have a great effect on the future of Libya. However Gaddafi was killed, it would seem that if the killing was done by the militia in an inappropriate way, it was almost certainly done against the wishes of the NTC.

And even if it were the case that the NTC let it be known they wouldn’t be too upset if Gaddafi kept falling down steps until he was no longer able to get up again, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Or even a sign that Libya is going to slip into a barbarous disregard for human rights.

Gaddafi was a special case – there are many Libyans with a personal reason to celebrate at Gaddafi’s death. Enough so that the percentage of those of us who believe that taking justice into our own hands is justified would cover enough people that it was pretty likely that Gaddafi would have met a bullet in the back of the head. That is not a good thing of course.

But as far as I can see, Libya does not appear to be going through the kind of convulsions that happen when neighbour starts lynching neighbour. There are plenty of people in Libya who supported the old regime, and it does not seem to be a widespread activity to put said people up against a wall. Which is a good sign – no matter what happened to Gaddafi, it would seem that Libyans want the kind of society where justice takes precedence over lynch mobs.

Sep 032011

I have blogged before about the death sentence (and possibly other entries too) but people are still being executed, so there is no reason why I should stop ranting about this. Hopefully this entry will be a little more fact-orientated than previous attempts.

Execution is one of those contentious issues, and in a country that has long banned the death sentence the whole debate starts up again when we discover people such as Harold Shipman and Fred West. It is difficult to argue against the death sentence when such creatures are in the news, but it has to be done.

If You Execute Criminals, You Also Kill The Innocent

Criminal justice systems are run by fallible people; no matter how hard we try, people will always make mistakes and some of those mistakes can cause disastrous consequences – and in the case where criminals are sentenced to death, it is not just possible, but really has happened that innocent people are killed by the government. Detailed statistics on this are practically impossible to locate – partially because we don’t know who has been executed for a crime they have not committed.

All we know is that some people have been executed because they were innocent, and some people were executed because they did not receive a fair trial. For instance, take the case of Sacco and Vanzetti where two men were executed in 1927, but in 1977 the governor of Massachusetts admitted that they had received an unfair trial and that “any disgrace should be forever removed from their names.”. This coming despite the possibility that Sacco was in fact guilty of the crime – ballistic tests on his gun in 1961 indicated it was used in the killings although it had been interfered with enough that any prosecution based on those ballistic tests would be unfair.

So here we have a case where two men were executed – one who was innocent and received an unfair trial, and another at worst received an unfair trial. And of course these two anarchists were involved in a particularly well publicised case – how many others executed have received no help in establishing their innocence ?

Of course other people have tried coming up with useful statistics, and I will myself …

Out of a list of 33 “notable” executions in the UK since 1910, 6 were of people had their convictions quashed posthumously. This gives a rate of 18% of executions being of innocent people! An alternative figure of 632 executions in the UK between 1900 and 1949, would reduce the false execution rate to 1%. Neither of these figures is satisfactory, although the second is probably closer to the mark – although it misses out the number of executions between 1950 onwards, the figure for the number of innocent people executed is probably also not complete.

But it does illustrate that of all executions, some include innocent victims – perhaps 1%. Or in other words, out of every 100 people executed, at least 1 person is innocent of the crime he or she is executed for.

Perhaps you might think that 1 out of every 100 people executed is a small price to pay, but consider how you would feel if that innocent person was someone you loved more than your own life ? Your husband, your wife, your son, or your daughter. How would you feel then ?

Every innocent victim of the hangman’s noose is someone’s loved one.

But We’ll Only Do It For The Really Bad

If you restrict executions to the really heinous crimes where you are really sure that the criminal is guilty, what happens ?

Well firstly, it does not stop innocent people from being executed. Take the example of Timothy Evans, a man who was initially found guilty of murdering his own daughter (and he was suspected of killing his wife too); yet three years later it was discovered that his neighbour John Christie was a serial killer and eventually shown to have killed the daughter and wife. Timothy Evans was eventually pardoned in 1966. Of course it was a bit late for him as he had already been executed.

No matter how certain you are that someone is guilty of a crime, there is always the chance that they are not in fact guilty.

Secondly, it is a slippery slope – if you execute someone for committing a really nasty murder, it becomes easier to allow executions for “less serious” murders, and then so-called lesser crimes. As an example of this in action, see the Bloody Code article where the UK in little more than 100 years went from 50 crimes punishable by death, to 220 crimes punishable by death.

Life Imprisonment Is Cheaper

This is actually an argument in favour of abolishing the death sentence, but a despicable one.

It is true that in the US today, it is probably cheaper to imprison someone for life rather than sentence someone to death. This is because most death sentences go through an excruciating process involving many appeals to all parts of the criminal justice system. If us woolly liberals would just shut up about the death sentence, it would be possible to execute people very cheaply.

But we’re not going to shut up about it.

And looking at the money involved is contemptible – this discussion is about justice, mercy, and all sorts of ideals. If society cannot afford a just criminal justice system, it can no longer be called a society.

Cruel And Unusual Punishment

No matter the method a country chooses to execute a criminal, it amounts to cruel and unusual punishment – prohibited by the UN (article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, although I’ve used the traditional English phrase rather than the wording of the UN). The reasons why the death sentence is inhuman is varied, but includes :-

  1. Most people sentenced to death spend a long time on death row awaiting execution – an average of 14 years in 2009 (and the link contains other interesting information). The reasons for this are irrelevant. The effect on the prisoner amounts to psychological torture sufficient that many on death row have requested rapid execution to end their suffering – even prisoners who were eventually found innocent.
  2. We may have moved on from impaling, or other forms of execution that take the victim many days to die, but that does not mean the current methods are humane – even the “most humane” method of lethal injection has those who claim it causes unnecessary suffering in some cases.
  3. There is a degree of arbitrariness in how the death penalty is applied leading – a serial killer with 48 victims to his name can “get off” with life imprisonment whilst someone who has killed just one victim is executed. The more you dig into just how arbitrary the death sentence is, the more you should get concerned about it. Shouldn’t justice be even-handed ?

Final Word

This may not be the final version of this blog – as things occur to me, as I get the incentive to write, and as facts crop up I will be adding to it. But for now it is enough.

This probably won’t convince anyone in favour of the death sentence to give up and start opposing it, but it might encourage those who are undecided to look a bit deeper and come down in favour of abolishing it.