Friday, September 2, 2011

Punishing With Death

N. Ram, the supposed-to-be-retired Editor in Chief of The Hindu, has vented his feelings against the “barbarity and ‘unspeakable wrongness’ of capital punishment” by reproducing on the op-ed page of his newspaper a long extract from the famous George Orwell account of the execution by hanging of an Indian in colonial Burma. It is done, he explains, “in the context of the scheduled execution” of the three men convicted in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.

I wonder when Ram will be moved to notice that the Communist Party leadership of China, which his newspaper treats with kid gloves, executes so many people it does so in vans, expediting punishment and facilitating body disposal. The crimes for which China executes people include financial fraud, forging value-added tax receipts, “teaching criminal methods,” smuggling, and theft, both ordinary and of “ancient human remains or fossils of vertebrates.”

Accepting bribes is also a crime punishable with death. Among those who fell foul of that rule recently are Zhang Chunjiang, former Vice Chairman of China Mobile, one of the country’s largest companies, and Li Hua, Chairman and General Manager of its Sichuan Division. Their executions will be delayed for two years, during which, they will be given a chance to inform on others – and win life imprisonment instead of death. Government officials whose corruption has “extremely serious” impact have no such leeway; they are killed immediately after sentence is passed.

 Enthusiasts of Team Anna should know that it originally proposed that India too execute high-level officials engaged in corruption.

The severity of punishment, of course, has little impact on corruption. In China, despite its draconian punishments, corruption is so rampant now it has become cultural. A recent Wall Street Journal blog item on China reported a six-year-old girl's interaction with a television journalist who asked what she wanted to become when she grew up:

“When I grow up I want to be an official” she replied.

 “What kind of official?” asked the interviewer.

“A corrupt official because corrupt officials have a lot of things” she said.

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