Human Rights

Guardian Death

This is a guest post by Micky Flong

Even in these relatavistic times, there’s one great progressive issue that surely unites Guardian readers – opposition to the death penalty. So it’s right that the great progressive paper gives web space to a global conference against this blot. And to new research suggesting that even victims’ families don’t necessarily support the noose, the bullet or the jab.

Especially the jab.

The article is illustrated with a stock photo of a lethal injection chamber in Texas, and every single example and case study it cites comes from the US. A casual reader would assume that the death penalty is predominantly, if not uniquely, a US phenomenon.

The truth, of course, is that, by some standards, Uncle Sam is a bit of a bleeding heart. Here are the 2008 figures (source: Amnesty):

  • China 1,718 executions,
  • Iran 346,
  • Saudi Arabia a stomach-churning 102.

The US, with, roughly, 20 times Saudi’s population, managed 37.

Let’s not even think about North Korea.

The bias is a gift to the Guardian’s critics, but it’s hardly unique. Last December, for example, Comment is Free carried an impassioned protest by Clive Stafford Smith against the imminent execution of a mentally ill British citizen. Stafford Smith clearly knows his audience. In a piece about a shocking miscarriage of justice by one country (China) to a citizen of another (the UK), he managed to work in four critical references to a third country, the US. Including commending Chinese judges for:

“a human touch that no American justice would ever contemplate”.

By contrast to his evident feelings about the Americans, he stressed:

“it is important for Britain not to denigrate the Chinese legal system – after all, they have had one for much longer than we have”.

Progressives should not let the US entirely off the hook – the miscarriages and blatant racial injustices of death row rightly appall, and not just Guardian readers. But when it comes to campaigning outside our own back yards, a sense of proportion is useful.