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Each time there’s a gruesome crime, especially if the victim is a child who is both raped and murdered, the natural public outrage is accompanied by shrill calls for the implementation of the death penalty.  We saw all of this when a five year old girl was abducted, raped and murdered a few days ago.

The entire process throws some light on one of the key problems inherent in implementing the death penalty: error.  What if the father was dealt ‘mob justice’.  What if he were lynched, as some advocated because ‘the law is slow and prone to abuse’?  What if they lynched the grandfather or ‘the poor 17 year old boy’?  What would they do after someone else confesses? How would they bring the dead back to life?

The horror and outrage came with a barrage of accusations.  Parental neglect was mentioned.  The moral degradation of society as a whole was talked about.  As days passed without any arrests being made the police was charged with incompetence.  An impatient public and an equally impatient media began to speculate.  Then began the hanging.

First it was the child’s father.  He was not even allowed to attend her funeral; he was warned that mob justice might await him.  Then it was the child’s grandfather.  Then it was a 17-year old neighbor.  They were all hanged by both the media and by a punishment-hungry public.  That was not all, every person close to those who was thus ‘hanged’ were also hanged for the crime of association.  Even if no one pointed finger at them directly, they are scarred in ways that no innocent individual ought to be scarred.
But why?  Because the media wanted a gory story to sell?  True, to an extent.  Because there are thousands salivating to consume a gory story? Yes, that’s true too.  There’s are demand and supply factors in these things.    Among those who blame the media for ‘assassinating that poor, innocent 17-year old boy’ after someone else confessed to the crime, are many who were earlier calling for the boy’s blood and before that the blood of the victim’s father and that of her grandfather.  It is almost as if they are as blood-thirsty as the perpetrator clearly was.  And it is as though everyone believes that whoever is responsible in whatever degree, there’s one person who is innocent: him/herself.

The entire process throws some light on one of the key problems inherent in implementing the death penalty: error.  What if the father was dealt ‘mob justice’.  What if he were lynched, as some advocated because ‘the law is slow and prone to abuse’?  What if they lynched the grandfather or ‘the poor 17-year old boy’?  What would they do after someone else confesses? How would they bring the dead back to life?

One might argue that the judicial process will not condemn or hang an innocent person, but history shows otherwise.  There are of course other problems with the death penalty which should be discussed separately. The concern here is for the wrongly murdered.  Had mob justice prevailed, either the father, the grandfather or the 17 year old boy would be dead. The murderers cannot offer any kind of compensation for the victim of their error.
In this case, there was no ‘mob justice’ executed to the point where someone had to die.  However there were multiple assassinations.  Who is to blame for the additional suffering of the victim’s parents and close relatives courtesy the insane rush to ‘find a rapist and hang the scoundrel’?  Who is going to compensate and how for the irreparable damage to reputation and the pain of mind caused?  What do we do with those ‘corpses’?  Where do we begin the blame game and how do we end it?  Indeed, do we even want to end it?
A five-year old girl was raped and killed a few days ago in Kotadeniyawa.  Her name became known all over the country.  It is a tragedy that ought to have sparked a debate on the safety of our children.  We should be talking about what parents should do to protect their children, about safe environments and civil responsibility.  Instead we let the discussion degenerate into a shouting match about crime and punishment where everyone seemed to be possessed by an insane desire to play judge, jury and executioner.
This morning (Friday, as I write) the body of a 10-year old boy was found in Athurugiriya.  He had been hacked to death.  Who do we want to hang tomorrow, ladies and gentlemen?