Capital Punishment - The case of Özgecan Rape-Murder
Özgecan Aslan, a university student, was killed and raped by a bus driver in Turkey. It has sparked a hot discussion among the Turkish folks about violence against women. Although it was not the first murder or rape case in the country, this specific incident has shaken the country and its people as they started to question the justice system and some people even asked to have capital punishment for those types of crime.
Since 2004, Turkey does not have capital punishment. In fact since October 1984, Turkey has not executed any prisoners. However, prior to this the history of capital punishment in Turkey is more politically motivated rather than due to those types of cases. Executions would usually have had happened after military interventions. Adnan Menderes, who served as Prime Minister, was hanged on 17 September 1961 following the 1960 coup d'état, along with two other cabinet members, Fatin Rüştü Zorlu and Hasan Polatkan.
Today in Turkey the capital punishment was replaced by aggravated life imprisonment. According to Article 9 of Law 5275 on the Execution of Sentences, these prisoners were held in individual cells in high security prisons and were allowed to exercise in a neighboring yard one hour per day.
However, the people do not see that this type of punishment as justice when present with this violent crime. Because Ozgecan Aslan’s tragic death was really brutal. She was raped and then had her body burned by the two rapists. Aslan was a “very innocent young girl," a university student who had hopes to be psychologist and to serve for her community.
If we were to view this crime with emotions and feeling, we would really happy to punish the criminals with the worst of worst punishments, certainly death penalty would seems like the ultimate solution. Nevertheless, it is still a really a great debate amongst the criminologists whether the capital punishment is really effective or not? I have been working in the American Prison System as a chaplain for more than ten years where I counsel numerous inmates who have different types of crimes. In the United States, although there is death penalty for violent crimes, the statistics for both murder and rape crimes are still very high.
A recent study by Professor Michael Radelet and Traci Lacock of the University of Colorado found that 88% of the nation’s leading criminologists do not believe the death penalty is an effective deterrent to crime. Even though death penalty looks like an alternative solution to reduce the crimes and homicides, scientifically it is proven that it is insufficient to reduce the crimes (see.http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/files/DeterrenceStudy2009.pd)
Cesare Beccaria, is one of the early time criminologist (15 March 1738 – 28 November 1794) and according to him people generally act in their self-interest and make decisions to commit crime after weighing the potential risks (including getting caught and punished) against the rewards. So as much as punishment is strong people commit less crime. However this is a very early view and majority of the criminologists disagree with its effectiveness to reduce the crimes. This is because there are many reasons behind the crimes. For example, some criminologists say; a person’s physical and social environments are primarily responsible for the behavioral choices that person makes. In particular, a neighborhood that has fraying social structures is more likely to have high crime rates. Such a neighborhood may have poor schools, vacant and vandalized buildings, high unemployment, and a mix of commercial and residential property.
On the other hand, people may develop motivation to commit crime and the skills to commit crime through the people they associate with. Violent scenes in the movies may motivate people to commit crime. Also, if the individual have some unfortunate experiences in his past or have a drug addiction he may easily commit a crime.
An inmate told me that he was raped by an older man in his neighborhood when he was a child and until he came 20’s he couldn’t share it with anyone. But even after the disclosure he couldn’t remove the pain from his mind. So one day he decided, in revenge, to rape this person’s relatives. The inmate raped several relatives of this man who had raped him many years ago. All his victims were under 18 so he was incarcerated with almost 80 years life in prison. Whenever I learned of any sexual crimes, most of the time there is an incident in the criminal’s past that they were raped or assaulted by someone. Some of them have bad experience with their own mother. Some of them were physically abused by their father or step-father.
The other reason may be mental illness, bad brain chemistry or some other psychological reasons. There is one Ukrainian inmate that I talked with. He always appears peaceful. He smiles and shows better attitude than any regular person who is not in prison. So it was surprising to learn that he is in prison for killing one of his friends. He shot him more than twenty times. The reason why he killed him was a very simple albeit ridiculous one. Now, he is calm, peaceful and kind whenever he is on medication. Without it he can be very violent because he has a mental illness. There are numerous reasons why people commit violent crime. Therefore a death penalty will not help to reduce these types of crimes.
Even today, although execution is legal, in some parts of America it is a very expensive and complicated process. Death row inmates in the U.S. typically spend over a decade awaiting execution. Therefore, today in America only 32 states practice Death Penalty, while 18 of them already abolished this practice. Among those 32 states, some of them are debating to terminate it because scientifically it does not help to reduce the crime.
Some people claim that in Islamic law there is a death penalty for people who commit murder. They claim that we cannot be more merciful than God so death penalty is a legitimate reason to perform. However, Islamic law does not work like as they think. In Islamic criminal jurisprudence, if somebody commits a murder the judge will ask the victim’s family if either they will accept to pay the “Diyyah” compensation or execution. If the victim’s family agrees with the compensation from the criminal then he will not be executed.
In this particular case, the men who raped Ozgecan came from a very patriotic and racist background while the victim’s family is Alawi. Ozgecan’s father, who is a very mature and wise person, appeared in many television programs and gave positive messages to Turkish community. He said, “…every existence in this world does their job even if the person is who that raped and killed my angel.” “So as a human we should do our part. As a human we cannot change the world but we can change ourselves. Only when we change ourselves the world will be better.” The audiences were crying listening to his speech.
Özgecan was a very kind and peaceful girl while the criminals were very wild. Instead of speaking of death penalty I think we should concentrate more on how to build better family relations. I believe children are the best followers of their parents. We see that reality in this case. Özgecan’s family was very mature and kind while the criminal’s family was very abusive. His mother said her son was abused by his father many times and when he was child he was beaten by his father numerous times. Being example to our children is very important in order to live in a safe society.
Instead of bringing back the death penalty I think people should concentrate to be more protective over our children’s exposure to violent movies and pornographic publications. Because it is a fact that those kinds of things have much influence on young people’s attitudes and sometimes motivate them to commit crimes. Researches concerning the effects of pornography have many outcomes such as potential influences on rape, domestic violence, sexual dysfunction, difficulties with sexual relationships, and child sexual abuse.
There are numerous things to discuss but briefly we should first start to change ourselves. The purpose of this life is to improve ourselves. The real revolution that should be done is in our hearts. I will conclude my column with the word of Allah.
“… Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves...” (Rad:13:11)