Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

Promoting tolerance and justice through knowledge and understanding
Death Penalty

Do Public Executions Deter or Spur Violence?

Fereshteh Zeybeyhan
Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) / Translation by ABF
August 27, 2017
Newspaper article

Even though public executions are carried out with the objective of deterring as well as reducing crime, with the passage of several decades from the implementation of this punishment, a number of questions and concerns have been raised regarding its effects on the mental state and behavior of those who watch them.

IRNA’s research and analysis section reports that the news of a hanging is reported days or weeks in advance, much like an important event, informing the public that such and such criminal will be hanged in the town’s main street or square. In other words, the townspeople, young and old, man or woman, are invited to witness the punishment of a person who has committed a major crime, with these objectives in mind: that perhaps the suffering of a victim’s family will subside, the public will take satisfaction [in seeing a person pay for their misdeeds], and the few criminals present in the midst will learn a lesson and stop their criminal activities. With the passage of many long years since the implementation of public executions, there are serious doubts and questions as to its value as a deterrent and its effectiveness as a punishment. Have public executions resulted in crime reduction? What effects does watching a human being die (even if he/she has committed the most horrible of crimes) have on the psyche of the spectators, a large number of whom are women, children, and adolescents? In a discussion with IRNA’s research and analysis section, Hadi Motamedi, Majid Abhari, and Alieh Shekarbeigi, are three sociologists and social pathologists who answered questions of the foregoing nature, and analyzed and described the social consequences of public executions. In their opinion, not only carrying out such punishments in front of regular people and children does not have the value of teaching a lesson [and acting as a deterrent], it also encourages violent behavior, and reduces a person’s capacity for compassion for another and being protective of a fellow human being.**

Public executions lay the foundation for an increase in violence

Noting that the balance tilts heavily in favor of the negative effects of public executions as opposed to the benefits derived from them, Motamedi stated: “One of the objectives of public executions is to deter people who are harboring bad thoughts by having them witness these events, but the truth of the matter is that individuals with propensities to commit criminal acts, either do not go to such events or seeing these scenes has no positive effects on them.”

“IRNA’s research and analysis section reports that the news of a hanging is reported days or weeks in advance, just like an important event, informing the public that such and such criminal will be hanged in the town’s main street or square.”

It is actually possible that watching these scenes causes harboring negative thoughts, inferiority, disillusionment, and problems endured since childhood in individuals who have a propensity for crime. At times, this type of death can be considered as heroic from their perspective.” This pathologist emphasized: “The negative consequences of a public execution are far more than its effects as a punishment because there are sensitive individuals among spectators such as women and children in whom such scenes can cause mental disturbances such as PTSD or anxiety disorder. Furthermore, as a result of the terror experienced through watching such scenes, people can develop sleep disorders.”

Motamedi added: “Public executions lead to an increase in violence. The most appropriate method of punishment is to adjudicate criminal cases expeditiously, and criminals be executed if necessary. The effect of adjudicating crimes quickly will be far greater than public executions.” According to Motamedi, “hardened criminals must be executed in prison, and no video of the execution should be disseminated.”

Public executions endanger mental [stability and] security.

In a discussion with IRNA’s researcher, Abhari said this about public executions: “The death penalty is a deterrent punishment which is sometimes carried out in public and for all to see.”

“It is actually possible that watching these scenes causes harboring negative thoughts, inferiority, disillusionment, and problems endured since childhood in individuals who have a propensity for crime.”

“Unfortunately, some people go to the town square as if they’re going to the movies or the theater, taking their children along, and waiting in long lines to watch the event.”

Also noting that hanging a person in front of the public has negative mental and behavioral effects and increases the level of violence among children and adolescents, he stated: “Judiciary experts have also reached the conclusion that public execution might perhaps have a deterrent or preventative effect in certain cases, but all in all, they will lead to increased violence.” Emphasizing that watching such scenes causes apathy and decreased compassion toward other individuals in society and even toward animals, he stated: “I remember as a child, they would keep us away from the scene of sacrificing a lamb or a chicken; children could not bear to watch those scenes. But today, children volunteer to watch scenes such as the slaughter of sheep or chicken. This indicates a rise in the level of aggressiveness and a decrease in compassion among people.” In conclusion, Abhari said: “Watching a person in the throes of death, adversely affects children and adolescents’ emotional future, and as a result, they can easily succeed in attaining [immoral and] inhuman objectives.**

Education and culture-building; a substitute for public executions

Shekarbeigi opposed public executions as well, and said: “Public executions are not just the punishment of one individual; this type of punishment is a general one, and it is possible that all people subconsciously think themselves a participant in the crime, whereas the purpose of such a punishment is to make people aware of the consequence of a crime, and refrain from committing it.” Noting the compassion and kindness that is inherent in all human beings, she added: “Kindness and compassion are fundamentally part of human nature, which at times even exist in criminals. The difference between a criminal about to be executed and other human beings is that social conditions were not such that the criminal’s nature would cultivate the goodness in him/her, and he was put on a path that ends in the death penalty. If the death penalty were truly effective [and made a real impression] on spectators, then we should no longer be witnessing crimes; however, not only has the crime rate not decreased, but moral, financial, and social corruption is on the rise on a daily basis.” This sociologist emphasized the need to hire the services of psychologists and social workers in order to conduct deeper studies of criminals [and their psyche] and said: “I’m opposed to the death penalty and in favor of education, because God has endowed us human beings with faculties which, if cultivated properly, can attain great heights. Being put in inappropriate and undesirable environmental, individual, family, educational, and even legal conditions, however, is cause for some individuals to go astray.” Regarding the effectiveness of this type of punishment, Shekarbeigi said: “When recounting their memoirs, professional killers and criminals state that committing the first murder had been difficult, but then after that, they easily killed other people. Therefore, watching a person die might be bothersome the first time but in subsequent times, these scenes can even be entertaining, the violent mindset having been strengthened.”

According to her, carrying out an execution in front of children will most definitely create future murderers and criminals. This university professor stated: “One of the reasons criminals exist in a society is the institutions that surround them, institutions that have had a negative influence and effect on a person’s mind. Legislators and planners should concentrate on education and training with a view to reducing social harm, and not insist, instead, on such punishments [as the death penalty].” In conclusion, Shekarbeigi added: “The overwhelming presence of spectators at hangings, leads to the cultivation of the murderers of [very young children like] Atena and Benita, who are lurking in the shadows and on whom watching these scenes has a negative effect. The negative effects of public executions is not limited to the spectators at the venue; taking videos and pictures of such moments and disseminating them in the media and on the web results in people who had not partaken in the event, to become part of it. Sociologists, jurists, and social activists have made great efforts in recent years to reduce the death penalty, find substitute punishments, and end public executions. It is their view that, given the destructive consequences of implementing such a sentence on the mind and spirit of the spectators, as well as its reduced deterrent effect, alternatives such as carrying out the sentence in closed-off places, education, and culture-building is a great necessity.”