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Talk Justice Talk Justice
by Thanos Kalamidas
2009-05-08 08:10:15
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I have often written articles about justice and pointed out how unjust justice can be, especially when driven, or better ridden, by other elements, like for instance in the case of the Sharia law. Actually I think that in general there is nothing wrong with justice itself, but most of the time there is something seriously wrong with the people who practice justice. They obviously paraphrase the law to their liking, for various reasons often motivated by personal agendas or beliefs.

Then there is another problem, the punishment, the sentence. There is a serious misunderstanding about prisons. Perhaps the mistake starts with the use of the word ‘prison’ – we are talking about rehabilitation institutions for the convicted. By going there, inmates are not sentenced to society’s revenge, but they get a chance to understand their mistake and have time to learn to live with it, accept it as a mistake, regret their action, and finally to come out of the institution, ready to live productively in a society that will give them another chance! This is the idea and that is how it should be everywhere in the world. Unfortunately it isn’t!

justice02_400In many countries, prisons are the stairway to hell, with murder, torture and rapes as daily issues. These are actions not only done by other prisoners, but also by the wardens, who are there to guard the inmates, but also to protect them. There are prisons that make the film Midnight Express seem like a romantic comedy, and they exist in many places all around the world, including in Laos. Apparently Laos has a rehabilitation institution called Phonthong, which is the perfect example of hell on earth. This is a place where torture, murder and rape take place every day, maybe even every hour, and a place where gangs rule and wardens obey.

In this prison is a pregnant woman who is denied access to a British lawyer, and worst of all, she is in danger of facing a death sentence. I’m against the death penalty, and this is not arguable. For me, the death penalty is a barbaric act and not a punishment. It is revenge, and therefore a crime. There is no crime that should be punished by death, and no nation should use revenge as punishment. This means that Laos belongs to a category of nations, all guilty of unjust barbarism, like China, Iran and USA.

This doesn’t mean that a crime shouldn’t be punished or that the criminals shouldn’t be aware of their crime. They should serve their time in one of these institutions for the time they are sentenced; according the laws of the country where they committed their crime. Murder is a crime – it doesn’t matter if you live in the UK, in Ghana, Iran or Laos – and it is a seriously punishable crime. Smuggling drugs, especially heroin, is a crime too. Smuggling half a kilo of clean heroin is a serious crime because it will result in the death of a number of people, and it should be punishable all over the world.

Laos is one of the countries that practise death penalty, but they haven’t done so since 1990. They are obviously approaching the side of countries that have justice03_400stopped executing people, instead turning the death penalty into life in prison. Furthermore, by law they never execute pregnant women and young mothers. The young woman committed a crime; she knew she should expect punishment if caught, and she did get caught.

But let’s talk about the rest of the story, including the small details that media forgot to mention. First of all, the world became aware of the case because cleverly all media, lead by the British tabloids, emphasized the fact that a pregnant woman was in prison in Laos, about to receive a death sentence for smuggling drugs. Of course this made human rights groups react, which was all good, but the media dealt with the case as if the woman was falsely accused, even blaming a western-hating Laos. Had the woman been arrested in Britain, she would probably spend the next twenty years of her life in prison. The woman, her name is Samantha Orobator, is twenty years old, and despite her assurances that she is pregnant by her husband, she has been in prison since August 2008. In the beginning of May 2009 she was five months pregnant, which means she got pregnant while in prison. Sensing that desperate circumstances demand desperate measures, I have the feeling that she was not raped, as the Laos authorities’ suspect, but that it was an intentional act.

Regarding the British lawyer, I have the feeling that a local lawyer has better knowledge of the local justice system -how and why - would serve her better. Of course a British lawyer that would assist and make her feel comfortable would be good, but remember nothing of those mean that she didn’t commit a punishable crime.

What I’m trying to say is that we shouldn’t take sides in this case; blinded by the argument that Laos is not a democratic country as we understand democracy. I earlier described Phonthong prison as hell on earth, but I think that we are forgetting the reality of her crime and punishment. Instead we are going to the other extreme side, demanding her freedom and involving human rights groups, whose jobs are to try to save people from the death penalty – and I'm sure they will succeed at least in this case - and not to help criminals avoid their punishment.


   
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Dimitra Karantzeni2009-05-08 15:05:43
Insightful article... Well, we should never forget that this is a permanent situation in a number of countries while at the same time we are taking our basic human rights for granted.. When it comes to prisons, most correctional systems, including the greek one, cultivate drug dealers and criminals, who - in case they manage to exit prison - by no means can they re-integrate into the society they were living..


Emanuel Paparella2009-05-08 19:09:12
Thoughtful article on the issue of crime and punishment which I dare say transcends even the concept of justice when seen within that of redemption and salvation. In my opinion, it ought to be required reading for all wardens and those who make laws on crime and punishemet to read Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment.


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