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Death Penalty OBAP


Official Bunga Azaadi Position

As of 14/12/2023
Position: Against
Composition: 👍For: 14.3% 👎Against: 78.6% 😕Undecided: 7.1%

Statement

After conducting an internal debate we concluded that the Death Penalty is something an Azadist society based on Sikh principles would not allow at a the central state level. However, there may be exceptions to this born out of conditions contained within private contracts that participants voluntarily sign for. If this contract contains clauses specifying the death penalty for specific crimes, then those who adhere to it are permitted to accept that as punishment for those crimes. However, if an accused is facing such punishment and no longer wishes to adhere to that contract, then they would have the right to exit. This then relieves any jurisdiction that private authority has over them, as well as any associated benefits stemming from being in that contractual relationship which can also be withdrawn. For example, the right to stay on land owned by the private authority may have been assured by terms in a contract, but due to exiting it, the accused will lose this benefit and be outcasted. They are then placed under the purview of the central state government (the Khalsa) who would then deal with them accordingly, but not issue a death penalty. The specific punishment they receive goes outside the scope of this topic, but would first depend on whether or not the "crime" committed as per the private laws listed in their former contract also broke the wider public laws based on the , as determined in a court of law that conducts processes to assure a fair trial.

Background

First, a few clarifications on what exactly is meant by terms used in the statement.

Death penalty
It must be a decision made to execute someone after an accused is apprehended and had a fair trial to determine guilt.
If this condition is not met it will be considered an extra-judicial killing, the legitimacy of which is not the focus of this debate.

Private Vs Public
A private individual is understood as someone independent from the state and the government (taxing authority).
A public body is understood as the opposite of the above.
These definitions have been outlined and explained further in .
A key distinguishing factor between the two is how they raise funds to manage resources they own/control or own/control on the behalf of others.
A private entity can only raise money through voluntary interactions with other private entities (trade and donations), whereas a public entity is distinct for it's use of violence, or the threat of violence, to collect funds (taxes and inflation).
It is worth noting the difference between force and violence as expanded upon in the accompanying Vichaar here:

Aim
We are determining the public law that will be involuntarily imposed on all operating under an Azadist system.
Private law is represented through the contracts individuals make for themselves and can invite others to adhere to, but only on a voluntary basis.
Hence, the death penalty may be illegal in terms of public law, but permissible in terms of private law.

Arguments

Below is a set of the main arguments presented in the Bunga, both through our Darbar and contributions from our Vidyaarthis in write-ups and other discussions.
Note on structure
Each bullet point will outline the argument in line with the header of the section it is in (for or against). Each indented bullet point represents a counter argument to its parent bullet.

Example:
For
For argument 1
Counter-argument 1
Counter-counter argument 1
Counter-argument 2
For argument 2

For

The following were the main arguments presented in favour of a death penalty:

Itihaasic precendent
These arguments revolved around pointing out examples in history and/or itihaas [1] where Sikhs had killed their enemies, such as, but not limited to: (a) the execution of Massa Rangar by Bhai Sukha Singh and Bhai Mehtaab Singh, (b) the destruction of Wazir Khan by Banda Singh Bahadur and the Khalsa forces.
However, the issue with these are that they were not actions conducted on behalf of a judicial system, and instead are better categorised as a military action (and therefore not directly relevant for the purpose of this discussion). This does not mean they were unjustified in doing those actions (in fact, these are praiseworthy). It just means, we can not use those as examples to support a for argument in this topic specifically as we are determining the morality in killing a detainee who has been convicted after a due process in a court.
This is also how we contextualise Guru Gobind Singh ordering the destruction of the Masands, since: no trial was held, the Guru wasn't a public government (they were a private one) and the Khalsa was also a private army, so this too can be classed as a (private) military activity conducted by the Guru and not a public state activity and thus does directly map onto the question we are exploring here.
We also need to be careful in blindly mimicking activity conducted in the past that existed in far different contexts than we do today. E.g. looting. Banda Singh Bahadur's story arc in Prachin Panth Prakash is a good example of why just because someone in history did something, it doesn't automatically give it a pass.

Forcing others to pay for their upkeep
It is immoral for people to be forced to finance the upkeep of others, or activities, they do not explicitly consent to. This pertains to a deeper point regarding the immorality of taxes in general, which we will not cover here, but if interested, the Azadist position has been covered in .
Specific to this example, and building on the presupposition above; being forced to pay for the sheltering and sustenance of criminals who have committed atrocious acts is inherently immoral and breaks the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP) [2].
Therefore, killing them ends any long-term costs that must levied from the population. Perhaps if people want to keep them alive and imprisoned, then those individuals should pay for it for themselves voluntarily and not force those who do not consent to contribute if they do not want to.
However, killing a convicted criminal is not free, and there are costs involved. In fact, as one Bunga member found out, it may actually cost quite a lot:
Although, the main costs are to do with the increased litigation efforts associated with condemning someone to death rather than the actual act itself (which you could probably find many volunteers to do it for free).

Against

The following were the main arguments presented against the death penalty:

Utility
One approach to this question revolves around determining whether or not there is a net utility or disutility in condemning an individual to the death penalty.
However, a caution for this approach is to determine who exactly we are measuring utility for, since from the perspective of the condemned it is unlikely they would favour a death penalty if they are trying to maximise their personal utility. Point being, what the government may perceive as a utility may be different to what the rest of society may think (who also may have many contradicting values)
If you kill someone, any potential skills, talents and experience is lost that could have otherwise been employed to produce some value to society. With a well planned prison system, perhaps you can extract value from convicts like the example shown in this video of a murderer serving his sentence whilst also studying AI, working to gain a degree and start his own business:
However, not everyone can be reformed like this. Many suffer from deep trauma, mental illnesses and other factors that makes approaches like this risky.
A future publication outlining the Azadist legal system will be released in future, drawing from some of these ideas.

Reliance on the competency and benevolence of decision makers
A major principle of Azadism is that a small centralised group being made decision makers on the behalf of all, involuntarily (a government), is inherently a risk that we should seek to minimise by reducing their scope and scale. Extending from this, placing the decision of a death penalty in the hands of this central state authority requires faith in both the competency of their decision making process (including investigation process and the justice system in general) and their benevolence that they will have the best interests of the rest of the population at heart.
There is also a wrongful execution risk stemming from these risks which poses a question of what is the worth of an innocents life in pursuit of the guilty?
Bunga Azaadi Vidyaarthi, Jassa Singh Nihang, explores some measures to help reduce this risk in this guidance document:

Imposing a system of punishable crimes
Related to the above, there is the risk of giving the state a moral authority in determining what constitutes as a punishable crime. This must be handled extremely carefully since although a first set of lawmakers may make rules based on agreeable ethics, allowing for them to set these laws unrestrictedly leaves these tools available to a future set of lawmakers with more dubious morals who may abuse their authoritative power to set more oppressive laws down the line.
Hence why Azadism restricts the entire justice system to working off of one fundamental ethic and nothing extra with the "Non-Aggression Principle" (NAP), in an attempt to curb the state's power in overextending into punishing victimless crimes. Although as Sikhs we may consider certain behaviours detestable, such as eating Halal meat, unless they breach the NAP, we should not enforce our community’s values on others since this is the root of tyranny. The sole purpose of an Azadist operated justice system is to determine when and how the NAP has been breached, who is liable for accountability, and how a punishment shall be dealt with.

Second chances
As mentioned above with Finland's open prisons, there is value in giving people a second chance to be a valuable contributor to society, but with restricted freedoms.
In our own Itihaas, the innkeeper Sajjan Thug was a thief and murderer that was converted into a GurSikh by Guru Nanak and completely changed his ways.
But can everyone be reformed? Otherwise why kill anyone, if there is a possibility they could change?
Perhaps because it is difficult to get to them to, and by allowing them to exist in the hope they will change will mean people suffering from them will have to suffer for longer unfairly. Allowing breaches in the NAP to persist in hope of change is immoral since others suffer due to the lack of action to stop it. Hence, in otherwise unavoidable circumstances such a military action, killing someone may be the best course of action to reduce net suffering. But if they have already been apprehended and you have removed all their ability to cause further harm, then perhaps the effort could be devoted to trying to reform them or otherwise use them productively to help support the society they harmed. Killing them at this point would just be an expression of your own hatred and anger, which is something as Sikhs we should be seeking to diminish in ourselves in our attempts to emulate the attributes of Ik Onkaar — "Nirbhau, Nirvair"

The "easy way out"
For some crimes, death can be viewed as a way to avoid responsibility of having to suffer the long-term repercussions of actions. Would it not be better for a criminal to be kept alive and be forced to pay for their crimes in a more productive capacity?
But regardless of what they do, they cannot undo their wrongs such as bring back the dead or unlive an experience. For some, their death gives them closure. Whilst we as Sikhs may want to diminish the expressions of anger and hatred, this is indeed a value we regard highly but others may not. Imposing our values on others is unethical too, as mentioned above, and so for some killing in revenge may be something they feel is more in line with their subjective value system.

Deterrence is a myth
This argument stems from the question of what is it that we are fundamentally trying to achieve? Is it to remove those that harm others from a society? If so, imprisonment achieves the same goal.
However, the argument of how to fund these without breaching the NAP still remains (although a potential Azadist solution to this will be written up in future). Also there is risk of escape too.
Or is it to deter certain actions and crimes in the first place? In this case, there seems to be a heavy consensus that a death penalty does not in fact deter crimes. The following piece by Amnesty International outlines the main arguments well, so unnecessary to repeat here:

Endnotes

[1] There is indeed a distinction between these made by Azadists for the reasons outlined here:

[2] Non-Aggression Principle (NAP): in general, the right for each individual to live how they want to provided it does not impede the right for others to do the same. This concept is explained more in Section I of the Azadist Manifesto:

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Bunga Azaadi — Institute for Azadist Studies

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