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Law, Society, and Capital Punishment in Asia

NCJ Number
Punishment & Society Volume: 10 Issue: 2 Dated: April 2008 Pages: 103-115
Franklin E. Zimring; David T. Johnson
Date Published
April 2008
13 pages
This study of capital punishment in Asia examined it across Asian countries and over time.
In the 29 Asian jurisdictions studied, 14 retain the death penalty as a legal sanction and have performed recent executions, and 15 have either formally abolished it or engage in "de facto" abolition (more than 10 years without an execution). The jurisdictions that retain the death penalty, however, encompass all of the major population centers in Asia, such that approximately 95 percent of all residents of Asia live in jurisdictions that continue to use the death penalty. Among the jurisdictions that retain the death penalty, however, there are significant differences in the rates of execution, and almost half of the retentionist jurisdictions have experienced periods of moratoria on executions. For major Asian nations that keep and report data on executions, the volume of executions has declined over the long term for most of them, including Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, India, and probably Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Malaysia. This trend must be qualified, however, by some evidence of a reversal of the trend in some Asian nations. Further, generalizations about patterns over time in Asian countries are complicated by significant data problems. The discussion suggests that the next few decades will provide decisive evidence about which of two popular theories best predicts the future of capital punishment in Asia. The theory of "temporal lag" suggests there is no substantive difference in historic trends in capital punishment policy in Asia compared to Western European countries, except that Asia is a decade or two behind in parallel economic and political development. A competing theory posits an "Asian difference" in the substantive importance of capital punishment that will determine trends toward the abolition of capital punishment, separate from the pace of western-style socioeconomic and political development. 1 figure, 1 table, 6 notes, and 49 references