Death penalty abolished

Issue 

Death penalty abolished

By Norm Dixon

A ruling by South Africa's Constitutional Court that capital punishment is no longer lawful has been met with celebration by death row prisoners, praise from human rights groups and outrage by right-wing forces.

The June 6 decision followed the ruling African National Congress' submission to the Constitutional Assembly (the national parliament sitting in committee to draft a new permanent constitution) that capital punishment be abolished and no further executions take place.

The death penalty was regularly used by the apartheid regime to intimidate and repress the South African liberation movements. Under apartheid, South Africa had one of the highest rates of execution in the world. More than 4000 people were put to death between 1910 and 1989, over half of those being hanged since 1978. The white minority regime succumbed to pressure and suspended executions in 1990.

More than 450 inmates on death row will have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment.

The ANC described the Constitutional Court's ruling as a "major victory for the democratic forces".

"Never, never and never again must citizens of our country be subjected to the barbaric practice of capital punishment", the ANC statement added. Amnesty International called the decision "a huge step forward of worldwide significance".

Deputy President F.W. de Klerk announced that the National Party would campaign for the return of the death penalty, the far-right Freedom Front called for a referendum on the issue, and the Inkatha Freedom Party indicated that its membership was sharply divided on the issue.

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