Jagatsinghpur district in the eastern Indian state of Orissa is a poor rural place. But it is at the crucible of a battle for the future of India.
In 2005, state and national governments approved a massive steel plant here, and the South Korean steel company POSCO prepared to sink $12 billion into the project. Yet from the beginning, local residents objected to this top-down development, which would push them from their farmland and fishing spots, depriving them of their homes, land, and livelihoods (if history is any guide, they were likely to end up in distant urban slums).
After hundreds of villagers were forcibly evicted last summer opposition stiffened locally, across India and around the world. By late 2011, the Orissa government began resorting to jailing peaceful protest leaders on false charges. First it was Abhay Sahoo – who had also been jailed for 10 months in 2008-9. Then, it was Narayan Reddy.
South Korea is, to my knowledge, the only place in the world where a former death row inmate went on to become President of the country (and to win the Nobel Peace Prize too). Kim Dae-jung was one of many political prisoners sentenced to death in South Korea in the 1980s. Amnesty International has issued a powerful short film about that era and the people who survived it. Interviews with the former President, and other former political prisoners, are interspersed with interviews with the man who served as Kim Dae-jung’s jailer.
South Korea has come a long way since the 1980s, and capital punishment, while still on the books, is no longer really used. There have been no executions in more than 10 years. Nonetheless, South Korea’s Constitutional Court recently ruled that the death penalty was still constitutional, though just barely. The vote was 5-4.
Many countries that have moved to abolish the death penalty have done so because of its legacy as a tool of political suppression, and its clear link to other grave human rights violations like torture. Amidst South Korea’s thriving democracy and powerful economy, the death penalty is nothing but an unused relic of an ugly past.
Action for Human Rights. Hope for Humanity.