How to get a seat on death row

Over a quarter of the world’s countries still retain capital punishment and its use is growing increasingly arbitrary.

Ever wondered what it’s like to be condemned to death? In this guide to capital punishment, our intern Ryan Ong takes a look at five ways to land a seat on death row.

1. Come out of the closet

In some countries telling your neighbours that you are homosexual is a sure-fire way to get yourself on death row. Believe it or not, countries such as Yemen, Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Somalia, use capital punishment for any “deviant” sexuality, including falling in love with someone of the same sex.

In 2011 three Iranian men were hanged in accordance with the Iranian penal code. All three were charged and convicted of committing homosexual acts. The number of countries with these extreme laws is set to rise with Brunei reinstating the death penalty for same-sex acts just this year.

If you want to meet your executioner, then coming out of the closet remains an unfortunate option.

2. Thirsty? Having an impromptu drink could get you in trouble

Maybe you tried our first method and failed. Well, you may have more success taking a ill-timed swig of your favourite tipple. But be warned, if your country’s supreme leader has recently died, pouring a glass of red could reserve you a gold-class seat on death row.

Kim Chol, the vice minister of North Korea’s army, was caught drinking alcohol during the 100-day mourning period for Kim Jong-il. Chol was allegedly executed for his disrespectful behaviour soon after.

Discourteously popping the cork may well be your method of choice.

3. Are you a Harry Potter fan?

Perhaps you prefer books to alcohol? If so, owning a stash of literature related to witchcraft and wizardry could get you in big trouble. In Saudi Arabia, being involved in “sorcery” or “witchcraft” is punishable by death.

Harry Potter books
Witchcraft and sorcery are punishable by death in countries such as Saudi Arabia © Flickr / Alberto Alvarez-Perea

In 2012, Muree bin Ali bin Issa al-Asiri was beheaded for possessing various books and talismans that classified him as a sorcerer.

The threat of witchcraft is taken so seriously in Saudi Arabian that the government has instituted an Anti-Witchcraft Unit dedicated to the protection of Muggles (AKA the general public), and ousting of people such as Muree.

Now’s a good time to start on your Harry Potter collection.

4. Unleash your passion for foreign films

Okay, imagine this. You’ve grown tired of Hollywood blockbusters and you decide to watch a Korean drama recommended by friends. Lucky for you, not only have you been entertained for two hours, you’ve also bought yourself an express ticket to a meeting with a firing squad.

80 people were executed in North Korea in a brutal display of force in 2013. Allegedly, a number of these people were executed for the unpatriotic act of watching South Korean movies.

An easy, yet entertaining, way to end up facing the death penalty.

5. But I didn’t do anything!

If all else fails, our final advice to you would be to do nothing at all, and you may still find yourself facing execution.

Everybody makes mistakes, some more blatant than others. Consequently, no legal system can be perfect. Many people sentenced to death have been proven innocent after new evidence has come to light. Unfortunately some had already been executed making exoneration a little difficult.

In Australia, Colin Campbell Ross was hanged in 1922 before modern forensic techniques proved his innocence 86 years later.

Reggie Clemons
Reggie Clemons was sentenced to death in the US in 1991 following a flawed trial © Color of Justice

Reggie Clemons was sentenced to death in St. Louis as an accomplice to a 1991 murder of two young white women. Since his conviction allegations have arisen of police coercion, prosecutorial misconduct, and a “stacked” jury. Shortly after a 2009 execution date was stayed, the Missouri Supreme Court assigned Judge Manners to investigate the reliability of his conviction and proportionality of his sentence. The case continues.

If you are looking for a spot on death row, then doing nothing could be your best bet. With research based in the US showing that 1 in 25 people sentenced to death are likely to be innocent, your chances aren’t looking too bad.

Hopefully this guide as given you simple, straightforward methods to get you on death row. With the death sentence being dealt this arbitrarily, it’s almost too easy.

Learn more about Amnesty International Australia’s campaigns to end the death penalty and how you can help save lives today.