UK Greenlights the Death Penalty? 🤔

 Carl Court/Getty Images

Carl Court/Getty Images

A U-turn in policy

In a leaked letter to US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid wrote that the UK would not oppose the US’s decision to execute two suspected ISIS militants if they are sentenced to the death penalty. He believed that the due process in the US would best serve justice for the two suspects. The two men, Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, are allegedly members of a gang that beheaded western journalists and workers.

A one-time act

Javid’s decision is a departure from traditional British policy opposing the death penalty that had been in place since 1965. Security Minister Ben Wallace assured that the decision doesn’t reflect a permanent change in the country's stance on capital punishment. Prime Minister Theresa May acknowledged that she knew about Javid’s letter, but she didn’t specify her position on his decision.



Those who agree with Javid focus more on the growing threat of terrorism. They commend his commitment to the safety of British citizens. However, they denounce the nation’s weak judicial processes and terror laws that may let these two men go free. They believe the Home Secretary is taking proactive steps to not only effectively eradicate threats and enforce national security, but also amend an institutional problem.

Those who criticize Javid focus on capital punishment and its moral implications. They condemn what they see as PM May and her government’s impartiality towards an evident human rights violation. Articles from this side also view the reversal in policy as undermining a global united front against an outdated practice and a greater notion of the right to life. They see Javid’s decision as hypocritical, in that the UK denounces civil injustices around the world yet commits one of its own. 

National security vs civil liberties

The death penalty debate has taken on a modern implication: terrorism. Javid’s decision and May’s silence may indicate a growing regard for the death penalty as the be-all-end-all consequence for terror crimes. As we reported previously, Javid is carrying out his promise to take a hardline stance on terrorism that began with his CONTEST initiative. Similarly, the response to Javid’s decision reflects a historic trade-off between national security versus civil liberties.

When you can't decide


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