The Internet: A Critical Tool in the Fight Against the Death Penalty

[All links lead to Spanish language pages, except where otherwise noted.]

The Internet has become a critical tool for many social movements worldwide. Activists battling capital punishment have also found a platform in digital social media for exchanging ideas and circulating information.

What follows is part of a series written for Periodismo Ciudadano (PC) from the “V Congreso Mundial Contra la Pena de Muerte” (Fifth World Congress Against the Death Penalty) in Madrid, Spain. In this part, Sara Plaza Écija reports on the use of the Internet in the fight against capital punishment.

The V Congreso Mundial Vontra la Pena de Muerte collected opinions from attendees representing more than 90 countries during the four days of the conference, which focused on the importance of spreading the word about this struggle to promote awareness and sensitize the population, since, on many occasions, public opinion encourages executions. The lack of information in many countries is one of the reasons that societies support capital punishment. Organizations work to change this through campaigns, workshops, and sharing information.

The death penalty is the current reality in several countries worldwide. In order to abolish it, there is a need to to reach out to people to address the issue. In order to accomplish this, however, tools are required that can have an impact on populations and encourage people to support the cause. One of the conference workshops gathered opinions about new tools that aim for “education to abolish the death penalty” [en, fr]. Representatives of different countries discussed tools that are being used to raise awareness among people through the press or education system of their individual countries.

In order for the campaigns to be effective, there is a need to “reach more people,” as well as a need for knowledge, political education, sufficient information, and good marketing and communications strategies. “And the fundamental tool for accomplishing all of this is the Internet”, says Marianne Rossi de Francia.

The Internet as a tool for aiding Spanish prisoners on death row

“The Internet is a fundamental tool for getting the word out about Pablo's case.” These are the words of Andrés Krakenberger, a spokesperson for the Asociación Contra la Pena de Muerte de Pablo Ibar (Assocation Against the Dealth Penalty for Pablo Ibar) and for Periodismo Ciudadano. Pablo Ibar, a Spanish citizen, is currently on death row in Florida, charged with a triple murder. His family maintains his innocence.

The association's goal is twofold: first, to keep Pablo's case alive in the media, and second, to raise funds to help pay for Pablo's defense. Through the association's web page, people can send letters of support directly to Pablo. He receives them after they pass through the prison's surveillance control. “The many letters that Pablo receives help him keep a clear head, and he answers each and every one of them,” Andrés comments.

Interview with family members of Pablo Ibar (PDF)

In contrast, Joaquín Martínez is the first European to have come off death row in the United States. For three years, he was condemned to death for the presumed murder of two people. A Spanish citizen, Martínez maintains that “the Internet is one of the main reasons that the campaign to abolish the death penalty is coming to countries like the United States.”

Martínez adds that one way people can fight for abolition is by sharing news about individual cases and disseminating information. He also stresses the importance of the Internet when it comes to discussing the death penalty in any part of the world and its effectiveness in getting the word out. “Americans don't like it, but I believe this is what will end up changing North American ideas and mentality,” he claims.

oaquín Martínez en el V Congreso Mundial contra la Pena de Muerte.

Joaquín Martínez during the Fifth World Coalition Against the Death Penalty.

An Interview with Joaquín Martínez (PDF)

Activists in action on the Internet

Many collaborating organizations in the fight against the death penalty participated in this Congress. They all concur that the Internet is a fundamental element in raising awareness among people, in addition to sharing information about the work they are doing. Some of these organizations are more active than others online, but they all are united in this fight. Here are some examples:

Amnesty International is one of the most active anti-death penalty organizations on the Internet. This organization carries out a series of “urgent actions” when “something extraordinary happens,” in addition to implementing “cyber-actions,” which include gathering signatures and putting pressure on political parties to gain their attention. Thanks to the pressure placed on the ambassadors of various countries, Amnesty International has been successful in staying executions, and along with the Internet and social networking, it has influence which it did not have before.

“Having two million eyes monitoring a government's activity is far more effective than just having a couple of organizations watching, and when it comes time to issue an order of execution, that government will think twice”, says Víctor Manuel, one of Amnesty International's press officers in Madrid. Additionally, thanks to these new tools, “gripping images can be brought to light that will have a greater impact on people and draw them in.”

The World Coalition Against The Death Penalty [en] is a worldwide coalition of 135 non-governmental organizations against capital punishment. The group has several campaigns in progress that deal with the death penalty. Two of those worth noting are Information on Retentionist Countries [en], an interactive country-by-country website which allows users to familiarize themselves with current situations throughout the world regarding the death penalty, and the Resources Center on the Death Penalty [en], a website that warehouses all existing information on the death penalty and allows it be shared with other organizations throughout the world. Through Twitter [en] “we share knowledge, we're very active, and we're disseminating information about the Congress in seven languages,” they state.

The Fundación Internacional Baltasar Garzón (International Baltasar Garzón Foundation) cites its belief that establishing an Internet presence is essential for all organizations working for change, in spite of their “relatively short lifespans.” “We try to reach a broad public with information about our projects through social networking, although we need more experience,” one of the foundation's leaders told Periodismo Ciudadano. “One thing we can be grateful for is that we've managed to move one of our projects forward thanks to crowdfunding,” he commented. They seek out volunteers over the Internet and believe this is a “new era” for growth and dissemination.

The organization Movimiento por la Paz (Movement for Peace) states that many campaigns currently have “less than stellar” visibility on the Internet, and it sees a need for organizations to be trained in social networking because of the “impact, speed, and ease of use in the workplace” that the new digital tools offer.

*To read the complete story in Periodismo Ciudadano, please click here.


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