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Sentenced to Death in Kafkastan

"Kafka statue Prague" by Jaroslav Róna. Photo: Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

“Kafka statue Prague” by Photo: Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

If you have read Franz Kafka’s “The Trial“, you would understand the meaning of the term “Kafkaesque”.

The protagonist of “The Trial”, a bank clerk called Josef K., is suddenly arrested and must defend himself against charges about which are—and remain—unknown to hm. Along the way, K. discovers the difficulties of challenging a bureaucracy that is wedded to totalitarianism.

A century after “The Trial” was written, humans have obviously eradicated all kinds of totalitarianism and bureaucracy. Innocent people are no longer put on trial. An efficient system of justice prevails throughout the world. The following dream, which I had after reading the novel, is a figment of my imagination. Any resemblance it might bear to reality is the fault of reality alone.

We arrive in a courtroom. The Judge enters the room and the bailiff announces that court is in session. The judge sits and starts reading from a paper: “After examining the evidence provided by the prosecution and the defendants, we have found the defendants guilty as charged. We sentence defendants 1, 2 and 3 to death for premeditated murder of a police officer. We sentence defendants 4 to 11 to life in prison for aiding in the murder of the police officer. We also recommend the Ministry of Interior revoke the citizenship of defendants 1to 8 for terrorism crimes. Court dismissed.”

Guards escort the defendants out of the courtroom. They are handcuffed and taken to a bus with darkened, barred windows. A., (defendant 3), sits on the edge of a two-person seat. Near a window on the opposite side of the bus sits a man. The guard walks through the bus, counting the prisoners. As the guard passes by A., he gives a little smile . The guy on the opposite side notices. He says to A.: “I don’t know what you’re charged with, but this is the first time I see one of them smiling. What’s your story?”

A. answers in a monotone: “I did nothing.”

The other guy replies: “Well, I believe you.” A. replies: “Why would you trust a guy in handcuffs? And may I ask what’s your name?”. The other guy smiles and says: “We are both in handcuffs, and I wouldn’t trust anyone who isn’t handcuffed in this bus. My name is H. and I know you’re innocent.”

“What makes you so sure?” asks A. “Because your body language shows no signs of regret,” replies H. A. releases a deep sigh and says: “Doesn’t my lack of regret make me more likely to have actually committed what I’m charged with?” H. replies in a sarcastic tone: “Those guilty don’t show regret for the crime, they show regret that they were caught. You, on the other hand show no regret for either: you’re a Muselmann.” “What’s a Muselmann?” asks A.

H. didn’t answer the question: “That’s a long story. We might have time for it if we end up in the same prison block. Is it your first time in prison?” “This is my third time,” says A.

“Well, it’s my first time,” says H. “I was found guilty of inciting hatred toward the regime.” A. asks: “And how did they say you did that?” H. answers: “I sell words. I’m a novelist.” A. is surprised. “And what kind of novels did you write? Political novels?” “No, I wrote a love story,” says H., with a smile on his face. “Love stories incite hate? How is that possible,” asks A. “It’s a love story which takes place between a two people from different ethnic groups,” says H., “and it takes place prior to the arrival of the monarchs. They discovered that if I say that people were capable of something as complicated as love in the absence of the monarchy, then everything else is possible.”

H. pauses.”That’s my story,” he says. “Now can I ask you to tell me what you’re not guilty of?”  “Killing a police officer,” says A. “I’m sorry to hear that,” says H. “I did hear that this trial is today as well.” “It’s OK. I have made peace with my destiny,” says A. “What?! You decided to quit?” says H. in an anxious whisper. A. replies calmly: “I’m not quitting. I have acknowledged the fact that I did what I could and now I’m left with no choices.”

 “You will accept that you must die for someone else’s crime?! Please tell me, how were you found guilty?” says H. “I presented a signed testimony that I was at work at the time of the incident. The judge decided not to take it into consideration,” A. says.

“Of course he won’t,” says H. “It’s easier to find someone guilty. This puts an end to the investigations. And it doesn’t matter who is found guilty. After all, tribal justice doesn’t care about the individual: one of “us” was killed, so three of “them” must pay for it. People from the other side will rejoice. Even the media will forget to mention anything about you. You will be stripped of everything that defines you. You will be labeled a member of a certain group or ethnicity. The judge will be rewarded; his brother and father will get a new deal worth millions.”

A asks: “Why didn’t you write about that before then?” H. replies: “It’s illegal. I’d be charged with denigrating an official body.”

“This doesn’t matter now,” says A. “I hope change will come before my sentence is carried out.” H is furious: “And you think those who actually committed the murder will bring change? Don’t you see how they use words like courage, dignity, resistance, principles and others to legitimize their acts, while they would allow an innocent man to be killed for their crime?” A. replies with equal fury: “How do you know that they actually did anything wrong?” “Because they issued a statement saying so,” H. says. “The other day a blogger was with me in my cell. He told me how he was arrested for something others called for, the same people who would usually advocate his release. But they won’t come forward and name who’s responsible. An even more extreme group definitely won’t clear your name.”

As the bus stops and the guards stand to escort the prisoners out, H. makes a final plea to A.: “Promise me something: Don’t quit. Don’t let them make you just another statistic. Show everyone that you’re just like them, that you see what they see, that you feel they way they feel, that when you die you will leave a mother in grief, that your life is not something to be traded for political gain.”

This story, as I said, is fictional. There is no country on earth that sentences innocent people to death. And there isn’t a man sentenced to death waiting to be saved.

 

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