French public divided over death penalty 40 years after its abolishment

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France abolished the death penalty 40 years ago Saturday, the culmination of 200 years of activism. Recently elected socialist president François Mitterrand backed the move, but it was unpopular, and about 50 percent of the French public want to re-instate the sentence.


When the French National Assembly voted to abolish the death penalty 40 years ago Saturday, more than 60 percent of the population still backed capital punishment. But then president François Mitterrand stood by his campaign promise, no matter the political cost.

“I’m against the death sentence… I don’t need to read opinion polls that say otherwise,” Mitterand said.

The man who pushed the bill abolishing executions was one of France‘s most notorious lawyers, Robert Badinter, who became justice minister shortly after Mitterand took office.

He said he who could no longer bare decapitations, including that of his own client, Roger Bontems, who was executed for complicity in a lethal armed robbery: “When I saw Bontems being executed – executing is cutting a living man in two! – I swore I wouldn’t just be opposed to the death penalty, I would become an activist.”

The National Assembly passed the law to abolish the sentence on September 18, 1981 with 363 votes in favour and 117 against.

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The French remain divided on capital punishment 40 years later, with opinion polls showing about half of those surveyed say it should be reinstated.

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