French public opinion is divided over the death penalty 40 years after its abolition

France abolished the death penalty 40 years ago on Saturday, the culmination of 200 years of activism. The newly elected socialist president, François Mitterrand, backed the measure, but it was unpopular and about 50 percent of the French public want to reinstate the sentence.

When the French National Assembly voted to abolish the death penalty 40 years ago on Saturday, more than 60 percent of the population still supported capital punishment. But then President François Mitterrand kept his campaign promise, regardless of the political cost.

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

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

Said the one who could no longer bear beheadings, including that of his own client, Roger Bontems, who was executed for complicity in a deadly armed robbery: “When I saw Bontems being executed, to execute is to cut a man alive! in two! I swore that I would not only oppose the death penalty, but that I would become an activist. “

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

The French are still divided on capital punishment 40 years later, and opinion polls show that about half of those surveyed say it should be reinstated.

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