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International Alliance for Advanced Judicial Studies (IAAJS)

Hanging

 

Hanging is the suspension of a person by a noose or ligature around the neck. The Oxford English Dictionary states that hanging in this sense is "specifically to put to death by suspension by the neck", though it formerly also referred to crucifixion and death by impalement in which the body would remain "hanging". Hanging has been a common method of capital punishment since medieval times, and is the primary execution method in numerous countries and regions. The first known account of execution by hanging was in Homer's Odyssey (Book XXII). In this specialised meaning of the common word hang, the past and past participle is hanged instead of hung.

Suspended by the neck, the weight of the body is used to tighten the noose around the trachea and neck structure causing strangulation and subsequently death. This typically takes between ten and twenty minutes, with unconsciousness occurring within 615 seconds.

Nazis executed under British jurisdiction, including Josef Kramer, Fritz Klein, Irma Grese and Elisabeth Volkenrath, were hanged by Albert Pierrepoint using the variable drop method devised by Marwood. The record speed for a British long drop hanging was 7 seconds from the executioner entering the cell to the drop. Speed was considered to be important in the British system as it reduced the condemned's mental distress.

In the absence of fracture and dislocation, occlusion of blood vessels becomes the major cause of death, rather than asphyxiation. Obstruction of venous drainage of the brain via occlusion of the internal jugular veins leads to cerebral oedema and then cerebral ischemia. The face will typically become engorged and cyanotic (turned blue through lack of oxygen). There will be the classic sign of strangulation, petechiae, little blood marks on the face and in the eyes from burst blood capillaries. The tongue may protrude.

After death, the body typically shows marks of suspension: bruising and rope marks on the neck. Sphincters will relax spontaneously and urine and faeces will be evacuated. Forensic experts may often be able to tell if hanging is suicide or homicide, as each leaves a distinctive ligature mark. One of the hints they use is the hyoid bone. If broken, it often means the person has been murdered by manual choking.

Bulgaria's national hero, Vasil Levski, was executed by hanging by the Ottoman court in Sofia in 1873. Every year since Bulgaria's liberation, thousands come with flowers on the date of his death, 19 February, to his monument where the gallows stood. The last execution was in 1989, and the death penalty was abolished for all crimes in 1998.

Since 2010, three people have been executed in India. Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving terrorist of the 2008 Mumbai attacks was executed on 21 November 2012 in Yerwada Central Jail, Pune. The Supreme Court of India had previously rejected his mercy plea, which was then rejected by the President of India. He was hanged one week later. Afzal Guru, a terrorist found guilty of conspiracy in the December 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament, was executed by hanging in Tihar Jail, Delhi on 9 February 2013. Yakub Memon was convicted over his involvement in the 1993 Bombay bombings by Special Terrorist and Disruptive Activities court on 27 July 2007. His appeals and petitions for clemency were all rejected and he was finally executed by hanging on 30 July 2015 in Nagpur jail.

On 27 February 2004, the mastermind of the Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, Shoko Asahara, was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. On 25 December 2006, serial killer Hiroaki Hidaka and three others were hanged in Japan. Long drop hanging is the method of carrying out judicial capital punishment on civilians in Japan, as in the cases of Norio Nagayama, Mamoru Takuma, and Tsutomu Miyazaki. In 2018 Shoko Asahara and several of his cult members were hanged for committing the 1995 sarin gas attack.

According to a 19th-century report, members of the Alawite sect centred on Lattakia in Syria had a particular aversion towards being hanged, and the family of the condemned was willing to pay "considerable sums" to ensure its relation was impaled, instead of being hanged. As far as Burckhardt could make out, this attitude was based upon the Alawites' idea that the soul ought to leave the body through the mouth, rather than leave it in any other fashion.

 
 

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