Not too long ago in Hong Kong, capital punishment was mandatory for people who committed murder, treason and piracy with violence. Then, in 1993, Hong Kong made a major change to its laws when it abolished the death penalty. Many countries have not taken this step, but a group of volunteers from Amnesty International Hong Kong (AIHK) is trying to change that.
In the mid-90s, Amnesty HK started the Abolish the Death Penalty Group to raise awareness of this issue, and even today, not everyone agrees with their views on ending capital punishment. Recently in India, the death penalty has been extended to include the crime of rape, after a string of high-profile cases in the capital New Delhi, including the rape and murder of "Nirbhaya" (not her real name) in December 2012.
After these horrifying events, where many people wanted the criminals to be executed, Amnesty HK realised that they had to justify their opinions and actions. Loki Fung Yu-han, 26, is an active volunteer and the group's main coordinator. She says: "I don't think the death penalty has an effect [on rape in India]. If it did, there wouldn't be any rape, but there still is."
Fung had an interest in human rights, so she joined the group after graduating from Hong Kong Baptist University. "I spent six months thinking about why [the death penalty] was important, and during all the work I've done [for the group], I realised that it's not just about our right to life, but also how we want our society to be," she says.
Amnesty HK reported that 37 executions took place last year in the Asia-Pacific region. However, Connie Chan Man-wai, the senior campaigner at AIHK, explains that "China once again executed more people than the rest of the world put together, but it's not possible to obtain an accurate picture of the reality of capital punishment there".
Last year, the group organised protests in front of the central government's liaison office, as well as the Singaporean and Japanese embassies, urging those governments to stop executions.
At the same time, the group is fighting for Hongkongers who face execution in other countries for drug crimes or murder cases. "We are now supporting five cases in which Hongkongers have been sentenced to death in Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam," Chan says.
To do this, the volunteers organise many events, such as "Cities for Life Day", at Times Square. And in October and November, they also have a Human Rights Film Festival, which helps to educate people about different views about the death penalty.
Fung says that discussing such issues is important, and will help us to cherish and appreciate the freedom and rights we have in Hong Kong. She firmly believes that "as long as the discussion keeps going on, change will happen". Fung also recommends that students start Amnesty clubs in their schools and get involved in human rights issues beyond capital punishment.
"Join the Abolish the Death Penalty Group of AIHK, support our urgent action in your school, or even talk to your friends about the death penalty," says Chan. "Anything you can do, could save lives." She adds: "Everyone should join the campaign to abolish the death penalty, especially young people. The future is yours. We are looking for a better world, a world without cruel and inhumane treatments, a world that believes in forgiveness, not the death penalty."
If you are interested in AIHK's Abolish the Death Penalty Group and want to be involved in this year's Cities for Life Day as well as other programmes, register as a volunteer on amnesty.org.hk or email email@example.com