To kill a sovereign or betray one’s country is what treason means. There are many types of treasons a person can commit and there are many punishments that can be given to people who do it. Who decides on the punishment for treason? Is it punishable by death? Read on to find out more about punishment for treason.
Act of treason is a crime, whether done to a sovereign or against one’s country. It is the most hateful crime in the world. People who have commited treason are called traitors, for them life gets very hard as they lose more than their freedom or life, they lose respect. Most of the time the families of such traitors are also demeaned and sometimes even run out of their communities.
Treason has been recorded since the start of civilization. It has always been a part of human society where people often do not like being under authority. When leaders show a force of authority alot and express their powers there are bound to be people who end up not
being happy about it. Some people act on it by criminal means and are then classified as traitors who are punished for the act of treason.
Table of Contents
What is treason?
Treason is an act which happens when a person attacks or attempts to harm a person of authority or a sovereign. Treason can also mean to harm a nation or a country to whom the person owes allegiance to. This is commonly known as one’s passport country or the country where a person holds its citizenship or nationality. Treason also comes into action when a person tries to overthrow the country’s government, spying on its military, diplomats or secret service for another foriegn power or government.
Treason is punishable by the maximum penalty of life imprisionment and in some countries it is still puniable by the death penalty. Although it is considered a heinous crime there are some countries who have leniency and categories of treason which allow lower punishments than others.
In old times treason was held under common law as a crime committed by one on another to whom he/she owes loyalty to. For example, if a wife killed her husband it would be under treason, and if a man killed a dignitary it would be treason. Even so, if a slave killed his master it would be called treason since the slave owed his master his alligeince.
Different types of treason
Just like any crime, treason has different categories and types. Most common types of treason include high treason and petty treason. High treason is when someone attacks or attempts to hurt a sovereign of the nation. Petty treason usually involves people who attack or harm people of less authority like ambassadors or dignitaries of the nation. Nevertheless there are still various categories of treason which are distinct in nature and crime.
Treason against one’s country includes betraying a country to another frogien power or powers. It also includes attempting to overthrow the government of the said nation through waging a war against the nation and/or leaking sensitive information about the country’s defenses and strategies. Helping the country’s enemies in any way is called treason against the country. It is punishable by capital punishment and life imprisonment in most countries.
Treason against a sovereign is almost exactly alike the treason against the country except that it may include murder charges of the the king/queen of the kingdom. The worst that someone can do to a sovereign or the head of state is kill them and when this happens it puts the nation in a very vulnerable position and other countries can take advantage of it. This is also called high treason because it causes huge turmoil to the nation and its residents.
Assisting enemy country
This form of treason is the most common one and is done by many people who don’t follow or like the way diplomats or the leaders of the country operate the nation. People who do this feel like they are working to liberate the people of the country and doing something good. Sometimes when people commit treason it is because of their values and what they think should be done for the welfare of the country.
Propaganda included media content and videos to provoke the general public into committing treason and showcasing anti-nation theories. It was very popular during the times of WW1 and WW2, where rivaling countries would present their propaganda two the public of the other countries. People who promoted or showcased them would be charged with treason against the opposing country.
This is the highest level of treason a person or group can commit, it includes being disloyal to your country and obtaining/using means to overthrow the government or assassinate the monarch or head of state. It also includes waging war and colluding with the enemy of the country to gain control of the nation and its resources.
Going against anyone other than the head of state or the nation’s monarch is called petty treason. Petty treason also comes with the charges of murder because it contains the liability of people killing or hurting other people who they owe alliegience to.
Different punishments for treason
According to the US law the penalty for treason is death, if not then imprisonment for more than five years and a hefty fine of $10,000. Capital punishment or death penalty is banned in many countries since 1998 so people charged with treason are more likely to get life in prison. There are no effects of treason on the perpetrators’ families.
The families of people who commit treason are socially chastised but there is no punishment for them as the treason dies with the perpetrator. The fines of the people charged with treason are also only applicable to them alone.
Punishments for treason vary from country to country. It also depends on the fact that what type of treason was committed or if the act of treason is even completed. Punishments for attempted treason would likely be less than if the crime is committed. Like all crimes, punishment for treason can be different for different convicts based on what they did and if they plead guilty or not.
Who gives the punishment against treason?
Punishments for treason are usually given out by the head of state. In today’s world with monarchy almost over, all these punishments are given out by judiciaries of the country the crime was committed in or against. In the past, the punishments were directly given out by the monarch or the head of state for criminals charged with treason.
Famous acts of treason
The gunpowder plot
“Remember, remember, the fifth of december, the gunpowder, treason and plot”
The gunpowder plot was a failed assasination attempt on the House Lords and Common in order to dethrone King James the first in 1605. It was executed by the English catholic group who wanted a catholic king to be on the thorne.
The main people involved in the plot were John and Chirstopher Wright, Robert and Thomas Wintour, Thomas Percy, Guy Fawkes, Robert Keyes, Thomas Bates, John Grant, Ambrose Rookwood, Sir Everard Digby and Francis Tresham. All of them were later captured and executed for treason. They were all hanged, drawn and quartered.
Rye House plot
The Rye house plot of 1683 was a plot to assassinate King Charles the second and his brother the heir to the throne. There were numerous participants mostly who wanted to kill the brothers because they thought that the King and the heir had become too close to the catholic church and would later sympathize with their issues. Baillie of Jerviswood was one of the conspirators.
Most of the conspirators were executed while several were imprisoned for life. One among them took his own life waiting for trial and many were exiled/fled from the country escaping their fate.
This was a violent tax protest in the United States under the government of George Washington. It was to go against the first tax which was imposed on a domestic good as to collect more money for the American revolution war debt. The resistance consisted of farm workers who distilled whisky in Pennsylvania; they were opposed by the militia of the United States.
The protest was crushed in 1794 by the United States militia and although most of the rebels ran away some were caught and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Cato street conspiracy
The Cato street conspiracy 1820 was formulated to kill all the british cabinet ministers and the prime minister lord of liverpool. It was named after the place it happened and the cause of the conspiracy was the sixth act reform which disallowed any and all meeting and gathering.
This conspiracy was acted upon by the members of the Spencean Philanthropist group with lead figures like Arthur Thistlewood. There were a total of 27 conspirators out of which 5 were executed including Arthur.
July 20 plot
On july 20th of 1944 is when Claus Von Staffenberg attempted to kill Adolf Hitler the leader of the Nazi Germany. Staffenberg believed in the goverment of Germany and wanted to reinstate it and over throw the Nazi Goverment. He was adamant that killing Hitler would solve the problem and he would be able to negotiate a peace treaty with the Allied forces.
This however, failed and staffenberg along with his co conspirators were arrested and executed. Along with them 7000 more officials were also arrested on suspicions of conspiracy and almost half of them were executed by Adolf Hitler.
Famous people who got punished for treason and why?
Robert Baillie of Jerviswood
Robert Baillie was a Scottish man who didn’t like the way his country was being dealt with. He was an estate owner and came from a privileged background, he was extremely well educated and very learned in the ways of law. He became a conspirator in the Rye House Plot to kill King Charles the second.
He was caught and was sentenced to life imprisonment at first when he claimed that he was consulted but had no hand in the plot. Later when his case was sent to the high court they deemed him guilty and he was executed in Edinburgh.
Simon Fraser, 11th Lord of Lovat
Simon Fraser was known to change his allegiance from time to time. He was against the British crown and supported the Stuart claim to the throne. He was defeated in the battle of culloden and was deemed traitor to the crown. He was then sentenced to death and beheaded.
Marie Antionette and King Louis XVI
Marie Antionette and King Louis was the last king and queen of France before the french revolution happened and abolished the monarchy. They were famed for saying the words “Let them eat cake”. People of France were so fed up with the monarch’s extravagant lifestyles and spending that they revolutionized and dethroned the king of France and the queen of France then beheaded them with a guillotine.
When Napoleon was defeated the second time he was then exiled from france. Ney was his Marshall of the Empire and was considered a very high ranking officer of Napoleon’s army. In Ney’s trial he had a very good defense of not being French but holding a Prussian nationality. He himself stated that he is French and so he was sentenced to death by a firing squad. He was a high ranking and respected officer so he was given the courtesy of giving out orders for his own shooting.
Arthur was a common man and a farmer by trade. He was English born and an avid activist for social reforms. He was apprehended for his participation in the Cato street conspiracy where he attempted to kill the whole cabinet. He murdered a police man during the raid on Cato street and was arrested because of a spy and executed for treason.
She was a broadcasting host for the TV and dessimated Nazi propaganda on the american televsion. She was employed by nazi germany at the time of WW2 and was arrested in Berlin after the war. She was the first woman to be arrested on the charges of treason in the United States of America. She was not sentenced to death, but she was sentenced to time behind bars, for ten to thirty years. She was released in 1961 completing 13 years behind bars.
He was a Polish man who betrayed his fellow Polish people by giving information to the Gestapo of underground Polish. He actively worked as the Nazi police agent during the time of German Invasion of Poland. He was solely responsible for the arrest and execution of 14 officers of the Polish Underground. He was arrested and given the life sentence, later the sentence was eased to 12 years in prison and he was then released.
Velupillai Prabhakaran was the founder of a Tamil Militant group who wanted to make an independent tamil state close to Sri lanka. For this goal he waged a war in Sri lanka for 25 years which included many acts of terreisom. He had his whole army at his disposal so he ravaged through the country to gain control. He was not sentenced to treason or punished for it because he died in action fighting the Srilankan Army and his movement died with him in 2009.
Punishment for treason in religion
In religion there are answers for everything. In earlier times religion used to dictate most of the country’s constitution and the daily working of the state. Religion has always been an important and integral part of the socio-economic system. Read on to find out what the two most common religions did with people who committed treason.
Christianity having its deep rooted system in the British monarchy, religion always had a hand to play when making state decisions. Since the head of state/King was also the head of church, Christianity played a major role in the practices of the people back then. The punishment for treason in the bible and as practiced by the people of that time was the death penalty.
People who were charged with criminal activities or treason were convicted and held in prison until their sentence could be carried out. Criminals were beheaded, and sometimes they were hanged, drawn and quartered. The bestiality of the death was absed upon the crime committed by the person.
In Islam taking ones life is not taken lightly. There are drastic measures taken for severe situations, but mostly the justice model revolves around the “eye for an eye” system. This does make it hard to punish criminals who commit treason. Most of the time the old leader in Islamic history had criminals exiled for treason. Sometimes in most dire situations the exterior limbs of the perpetrator would be amputated.
Treason in military
Like all the faculties of life, there can be criminals everywhere even in the most respectable and noble careers. A soldier is a person who sacrifices his/her life and wellbeing in order to protect civilian people from forgien danger. Sometimes their ideologies clash with their objectives and they find themselves at an impasse.
Treason in the military is not very different from the treason committed by a civilian. The nature of treason being the same, crimes against one’s country, there are many other things that can be classified as treason under the military. According to the military crimes code here are the few things which are considered treason.
- Joining with the enemy
- Surrendering subordinate units to the enemy
- Leaving weapons, war plans, combat equipment in order to assist the enemy
- Conspiring to oppose the government of the state
- Stealing or collecting classified information about combat routines
- Compromising defensive capability
Punishments for treason in the military will definitely result in dishonorable discharge and court-martial of the convicted person. When charged with treason, military courts can sentence the criminal for 15-20 years in prison. They can also sentence the criminal to death if the type of treason committed had too much damage to the government or the military.
Any type of treason committed by a person is a heinous crime against the country and its people at large. The punishment may be harsh but they do justify the means and the type of the crimes. There are lesser sentences for lesser treasons and higher and severe sentences for high treasons.
Regardless of the nature of the treason, being unfaithful to people and the nation you owe your allegiance to is criminal and unethical at the least. Crimes like these have been seen less and less since the building of new and modern governments and economies but it is too far-fetched to think that treason will be completely eradicated.
We as civilized human beings and global citizens can educate and prepare ourselves to deal with situations like these. In the end it is just one more step into making sure of world peace and the survival of the civilized community.