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Treason

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Treason

In law, treason is the crime that covers some of the more serious acts of betrayal of one's sovereign or nation. Historically, treason also covered the murder of specific social superiors, such as the murder of a husband by his wife. Treason against the king was known as high treason and treason against a lesser superior was petit treason. A person who commits treason is known in law as a traitor.Oran's Dictionary of the Law (1983) defines treason as "...[a]...citizen's actions to help a foreign government overthrow, make war against, or seriously injure the [parent nation]." In many nations, it is also often considered treason to attempt or conspire to overthrow the government, even if no foreign country is aided or involved by such an endeavour.Outside legal spheres, the word "traitor" may also be used to describe a person who betrays (or is accused of betraying) their own political party, nation, family, friends, ethnic group, team, religion, social class, or other group to which they may belong. Often, such accusations are controversial and disputed, as the person may not identify with the group of which they are a member, or may otherwise disagree with the group leaders making the charge. See, for example, race traitor.At times, the term "traitor" has been levelled as a political epithet, regardless of any verifiable treasonable action. In a civil war or insurrection, the winners may deem the losers to be traitors. Likewise the term "traitor" is used in heated political discussion – typically as a slur against political dissidents, or against officials in power who are perceived as failing to act in the best interest of their constituents. In certain cases, as with the German Dolchstoßlegende, the accusation of treason towards a large group of people can be a unifying political message.In English law, high treason was punishable by being hanged, drawn and quartered (men) or burnt at the stake (women), or beheading (royalty and nobility). Treason was the only crime which attracted those penalties (until they were abolished in 1814, 1790 and 1973 respectively). The penalty was used by later monarchs against people who could reasonably be called traitors, although most modern jurists would call it excessive. Many of them would now just be considered dissidents.In William Shakespeare's play King Lear (circa 1600), when the King learns that his daughter Regan has publicly dishonoured him, he says They could not, would not do 't; 'tis worse than murder: a conventional attitude at that time. In Dante Alighieri's Inferno, the ninth and lowest circle of Hell is reserved for traitors; Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus, suffers the worst torments of all: being constantly gnawed at by one of Lucifer's own three mouths. His treachery is considered so notorious that his name has long been synonymous with traitor, a fate he shares with Benedict Arnold, Marcus Junius Brutus (who too is depicted in Dante's Inferno, suffering the same fate as Judas along with Cassius Longinus), and Vidkun Quisling. Indeed, the etymology of the word traitor originates with Judas' handing over of Jesus to the Roman authorities: the word is derived from the Latin traditorem which means "one who delivers."Christian theology and political thinking until after the Enlightenment considered treason and blasphemy as synonymous, as it challenged both the state and the will of God. Kings were considered chosen by God and to betray one's country was to do the work of Satan.

In individual jurisdictions

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Australia
Section 80.1 of the Criminal Code, contained in the schedule of the Criminal Code Act 1995, defines treason as follows:

A person is not guilty of treason under paragraphs (e), (f) or (h) if their assistance or intended assistance is purely humanitarian in nature.

The maximum penalty for treason is life imprisonment. Section 24AA of the Crimes Act 1914 creates the related offence of treachery.

The Treason Act 1351, the Treason Act 1795 and the Treason Act 1817 form part of the law of New South Wales. The Treason Act 1795 and the Treason Act 1817 have been repealed by section 11 of the Crimes Act 1900, except in so far as they relate to the compassing, imagining, inventing, devising, or intending death or destruction, or any bodily harm tending to death or destruction, maim, or wounding, imprisonment, or restraint of the person of the heirs and successors of King George III of the United Kingdom, and the expressing, uttering, or declaring of such compassings, imaginations, inventions, devices, or intentions, or any of them.

Section 12 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) creates an offence which is derived from section 3 of the Treason Felony Act 1848:

Section 16 provides that nothing in Part 2 repeals or affects anything enacted by the Treason Act 1351 (25 Edw.3 c. 2). This section reproduces section 6 of the Treason Felony Act 1848.

The offence of treason was created by section 9A(1) of the Crimes Act 1958.

Brazil
According to Brazilian law, treason is the crime of disloyalty by a citizen to the Federal Republic of Brazil, applying to combatants of the Brazilian military forces. Treason during warfare is the only crime for which a person can be sentenced to death (see capital punishment in Brazil).

The only military person in the history of Brazil to be convicted of treason was Carlos Lamarca, an army captain who deserted to become the leader of a left-wing guerrilla against the military dictatorship.

Canada
Section 46 of the Criminal Code of Canada has two degrees of treason, called "high treason" and "treason." However, both of these belong to the historical category of high treason, as opposed to petty treason which does not exist in Canadian law. Section 46 reads as follows:

It is also illegal for a Canadian citizen to do any of the above outside Canada.

The penalty for high treason is life imprisonment. The penalty for treason is imprisonment up to a maximum of life, or up to 14 years for conduct under subsection (2)(b) or (e) in peacetime.

France
Article 411-1 of the French Penal Code defines treason as follows:

Article 411-2 prohibits "handing over troops belonging to the French armed forces, or all or part of the national territory, to a foreign power, to a foreign organisation or to an organisation under foreign control, or to their agents". It is punishable by life imprisonment and a fine of €750,000. Generally parole is not available until 18 years of a life sentence have elapsed. Articles 411-3 to 411-10 define various other crimes of collaboration with the enemy, sabotage, and the like. These are punishable with imprisonment for between thirty and seven years. Article 411-11 make it a crime to incite any of the above crimes.

Besides treason and espionage, there are many other crimes dealing with national security, insurrection, terrorism and so on. These are all to be found in Book IV of the Code.

Hong Kong
Section 2 of the Crime Ordinance provides that levying war against the Central People's Government of the People's Republic of China, conspiring to do so, instigating a foreigner to invade Hong Kong, or assisting any public enemy at war with the Central People's Government, is treason, punishable with life imprisonment.

Germany
The German law differentiates between two types of treason: "High treason" (Hochverrat) and "treason" (Landesverrat). The high treason, defined in the Section 81 of the German criminal code is defined as a violent attempt against the existence or the constitutional order of the Federal Republic of Germany, carrying a penalty of life imprisonment or a fixed term of at least ten years. In less serious cases, the penalty is 1–10 years in prison. The German crimal law also criminalizes the high treason against a German state. Preparation of both types of the crime is criminal and carries a penalty of up to five years.

The other type of treason, Landesverrat is defined in Section 94 . This is basically the crime of espionage. The crime carries a penalty of one to five years in prison. However, in especially severe cases, life imprisonment or any term of at least of five years may be sentenced.

Ireland
Article 39 of the Constitution of Ireland (adopted in 1937) states that "treason shall consist only in levying war against the State, or assisting any State or person or inciting or conspiring with any person to levy war against the State, or attempting by force of arms or other violent means to overthrow the organs of government established by the Constitution, or taking part or being concerned in or inciting or conspiring with any person to make or to take part or be concerned in any such attempt."

The Treason Act 1939 gave legislative effect to Article 39, and provided for the imposition of the death penalty on persons convicted of committing treason within the state and on citizens convicted of committing treason against Ireland outside of the state. The Act also created the ancillary offences of encouraging, harbouring and comforting persons guilty of treason, and the offence of misprision of treason. No person has been charged under this Act. The Criminal Justice Act 1990 removed the death penalty for treason, setting the punishment at life imprisonment, with parole in not less than forty years. For other offences against national security, see the Offences against the State Acts 1939–1998.

Section 1(1) of the Treasonable Offences Act 1925 (enacted under the 1922 Constitution) defined treason as:

The maximum punishment was death. The Act also defined the offences of misprision of treason and of encouraging, harbouring, or comforting any person engaged in levying Saorstát Éireann or engaged, taking part, or concerned in any attempt to overthrow by force of arms or other violent means the Government of Saorstát Éireann as established by or under the Constitution of 1922.

The Treasonable Offences Act 1925 was the first comprehensive and permanent measure designed to deal with offences against the state. Section 3 reenacted portions of the Treason Felony Act 1848, while sections 4 and 5 dealt, respectively, with the usurpation of executive authority and assemblies pretending to parliamentary functions. Section 6 prohibited the formation of pretended military or police forces and section 7 proscribed unauthorised drilling.

Although Gardaí prosecuted a number of persons under section 1.1(d) in 1925 and 1926, the Minister for Justice, Kevin O'Higgins, believed that such serious charges were not 'desirable in the present conditions'. Rather more bluntly, in March 1930 Eoin O'Duffy, the Garda Commissioner, wrote that the prospect of charging IRA members with 'levying war against the State' or with usurping executive authority would make a 'laughing stock' of the Gardaí. Before Irish independence, treason was governed under the laws of the United Kingdom. Many historical Irish nationalist insurgents now considered heroes or freedom fighters in contemporary Ireland were executed for treason against the Irish or Union Crown.

New Zealand
New Zealand has treason laws that are stipulated under the Crimes Act 1961. Section 73 of the Crimes Act reads as follows:

The penalty is life imprisonment, except that the maximum for conspiracy is 14 years. Treason was the last capital crime in New Zealand law, with the death penalty not being revoked until 1989, years after it was abolished for murder.

Very few people have been prosecuted for the act of treason in New Zealand and none have been prosecuted in recent years.

Russia
Article 275 of the Criminal Code of Russia defines treason as "espionage, disclosure of state secrets, or any other assistance rendered to a foreign State, a foreign organization, or their representatives in hostile activities to the detriment of the external security of the Russian Federation, committed by a citizen of the Russian Federation." The sentence is imprisonment for 12 to 20 years. It is not a capital offence, even though murder and some aggravated forms of attempted murder are (although Russia currently has a moratorium on the death penalty). Subsequent sections provide for further offences against state security, such as armed rebellion and forcible seizure of power.

Switzerland
There is no single crime of treason in Swiss law; instead, multiple criminal prohibitions apply. Article 265 of the Swiss Criminal Code prohibits "high treason" (Hochverrat/haute trahison) as follows:

A separate crime is defined in article 267 as "diplomatic treason" (Diplomatischer Landesverrat/Trahison diplomatique):

In 1950, in the context of the Cold War, the following prohibition of "foreign enterprises against the security of Switzerland" was introduced as article 266bis:

The criminal code also prohibits, among other acts, the suppression or falsification of legal documents or evidence relevant to the international relations of Switzerland (art. 267, imprisonment of no less than a year) and attacks against the independence of Switzerland and incitement of a war against Switzerland (art. 266, up to life imprisonment).

The Swiss military criminal code contains additional prohibitions under the general title of "treason", which also apply to civilians, or which in times of war civilians are also (or may by executive decision be made) subject to. These include espionage or transmission of secrets to a foreign power (art. 86); sabotage (art. 86a); "military treason", i.e., the disruption of activities of military significance (art. 87); acting as a franc-tireur (art. 88); disruption of military action by disseminating untrue information (art. 89); military service against Switzerland by Swiss nationals (art. 90); or giving aid to the enemy (art. 91). The penalties for these crimes vary, but include life imprisonment in some cases.

Turkey
By Turkish civil law, Treason is defined as a citizen committing acts against the Republic of Turkey, the parliament or Kemalist ideology.

Treason is technically punished with the death penalty by hanging, however, capital punishment has not been implemented in Turkey since 1983. In Turkish military law, treason is defined as insubordination, disobeying direct orders and/or surrendering. The Turkish military considers retreating without explicit orders a form of treason which can be met with capital punishment executed by firing squad or a life sentence in military correctional facility.

United Kingdom




The British law of treason is entirely statutory and has been so since the Treason Act 1351 (25 Edw. 3 St. 5 c. 2). The Act is written in Norman French, but is more commonly cited in its English translation.

The Treason Act 1351 has since been amended several times, and currently provides for four categories of treasonable offences, namely:

Another Act, the Treason Act 1702 (1 Anne stat. 2 c. 21), provides for a fifth category of treason, namely:

By virtue of the Treason Act 1708, the law of treason in Scotland is the same as the law in England, save that in Scotland the slaying of the Lords of Session and Lords of Justiciary and counterfeiting the Great Seal of Scotland remain treason under sections 11 and 12 of the Treason Act 1708 respectively. Treason is a reserved matter about which the Scottish Parliament is prohibited from legislating. Two acts of the former Parliament of Ireland passed in 1537 and 1542 create further treasons which apply in Northern Ireland.

The penalty for treason was changed from death to a maximum of imprisonment for life in 1998 under the Crime And Disorder Act. Before 1998, the death penalty was mandatory, subject to the royal prerogative of mercy. Since the abolition of the death penalty for murder in 1965 an execution for treason was unlikely to be carried out.

Treason laws were used against Irish insurgents before Irish independence. However, IRA and other republican groups were not prosecuted or executed for treason for levying war against the British government during the Troubles. They, along with loyalist groups, were jailed for murder, violent crimes or terrorist offences. William Joyce was the last person to be put to death for treason, in 1946. (On the following day Theodore Schurch was executed for treachery, a similar crime, and was the last man to be executed for a crime other than murder in the UK.)

As to who can commit treason, it depends on the ancient notion of allegiance. As such, all British nationals (but not other Commonwealth citizens) owe allegiance to the Queen in right of the United Kingdom wherever they may be, as do Commonwealth citizens and aliens present in the United Kingdom at the time of the treasonable act (except diplomats and foreign invading forces), those who hold a British passport however obtained, and aliens who – having lived in Britain and gone abroad again – have left behind family and belongings.

The Treason Act 1695 enacted, among other things, a rule that treason could be proved only in a trial by the evidence of two witnesses to the same offence. Nearly one hundred years later this rule was incorporated into the U.S. Constitution, which requires two witnesses to the same overt act. It also provided for a three year time limit on bringing prosecutions for treason (except for assassinating the king), another rule which has been imitated in some common law countries. The Sedition Act 1661 made it treason to imprison, restrain or wound the king. Although this law was abolished in the United Kingdom in 1998, it still continues to apply in some Commonwealth countries.

United States
To avoid the abuses of the English law (including executions by Henry VIII of those who criticized his repeated marriages), treason was specifically defined in the United States Constitution, the only crime so defined. Article III Section 3 delineates treason as follows:

However, Congress has, at times, passed statutes creating related offenses that undermine the government or the national security, such as sedition in the 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts, or espionage and sedition in the 1917 Espionage Act, which do not require the testimony of two witnesses and have a much broader definition than Article Three treason. For example, some well-known spies have been convicted of espionage rather than treason.

The Constitution does not itself create the offense; it only restricts the definition (the first paragraph), permits Congress to create the offense, and restricts any punishment for treason to only the convicted (the second paragraph). The crime is prohibited by legislation passed by Congress. Therefore the United States Code at 18 U.S.C. § 2381 states "whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States." The requirement of testimony of two witnesses was inherited from the British Treason Act 1695.

One of American history's most notorious traitors is Benedict Arnold, whose name is considered synonymous with the definition of traitor due to his collaboration with the British during the War of Independence. However, this occurred before the Constitution was written. Since the Constitution came into effect, there have been fewer than 40 federal prosecutions for treason and even fewer convictions. Several men were convicted of treason in connection with the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion but were pardoned by President George Washington. The most famous treason trial, that of Aaron Burr in 1807 (See Burr conspiracy), resulted in acquittal. Politically motivated attempts to convict opponents of the Jeffersonian Embargo Acts and the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 all failed. After the American Civil War, no person involved with the Confederate States of America was tried for treason, though a number of leading Confederates (including Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee) were indicted. Those who had been indicted received a blanket amnesty issued by President Andrew Johnson as he left office in 1869.

The Cold War saw frequent associations between treason and support for (or insufficient hostility toward) Communist-backed causes. The most memorable of these came from Senator Joseph McCarthy, who accused the Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman administrations of "twenty years of treason." As chosen chair of the Senate Permanent Investigations Subcommittee, McCarthy also investigated various government agencies for Soviet spy rings; however, he acted as a political fact-finder rather than a criminal prosecutor. The Cold War period saw few prosecutions for treason. On October 11, 2006, a federal grand jury issued the first indictment for treason against the United States since 1952, charging Adam Yahiye Gadahn for videos in which he appeared as a spokesman for al-Qaeda and threatened attacks on American soil.

Most states have provisions in their constitutions or statutes similar to those in the U.S. Constitution. The Extradition Clause specifically defines treason as an extraditable offense. There have been only two documented prosecutions for treason on the state level, that of Thomas Dorr for treason against the state of Rhode Island for his part in the Dorr Rebellion, and that of John Brown for treason against the state of Virginia for his part in the raid on Harpers Ferry. In 1859, he and a few of his sons infiltrated Harpers Ferry - a military base in Virginia - in an attempt to steal the weapons that were kept there. His goal was to give these weapons to slaves, and lead them in an armed rebellion, but his attempt was unsuccessful. His sons were killed in the ensuing battle, and he was captured, and then tried, and convicted, for treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia. He was sentenced to death by hanging, which was performed on December 2, 1859.

Muslim countries
Early in Islamic history, the only form of treason was seen as the attempt to overthrow a just government or waging war against the State. According to Arab tradition, the prescribed punishment ranged from imprisonment to the severing of limbs and the death penalty depending on the severity of the crime. However, even in cases of treason the repentance of a person would have to be taken into account.

Currently, the consensus among major Islamic schools is that apostacy (leaving Islam) is considered treason and that the penalty is death; this is supported not in the Quran but in the Hadith. This confusion between apostasy and treason almost certainly had its roots in the Ridda Wars, in which an army of rebel traitors led by the self-proclaimed prophet Musaylima attempted to destroy the caliphate of Abu Bakr.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the Iranian Cleric Sheikh Fazlollah Noori opposed the Iranian Constitutional Revolution by inciting insurrection against them through issuing Fatwahs and publishing pamphlets arguing democracy will bring vice to the country. The new government executed him for treason in 1909.

In Malaysia, it is treason to commit offences against the Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s person, waging, attempting to wage war or abetting the waging of war against the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, a Ruler or Yang di-Pertua Negeri. All these offences are punishable by hanging, which derives from the English treason acts (a former British colony, Malaysia's legal system is based on English common law).

In Algeria, treason is defined as the following:

  • attempts to change the regime or actions aimed at incitement
  • destruction of territory, sabotage to public and economic utilities
  • participation in armed bands or in insurrectionary movements


In Bahrain, plotting to topple the regime, collaborating with a foreign hostile country and threatening the life of the Emir are defined as treason and punishable by death. The State Security Law of 1974 was used to crush dissent that could be seen as treasonous, which was criticised for permitting severe human rights violations in accordance with Article One:

In Iran every act of disloyalty is considered high treason, even expressing one's mind against the Supreme Leader of Iran. Acting against the military forces or police forces is also treason because they are arguably loyal to the supreme leader. Most judges are careful with the death sentence if the crime is considered a disloyalty to the supreme leader because every sentence lower than death sentence is not acceptable.

After a presidential election in which people started to oppose the government and country leaders, courts have been a lot more sensitive about the crime of treason in order to keep better control of the situation.[citation needed]

In the areas controlled by the Palestinian National Authority, it is treason to give assistance to Israeli troops or sell land to Jews (irrespective of nationality) and also non-Jewish Israeli citizens under the Palestinian Land Laws. Both crimes are capital offences subject to the death penalty. Likewise, in the Gaza Strip under the Hamas led government, any sort of cooperation or assistance to Israeli forces during military actions is also punishable by death.

List of people convicted by country

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Related offences

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There are a number of other crimes against the state short of treason:

  • Apostasy in Islam is currently considered treason in Islamic belief, but this was not historically the case.
  • Compounding treason is dropping a prosecution for treason in exchange for money or money's worth.
  • Defection, or leaving the country, is regarded in some communist countries (especially during the Cold War) as disloyal to the state.
  • Espionage or spying.
  • Lèse majesté is insulting a head of state and is a crime in some countries.
  • Misprision of treason is a crime consisting of the concealment of treason.
  • Sedition is inciting civil unrest or insurrection, or undermining the government.
  • Treachery, the name of a number of derivative offences.
  • Treason felony, a British offence tantamount to treason.


Further reading

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  • Elaine Shannon and Ann Blackman, The Spy Next Door : The Extraordinary Secret Life of Robert Philip Hanssen, The Most Damaging FBI Agent in US History, Little, Brown and Company, 2002, ISBN 0-316-71821-1
  • Ben-Yehuda, Nachman, "Betrayals and Treason. Violations of trust and Loyalty." Westview Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8133-9776-6
  • Ó Longaigh, Seosamh, "Emergency Law in Independent Ireland, 1922–1948", Four Courts Press, Dublin 2006 ISBN 1-85182-922-9


See also

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  • Constructive treason


Some of the content on this page has been provided by the following page on Wikipedia.org: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treason


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