Treason is an act of disloyalty or betrayal of trust to a person's own government. Examples include assassination of a state figure, fighting against his or her own nation in a war, assisting enemy combatants, or passing vital government information to the enemy. Historically, this crime has been severely punished, because an act of treason can destroy a nation. In the modern day, a conviction is accompanied at a minimum by a long jail sentence and a heavy fine, and may merit the death penalty under certain circumstances.
Traditionally, the families of traitors were punished along with the traitors themselves, to act as a deterrent to committing treason or participating in treasonous acts with family members. In addition to being sentenced to death, all of the traitor's property would be confiscated, and his or her family members might be forced to forfeit property as well in punishment. Traitors could not will property to other family members, and individuals related to someone who had committed this crime faced serious social stigma. Many family members fled to other countries with what wealth they could salvage.
Often, the method of death imposed was also particularly macabre. Traitors were rarely simply hung — they could anticipate being drawn and quartered or tarred and feathered, and gibbeted as an object lesson. Gibbeting refers to the public display of a criminal, alive or dead, usually with a sign detailing his or her crimes. Individuals were hung along roadways and at the entries to towns, so that travelers would constantly be reminded of the punishments in store for serious crimes. Many gibbets were left until the body had decayed entirely, and the family of the criminal was not permitted to bury the deceased in holy ground.
In the modern era, most nations punish the traitor alone, with a sentence of death for serious acts of treason in nations with the death penalty. Lesser acts merit a jail sentence, usually for a minimum of five years, and a heavy fine: in the United States, the fine is $10,000 US Dollars. In nations without the death penalty, like Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, England, and Australia, traitors are usually punished with life imprisonment. Due to refinements of the definition for treason, convictions in the First World are rare, but many developing nations use accusations of it to punish dissidents, suggesting a lack of free expression in these nations.