Friday, 22 April 2016

Has Pakistan gone too far?By: Madiha Batool

Has Pakistan gone too far?By: Madiha Batool
Islam teaches us killing an innocent person is like killing the entire humanity, would it also not be hanging one innocent person would mean sending the entire humanity to the gallows?
In its “Death Sentences and Executions Report 2015”, the Amnesty International ranked Pakistan as the third most prolific executioner in the world. The country stood right after China (the extent of whose executions are not known) and Iran. Moreover, Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia together accounted for almost 90 percent of all the global executions recorded. While the Amnesty’s data was only for the year 2015, it is noteworthy that Pakistan has since 2014 hanged at least 394 death row inmates. Lifting the six-year de facto moratorium on death penalty, first in terror-related cases and, in March 2015, in all capital cases, the government seemed quite convinced that capital punishment was the only effective way to deal with the scourge of terrorism. Therefore, when the moratorium was lifted, it was almost evident that the government of Pakistan earnestly wanted to go after terrorists in a bid to deter them from militancy. After following this policy for almost a year and a half now, a quick glance at the data of executions carried out in Pakistan would show whether this target was actually achieved.
As per the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), as many as 394 death row convicts have been hanged to date. Out of these, 49 were tried by the Anti-Terrorist Courts (ATCs) and 12 by the military courts. If this data is anything to go by, only around 10 percent of those executed in Pakistan have been associated with terrorism, while 73 percent were ordinary murderers. All others remaining were involved in murder after rape, murder after robbery or murder after kidnapping. Thus, the Pakistani government’s assertion that the moratorium on death penalty was lifted to tackle terrorism loses ground here.
Then again, it is a very unfortunate reality that juveniles and people with disabilities were also amongst those executed. Controversies came to the fore due to the trials of non-terrorism related cases in ATCs and the condemnation of alleged juveniles to death — a case in point being Shafqat Hussain’s who was allegedly sentenced to death when he was 15 years old and was hanged in August 2015. The Amnesty International also claimed that a juvenile was among those executed earlier by the courts. Aftab Bahadur Masih was hanged in June 2015 despite pleas from international human rights groups that he was a juvenile when convicted of murder.
Apart from this, there have been cases where the court-appointed lawyer does not even once meet the convict outside of court, present evidence in his defence or properly challenge witness statements. Submerged in their financial woes, the families cannot hire a private lawyer, and very often lose the battle of life against poverty. A paraplegic death row prisoner received a last-minute stay of execution in September 2015 to the relief of many human rights activists in the country. However, the news that the officials were uncertain of how to hang a man incapable of standing up unsupported was sickening and painful, to say the least.
When we talk about the national public narrative on the issue, according to a Gilani Research Foundation Survey carried out by the Gallup Pakistan in February 2016, almost 92 percent of Pakistanis said they supported the rule of hanging terrorists. Out of those who were in its favour, 64 percent opined that they supported it “a lot”, while 28 percent said they approved it “to some extent.” However, one must observe that the primary question that this survey asked was whether people were for or against “the rule of hanging terrorists.” Like the government, perhaps the Pakistani public also believes that more and more executions can deter terrorists. But is it true? Can people who know that they would ultimately be blowing themselves up one day be really deterred by capital punishment? Of course not, as either way they would consider themselves to be ‘martyrs’. In their study titled “The Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment:
Evidence from a Judicial Experiment”, Professors Hashem Dezhbakhsh, Paul R Rubin and Joanna M Shepherd of Emory University concluded that each execution resulted in 18 fewer murders in the US between 1977 and 1996. However, Shepherd revealed in another paper that shorter waits on death row increased deterrence. In Pakistan, however, the judicial system is notoriously slow, with cases frequently dragging on for years before even being given the chance of hearing. Resultantly, these longer waits exhaust the chances of any deterrent effect that the executions might have after all.
Furthermore, the broad definition attributed to ‘terrorism’ in Pakistan is also part of the problem. Subsection (b) of Section 6(1) of the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997, as amended in 2013, spells out terrorism as the use or threat of action where it is “…to coerce and intimidate or overawe the Government or the public…” or “…create a sense of fear or insecurity in society.” It is very obvious that any murder can be deemed to ‘intimidate’ the public and ‘create a sense of fear’ in the neighbourhood. No wonder, as per reports, more than one in 10 of every death row prisoner in Pakistan is tried as a ‘terrorist’.
One would really want to ask at this juncture whether the Pakistani society has developed a post-traumatic syndrome. Perhaps the excessive killings that we have witnessed as a result of terrorism in our country have made us alien to the very concept of humanity? Let us not forget that a person never dies alone. While Islam teaches us that killing an innocent person is like killing the entire humanity, would it also not be that hanging one innocent person would mean sending the entire humanity to the gallows? Do we trust the fairness of our police and the judicial processes so blindly that we cannot even raise doubt over them?
Also, there is too much at stake here. Let us not forget that though we might have been lucky with the EU’s first compliance report on Pakistan’s Generalised System of Preferences-Plus (GSP+) status, there will be a reassessment in 2017. Government simply cannot take the implementation of the 27 international conventions non-seriously if it wants to avail the GSP+ benefits beyond that date. With Pakistan’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) due in 2017 too, will it is not be a wise decision to start putting our house in order now? Death penalty is sure to feature as a main issue in the review process as are the hangings of the allegedly juvenile death row convicts. Pakistan has ratified the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child and has, hence, committed not to impose death penalty on anyone who was a juvenile at the time of the crime. It is vitally important that we start respecting our commitments and rethinking our policies now rather than later making apologetic defenses of our position. Pakistan has indeed gone too far in its policy of executions and it is time we start doing more (or perhaps less) on the issue.
 The writer is Adviser on Political and Economic Affairs in a diplomatic mission in Pakistan

No comments: