Pakistan: Terrorism-ridden society is confused about death penalty

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: Photo By News Lens Pakistan / Matiullah Achakzai
Views after bomb blast at Taj Road in Chaman. The bomb was planted inside vehicle caused 10 people injured. Photo Newslens/Matiullah Achakzai. : Photo By News Lens Pakistan / Matiullah Achakzaierror

Lahore: Death penalty has become an enigma in Pakistan owing to the myriad view points people hold about the crisis inflicting Pakistan in the form of terrorism. To some, terrorism is the outcome of Pakistan government’s patronage to the militant organizations, to others it is widespread due to absence of rule of law and for many it is government’s reluctance to punish people for their sins that has resulted in this chaos.

These conflicting views has given rise to three different schools of thoughts about the effects of death penalty on society.

One school of thought believes that death penalty works as a deterrence and reduces crime in society; religious groups adhere to this views. Another school of thought believes that death penalty does not decrease crime rate and that the state has no right to take the life of any person in any manner. Another school of thought that dominates Pakistan these days links the rising terrorism in Pakistan with government’s inaction towards handing out death penalties. The former two groups have statistics to support their claims, but the later group has neither any data to strengthen its argument nor any moral ground to substantiate its narrative.

When News Lens Pakistan talked to security analyst, Dr Khadim Hussain, associated with Baacha Khan Trust Educational Foundation, about the correlation between awarding death penalty and the recent reduction in incidences of terrorism, he declined to accept the connection between the two. He argues that the state has used extremism as a foreign policy tool and engraved it in the minds and hearts of our children and adults through curricula and media. After the military operation in Swat, he says, the supply routes, the sources of funding and the recruitment networks of the terrorists were dismantled resulting in the improved law and order situation. The same he emphasised is being done in FATA. Deliberating further he added that even the military courts are handing out death penalties only to low-cadre terrorists, their leadership is still intact and only five percent of them had been sent to gallows so far.

“In fact, I believe, that awarding death penalties will only exacerbate the tendency of extremism in people who consider those having opposing views liable to be put to death. So if you are sending someone to gallows, it might end up feeding active terrorism,” says Hussain.

Religiously inspired militancy tends to glorify death penalty as it happened in the case of one of the militants of banned Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan whose coffin had been showered with rose petals by his well-wishers on 17 January 2015 in Karachi Central Prison.

The libertarians oppose death penalty because of poor, inefficient criminal justice system of Pakistan, poor legal aid for victim and unfair trial.

Pakistan has sent over 260 people to gallows since January 2015. While there was no execution in the country during the years 2009-2014 because of an unofficial moratorium, the courts went on to sentence at least 2,196 people to death during the time.

When Pakistan came into being, only two crimes contained death penalty. Gradually the count was increased to 27 crimes. Ninety-nine nations have abolished death penalty. China, North Korea and now Pakistan are believed to be among the world’s top executioners.

I.A Rehman, Secretary General Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, told News Lens Pakistan that hanging is no solution to reduce crime and corruption in society.

“The tyrant in Pakistan is 100 percent sure that by taking advantage of the flawed justice system, he can eventually go out escort free. Reliance on death penalty diverts the attention from real issues such as poor investigation, crime prevention and rights of the victims.

He further said that crime rate is always high in countries where people are deprived of basic facilities in education, health and job opportunities adding that crime cannot be effectively checked if their basic rights are not fulfilled. Therefore, he said, social development should be used as a deterrence to prevent crime and not death penalty.

Dr Muhammad Hammad Lakhvi, Professor of Islamic Studies at  Punjab University, Lahore while advocating the necessity of having death penalty, criticised the government for making mockery of law adding that apparently there is no law governing the country. In fact, the legal system he says seems to have created more room for corruption and manipulation. He emphasised the equality of all human beings before the law anchored in Article 4 of the constitution of Pakistan.

“When people are not caught and punished for committing crime they become insensitive to law and become irresponsible. Not punishment but consistent and fair implementation of law create fear in the hearts of the citizens. When each one of us would know that no criminal, of any origin, background and ethnicity, could escape the rule of law things would begin improving,” says Lakhvi.

He further says that Deyat (blood money) is not an alternative to death penalty. It is the sheer discretion of the family of the victim; they could either forgive the convict, take blood money from his/her family or keep the death penalty intact. He condemned the way the law of blood money is implemented in Pakistan, because of which the powerless are forced to forgive the murder convict by taking blood money.

Right activists and legal experts have been demanding that the government make amendment in the honour killing law and make it a non-compoundable offence.

Honour killing is a compoundable offence under section 320 of criminal procedure code. Compoundable offence is considered less serious and can be settled by the victim and the offender themselves with or without the permission of the court. The offender is acquitted if a compromise is reached.
On this Dr Lakhwi says that unless the state has thoroughly investigated the crime and held the perpetrator accountable, no deal whatsoever between the family of the convict and the victim is permissible in Islam. Murder whether in the name of honour or otherwise is a lethal and heinous crime that cannot be ignored.

On the recent wave of death penalties and consequent reduction in crime rate in the country, Attock District Police Officer, Rana Ayyaz Saleem says: “For the last many years people on death penalty used to operate gangs from inside the jai. Execution reduced this practice. Religious and sectarian extremists on death penalty had become real dons of jail while sources of fear for the witnesses and complainants execution checked them. It broke the status quo that established in the last decade.”

The government has been issuing different statistics in order to establish correlation between reduction in murder cases and death penalty. According to press reports, one-third reduction in the incidence of murder has been recorded since January 2015. However, this data cannot be substantiated from any credible authority.

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