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Pakistan: Death sentencing of murderers and terrorists on hold, is injustice to victims?

By Sabena Siddiq

In US  state of Texas from 1974 to 2014: 508 people have been executed for various charges including drugs and murder. Countries should be allowed to deal with the crimes like murder and terrorism according to their own environment. By executing murderers and terrorists for heinous crimes USA has not become less civilised?

So what is the problem in Pakistan for not executing the murders and terrorists, to fulfil the sentencing given by the courts and uphold rule of law. Justice should be seen to be done and rights of the victims families protected?

Capital sentence is still handed out in Pakistan; efforts were made in 2008 to commute the sentence of prisoners on death row to life imprisonment but to no avail. By the end of 2008 Pakistan had actually extended the death penalty to some cyber crimes even. Mode of execution is still hanging though other methods could be permissible.

Stoning to death sentence could be handed out in Hadd cases like rape and adultery, however stoning has never been officially utilized since its legislative introduction in 1990. In all practicality, hanging is the only mode of execution. The last hanging in almost 6 years took place on November 15, 2012 Muhammad Hussain, a soldier, was executed by hanging for killing one of his superiors in a personal dispute.

Pakistan has one of the highest rates of death sentence resulting in thousands languishing on death row. 8,500 prisoners await their fate as of now in 2014.Despite the spiralling number of death sentences, Amnesty International still considers Pakistan a success story as no execution was carried out in 2013, notwithstanding its frequency in issuing death sentences.

“Pakistan recorded some positive developments and was one of just three countries in the world that executed in 2012 but did not put anyone to death last year,” says Chiara Sangiorgio, Amnesty International’s death penalty expert.

“But there are still challenges remaining. Pakistan has one of the world’s largest death row populations, and you can still face the death penalty for non-lethal crimes like blasphemy or drug trafficking. As long as the death penalty remains on the books, lives of thousands of prisoners are still at risk,” she explained.

“We’re hoping that next year will see more positive moves from the government, and we urge Pakistan to impose a moratorium on the death penalty immediately with a view to full abolition.”

Zardari had a five-year moratorium in place on executions since 2008, only interrupted once in 2012 when a soldier was executed and there it was also a military offence. Nawaz Sharif suspended the death penalty some time after coming into power which may be termed a progressive sign, Amnesty International had been pressing for this suspension as soon as he formed government as it felt appeals process for a number of prisoners had reached the limit and they would be executed.

This leniency is well received except that some terrorists should be hanged outright as soon as they are sentenced to protect ordinary citizens. So in this way Pakistan has taken a liberal stance vis-a-vis the death penalty issue. It is said that General Zia in his time never approved mercy petitions even except in one case where he had it made a life sentence. In the past couple of decades mercy petitions have been approved by heads of state, a couple of times even Rajm / stoning to death sentences were stopped.

In fact not a single incident of stoning to death has happened in Pakistan even though the provisions are there and the Federal Shariat Court decides any Shariah matter which is not covered by the Pakistani legal system and conventional courts run in parallel.

The merit and strength of the death sentence comes into question due to the alarming frequency of sentences handed out. Justice is blind and it only considers facts, death sentence should only be handed out over solid evidence that no courts of appeal can refute otherwise it is inconsequential and only a waste of public time and money.

Some sections have clear categories of crimes enumerated which unquestionably merit the death sentence and it should be handed out only on such grounds. Many years are wasted on appeals in superior courts and even then they can be pardoned by the head of state.

Terrorists responsible for heinous crimes and others similar to them should not have their execution delayed by many years; they are a security risk for the public and state. Appeals go into process, which take years, waste time and the taxpayer’s money. There should be speedy trial courts for those involved in terrorism.

Terrorism is the main challenge faced by Pakistan.

Then there are two sides to the coin, many of the death row inmates could be innocent, framed in a crime and handed the death sentence without proper evidence and investigation. The merit and honesty of the judiciary is supremely essential to prevent death sentence being handed out so often. There should be a special judicial committee to peruse and go through each case where death sentence was given to improve the entire judicial system, each case has to be gone through and checked.

Another aspect is that carrying out a death sentence makes the judicial system look more powerful and reinforces the law of the land, criminals know where they end. But the sheer frequency of death sentences makes it even more probable that many are innocent.

This is very disturbing even though the sentence – execution ration is minimal or rather non -existent in Pakistan. One factor to be borne in mind is that the death row receives more importance and first priority in the system of justice.

Even less justice would be done in sentences lower than capital punishment. Pakistan has one of the largest death-row populations in the world yet one of the lowest execution ratios. The US is one of the few developed countries still allowing and performing executions, but 17 of its states do not allow the penalty, and 10 of the states that do have not carried out an execution in 12 years or more.

China, together with Iran, North Korea, Yemen and the US carried out the most executions last year. There were 1000 executions in China last year, apart from that Amnesty reports at least 680 executions carried out last year – up by four on the previous year. Half of those took place in Iran 314. Iraq executed 129, Saudi Arabia 79 and the US 43. The minimum number of executions was down from at least 712 in 2009. So overall the ratio is decreasing.

When the United Kingdom had capital punishment, the convicted was provided one appeal of their sentence. If it was found to involve an important point of law it was taken up to the House of Lords, and if successful, at that point the sentence was changed to life sentence.

Condemned prisoners in America spend a very long time waiting to die. The appeals process can drag on for decades. A condemned prisoner has a 1-in-72 chance of being executed each year.

The time for sentence and execution has risen from six years in the mid-1980s to 16.5 years now. Most condemned prisoners will never be put to death; they mostly die of natural causes before that as conditions on death row are quite grim and depressing.

Likewise in Pakistan the appeal process is unending and life on death row is dismal. The death penalty carries with it a dark shadow of uncertainty that can only be felt by a responsible judiciary: how many of the people sentenced to death for their crimes are innocent?

Justice should be seen to be done and rights of the victims families protected?

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