Mian­wali Aspi­ra­tion and Re­al­ity

Southasia - - MALÉ - The writer is a lawyer. She ob­tained her un­der­grad­u­ate de­gree in global af­fairs at Yale and stud­ied law at the Univer­sity of Cam­bridge.

to have far-reach­ing and ir­re­versible con­se­quences.

In Pun­jab, for in­stance, the death penalty ac­counts for 83% of the ex­e­cu­tions and 89% of the death sen­tences in the coun­try. Seven times as many pris­on­ers have been sen­tenced to death in Pun­jab than in Sindh. Not­with­stand­ing the high ex­e­cu­tion rates, the num­ber of mur­ders and the in­ci­dents of ter­ror crimes have not de­clined in Pun­jab. De­spite hav­ing ex­e­cuted only 18 pris­on­ers in com­par­i­son to Pun­jab’s 382 ex­e­cu­tions, Sindh has had the great­est de­cline in mur­ders (40% de­cline in 2014-2015 in com­par­i­son to Pun­jab’s 25%) in Pak­istan.

The rate of de­cline in mur­ders in Pun­jab has also been slower than the de­cline in the rest of Pak­istan, over­all. These fig­ures sug­gest that there is no cor­re­la­tion be­tween the use of the death penalty and a de­crease in the crimes it seeks to de­ter. Ac­cord­ing to the Jus­tice Project of Pak­istan’s find­ings, 25 of the 27 jails in Pun­jab are hold­ing pris­on­ers be­yond their max­i­mum ca­pac­ity. As the num­ber of pris­on­ers held be­yond ca­pac­ity in­creases, the num­ber of pris­on­ers ex­e­cuted in the jail also in­creases ( cor­re­la­tion=0.73). For every 70 pris­on­ers added to an over­pop­u­lated jail, 1 pris­oner is ex­e­cuted. This hor­rific statis­tic sug­gests that prison ad­min­is­tra­tion agen­cies are re­spond­ing to is­sues of over­pop­u­la­tion and crowd­ing by in­creas­ing ex­e­cu­tions. The so­lu­tion to over­pop­u­la­tion, how­ever, is to find ways to have more ex­pe­di­tious tri­als to cre­ate space in pris­ons. It is not to hand out death sen­tences.

There are also con­cerns that up to 1,000 peo­ple that were con­victed as ju­ve­niles are fac­ing ex­e­cu­tion in Pak­istan. This is il­le­gal un­der in­ter­na­tional law. How­ever, prov­ing ac­cu­rate ages in Pak­istan can be par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult, es­pe­cially in poor com­mu­ni­ties as many births are not reg­is­tered. Thus, in June last year, Aftab Ba­hadur was put to death even though ev­i­dence proved that he was a mi­nor when he was con­victed of mur­der in 1992. On 4 Au­gust 2017, Shafqat Hus­sain was also ex­e­cuted, de­spite ap­peals that he was a mi­nor when con­victed. He was found guilty of killing and kid­nap­ping a seven-year-old boy in 2004. His lawyers also main­tained that he was un­der­age when the boy was killed. Hus­sain was al­legedly tor­tured for nine days be­fore he gave a con­fes­sion which he later with­drew. His ex­e­cu­tion was post­poned four times be­fore he was hanged.

These sta­tis­tics il­lus­trate that the im­po­si­tion of the death penalty in Pak­istan has not led to a de­cline in ei­ther ter­ror-re­lated or other crimes. In­stead, it ap­pears to have been re­in­sti­tuted in haste, in what was an emo­tional time for Pak­istan. De­ci­sion­mak­ers can­not be emo­tion­ally charged when seek­ing to im­ple­ment ef­fec­tive ways to de­ter se­ri­ous acts of ter­ror and crime. Such de­ci­sions must be based on clear em­pir­i­cal ev­i­dence, on sound and ob­jec­tive bench­marks and af­ter con­sid­er­ing in­ter­na­tional best prac­tices. The world is mov­ing away from use of the death penalty, there­fore, it is sur­pris­ing that Pak­istan has re-im­ple­mented it. The num­bers given here are also clear. They do not show that the death penalty is serv­ing as an ef­fec­tive de­ter­rent to ei­ther ter­ror re­lated or other crimes. In­stead, it ap­pears that it is be­ing used far too fre­quently and flip­pantly. It is per­haps time again for the govern­ment of Pak­istan to re-eval­u­ate its pol­icy about cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment through a fact-based study be­fore too many ir­re­versible sen­tences are handed out.

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