Thursday Jul 06, 2017
LAHORE: Pakistan’s use of the death penalty has failed to deter crime, is not being used to curb terrorism and is exceedingly used as a political tool, even sometimes as an overcrowding solution, a report by the Justice Project Pakistan finds.
The research finds that until May this year, a total of 465 prisoners have been sent to the gallows since Pakistan lifted the moratorium on executions in December 2014. This makes Pakistan the fifth most prolific executioner in the world, following China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
Punjab has emerged as the overwhelming practitioner of the death penalty, accounting for 83 per cent of executions, and 89 per cent of death sentences in Pakistan. However, it has also witnessed only a 9.7 per cent drop in murder rates from 2015-2016. Sindh, on the other hand, has viewed a drop of nearly 25 per cent in the same time period – even though it carried out only 18 executions compared to Punjab’s 382. In fact, murder rates in Pakistan were already in decline before the moratorium was lifted, casting even more doubt on the already dubious relationship between the death penalty and reducing crime.
A closer look at the yearly trends of executions shows that anti-terrorism courts (ATC) accounted for only 16 per cent of executions. In 2015, 65 people tried by ATCs were hanged but only eight from Jan 2016 to May 2017. The majority of death sentences that have been carried out in that time have come from district and sessions courts, which do not have jurisdiction over terrorism cases.
The government has sought to justify lifting the moratorium for all 27 death-eligible crimes by claiming it is necessary to deter terrorist attacks in Pakistan. But the data indicates that the government is mostly hanging terrorists through military courts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and through ATCs in Sindh.
Another trend that has emerged is that the number of executions spike in the wake of a terrorist attack (in Punjab) that kills over five people. This indicates that the use of executions, like the lifting of the moratorium, are often a reactionary step.
In Punjab, there is another worrying trend that indicates that executions are being used as a means to make room in prisons that are facing overcrowding. Currently, 25 of the 27 prisons in the province are significantly over capacity and the highest number of executions take place in the most overcrowded prisons.
Pakistan heads for its first UN review under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) on July 11, that obligates it to uphold and respect the right to life for all its citizens. Pakistan’s return to an executing state has been taken up in the list of issues framed by the Human Rights Council committee.
In just one year after the moratorium was lifted, Pakistan became the third most prolific executioner in the world. During that time, execution warrants for the mentally ill, physically disabled and juvenile offenders have been issued. More and more cases of wrongful executions have come to light since then. In October last year, the Supreme Court acquitted two brothers in Bahawalpur after they spent 11 years on death row, only to find they had already been executed the year before. Another prisoner was found innocent a year after he had been found dead in his cell. There are likely many more cases like this, considering a condemned prisoner will spend an average of 11.41 years on death row.
JPP Executive Director Sarah Belal, adds: “Pakistan’s troubling and continued use of the death penalty has continuously fallen short of meeting its international human rights commitments and fair trial standards, as well as our own domestic laws. The death penalty is not an effective tool to curb militancy and crime, as the data clearly shows, yet has been increasingly used for political gain. It is time for the stakeholders to commit to genuine reform in our criminal justice system, and until it does, to restore the moratorium on the death penalty.”
JPP, a human rights organisation established in December 2009, provides pro-bono legal representation to the most vulnerable Pakistani prisoners facing the harshest punishments.