PAKISTAN: A land of executions

Following the gruesome incident of the massacre of children at the Army Public School on 16th December 2014, within the military Cantonment, in Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtoonkha Province, the government under pressure by the military immediately lifted the moratorium on death sentences which were continued since August 2008. During the period from 22ndDecember 2014 to date, 21 persons believed to be terrorists have been hanged. According to the Minister of Interior Affairs a list of more than 500 more persons has been prepared and they too will be hanged during this year. As of today, there are more than 8,000 persons on the death row.

Among these 8,000 prisoners hardly 200 are terrorist suspects allegedly belonging to different factions of the Taliban, Al-Qaida and other such sectarian outfits and the remainder of the prisoners are those who involved in other criminal offences such as murder, rape and other crimes. With the lifting of the moratorium of death row, ultimately a huge number of ordinary prisoners are due to be hanged, most of who are victims of unfair trials and custodial torture in trying to obtain confessions to the crimes.

The moratorium on the death penalty had been effective since the year 2008. In June 2013 the Government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif tried to lift the moratorium and restore the execution but under heavy protests from the civil society and from the European Union he failed in his attempts. The execution and constitution of military courts remained always a sought after dream by Nawaz Sharif’s government and they are known to have implemented such practices during his two previous terms.

Although the Pakistani government had vowed to hang only those convicts who were indicted for acts of terrorism several of these convicts have spent a decade or more behind bars already, while a few others were underage when they were sentenced. Interior Minister has temporarily blocked the execution of Shafqat Hussain, who was convicted of kidnapping and murder at the age of 14. The authorities and even the President of Pakistan have refused to give him clemency and all the arrangements were made to hang Hussain. However following protests from civil society and international human rights organisations the Interior Minister had stopped the hanging which was scheduled to take place on 14th January 2015 and asked that an inquiry be conducted.

In further development, the Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had announced that more than 500 people would be hanged. Judging by the numbers it can be estimated that on a daily basis 3 people are scheduled to be hanged. The entire year will be thus glamorized with these executions and will turn the country into a killing field.

Pakistan’s criminal justice system is notorious for its lacunas and miscarriage of justice added to which the conviction by military courts through summary proceeding will take away more innocent lives. Anti-terror courts and laws are overused to prosecute ordinary crimes. The policy makers were trying to indulge in an exercise of vengeance through a blood bath, in short ‘murdering the murderers for committing murder’; by punishing the offence by committing the same offence. Failing to comprehend the jihadist mindset will cost us more national tragedies like Peshawar school attack. These militants are not afraid of military courts or being hanged as they always sale the ideology of martyrdom to pave way for entering directly in the heaven.

The lifting of moratorium has done little to curb the trend of terrorism as is already evident, what is needed is that the State root out the causes of militancy and choke their finances. Otherwise all national action plans all policies will prove to be futile.

The government instead of making wide scale reforms in policing; criminal justice system and witness protection is putting all the blame on the judiciary for the failure to convict the terrorists and releasing them for want of evidence. The Prime Minister in open remarks against the judiciary has said that the accumulation of cases before the courts was contributing to a breakdown in law and order. The two judges of the Supreme Court have responded well, to these unflattering remarks of the Prime Minister by saying that “… time has come for the executive to accept its failings and fulfill its responsibility and do its duty, which is also its constitutional obligation”. The Supreme Court has rightly pointed out that inefficient investigation and weak prosecutions are the primary reasons for these delays and the rising backlog of the cases pending in the courts.

With the ‘inefficient investigations and weak prosecution’ the government of Pakistan has decided to execute 8,000 prisoners before the general elections of 2018 to claim that it has followed the rule of law. For the next three years Pakistan will turn into a land of executions. With the constitution of military courts, which were meant to award exemplary punishments to the terrorists, there will be more executions. The criteria of sending cases to the military courts has still not been decided or made. The police are authorized to decide which of these cases will be sent to military courts. A case of a car theft was sent to a military court from Koral Police station of Islamabad. Upon scrutiny it was revealed that the offender has the same FIR number of 2013 against another unknown person. However the police in attempts to show its efficiency had sent the case of theft to a military court by changing the year from 2013 to 2014. If the media had not checked this case the offender in this case, would have faced the death row by the military courts because the military courts are mandated only to award death sentences to terrorists and nothing else.

It is high time for Pakistan government to reform its criminal justice system as it is faulty investigation and weak prosecution that let criminals free while also trapping the defenseless poor for the crimes they might never have committed. however prudent it may seem now to have military courts for executing ‘terrorists’, they are not going to be anything more than a whitewash. This is beside the point that capital punishment is unacceptable in any society that believes in law, however grave the crime is.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-013-2015
Countries : Pakistan,
Issues : Administration of justice, Inhuman & degrading treatment, Judicial system, Land rights,