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Why the Death Penalty Won’t Work

Dec 2014

Screenshot of Dawn News reporting on the Army's decision execute 6 men.

Screenshot of Dawn News reporting on the Army’s decision to execute 6 men.

Dec 18, 2014 – Army Chief General Raheel Sharif signed the death warrants of 6 men accused of being “hardcore terrorists.”  The men are expected to be executed within 48 hours. The move comes a day after the government lifted the moratorium on the death penalty in the wake of the Peshawar attack.

Meanwhile, the anti-terrorism court has approved the release of the head of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, on bail because the courts are worried about security should the trial go forward. The group is widely thought to be responsible for the Mumbai attacks.

“Simply not terrorists”

A report released this month by the Justice Project Pakistan, a legal advocacy organization in collaboration with Reprieve, a UK-based humanitarian organization, finds that many of those now facing execution are “simply not terrorists.” The report, Terror on Death Rowexposes the rampant violations of human rights, torture and terror that that death row inmates face. As is evident from the case studies in the report, the poor and marginalized are more likely to be ensnared by the legislation that results in the death penalty. The report shows how the Pakistani state uses the death penalty for things that have nothing to do with terrorism.

The full report is worth reading. Here are the highlights:

  • Over 800 prisoners on death row in Pakistan were tried as ‘terrorists’ though in cases as much as 88 percent, there was no link to anything that can reasonably be defined as ‘terrorism.’
  • These so-called terrorism cases represent more than 1 in 10 of Pakistan’s death row population.
  • In Sindh, the percentage of people on death row for ‘terrorism’ is even higher.
  • There are currently 17,000 terrorism cases pending in Pakistan, many of which have nothing to do with ‘terrorism.’

Quotes from report

“In Pakistan, we have likewise seen a legislative framework that is intended for use to combat acts of terrorism. This has come with such a wide definition of ‘terrorist’ as to swallow the entire purpose of the laws. As this report will set out, these laws have not been used to combat terrorism so much as to undermine the essential nature of Pakistani justice” (p 2).

“Investigation conducted into individual cases of those sentenced to death by anti-terrorism courts over the past two decades likewise shows that instead of being reserved for the most serious cases of recognizable acts of terror, the anti-terror legislation is being used to try to usurp the role of our courts in ordinary criminal cases.

The legislative scheme entails significant violations of human rights and has also failed to serve as a deterrent against acts of terror” (p 3).

“The definition of ‘terrorism’ under the current legislation is vague and overly broad, bearing little relationship to terrorism as it is commonly understood” (p 5).

AN EXAMPLE: Shafqat Hussain, 14-year-old boy facing the death penalty.

Shafqat Hussain was sentenced to death by an anti-terrorism court in November 2004 for alleged kidnap and murder. He was convicted on the basis of a single piece of evidence: a ‘confession’ extracted after nine days of savage beating and torture. In Shafqat’s own words: “They could make you say that a deer was an elephant.” Shafqat Hussain, on the torture he was subjected to by police.

AN EXAMPLE: Muhammad Akhtar a man acquitted of his crimes, yet still on death row.

After arresting him, police brutally tortured Muhammad to obtain a ‘confession’ for murder and rape. He was hung upside-down from a metal bar (kursi), which causes excruciating pain to the forearms and legs (the equivalent of the Spanish Inquisition’s practice of strappado). He was also stretched whilst tied to a bed (manji – the equivalent of the medieval rack).

How Akhtar was tortured: “The victim’s right arm and leg are tied to a bed (manji) and his left arm and leg to a second parallel bed, leaving his body suspended in the middle. The two beds are pulled apart, stretching the victim’s body and forcing his joints to sustain the entire weight of his body.” 

Report recommendations 

  • The convictions and death sentences in the individual case studies examined in this report should be immediately reviewed
  • A full review of cases tried under anti-terrorism legislation should be considered, starting with those already held on death row
  • The current anti-terrorism legislation should be suspended pending full review; in particular, there should be a detailed review of those provisions curtailing safeguards to fundamental freedoms
  • Section 21-H of the ATA (permitting extrajudicial confessions) should be immediately repealed
  • The current moratorium on executions should remain in place and the legal position regarding the moratorium should be clarified

You can read the full report here.

M. Tahir is a co-founder and editor of Tanqeed.

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34 Responses to Why the Death Penalty Won’t Work

  1. […] Madiha Tahir: Army Chief General Raheel Sharif signed the death warrants of 6 men accused of being “hardcore terrorists.” The men are expected to be executed within 48 hours. The move comes a day after the government lifted the moratorium on the death penalty in the wake of the Peshawar attack. Meanwhile, the anti-terrorism court has approved the release of the head of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, on bail because the courts are worried about security should the trial go forward. The group is widely thought to be responsible for the Mumbai attacks. A report released this month by the Justice Project Pakistan, a legal advocacy organization in collaboration with Reprieve, a UK-based humanitarian organization, finds that many of those now facing execution are “simply not terrorists.” The report, Terror on Death Row, exposes the rampant violations of human rights, torture and terror that that death row inmates face. As is evident from the case studies in the report, the poor and marginalized are more likely to be ensnared by the legislation that results in the death penalty. The report shows how the Pakistani state uses the death penalty for things that have nothing to do with terrorism. More here. […]

  2. Haseeb Elahi on Dec 2014 at 12:49 PM

    Let the kids die. That’s not violation of any human rights but you can’t hang people. “Life for life”.

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