Until the death penalty is phased out in Pakistan, a moratorium on capital punishment is the best alternative. But while a de facto moratorium has been in place since 2008, as recent developments in a case being heard by the Lahore High Court’s Rawalpindi bench show, there is no legal or official cover to justify the freeze on executions.
Hence unless a clear policy is enunciated by the state, executions may resume soon.
On Tuesday, the LHC stayed the execution of Shoaib Sarwar, convicted for murder, as his counsel had argued that the man had already been in prison for 18 years.
Earlier in August, when the government was asked to produce documents to prove that the moratorium was still in effect, it was unable to do so.
No civilians have been executed in Pakistan since the unofficial moratorium came in effect six years ago, though a military man was convicted for murdering a fellow soldier by a court martial and hanged in 2012.
As a matter of principle, this newspaper opposes the death penalty.
Apart from the fact that it is a cruel and irreversible punishment, too much is wrong with the Pakistani legal and law enforcement systems to even remotely consider capital punishment.
Though the goal of abolishing the death penalty in this country may still be quite far off, the second best option is to enforce a permanent moratorium.
Also Read: HRCP for stay of execution
Currently, there is much confusion regarding the official status of the freeze on executions. While government officials have in the past said they are reviewing the moratorium and legislation is being considered to convert death sentences into life terms, of recent the state has been silent on the issue.
But the problem is too big to be left on the back burner.
There are over 8,000 prisoners currently on death row in Pakistan, which has one of the largest such populations in the world.
While the execution of the convict in Rawalpindi was stayed by the court, a more consistent policy is needed in this regard, instead of dealing with the issue on a case-to-case basis.
The government needs to clarify its stance, preferably giving legal cover to a permanent moratorium. In the long term, along with the eventual abolition of capital punishment, the criminal justice system must be reformed so that individuals are made to pay for their crimes through punishments that are in consonance with human rights principles.
Published in Dawn, September 18th, 2014