SUCCESSFUL as 2015 was on many fronts in the fight to stabilise the country and restore internal peace, there was one especially grim statistic: following first the partial and then the complete lifting of the moratorium on the death penalty, 333 individuals were hanged to death last year. As a report compiled by Dawn.com has shown, the record executions in Pakistan were only exceeded by Iran and China. None of the three countries, and Saudi Arabia, which executed the fourth highest number of people, has a judicial system that inspires confidence or is a model that other states want to emulate. From the standpoint of justice, it is not an enviable company of nations. Yet, the state here appears to show no intention of slowing down. The new year has begun with the ISPR announcing that the army chief has ratified the death sentences of nine more individuals convicted by the military. The crimes that the men allegedly belonging to various militant groups have been convicted of are clearly of a very serious nature. But the opaqueness of the trials and the sentences handed down do not meet the standards of justice — the fight against militancy can and should be won without the dubious crutch that is the death penalty.
As documented over the course of the last year, the reinstatement of the death penalty in the country had little to do with terrorism — the overwhelming majority of the men hanged had no militant, terrorist or extremist affiliation. Moreover, there is no evidence whatsoever that the reinstatement of the death penalty has acted as a deterrent. While militancy and terrorism were markedly lower last year, military and government officials themselves routinely credited the reduction to military operations in Fata and counterterrorism actions across the country. It is not just the direct effect — while more than 30 individuals have been sentenced to die by military courts, the high-profile nature of those cases has drawn virtually all attention away from the death sentences that continue to be handed down by the regular courts and made even more difficult scrutiny of the non-military cases that have been sent to the gallows.
While wide-ranging judicial reforms remain a distant priority for the government, there are two interventions that could help slow down the frantic rate of executions. Firstly, the government could form a special high-powered committee consisting of judicial and human rights experts to review the cases that are set for execution rather than leaving it to the normal channels of review via the courts and the interior ministry. Secondly, the unacceptably wide range of crimes that the death penalty can be handed down for should be urgently reviewed. If the political will exists, the legalities of both steps could surely be worked out in reasonable time. The shameful record of executions last year should be not exceeded in 2016.
Published in Dawn, January 3rd, 2016