Wrongfully hanged

Published October 24, 2016

GHULAM Sarwar and Ghulam Qadir are names that must not be forgotten if the criminal justice system of the country is ever to be reformed. Even by the distressing standards of a broken justice system, the case of the two brothers is shocking: they have not lived to see their convictions for murder overturned on appeal by the Supreme Court because they were executed by the state before the appeals could be decided. An astonishing and macabre miscarriage of justice is made worse still by the fact that a full year has elapsed since the execution and the Supreme Court announcing its acquittal verdict, suggesting deep anomalies and a fundamental lack of coordination between the judicial and prison systems.

The shocking matter calls for at least two immediate steps to be taken by the government. First, a moratorium on the death penalty should be reinstated. Second, a comprehensive, national index needs to be developed to record all condemned prisoners, where they are imprisoned and the stage of the appeals process each case has reached. This paper opposes the death penalty in all forms and in all cases and will continue to do so. However, the Ghulam brothers’ case is not the only troubling matter to have emanated from the criminal justice system in recent days: the declaration by the Supreme Court that a medically diagnosed schizophrenic patient, Imdad Ali, can be executed by hanging has sent ripples of concern across medical and human rights fields.

Consider that while thousands of individuals in prisons across the country have been awarded the death penalty and await execution pending the appeals process being completed, the enforcement of capital punishment in several hundred cases since the lifting of a moratorium by the government has already yielded a storm of controversy. In good conscience, therefore, can the country really afford to stay the current course, instead of pausing and reviewing the entire system of capital punishment that is currently in place in Pakistan? Consider also this timeline: the murders the Ghulam brothers were accused of took place in 2002; the trial court handed down its verdict in 2005; the Supreme Court first took up the appeal against a Lahore High Court verdict upholding the brothers’ death sentences in 2010; and it is only in October 2016 that the Supreme Court overturned the convictions. While the gravity of the death penalty means that a deliberate and measured appeals process is called for, there is also the matter of two lives spent 11 years behind bars — years that the executed brothers would never have got back, even if they had been alive today. Criminal justice reforms are necessary for a fair and just society.

Published in Dawn, October 24th, 2016

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