IN the four years since the death penalty was revived in Pakistan, an estimated 500 prisoners have been executed while more than 7,000 inmates languish on death row. Published by Amnesty International in its report, Death Sentences and Executions 2017, these figures are especially alarming when capital punishment, which this paper strongly opposes, is administered for offences that fail to meet the threshold of the ‘most serious crimes’. Noting the country’s rate of executions to be at the highest level in its history — 60 executions in 2017 — it lists Pakistan as one of the five most prolific global executioners in the world. This is a damning citation. In part, these revelations are disturbing because it is universally documented that the death penalty has no deterrent effect, is often imposed after grossly unfair trials, and risks irreparable miscarriages of justice. Then, the intervention of military courts has fuelled greater injustices after the lifting of the moratorium in 2014 as part of a counterterrorism plan. Because they violate international trial standards as charges against civilian defendants are not made public and there is lack of transparency and due process, their framework must be re-evaluated for the sake of preserving the nation’s democratic credentials.
In fact, the state must look beyond such arbitrators of justice and rehabilitate the broken criminal justice system. The latter is so incapacitated that it is unable to offer adequate defence to underprivileged litigants on death row. In an appalling case last year, the Supreme Court acquitted two brothers on death row of murder — only to find out that they had already been hanged a year earlier. Incarcerating juveniles and mentally ill prisoners for years on death row is yet another serious travesty of justice. Meanwhile, the president should exercise his constitutional authority by examining pending clemency petitions from death-row prisoners. It takes moral leadership to act in the interest of humanity when there is political pressure to do otherwise. It also stands to reason that justice and mercy are integral to upholding human right laws. Our leadership would do well to revisit the philosophy of the magnanimous Bard on the concept of mercy when he wrote: “the quality of mercy is not strained … It blesseth him that gives and him that takes. ‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest.”
Published in Dawn, April 17th, 2018