Who are we hanging?

Updated June 30, 2019

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HRW’s Saroop Ijaz speaks during the panel discussion on Saturday.
—White Star
HRW’s Saroop Ijaz speaks during the panel discussion on Saturday. —White Star

KARACHI: To find out who is being sentenced to death or read about prior cases, the Justice Project Pakistan has compiled data, previously unavailable to the public, in the form of an open-source called Death Penalty Database.

This was possible with technical support from the Human Rights Information and Documentation Systems, International. This will allow the public, media and academia to generate their own findings and base their work on verified data.

Read more: SC overturned death penalty in 78pc cases: report

The database, launched here at an event on Saturday evening, features comprehensive research on the country’s use of capital punishment, trial details of prisoners, number of prisoners on death row and executions carried out since 2014 — when the moratorium on executions was lifted after the Army Public School massacre.

More than 4,600 people are on death row, including juveniles, the mentally ill and disabled, shows new database

Since then more than 511 prisoners have been executed in the country, which means that every eighth person executed in the world is a Pakistani.

At the moment there are more than 4,600 people on death row, including juveniles, the mentally ill and the physically disabled.

Adviser to the Chief Minister of Sindh on Law Murtaza Wahab was the keynote speaker at the event. He discussed the work of the Sindh government such as the recent Prisons Reform Act of 2019 which focuses on the detention of a suspect/accused, but ensures their fundamental rights such as the right to healthcare and education inside jail.

He said: “Data is the start of a new beginning. It is when we have data that we can analyse statistics and come up with strategies to resolve whatever issues we are facing in the criminal justice system.”

He added that the Sindh government and Pakistan Peoples Party had been working on laws on human rights, women’s rights and child protection laws.

After a brief presentation on how the database works, a panel discussion was held with special assistant to the CM Qassim Naveed Qamar, Human Rights Watch’s Saroop Ijaz and Herald editor Badar Alam.

During the discussion which was moderated by JPP’s Nida Jaffery, Mr Ijaz pointed out that a very small percentage of people who had been executed since 2014 had anything to do with terrorism.

The panel discussed public executions, death penalty under the British Raj and the case of two brothers who were executed because of a clerical error in 2015 but were acquitted a few years after their death.

According to JPP’s board member Isfanyar Kasuri, there is no empirical evidence that the death penalty deters crime or terrorism.

He added that a closer look at the data from the past 20 years drew attention to a strong correlation between economic inequality, political violence and instability and murder rates.

Three steps

The JPP uses a three-step process to obtain and verify data on executions and the death row population. It starts with news reports, press releases, families of the prisoners and prison officials.

Once the JPP receives news about an execution, it verifies the information with the death row population list. In some cases, a prisoner may not be on the list, then the JPP confirms the execution with a prison official.

Next month, the JPP plans to publish a book on the use of death penalty. In September, they will launch a mobile app called Access to Justice which will help bridge the gap between indigent defendants and attorneys.

The database can be accessed at: https://data.jpp.org.pk/

Published in Dawn, June 30th, 2019