Public hanging is no remedy

Updated 16 Sep 2020

Email

PRIME MINISTER Imran Khan must not allow himself to be swept along on the emotions of an enraged public. Even while acknowledging that the motorway gang rape last week has understandably touched a raw nerve, he should advocate systemic change to tackle such crimes, a much more productive course of action rather than adding to the lynch mob atmosphere.

Yet during a television interview on Monday, Mr Khan called for publicly hanging those who sexually abuse women and children, although he did follow it up with the caveat that such punishment was not “internationally acceptable” and could cost Pakistan its GSP-Plus trade status. As the leader of a country that not long ago witnessed the horror of public executions carried out by bloodthirsty militants, he should be doubly aware of the optics of advocating such punishment, even if only in cases of rape.

Public hangings are neither an immediate nor a long-term answer to any crime (this paper on principle opposes the death penalty in any form), a fact that most criminologists worth their salt would confirm. Such a spectacle would only serve to include us among the most brutalised of societies, where the desire for vengeance outweighs the desire for justice.

Even the prime minister’s proposal that sex offenders be chemically castrated ignores the very relevant fact that the conviction rate in rape cases, which are already grossly under-reported, is a measly 3pc. Why is this so? Because police investigations are defective and blatantly compromised and the justice system has little interest in seeing justice done.

Read: The motorway rape case has exposed once again the failure of our law-enforcement and legal systems

Going by the most recent developments, and assuming that the police have zeroed in on the right suspects, it is clear that when their feet are held to the fire, law-enforcement agencies can perform the way they are supposed to. Had they done so earlier in the case of one of the suspects, described as a ‘habitual rapist’, he may not have been free to commit his latest alleged rape and several women would have been spared the ordeal they were put through.

According to law enforcement, this individual was also involved in a gang rape case in 2013 but, outrageously enough, was released from custody after compromise between the two parties. Under the law, rape is a non-compoundable offence. The example of many countries lies before us: it is the certainty of punishment, not its severity that acts as a deterrent to crime.

Meanwhile, what can better illustrate the extent of the rot in Pakistan’s law enforcement that the Lahore High Court chief justice has warned the CCPO Lahore against extrajudicial killing of the suspects in the motorway gang rape case? The attorney general on Monday made some eminently sensible observations about our flawed and inequitable criminal justice system. Only structural and procedural changes can make it one that actually serves the people.

Published in Dawn, September 16th, 2020