KARACHI: The Human Rights Commi­ssion of Pakistan (HRCP) held a discussion at its office here on Thursday on the issue of death penalty in Pakistan, with a focus on women on death row, in accordance with World Day Against Death Penalty that fell past this Sunday.

Sharing some figures, HRCP vice-chairperson Qazi Khizar said that among the prisoners on death row all over the world, some five per cent happened to be women.

“There are 54 countries in the world where the law includes the death penalty as punishment. And there are 800 women there on death row,” he said, adding that there were also countries, which do not readily share such data like China, North Korea, etc.

“Here in Pakistan, also, it is not that easy to collect data on prisoners. Still, if we look at Sindh, there are 508 men and five women here on death row,” he said.

In 2020, 16 women were executed all over the world, he added.

HRCP Co-chair Asad Iqbal Butt said: “People who kill and are tried for murder are not sane. They are mentally ill. If you see them as sane, then it is your mistake.

“We have observed people on death row. They are very disturbed. They die a new death every day. Some keep banging their heads against the wall. Others become overly religious. When they pray, they lose count of how many times they kneel or bow,” he said.

“It is unfortunate but it has happened here many times that an innocent person is hanged. And then once that happens, it cannot be undone,” he said.

“What is needed here more is to fix the justice system, as people here are losing faith in our courts, instead of awarding people the death penalty,” he said.

Human rights activist, researcher and writer Akhtar Baloch said that no one who cannot award life should award death to anybody. “When it is not in your power to give someone life, then it should also not be your say to give anyone death,” he said.

“Earlier, when Pakistan came into existence, there were only two crimes here for which someone could be awarded the death penalty. But now there are as many as 26 such crimes, including blasphemy, a law which can be misused,” he lamented.

“And here there is another problem about how you reach the conclusion for awarding

someone death. The police cannot even investigate a crime properly here. They lack the training, they lack the manners and they don’t understand psychology,” he added.

“Also, why do we think that death penalty is the only solution to stop people from committing crime? There are countries in this world that have abolished the death penalty and the crime level there has also dropped after that,” he said.

“The right to life, the freedom to live is a human right. It is one of the human rights in the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights. The death penalty violates that right,” he said.

“Then here we also have blood money law in the form of the Qisas and Diyat under an ordinance,” he reminded. “And besides that, there is also the parallel system of Jirga. They say that all people tried in Jirga tell the truth. Well, of course, they do. It is because no one there is going to award them the death penalty. That’s what I mean when I say that crime has come down in countries where they don’t have death penalty,” he said.

Coming to the subject of women who face the death penalty, he said that jails were a terrible place. “And they can be even worse for women. Prisoners have been known to spend several years in the death cell. It can make them completely lose their mental balance,” he concluded.

“Tell me, is life imprisonment of 25 years a small punishment? Why can’t we stick to that instead of awarding death to the people found guilty of a crime punishable by death? Why can’t we create awareness instead?”

Published in Dawn, October 15th, 2021

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