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Inhumane punishment

November 15, 2012

GIVEN the strong pro-death penalty lobby in Pakistan, it has been difficult for the country to join the ranks of the majority around the world where this most ultimate of punishments has either been removed from the law books or is not administered. Nevertheless, during the tenure of the current government, a middle ground had been found and there was a de facto moratorium on executions. Since the PPP came to power in 2008, Pakistan has been one of 36 countries that do not implement the death penalty. Conversely, it is also one of the countries with the highest number of prisoners on death row — according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the figure is over 8,000, while prison records show that it is at least 7,164. But the moratorium came to an end on Thursday as a soldier, sentenced to death for having killed a superior officer four years ago, was hanged early Thursday morning in Mianwali Jail. His mercy petition had been rejected by the president last December.

Human rights agencies refer to the death penalty as the ultimate in cruel, degrading and inhumane punishments. They see it as violating the right to life as enunciated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The global campaign to abolish it spans decades and two-thirds of all countries have done just this — either by law or in practice. Pakistan, too, needs to follow suit. Right to life takes on added significance here. The prosecution process and investigation methodologies are so flawed in most cases, it is difficult to ascertain whether the accused is indeed guilty of murder beyond any shadow of doubt. There were some indications that the government wanted to take up the issue. Early this month, presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said that the government was planning to introduce in parliament a bill converting the death penalty to life imprisonment. Since then, though, nothing has been heard on the subject. That bill needs to see the light of day at the earliest. Meanwhile, the de facto moratorium on executions should be restored. The world needs to see capital punishment being abolished.