The execution of Shafqat Hussain, an alleged child murderer, on the 4th of August 2015, highlights an important and radical change in Pakistan’s policy regarding capital punishment. The Pakistani government scrapped a moratorium on capital punishment in the aftermath of an attack on The Army Public School in Peshawar in December last years in which more than 150 school pupils and teachers were killed by the Taliban. Now with approximately 8000 inmate waiting for their turn at the noose and 190 already executed since the Peshawar incident Pakistan has one of the highest execution rates in the world and the figures are only rising.
Pakistan is a country where most people support capital punishment and talk about it being a necessity. It is often seen to be justified under the phrase ‘an eye for an eye’. In the case of Shafqat Hussain his execution is seen as justified and an end to a child killer. What is still lacking however is proper judicial management which has been brought into the spotlight by this particular case. Despite arguments that Shafqat Hussain was a minor when the crime was committed a plea for investigation was rejected prior to the execution. This has caused major concern amongst human rights activists around the globe and there have been several pleas to the Pakistani government to be more thorough in the judicial process.
The freeze on executions was lifted after a 7 year gap in lieu of arguments that fast track executions are needed to combat militant attacks. The terrorists who are captured in said attacks often stay for many years in prison due to an inefficient and often corrupt judicial system. Accusations of this sort led the government to establish military courts for speedy trials and sentences rather than an attempt to fix the judicial system – an admittedly hard task.
Two Baloch hijackers were executed for storming a Pakistan International Flight. The first series of hangings took place at Faisalabad jail in December – and are now almost an everyday occurrence across the country. Many prisoners have been put to death for terror offences, including three Baloch insurgents who hijacked a passenger plane in 1998. Others were found guilty of political killings, like Saulat Mirza – a former worker for the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) who was convicted of murdering the head of Karachi’s power utility service. But some cases have attracted attention over concerns about the legitimacy of their trials.
The issue of capital punishment sparks heated debates around the world. Although 99 nations have abolished the death penalty, 22 countries carried out executions in 2014. China and North Korea are believed to be among the world’s top executioners, however specific figures are difficult to obtain, because they are concealed by the authorities. According to Amnesty International Iran confirmed 289 deaths last year, but 454 others were not officially acknowledged. In Saudi Arabia at least 90 executions were carried out. Pakistan is quickly catching up. Amnesty said in August that 200 prisoners had been executed so far in 2015 – that compares to 90 in Saudi Arabia by-mid June.
One can only hope that peace is restored in Pakistan and proper judicial process with fair jury becomes a norm.