Kot Lakhpat jail: The hangman

Published: August 3, 2011

" I am looking for a new job, since as long as President Zardari is in power, he will not allow any hangings," 27-year-old hangman Sabir. PHOTO: AFP

LAHORE: 

Sabir Masih was nervous the first time. After executing more than 200 people, it’s become easy to pull the latch.

His earliest memories are of accompanying his father to the gallows.  A Christian by faith, Sabir says being a hangman has been his family occupation since the British rule in the subcontinent. “My grandfather’s brother was Tara Masih, the famous executioner of Bhutto,” he boasts.

The 27-year-old hangman at Kot Lakhpat Jail in Lahore has been in this “deathly” profession for five years. “I was a little nervous to put the noose around the first time and to pull the latch. But the jail superintendent supported me,” Sabir says in a voice that lacks compassion.

The young hangman believes people on death row deserve capital punishment if they have killed someone. “I believe in the Bible and it teaches us, just like the Quran, that it is an eye for an eye. People convicted for murder do not deserve to live, unless the aggrieved party pardons them,” Sabir says, adding that it is not for him to judge the people he hangs. “I just follow orders.”

He is paid Rs10,000 a month and Rs20 per hanging, which Sabir does not collect at times since the amount is so nominal.  Sabir says the most peculiar hanging in his career was of two brothers in Sahiwal, who came singing to the gallows. “When the magistrate asked them to ask for forgiveness from the victim’s family, (which is usually present at the time of execution), the brothers started to hum a song and laughingly responded saying they were rightly accused so they deserved to be hanged,” he says.  “Some people cry. Most people just pray.”

Some prisoners, realising that he is Christian, ask the jail superintendent to get a Muslim to execute them. “But such demands are rarely met since the convict’s face is covered and he usually does not know who pulls the latch.”

Sabir hanged more than 200 people during the first three years of his career from 2006 to 2008. His cousin, also a hangman, has travelled all over Punjab for executions since there is a shortage of people in the profession.  “I did my first century relatively quickly because during Pervez Musharraf’s era there were many executions. Once I hanged five people in a day at the District Jail in Faisalabad,” he says.

“We have to be really careful with the length of the rope and its grip around the neck. We cannot afford to make any mistakes so we weigh the inmate a day before his execution and decide on the length of the rope,” Sabir explains. “There have been cases where the neck is pulled too much and it tears from the torso.”

In 2007, the United Nations adopted a resolution for a moratorium on the use of death penalty. The resolution was adopted by 104 UN member states, while the United States and most South Asian countries, including Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan were among 54 countries that voted against the resolution.

According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Pakistan has one of the highest rates of capital punishment in the world, with 27 offences that are punishable by death – also one of the highest globally.

(Read: ‘My 17 death sentences’ by Jaleel Morejo)

According to independent reports, around 7,000 prisoners are on death row in Pakistan, even though there has been a stay order by the president on all hangings in the country since November 2008.

Earlier the same year, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani approved a cabinet decision to change all death sentences to life imprisonment. However, this could not materialise because a suo motu notice was taken by the then chief justice of Pakistan, Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar. To avoid a confrontation with the judiciary, the Ministry of Law then tried to bring amendments through parliament, but there has been little development there too because of pressure from different political and public circles in favour of the death penalty.

With no executions in more than two years, Sabir feels useless going to work now. “I am looking for a new job, since as long as President Zardari is in power, he will not allow any hangings,” he says.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 3rd, 2011.

Reader Comments (11)

  • Mirza
    Aug 3, 2011 - 8:24AM

    Despite what people say, PPP is a secular and progress organization and it should keep its coalition with ANP and MQM. It is a shame that Pakistan and India differ from each other on the most issues but on death penalty, they both are in the same boat. In addition, on this issue also Pakistan is toeing the US line. However, in the US many states have done away with the death penalty, let alone hanging. The process of killing by hanging is a crude, painful and ancient method to kill a human being. I don’t know about these Pakistani Christians but most Christians including Catholic Church opposes death penalty. Let us hope that Pakistan also ends the death by hanging.

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  • Mohammad Ali Siddiqui
    Aug 3, 2011 - 8:57AM

    The death penalty should not be scrapped from Pakistan, as a person who murders was in his senses, while killing the other person and knows what he is doing.

    To provide justice to all those people who were innocent and got killed it is necessary that capital punishment should continue to be awarded to the killers.

    The matter of pardoning the killer should remain at the mercy of the victims family members.

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  • Gul
    Aug 3, 2011 - 9:30AM

    Let Pakistan also sign the UN resolution for moratorium on the use of death penalty. Life and death is the sole discretion of Almighty Allah. It should not be left to individuals or state institutions, who mostly err in arriving at decision. Capital punishment once executed can not be reversed or compensated. 104 countries are doing well without it. Capital punishment in Pakistan has not helped reduce the crime. However there are many other options to control crime and isolate criminals. Rs. 20 award per hanging is only a worst humiliation to the life of an individual as well as to humanity at large. One can imagine the state of mind of those who have kept this provision for eliminating a life.

    Can someone please list the 27 offenses which are punishable by death in Pakistan.

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  • I write U read
    Aug 3, 2011 - 12:11PM

    Replacing capital punishment by life imprisonment is an act that requires alot of changes. It requires that jails should be in better state to keep so many people.
    It requires therapies.
    It requires activities so that prisoners are pre-occupied and prison gangs dont set up.
    It requires more budget, more policemen/women to take care of prisoners.
    etc etc
    If we cant offer this, then there is no point in having life imprisonment becuase most prisoners will end up joining prison gangs and will be bringing criminal expertise in society once set free.

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  • Fahad Raza
    Aug 3, 2011 - 12:59PM

    Spine Chilling account.. As for the death punishment its absolutely justified. People should see a public execution I feel that would raise fear in potential criminals not by hanging but by decapitation. As long as the criminal is absolutely found guilty of the crime.

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  • Vinayak
    Aug 3, 2011 - 2:31PM

    Nice story. Check out this one about India’s hangman — http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/3835917.stm.

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  • IR4M
    Aug 3, 2011 - 2:54PM

    With death penalty nothing is changing in society, murders are going on with highest rate ….its always better to forgive even revange….the escence of society and culture is revolving arround “revange”.

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  • Aala
    Aug 3, 2011 - 11:57PM

    Its strange to know that even the institution responsible for execution has failed. Its a simple law “eye for and eye”. If one intentionally takes the life of another then he has no right to live and its the government and judiciary to make sure this happens.
    Unfortunately due to some western pressures the law of death sentence isn’t being implemented. Western laws and norms must not be blindly adopted by us. In USA death sentence is avoided in law which has made USA have the largest jailed population in the world, despite of its economic stability and prosperity! Its the tax payers who’s money is used for the care of the jailed.Recommend

  • Zee Salahuddin
    Aug 4, 2011 - 3:11AM

    Great story Mr. Siddiqui, keep up the good work!

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  • meena gabeena
    Aug 4, 2011 - 9:34AM

    excellent write up…glad to know that atleast we have started talking about this topic openly…

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  • Alamdar khan
    Aug 4, 2011 - 10:23AM

    These are the things that our MEDIA Tends not to show “The Brighter side of the Government” …. anyways people would still not share this article because they would not understand the worth of it nor LIFE…. Great writeup Mr.Siddiqui..

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