A military affair
Hussain’s crime and punishment was entirely a military affair, and a military court does not guarantee a fair trial.
Just three days before Muhammad Hussain walked his last steps to the gallows, The Express Tribune ran a report on the undeclared moratorium on executions in Pakistan.
Since the incumbent government came into power in March 2008, it has been suspending executions without actually ever announcing a ban or its intentions of repealing the death penalty. Nonetheless, the unsaid change in policy was still appreciated by rights organisation and those on the death row and their families.
We focused on the dangers of having capital punishment in a country with a weak criminal justice system and the government’s inability to change the death penalty into life imprisonment and convincing its testy allies to take on lengthy deliberations on working around the Shariah law.
Muhammad Hussain’s execution sheds light on one other complication in the capital punishment debate; lack of transparency in military trials and decision-making.
Executed despite the moratorium, Hussain was tried and sentenced in a military court in Okara’s cantonment for killing his officer in the army. According to jail officials, General Head Quarters handled the entire affair and assigned the local station commander of Sargodha to set the execution date for November 15 — the civilian government only provided the location, Mianwali jail.
Hussain’s crime and punishment was entirely a military affair and as the International Commission of Jurists pointed out on November 16,
“A military court does not provide the minimum guarantees to a fair trial, notably the right to a fair and public hearing before an impartial and independent tribunal established by law”.
Hussain was not given the right to appeal his conviction in a civilian court and, according to some reports; his petition to the president seeking a compromise with the victim’s family also did not get a reply. Under the Qisas and Diyat laws, the victim’s family can pardon or claim fines from the accused.
Hussain was the second prisoner convicted by a military court to be executed since 2008. (Shahid Abbas was executed in December 2008, after a military court found him guilty of murder). The moratorium, it seems, extends only to those tried and convicted in civilian courts.
Condemnation has started pouring in from rights organisations and particularly EU countries, that consider abolishing the death penalty a key step in showing commitment to human rights, that in turn dictate Pakistan’s future as a potential trading partner.
We can now only hope this renewed focus on the laws surrounding the death penalty in Pakistan can translate into some kind of concrete relief for the almost 8,000 prisoners waiting on the death row and some much-needed transparency in military punishments.