After the tragic case of Zainab unfolded, many began to question the shortcomings of our criminal justice system. Clearly, the status quo has not been enough to prevent the rape and murder of children. Unfortunately, we have begun to ask the wrong questions. Is a public hanging going to prevent more cases like Zainab’s?
Simply put, the answer is no. Misleading ourselves to believe otherwise could lead to grave consequences.
Currently, the Senate has a bill before it that seeks an amendment to our existing laws to make room for public executions, and now the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) has also sent in its review to the Senate on the matter. But the CII’s ruling hasn’t done anything to the impending issue at hand, except creating unnecessary ambiguity. The review has no legal standing, is ridden with flaws and inaccuracies, and none of the rules cited by the CII authorise public hangings.
The first and the foremost question it fails to answer is: what is the CII’s stance on public executions?
On the one hand, the ruling does not seem to be intrinsically supporting public hangings stating that the purpose desired by it can be achieved even through dissemination of news in the media. But, on the other hand, it maintains that the country’s existing laws already provide grounds for public executions and that the courts and the government can execute a culprit “if the nature of the crime committed meets the requirements laid down for public punishments.”
This confusion is going to have an adverse effect on public policy.
The latter part confirms that the CII does not want the law amended. But the reasoning given to support its argument that existing legal provisions provide for public execution is flawed.
The CII takes support of Section 10 of the Special Courts for Speedy Trials Act of 1992, but this act was repealed by parliament in 1996 by Act No XI of 1996. So how can it be relied on as a basis for public hangings?
Even Rule 364 of the Prison Rules, 1978 — also cited by the CII — fails to support the argument. Under Rule 364 of the Prison Rules 1978, a maximum of 12 “respectable male adults” can be admitted to “witness an execution”. The “wali of the victim” may also witness the execution. This hardly creates the permissive environment for the spectacle that is being put forward by some elements in our government.
The CII further stated that the objective “desired to be obtained through witnessing a sentence” may be fulfilled through “disseminating the news of implementation of sentences” through the media. This effectively means that the execution of the perpetrators for the offence of kidnapping and rape of a minor need not be public — its effect of deterrence may be achieved simply by reporting the news of the execution.
Even the country’s justice system has time and again called out public executions for their barbaric nature, and held them in violation of the Constitution and of Islamic rights. In 1994, the Supreme Court of Pakistan categorically observed in relation to Section 10 of the now repealed Special Courts for Speedy Trials Act of 1992 that public hangings for even the worst of criminals is a violation of the right to human dignity enshrined in Article 14 of the Constitution. The Federal Shariat Court has also stated that “inviolability of [the] dignity of [a] man is an inalienable right recognised by Article 14 of the Constitution. The accused or prisoner has a valuable right to claim freedom from torture under clause (2) of Article 14 of the Constitution…”
Proponents of this grotesque display of violence have also grossly overestimated its use as a deterrent, citing the example of one that took place 37 years ago at the behest of General Ziaul Haq. It failed to prevent at least 11 more cases of child rape and murder. Four of them took place in the same city that the execution took place in.
While the debate surrounding the reinstatement of public hanging for child sex rape is framing it as a child protection measure, it is likely to have an extremely adverse impact on the well-being of Pakistani children who witness it. As public hangings in countries such as Iran are spectacles that are conducted in front of large jeering crowds, the children that view them are likely to perceive them as theatrical performances thereby becoming de-sensitised to violence. As a result, they are more likely to reproduce such violence in later years. In Iran, a 12-year-old was accidentally hanged by his eight-year-old brother when they tried to imitate an execution they had seen the week before.
We might end up endangering the very children we are trying to protect. The CII must exercise caution before creating this confusion.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 20th, 2018.