Recently, the PTI government amended laws to exempt suspects extradited from the European Union from capital punishment. A study by The Foundation for Fundamental Rights has found that the Supreme Court of Pakistan set aside the death penalty in 78% of cases between 2010 and 2018. On an even more uplifting note, 97% of sentences were commuted to life imprisonment or otherwise in 2018. The notion of capital punishment is a difficult to support, especially given the history of executions in Pakistan in the recent past.
Soon after the Army Public School attack in December 2014 and the implementation of the National Action Plan, a frenzy of executions took place for convicts on death row. The government, law enforcement, and anti-terrorism departments operated in a reactionary manner rather than a responsive manner by lifting the death penalty moratorium. The peak in the number of executions in 2015 reflected an emotional response to the murder of 150 APS students and was arguably an overreaction despite the heightened sensitivities. Thus, the findings by the UK report come as a relief, with a steady decline in recorded executions in Pakistan since 2015 as published by Amnesty International. Proponents of human rights plausibly highlighted the need for due process in 2015 and must be relieved at the publishing of this report, which claimed shoddy and corrupt criminal justice systems as reasons for the high incidence of setting aside death sentences.
It has long been known that unreliable witness testimonies, faulty evidence, and corrupt lawyers and other officials have been responsible for interfering with court trials. Obstruction of justice has hardly been a crime. The remedy, however, does not necessarily lie in completely doing away with the death penalty. Drastic measures should not be taken to abolish the provision but to focus on eradicating corruption from the justice system. With terrorism rampant in the country, keeping the death penalty as an option may be necessary but strict penalties for corrupt elements seeking to destroy innocent people’s freedoms must also be applied.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 21st, 2019.