On death row: President rejects mercy plea as activists oppose execution

Lawyers say that their support of the execution is not fraternal but for justice

Rabia Ali May 16, 2012

KARACHI: While Behram Khan counts down the last eight days of his life, his execution on May 23 remains a topic of debate between the legal fraternity, who want to make an example out of him, and human rights activist who have appealed for a stay order against the death sentence.

Khan was found guilty of killing advocate Mohammed Ashraf on April 15, 2003 in the courtroom of Justice Zawar Hussain at the Sindh High Court (SHC).

Last Thursday, an Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) issued a black warrant for the execution after President Asif Ali Zardari rejected his mercy petition. If Khan is hanged, his execution would be the first one since the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) came into power in 2008.

Against death penalty

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s (HRCP) chairperson, Zohra Yusuf, while expressing hope that the president would issue a stay, called for the abolition of the death penalty altogether.

“Usually the president first rejects the mercy plea and then at the last moment stays the execution,” she said. “But all that time the prisoner is in limbo.”

According to the HRCP, there are 8,000 prisoners on death row who have written to the president to ask for a stay on Khan’s execution.

“To give Khan capital punishment just because he killed a lawyer is not justified,” said Iqbal Haider, a human rights activist. In his opinion, the president rejected the mercy petition only to please lawyers. He pointed to Governor Salmaan Taseer’s murderer and asked why Mumtaz Qadri was not awarded the same punishment.

“If the government wants to hang people, it should start with the executions of those who are involved in the brutal murder of its party member.”

No mercy

On the other hand, lawyers made it clear that they were in favour of the execution.

The SHC advocate and former general secretary of the Karachi Bar Association (KBA), Haider Imam Rizvi, clarified that he did not support the execution just because the victim was a lawyer. “If the man had thrown acid on someone, I would have still supported the punishment. The fact remains that shooting a lawyer in courtroom is a violation of law and thus, he should definitely be hanged.”

The KBA president, Mehmoodul Hasan, said that until and unless people like Khan are hanged, crime won’t go down. “The prosecution and investigation in some cases are weak, but in this case, witnesses were present. Every life, including a lawyer’s, is precious.”

The president’s spokesperson, Farhatullah Babar, was unavailable for comment.However, PPP Sindh general secretary Taj Haider said that it was up to the president to pardon or reject any plea. However, he believes that the petition was rejected because of the nature of the case.

“If those who attack lawyers just get away with a few years in prison, the whole justice system will collapse. If such murderers are not punished, then no lawyer will step forward to fight cases.”

The Sindh law and prisons minister Ayaz Soomro concurred. “If a man comes into courtroom, shoots a lawyer and is not punished, then it will set a wrong example to others.”

Published in The Express Tribune, May 16th, 2012.


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