The grim sight of bodies hanging at the gallows may soon be seen again at Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat Jail, which currently holds on death row 55 prisoners whose mercy petitions have been rejected and 105 others who still have appeals pending. This follows the lifting of the moratorium on executions, in place under the previous Pakistan Peoples Party government for nearly five years. Authorities at Kot Lakhpat have been given the go-ahead to resume the process of acquiring black warrants for convicts, and no doubt, similar instructions will go out to other prisoners in the coming days.
The resumption of capital punishment is sad. For a short time, Pakistan had moved closer to joining the growing list of countries, which have ended death sentences, or retain them only for a very small number of crimes. Putting people to death has been declared inhumane by international rights groups and, of course, goes against the basic principle of reform, not retribution. Discussion on this is badly required in Pakistan, which has now reverted to its archaic criminal justice system. The fact that we cannot be certain anyone sentenced to death has received a fair trial, given the manner in which the police operate in the country and the way the law takes its course, adds, of course, to the risk of a grave miscarriage of justice. When the death penalty is in place, there can be no hope of undoing a wrong.
We ask also if people due to be hanged deserve to die. Zulfiqar Ali, also known as Dr Zulfiqar, is due to be the first man to hang at Kot Lakhpat since the moratorium ended. ‘Black warrants’ have been issued for August 21. Ali, convicted of robbery in 1999, holds a Master’s degree and many diplomas. He has been teaching other prisoners through his long years behind bars. What will his death achieve? Will it do more harm than good — these are questions we all need to ask ourselves, so that the issue of the death penalty and its resumption can be more openly debated and discussed across the country.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 18th, 2013.
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