Convict Behram Khan is thanking his stars. Forty-year-old Khan was to be sent to the gallows and be titled the first prisoner to be hanged in the Karachi Central Jail in five years. However, a stay ordered by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has moved him from the death cell back to his condemned ward.
But will Khan’s luck last long?
Human rights activists and lawyers against capital punishment believe that the previous government’s moratorium against execution should remain.
Activist Anis Haroon believes the Nawaz Sharif government should halt death penalty for good since executions have not proven to be effective deterrents to stop crimes from taking place. “Executions do not take place in civilised societies. Those who believe that executions bring down the crime rate are mistaken,” said the former caretaker provincial minister of human rights.
A better approach, in Haroon’s opinion, is that the criminal justice system and law-enforcement agencies be strengthened to fight crime. She believes that capital punishment should be abolished but a parallel system should be put in place to deal with hardened criminals.
Welcoming the temporary stay ordered by the premier, Sara Belal of the Justice Project Pakistan, a human rights law firm, said that they do not support death penalty as poor and innocent people are the ones who mostly get charged.
However, the moratorium is not enough in the opinion of activist and lawyer Zia Awan. “The current stay on death penalty is half-hearted. What the previous government should have done and now the present government should do is change the law which deals with death sentence.” Awan also calls for a debate in parliament regarding executions.
Waiting for death
Behram Khan’s brother Noor Muhammad demands a permanent solution to get rid of the agonising situation that prisoners and their families go through after every few months.
“This game of warrants and stay orders being issued (one after another) need to stop,” he says. “After the stay comes, we’re jubilant but only for a few days, as the black warrants are issued soon and we are in tears again,” he explains. This has happened twice to him already.
Noor Muhammad requests for Khan’s death sentence to be converted into life imprisonment, as his brother has already spent nine years in the jail.
Khan and another inmate, Shafqat Hussain, were to be hanged on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively in the Karachi Central Jail. However, the prime minister halted the executions for an indefinite period, stating that the president was out of country and when he returns, a meeting would be held between the two to discuss the situation.
Like Khan’s family, jail officials also want the issue of executions to be sorted out for the 24 condemned prisoners at the Karachi jail. Jailer Shahab is worried about the mental health of death row prisoners who – as they are caught in the middle – fret about their uncertain future.
“Condemned prisoners can hurt themselves and are prone to violence as the execution date draws nearer,” he says.
Dealing with terrorists
Human rights activist Ansar Burney said that many death-row prisoners are those who have been languishing in jail for several years. “I’ve no sympathy for militants, but terrorists should be kept in jail and the cause of their activities should be investigated to find out why they committed the crime,” he explains.
“In a country where witnesses can be bought for Rs15,000, FIRs are tampered with and justice is sold, can we be sure that the prisoners being portrayed as terrorists are real ones?” he said, adding that terrorists should not be given death sentences because of unfair trials.
Anis Haroon concurred and said that people killing in the name of religion should be dealt with strongly but should not be given death sentence.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 20th, 2013.
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