HRCP for moratorium on death penalty
Launching a report on death penalty in Pakistan titled “Slow march to gallows” HRCP chairperson Asma Jehangir said on Thursday this could be done through a decision by President Gen Pervez Musharraf to systematically commute death sentences.The report has been released at a time when, according to the HRCP, more than 7,400 prisoners are on the death row 6,985 in Punjab alone as of October. The report has jointly been compiled by the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights (IFDH) and the HRCP on the basis of the findings of a joint fact-finding mission on death penalty in Pakistan.HRCP director I.A. Rahman, its vice-chairperson Kamran Arif and researcher for IFDH Dr Christine Habberd also spoke at the briefing on the report. Asma Jehangir asked the government to seriously consider moving towards the abolition of death penalty.The report suggests that as a first step, the number of offences carrying the death sentence be restricted to the most serious crimes and the authorities should refrain from adopting new crimes entailing capital punishment. These amendments should be applied retrospectively to prisoners who were condemned to death on the basis of prior legislation, in conformity with the UN Safeguards Guaranteeing the Protection of the Rights of Those Facing the Death Penalty.The report seeks to put an immediate end to sentencing and execution of minors, and commute all death sentences pronounced against persons who were below 18 at the time of offence. It also urges the government to appoint a committee of high level jurists to report on the application and conditions of death penalty in the country.According to the report, Pakistan ranks among the countries in the world which issues death sentences. About 1,029 executions have reportedly taken place in Punjab from 1975 to 2002 at an average of 37 executions per year. The figure is 66 in 2005 and 54 for the first half of 2006 alone. Around 30 people were executed in the country in the sole months of June and July 2006.Concern has been expressed in the report over the fact that Pakistan has in recent years witnessed a significant increase in convictions to death penalty. According to the HRCP, 361 persons were condemned to death in 2005.The report said the increase of convictions to death has to be viewed in the context of a 2003 Supreme Court ruling: “In the cases of murder, the normal penalty of death should be awarded and leniency in any case should not be shown, except when strong mitigating circumstances for lesser sentence could be gathered”.The HRCP and the IFDH said it was alarming that over the years Pakistan has witnessed an inflation of the charges which carry death penalty. At the time of independence in 1947, only homicide and treason carried death penalty. Today there are 27 different charges which carry death penalty, including blasphemy, stripping a woman of her clothes in public and sabotage of the railway system. Many of these changes were introduced during the 1977-88 reign of Ziaul Haq, which also represented an all-time high for executions — and an all-time low for human rights.The report said former Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was executed on April 4, 1979 on the charge of conspiring to murder a political opponent, after what was widely held to be an unfair and politicized trial. Bhutto’s appeal to the Supreme Court was rejected by four judges out of seven. One of the four stated in hindsight that the death penalty should not have been awarded, and that he regretted his decision to condemn Bhutto to death, which was due mainly to the massive pressure he had been subjected to.The report said on top of the low standard of police investigations and the lack of judicial independence, other factors have further contributed to lowering the integrity of the rule of law and of the judicial process. The report said under the Qisas and Diyat law, the defendant who pays blood money is immediately released adding that the law had paved way for privatization of justice.The report rejected the argument that death penalty serves as a deterrent and said systematic studies undertaken in a number of different countries show that imposition of the death penalty does not contribute to a reduction in crime rate.