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EDITORIAL: Whilst there is a worldwide trend towards abolition of death penalty — 170 out of the 193 UN members have either done away with it or discontinued the practice — some in this country want to introduce an unconscionable medieval era punishment.

In Monday’s Senate session a Jamaat-e-Islami legislator proposing public hanging for rape offenders sought amendments to the Pakistan Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code. Mercifully, in a rare show of unity all major parties — the PPP, PML-N and PTI — defeated the move with 24 votes against 14.

Opening the debate, PPP Vice President Sherry Rehman averred that her party had a principled stance against death penalty, whether public or private — in 2018 the PPP government had put it under unofficial suspension — rightly observing that if public hanging is advocated for one crime, it will be demanded for other offences as well.

Although he opposed the move, PML-N’s Irfan Siddiqui seemed to be concerned more than anything else about the country’s image as he said extremism and violence had already created a negative impression about Pakistan.

PTI’s Barrister Ali Zafar and some others rejected the proposed legislation with pretty strong arguments. Unsurprisingly, however, a JUI-F senator along with a Q League legislator advocated public hangings.

Neither public executions which cast brutalising effect on the viewers, nor those carried out in private have a place in any civilised society.

There are several reasons why rights groups are against capital punishment irrespective of the nature of crimes committed. First of all, it undermines human dignity. A better way to protect others is to isolate, through imprisonment, those involved in heinous crimes. Secondly, it is an act of vengeance which brings a state at the same level as an offender.

As for those trotting out the deterrent argument there is enough evidence to suggest that putting people to death does not serve as a disincentive against grave crime. No less important is Amnesty International’s assertion that if life holds the highest value, then taking it away is the lowest act.

Unfortunately, the problem with this in a country like Pakistan is that ordinary lives hold little value in the eyes of those in positions of power. It is no happenstance that almost everyone on the death row comes from a disadvantaged background.

Many are accused of crimes they never committed, and yet confess them under police duress, and get executed. Procedural safeguards are also routinely abused.

There is the shocking case of two brothers hanged to death in November of 2016, before the Supreme Court heard their appeal and found them innocent of a murder charge, ordering their release.

Pakistan has since maintained a moratorium on executions to secure favourable trade terms from the European Union under its General Scheme of Preference Plus (GSP+).

It is about time this country gave due consideration to ethical aspects of the issue, and joined the majority of the world’s nations in eliminating capital punishment.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

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