Interview

’Brutalisation of State, Society Behind Spurt in Executions’

KARACHI, Apr 18 (IPS) - In 2007, Pakistan
executed someone, somewhere on an average, every
three days. And every single day 7,000 others
died — ’’figuratively speaking" — waiting in
dread for the black warrant announcing their own
date with the gallows, says I.A. Rehman, director
of the independent Human Rights Commission of
Pakistan (HRCP).

In an interview with IPS correspondent, Zofeen
Ebrahim, Rehman attributed Pakistan’s huge
increase in executions last year as a reflection
of the “brutalisation of state and society”.


IPS: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has
just released its annual report. Can you explain
the enormous increase in executions last year?

I.A. REHMAN (IAR): There were 134 executions in
2007, compared to 83 in 2006. That’s a 61 percent
increase. Executions have been rising year by
year - 18 in 2003, 21 in 2004, 52 in 2005 and 83
in 2006. The spurt in executions is due to a
number of reasons, but mainly the brutalisation
of state and society. Also responsible has been
the bar to pardons and remissions caused by the
1990 Qisas and Diyat Ordinance (on retribution
and blood money), the government’s increasing
despair at the burgeoning death row population
and its cost, and lastly, the high number of
offences for which death penalty is prescribed.

IPS: Amnesty International in its annual report
now ranks Pakistan second in the world for the
numbers of those sentenced to death. What are you
reporting on this?

IAR: Pakistan does have a fairly high rate of
death penalty convictions. For example, there
were 455 in 2004, 362 in 2005, 445 in 2006 and
319 in 2007. The pattern is clear. Every year the
death row population is increasing by a good
margin. Obviously, the state has decided not to
wait long enough for “compromises” that would
enable convicts to escape the gallows.

IPS: Can you generalise about the crimes,
background and ages of the people sentenced to
death?

IAR: The largest group comprises of men convicted
of murder, some 147 in 2007. There were also two
women sentenced to death for murder in 2007.
Other crimes for which death penalty can be
awarded are drug smuggling, kidnapping for
ransom, rape, robbery, terrorism. As for the age
and background of those sentenced to death, I am
unable to give you details.

IPS: How can you stop the execution numbers rising even more this year?

IAR. The only way is to reduce the number of
offences liable to the death sentence and by
reviving the practice of commutation. For the
last two years, HRCP has been demanding a
moratorium on executions, pending the abolition
of death penalty.

IPS: The HRCP reports that Pakistan has more than
7,000 on death row. Can you explain how 134 of
these were selected for the gallows last year?

IAR: There is no logical way of selecting
candidates for execution. Those who complete the
process of trial, review and mercy application
can be hanged. It goes something like this: first
a trial - taking up to 3 years; the High Court’s
confirmation of the sentence - another 2 to 3
years; the appeal to Supreme Court - many years;
and, finally, a period allowed for compromise and
mercy petitions - possibly indefinite. In some
cases, such as terrorism and if the target is the
president of Pakistan or an army general, the
sentence may be carried out quite soon - even
within a year of the crime.

IPS: Can you describe conditions for those held in prison awaiting execution?

IAR: Conditions on death row are horrendous. In
the distant past those awarded the death sentence
used to be kept in solitary confinement — one
person per cell. Often they were kept in chains,
with an iron ball in their mouths. Now there are
three or four prisoners to a cell. This is an
improvement. There are better class convicts on
death row also.

IPS: Are these conditions better or worse than in
the general, overcrowded sections of the prisons?

IAR: My impression is that conditions in death
cells are no worse than elsewhere in the prisons.

IPS: What prevents Pakistan the most from simply
abolishing the death penalty - religion or
politics?

IAR: Religion more than politics, but I’d say,
inertia above all. The state is a victim of the
belief that Islam provides for mandatory death
penalty and thus this cruel practice cannot be
done away with.

IPS: But doesn’t Islam, indeed, teach “an eye for an eye”?

IAR: Eye for an eye is the classical
interpretation of the Quranic verse. But there is
room for debate whether the trial system
prevailing here accords with the incorruptible
system considered necessary for application of
the Quranic rules. I also accuse the Pakistani
clerics of selective obedience to Islam holding
to this tit-for-tat rule. They also condone, for
example, the marrying of minor girls and even
more fundamental Islamic principles rather than
fight exploitation and support living by honest
labour.

IPS: Are you planning any new initiatives to
bring an end to capital punishment in Pakistan?

IAR: We are planning quite a few activities this
year to persuade people to support death penalty
abolition.

IPS: Will you give more details of these?

IAR: After our annual meeting last month, we sent
a 16-point priority list in response to the prime
minister’s 100-day agenda for the newly-formed
government. Point number eight strongly suggests
a moratorium on executions and the setting up of
a parliamentary review committee on this form of
punishment. We also plan to publish brochures and
hold meetings across the country to mobilise
public opinion in support of our views.

IPS: Will you be targeting lawmakers on the
argument that the capital punishment is not a
deterrent?

IAR: We have done a study on the death penalty
with the Paris-based International Federation of
Human Rights (FIDH) and published it in both Urdu
and English. The idea behind this is to try to
sensitise parliamentarians on such issues.

IPS: Is a one-time study with the FDIH going to
be sufficient to achieve your aims of raising
awareness of the lawmakers and bring about a
review of the laws?

IAR: No one-time, two-time, 10-time study will
ever bear fruit. It is going to be a long haul.
We have to go on slogging at the bad practice.

IPS: With a democratic set-up now in place, are
you optimistic that the new government will be
more amenable to your pressure to halt executions?

IAR: We will push for a moratorium. We had higher
hopes while Benazir Bhutto was alive, because she
understood our point of view. She pardoned many
convicts in 1988 — the first thing after
becoming the prime minister. And executions
during her two terms were rare. Maybe something
can be done even now, though coalitions are not
good or fast vehicles.

IPS: You say you will be pushing hard for a
moratorium. Have you started building momentum
towards this and already held meetings with the
new government?

IAR: It is too early to meet the new government
leaders. But we have sent a statement to all
ministers. All offices of HRCP are approaching
the government and political parties on the
subject.

IPS: Do you feel the new government is ready to
listen to you on this sensitive issue?

IAR: There is no harm in hoping.

P.S.

* From Inter Press Service, April 18, 2008. Circulated by South Asia Citizens Wire | May 9-11, 2008 | Dispatch No. 2514 - Year 10 running.

* I.A. Rehman is director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

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