On death row !

Brig.Farooq Hameed Khan (R)

It was a setback to all anti death penalty campaigners in Pakistan when Army soldier Muhammad Hussain  was recently hanged to death in Mianwali jail after rejection of  his mercy petitions  by  the Army Chief and President of Pakistan. This capital punishment  also marked an apparent  break in the de facto moratorium  on executions observed by the PPP led coalition government since December 2008.

   Muhammad Hussain was sentenced to death by military court martial four years ago for murdering a senior non commissioned officer. His execution led to an official condemnation by French foreign ministry which called for renewal of the temporary hold on executions and abolishing the death sentence in Pakistan. While the French termed this capital punishment as “step backwards in Pakistan’s move towards greater respect for human rights”, this constituted uncalled for interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs.

    Hussain is not the first Army man to meet such a fate as serving Army officers, too, in past faced court martial on murder charges and were awarded death sentences. In February 1984 an Army Major went to the gallows for murdering his wife in Quetta. In 1996, another Major underwent capital punishment for the 1992 Tando Bahawal ( Sindh) carnage involving  murder of  few innocent villagers  who were portrayed as terrorists.

   No Army can maintain its structural strength and integrity without a credible and effective system of justice and accountability. That the Army’s  internal legal mechanism is fair, across the board as well as ruthless  is evident from  the institution’s zero tolerance towards serious and major offences involving attempted military coups, externally motivated subversion, corruption or crime like murder.

        While high profile cases of death sentence /jail term   awarded by military courts are reported in media, other major cases involving breach of military discipline resulting in severe punishments like premature retirement/ dismissal from service, also need to be made public. This would help counter the misperception in certain quarters that military’s accountability was non transparent and selective.

           Pakistani jails seem to be over flowing with 7000 to 8000 condemned prisoners probably the largest death row population in the world. When terrorists and serial target killers know that they will not be hanged, then Pakistanis should bear the consequences as witnessed in Karachi where murderers rule the streets and around 2000 people became victims of well orchestrated violence in 2012.

    Shockingly, about three dozen dangerous convicts were mysteriously released on ‘parole’, though the previous Chief Minister Sindh, Arbab Rahim’s administration is blamed for this grave lapse. But then, what steps did the present Sindh government take to re arrest these killers and bring them to justice.

     It cannot be denied that many convicts on death row may be innocent victims of false testimonies or circumstances that are typical ofour flawed legal system supported by corrupt police with its poor investigations and weak prosecutions. But then all mercy petitions end up on President’s table after the convicts exhaust their legal options in the High Court and Supreme Court.

    It is  a fact that during prolonged imprisonment while facing murder trial or filing appeals against conviction that usually drag on for many years, many prisoners undergo physical / mental disabilities. Are such convicts not entitled to relief on humanitarian grounds?

     Will the hanging of Mumbai prime accused Ajmal Kasab save Indian national Sarabjeet Singh from going to the gallows in Pakistan? The execution of Ajmal Kasab whose plea for clemency was rejected by President of India may intensify President Zardari’s dilemma who could face strong domestic opposition if he decides to commute Sarabjit Singh’s death sentence into life imprisonment or even pardon him. Reportedly Sarabajit who has spent over 21 years in death cell, filed fresh mercy petition seeking the President’s pardon.

     Sarabjit had illegally crossed into Pakistan in August 1990 and was sentenced to death for involvement in string of bombings in Pakistani cities that led to loss of many lives. For the PPP government, Sarbajit Singh’s release is critical as it could pave way for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s long awaited visit to Pakistan.

     Earlier on the government of Pakistan released Indian national Surjeet Singh in June 2012 to reciprocate the Indian Supreme Court/ government’s humanitarian release of 80 year old  Pakistani scientist Dr. Pervez Khalil Chishti. Surjeet was  awarded death sentence in 1985 on spying charges that was later commuted to life imprisonment in 1989 by then President Ghulam Ishaq Khan.

      Does Muhammad Hussain’s hanging indicate the government’s intention to lift its informal ban on carrying out death sentences? Or will the government maintain the freeze, barring this odd exception, to continue appeasing the west and human rights bodies in country and abroad? 

  Awaiting the gallows may be more painful  than the actual event itself. Since end 2008 a complete stalemate persists in which executions in general continue to be stayed with the President neither commuting any death sentence to life imprisonment or pardoning any death row convict.

   There is a need for a comprehensive public/ media debate to examine the ramifications of abolishing death penalty on Pakistan’s social fabric that is already torn apart by the negative fallouts of war against terrorism. If credible deterrence like the death penalty is replaced with life sentence for crimes like terrorism/ murder/ rape/ kidnapping for ransom, would it not promote chaos and anarchy in the country? 

     The government remains ambiguous on abolishing the death penalty, an issue that is considered highly sensitive and therefore warrants careful handling. Any move  to  introduce the anti death penalty legislation in parliament is likely to meet stiff opposition  from the right wing / religious political parties on the grounds that it violates the Islamic/ Sharia laws. The Supreme Court may eventually be forced to intervene to restore the due process of law.

   More important is the question- should the present parliament and government which will soon complete their five year term and have lost their moral legitimacy, be given the right to  take such a decision that has far reaching consequences for our society?

The writer is a columnist for The News. This is a cross post from the paper.

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • Sohail  On November 27, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    There are many states in US, still awarding death penalties in cases tried under capital punishment regulations. In Armed Forces of many western countries, still an officer in Command of a unit or platoon may shoot a subordinate to death, in the military action, if he disobeys the order….so? where does go the human right of that poor soldier or freedom of speech and thought? In military, we cannot afford jeopardizing discipline in any form, be it a military or civil offence…!

  • idrees  On November 27, 2012 at 2:24 pm

    The death penalty is humane and proper where genuinely awarded and that must be executed immediately after sentence, appeals all of which must not take more than 6 months failing which death penalty must be waived.

  • Zubair  On November 27, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    If our civil Govt had the guts to follow “no tolerance” policy towards serious crimes, e wold have no terrorism in the country. They don’t even have the courage to hang known terrorists. In any case Europeans are the last qualified to talk about human rights—-they have and still are butchering innocent Muslims all over the world.


  • Shahjehan  On November 27, 2012 at 3:04 pm

    farooq sahib…….every death brings gloom,,,,,,,,but a murderer can only be pardoned by next of kin of the deceased…lets join hands to rid the society of evils that lead to fassaad !

  • Brig Javed Iqbal Malik  On November 28, 2012 at 11:48 am

    Our military system of justice seriously suffers from the ills of selective justice and primitive code of conduct. It is inhuman and does not fulfil norms of justice. The main problem in Pakistan is that decisions of COAS or the military in the realm of punishments cannot be challenged in any court of law. It is not only inhuman but the leading reason for blind obedience in rank and file even of illegal orders like military coup. In India they have a SC bench to deal with grievances of military service personal. So is true for the entire civilised world. If military persons could redress their grievances in civil courts, Martial Laws can become history because most senior officers would refuse to obey illegal orders of COAS. This amendment in our Constitution is an absolute must.

    Ex Brig Javed Iqbal Malik
    *** This Message Has Been Sent Using BlackBerry Internet Service from Mobilink ***

    • a m malik Karachi Pakistan  On November 28, 2012 at 5:18 pm

      Brig Javed
      Lets not get mixed up. Firstly, there is nothing preventing an aggrieved person to go to the Supreme court – this was allowed during Zia’s time. Secondly Imagine how many are tried for small offences in a unit every week. If the practice what u are suggesting is adopted then the CO’s will be in the court 24X7X365. The system of trial in Military is most fair and fast. The evidence act is religiously followed. The jail or custody rules are followed to the full. His officer incharge/platoon cdr is always there by law to defend him. The same is done at the court martial levels where the defence is as per his choice and the accused does not have to pay for. The ground realities are not overlooked and the law is followed toto.
      Though I agree that after the verdict the punishment could be harsh or lenient and on extereme isolated occassions may have a shadow of a superior – but in all fairness it is endevoured to provide justice. Digressing a bit, the case of NLC Generals – it would have been beneficial for them to be tried in civil courts and have the issue dragged for emptieth no of years either they would have been exonirated or would have found a safe havens in the grave – but not found guilty. Our President with his NRO friends – is a case in point. The only reason that the army is dithereing to send the NLC case in the civil courts – to start at a lower level – is perhaps considering the sanctity of the rank- a hesitation which will not be there if tried internally by own officers. Here the decision will be fair and faster.

    • Maj Ejaz Rasool (r)  On June 16, 2013 at 4:44 pm

      Salam, Brig Javed. I agree there is not much change in the army in terms of inner accountability – the system is still the same as inherited from the British. This is due to the fact that despite calling ourselves so called muslims, we have not thought of any change in the light of the Quran where the permanent values take their effect. regards. erasool@aol.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: