Execution freeze leaves Pakistan's hangmen idle
A moratorium in Pakistan against the death penalty has been welcomed by human rights activists who say that Pakistan’s police and prosecution system lacks the competency to produce reliable convictions.
His house is by a graveyard. His favorite haunt – a makeshift men’s club where fellow Christians while away the day sipping tea and singing folk songs – is a large carpet spread beneath an old tree in a graveyard. For Sabir Masih, one of three hangmen in Pakistan’s most populous Punjab province, death is a way of life.Skip to next paragraph
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“As you know, in Islam and in Christianity the response to death is death,” says the tall, dark-skinned hangman. “And that’s the way it should be.”
But for the past two years, Pakistan’s gallows have remained unused, and Mr. Masih has showed up at work, at Lahore’s infamous Kot Lakhpat jail, just to collect his pay checks. That’s because, since 2009, Pakistan’s civilian government led by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has refused to sign execution papers for some 8,000 prisoners on death row.
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“Our opposition to the death penalty is on compassionate grounds. We feel if the death penalty can be avoided, that is good,” says Farhatullah Babar, a parliamentarian and spokesman for President Asif Ali Zardari.
The moratorium has been welcomed by human rights activists who say that Pakistan’s police and prosecution system lacks the competency to produce reliable convictions. It’s also a rare positive in a country where human rights abuses are all too common.
Prior to the moratorium in 2009, hangings in Pakistan had increased annually under the military-ruler President Pervez Musharraf. According to figures compiled by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), 134 hangings took place in Pakistan in 2007, placing it among the world’s top executioners, alongside China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United States.
“Given that the miscarriage of justice is widespread, given there is nothing resembling due process, stopping the death penalty is only the humane course of action,” says Ali Dayan Hassan, a Pakistan researcher for Human Rights Watch. “We are of the view that the death penalty should be abolished,” he adds.