Abdul Basit’s lower body has been paralysed. He was diagnosed with tuberculosis and then meningitis while completing his sentence in prison. He doesn’t pose any threat to society yet he is still on death row and could be executed any day.
He is among 4,688 death row convicts in Pakistan, according to the Justice Project Pakistan, a legal action non-government organisation that seeks to combat “gross miscarriages of justice” in the country.
Pakistan’s justice system is not transparent, because of which the death sentence has also been handed over to juveniles and people with mental and physical disabilities.
To help people understand if the death penalty serves as a crime deterrent or not, the JPP has launched an online database on capital punishment in the country. The database has been formed in collaboration with the Human Rights Information and Documentation Systems International.
To access the database click here.
What will the database tell me?
The database comprises information on the number of death row prisoners, the executions that have been carried out since 2014 and the trial details of those prisoners.
“We want the database to help people understand who we are hanging and why we are hanging them,” said Isfundyar Kasuri, a JPP board member.
“Where there is no empirical evidence that the death penalty deters crime or terrorism, a closer look at the data from the past two decades draws attention to a strong correlation between economic inequality, political violence and instability, and murder rates,” he explained.
Punjab executes more people
In the last 14 years, Pakistan has sentenced 4,500 people to death and executed around 821 people. JPP found that Punjab has executed more people than other provinces.
Since December 2014, Punjab has hanged 404 people while 92 people were executed in the rest of the country.
There has been a reduction in death row population in the province, but it still accounts for more than 80% of the 511 executions that have taken place since December 2014.
Can we trust the justice system?
In 2016, the Supreme Court acquitted two brothers, Ghulam Qadir and Ghulam Sarwar. By the time the word reached the Bahawalpur Central Jail, the prison authorities revealed that the two had been hanged the previous year.
“Someone made a clerical error and it was horrendous,” said lawyer Suroop Ijaz. “This was horrendous even for a brutally wounded society such as ours.”
The criminal justice system in Pakistan is both discriminatory and inefficient, he said. The system is hostile to the majority of the people be it the poor, women or the oppressed. “We follow colonial laws that were meant to alienate.”
Even today, most poor people feel that they are not welcome in high courts or the top court and that is by design, he added. “Why is that no rich person is on death row?”
Our system relies on oral testimonies and not forensic proof. The laws that we are governed by were adopted from the Indian Penal Code, which was formed in response to the War of Independence in 1857.
In a colonial state, the laws were made between a state and its subjects, not a government and its citizens, he said. “We are meant to think of criminals as people who are different from us. The system does not work because it was designed by a colonial state to instill fear.”
People think that all our problems will be solved by executing criminals, said journalist Badar Alam. The public sentiment is that people accused of rape should be hanged, people accused of terrorism should be hanged too, he said. “Instead, we should think of structural changes to improve society.”
*An earlier version of the story identified the death row prisoner as Asif. It has been corrected to Abdul Basit now.