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October 10, 2018

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The death penalty

The death penalty

When the moratorium on the death penalty was lifted in 2014, it was justified as a necessary tool in the fight against militancy. The state promised that capital punishment would be used judiciously and only against the most heinous of criminals. That has not proven to be the case. As the international community marks the World Day Against the Death Penalty today, Pakistan has become one of the few nations in the world that still regularly hangs people to death. A report by the Justice Project Pakistan has found that every eight person executed in the world is a Pakistani. We have 26 percent of the world’s death row population and hand out 14 percent of worldwide death sentences. On average, one person is sentenced to death every day in the country. We should be ashamed of this culture of state-sanctioned death. Giving the power of life and death to the state is never a good idea. Most of the executions carried out are not of hardened militants but are related to murders that arose out of disputes over property or between families. There is tons of evidence showing that the death penalty does not have a deterrent effect. It thus beggars belief that so many are critical of the state’s incompetence and corruption, but are eager to hand it the ultimate power.

Even if the moralistic argument against the widespread use of the death penalty does not convince everyone, the state of our justice system should give us all pause. According to the JPP report, 85 percent of death sentences have been overturned by the Supreme Court since 2014. Essentially, in an overwhelming majority of cases where capital punishment has been handed down, the apex court has found that mistakes were made either in the gathering of evidence or in the verdicts reached by judges in lower courts. The death penalty also disproportionately hits the poor as they cannot afford lawyers who insist on a fair trial. There have been reports of death row prisoners who were executed even before their final appeals were ruled on by the Supreme Court. Clearly, reform is needed in all aspects of our justice system. If we insist on keeping the death penalty, it should be a punishment of the last resort, used only for very few crimes. There should absolutely no question about the person’s guilt and death-row prisoners have to be given access to competent legal help. Right now, the state is failing on all counts.

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