It is a shame that our collective sense of justice hardly goes beyond a frantic demand for vengeance. Since government announced lifting of moratorium on death penalty last December, 39 convicts have been executed in different jails in Pakistan. Initially it was announced that only hard-core terrorists will be hanged, but, as was foreseen by many concerned citizens, the capital punishment is now being executed in all sorts of crimes. Only day before yesterday when 12 people were hanged, the news anchors jubilantly kept repeating ‘the good news’ the whole day. Our opinion leaders leave no stone unturned in making us feel as if the only step holding us back in bringing ultimate peace and prosperity in the country is mass public hangings.
The latest victim of this frenzy is going to be Shafqat Hussain who will be hanged tomorrow. Convicted of kidnapping and murder, he has already spent 11 miserable years in jail. The most significant fact about Shafqat’s conviction is that he was sentenced to death when he was only 14. Like so many others, he was also brutally tortured to get a confession. He was tried and sentenced by an anti-terrorism court. Such a court itself is an aberration of justice where the universal principle of justice, i.e. ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is reversed. The details of his trial and subsequent conviction is a study in itself of the unjust system of justice in Pakistan.
Anyone who ever had an encounter with Pakistan’s judicial system knows how this system is rotten to its very core. While government finds it convenient as an immediate redress by offering more hangings as an answer to public demand for security, this is anything but just.
The public consensus achieved in the post-Peshawar incident scenario was the high time for our state to take account of why the judicial system was failing in punishing terrorists. This situation could have served as a drive for a long awaited reforms in our colonial judicial system. But the ruling elite preferred to placate public emotions with a two-pronged solution of military courts and resuming executions. As long as the systematic failures of the judicial system and our vengeance based approach to justice remains, all hopes for justice and peace are doomed.
It is also a case in point that in this country a 14-year-old who is tortured to confess is treated as terrorist while Mumtaz Qadri, the fanatic assassin of late Governor Salman Taseer, is treated as an ordinary criminal. This shows that Lady Justice in Pakistan is nothing but subservient to the constraints and partialities of our judiciary.
Whether Shafqat Hussain actually did commit those crimes or not, his execution will be unjust and a mark of shame on our society. No one should be killed for an alleged crime committed as a juvenile. Will our authorities wake up to this simple truth?