By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty*
Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (CoAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa confirmed the death sentences of 13 ‘hardcore terrorists’ on December 16, 2016. These 13 were involved in heinous offences related to terrorism, including the slaughter of innocent civilians, officials of law enforcement agencies and the armed forces, an Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) press release said. According to ISPR, the convicted terrorists were involved in the planning and execution of the Bacha Khan, Parade Lane mosque, Marriott Hotel and World Vision NGO attacks, as well as an attack on an educational institution at Nawagai, Buner. “On the whole, they were involved in killing 325 persons and in causing injuries to 366 others. Firearms and explosives were also recovered from their possession. These convicts were tried by military courts,” the statement added.
On November 22, 2016, then CoAS General Raheel Sharif had confirmed death sentences awarded to another 10 terrorists. These terrorists were involved in a number of killings of civilians as well as the slaughtering of Captain Junaid Khan, Captain Najam Riaz Raja, Naik Shahid Rasool and Lance Naik Shakeel Ahmed of the Special Services Group (SSG). They planned and executed attacks on Armed Forces and Law Enforcement Agencies, resulting in the death and wounding of several soldiers. They were also involved in destruction of educational institutions and communication infrastructure, according to ISPR.
On November 7, 2016, then CoAS General Raheel Sharif confirmed the death sentences awarded to another nine hardcore terrorists, who were involved the killing of innocent civilians, slaughtering of Levies officials and attacking Armed Forces personnel. These terrorist also include those who fired at a Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) plane landing at Peshawar Airport, which resulted in the death of a woman and injuries to two other passengers. They were also involved in cutting off the hands of four Police personnels.
It has been two years since the Government lifted the moratorium on the death penalty following the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) attack on the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar, the provincial capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), on December 16, 2014, in which 148 persons, including 135 children, were killed. Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif had then addressed the nation and announced a 20-point National Action Plan (NAP), of which the execution of convicted terrorists was the first point. The seven-year moratorium on executions was then lifted on December 17, 2014. The resumption of executions was justified as a necessary measure to deal with terrorism. While lifting the moratorium, the Federal Minister of Defence Khwaja Asif stated, on December 19, 2014, that the carrying out of the death penalty against terrorists would begin soon.
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) data on the execution of terrorists showed that, from December 2014 to November 2016, just 29 out of 426 executions had been under the Anti Terrorism Act (ATC). The vast majority (93 per cent) of the 426 executions has been for crimes unrelated to terrorism.
In 2014, seven persons were hanged. All of them were executed on terrorism charges. Three of them were involved in an attack on former President General Parvez Musharraf. Further, Aqeel Ahmed aka Dr. Usman aka Kamran aka Nazir Ahmed and three other persons were accused of the General Headquarters (GHQ) Rawalpindi attack.
333 people were hanged in 2015, of which 15 were executed on charges of terrorism, among those three were executed for the attempt on Musharraf’s life. Three were charged for highjacking a PIA plane, and four for the attack on APS Peshawar. The remaining 318 were hanged on murder charges unrelated to terrorism.
From January to November 2016, 86 persons have been executed, of which just seven were charged with terrorism.
More than 90 per cent of the executions occurred in jails in Punjab Province. According to Justice Project Pakistan (JPP) data, 46 persons were hanged in Faisalabad, 39 in Rawalpindi, 52 in Lahore, 10 in Karachi, 25 in Multan, 31 in Sahiwal, 33 in Bahawalpur, four in Mirpur, nine in Jhang, two in Peshawar, six in Jhelum, seven in Haripur, five in Sukkur, one in Larkana, 14 in Gujranwala, 13 in Sargodha, 19 in Attock, six in Toba Tek Singh, 17 in Mianwali, seven in Machh, 16 in Gujrat, nine in Vehari, 17 in Sialkot, two in Hyderabad, nine in Dera Ghazi Khan, six in Kasur, 11 in Kohat and one in Timergara.
According to JPP data, after China and Saudi Arabia, Pakistan has become the third ranking country in terms of executions. There is no exact data on executions in China but these believed to number in the thousands each year; 93 persons were executed in Saudi Arabia and 86 in Pakistan in 2016. The data further shows that, till 2013, Pakistan had the largest death row population in the world – 8,568 were awaiting execution. Out of these 8,568 persons, 800 were tried in terrorism related cases; of these 800 cases, 88 per cent have no link to anything reasonably defined as ‘terrorism’ according to JPP. However, terrorism linked cases have now risen to 30 per cent, and in Sindh Province, account for as much as 40 per cent of all death row inmates. Significantly, there are currently over 17,000 pending ‘terrorism’ cases in Pakistan.
Barrister Sarah Belal, Director, JPP, lamented, on December 18, 2015, “Lifting the moratorium is a knee-jerk reaction. Our research shows that the government is clueless on who is an actual terrorist on death row and who isn’t. Keeping that in mind, we’re going to see some gross violations of rights.” According to the report, 80 per cent of those on death row have not committed acts of terror, but were wrongly convicted. Belal added,
They have the wrong people and terrorists roam free… Our criminal justice system is full of problems. We have problems in investigation system; there is capacity problem in our police department whereas bribery and political pressures further add to the miseries of the people. How can we execute a person when the criminal justice system is problematic? Therefore first we need to take measures to improve the system and then think about executing the criminals.
Wrongful executions in Pakistan have come to light in several cases, including the case of two brothers, Ghulam Qadir and Ghulam Sarwar, of Bahawalpur who had spent 11 years on death row and were hanged on October 13, 2015, only to be acquitted by the Supreme Court on October 20, 2016.
Another disgrace was when, on September 26, 2016, the Supreme Court upheld the death penalty against a mentally ill man, Imdad Ali, convicted of murder, overturning a previous appeal and a court decision staying his execution. Imdad Ali, who is diagnosed with schizophrenia, has been on death row since he was convicted in 2001. According to the Reprieve Group, an anti-death penalty team, Ali’s execution would be a violation of both Pakistani and international laws.
While, the actual target of NAP, the terrorists, often roam free, the problem is compounded further by the fact that several terrorist organizations in Pakistan continue to enjoy state support, creating systemic biases against a non-discriminatory policy of executing terrorists on death row. In a recent assertion, the Federal Minister for Interior Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan defended the terrorist Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD) on the floor of the Senate (Upper House of Parliament), arguing that it was involved in ‘charitable works’. On July 7, 2015, he argued, “Presently, JuD is engaged in charity and social work, operating hospitals, clinics, schools, ambulance service and religious institutions.” He went on to add that that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had listed JuD as a resurrection of LeT, but no ‘supporting evidence’ was shared with Pakistan to establish such a connection. The JuD, a front of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), is led by Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the mastermind of the November 26, 2008 (26/11) Mumbai (India) terror attacks. The US has declared a reward of USD 10 million against him.
Though the Government and the all-powerful military in Pakistan remain in denial, the Supreme Court, on July 2, 2015, asked the Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) why no action was being taken against terrorist organisations. Justice Jawad S. Khawaja remarked,
You have an action plan [National Action Plan (NAP)], then why it is not being implemented? Why terrorist organisations are overlooked by them? Action should be taken against them as well. Governments should do their job. The Court will issue no directive. No one can heave a sigh of relief. Every day a terror incident is published in newspapers. This is the level of seriousness of governments that terror incidents are taking place every day. Tell us, what the government has done within six months and six days (sic).
The press release issued by JPP on December 18, 2016, stated that there was a need to “revamp and reform Pakistan’s criminal justice system”. However no significant efforts had been made in this direction, so far.
On the other hand the Pakistan Government has a totally different perspective on the death penalty. They claim that the policy of execution has proven effective as a deterrent against terrorism.
* Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management