Justice Deferred is Justice Denied

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, E-Magazine, General Information, News, News & Updates, Take Action

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On Wednesday the Federal Government of Pakistan temporarily deferred execution of a 14-year old Shafqat Hussain just few hours before he was set to be hanged. In Pakistan the use of torture evidence and execution of juveniles is illegal. Surely the legal system has specific procedures for dealing with juvenile delinquents yet Shafqat Hussain was arrested and tortured to confess to killing of a child.

The only evidence the courts had was his confession he made after nine days of being tortured in a police cell. He was not tried as a juvenile nor was he given access to a lawyer.

Moments like these make me recall the famous quotation; peace is not the absence of war but the presence of justice. Justice is a fascinating word. We hope to get justice in an unjust world, made unjust by our power hunger, selfishness and greed. Where is the compassion we are seeking? Why are we seeking it in the first place?

What a shame that it took the weight of civil society and an uproar to push the Minister into deferring the execution just hours before he was due to be taken to the gallows. We seek the judicial system for justice and what if the same system is flawed as an entity? We don’t know how many other juveniles are facing the same fate.

Being a signatory of child rights conventions, Pakistan should take measures to meet standards of juvenile justice. Sarah Coleman, Child Protection Chief, UNICEF

The existing Juvenile Justice Ordinance 2000, consisting of only 15 sections, does not cover many important aspects pertaining to child delinquencies, the ordinance needs to be improved. Barrister Salman Safdar

Shafqat Hussain was kept in solitary confinement, blindfolded and beaten brutally by the police. He was being electrocuted and stubbed lit cigarettes on his arms while being asked to confess to the crime.

 I was tortured so severely and continuously that my mind ‘just stopped’. I have no recollection of the trial. Shafqat Hussain

It is important to note that after a seven-year moratorium, Pakistan has reintroduced the death penalty and has also introduced military courts. It will begin executions where clemency and appeals are no longer an option. Following the 2014 Peshawar school attacks that killed over 100 children, the death penalty was reintroduced last December.  According to Amnesty International since 2012, 24 people have been executed including three whose convictions were unrelated to terrorism.

Is this shameful retreat to the gallows a way to resolve Pakistan’s persistent security and law -and -order problems? Those who argue the shallow logic of an eye for an eye, it is worthy to note that the charges of blasphemy, adultery and apostasy are also punishable by death. It is indeed a moral catastrophe for Pakistan. The death penalty and military courts are not known to be the deterrents of crime, especially the military courts where the judges and prosecutors come from army ranks. This indeed is a controversial addition to the flawed judicial system along with Anti-terrorism Courts.

Two months after Pakistan’s Interior Ministry stayed the execution of Shafqat Hussain and ordered an inquiry into why a juvenile was given a death sentence, Pakistan’s Anti-terrorism Court issues a fresh execution order.

Draconian courts like these operate on the premise that the accused is guilty unless proven innocent. Shafqat Hussain who has spent 11 years on death row was not a militant and had nothing to do with terrorism. He worked as a caretaker of an apartment building during his brief freedom in Karachi.

In an era of injustice, shameful violence and intolerance it is our duty to raise our voices for sanity and compassion.  We can’t call Pakistan just and democratic when it provides assistance to banned armed outfits, violent sectarian groups and puts innocent juveniles on death row.

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Anam Gill

Believes that empathy and compassion can trigger change. A media professional passionate and committed towards issues of human rights and social justice.