Yes, I support the death penalty

Published: September 26, 2012
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Even the president should not be vested with the authority to grant pardon to ruthless killers. PHOTO: AFP

While the moratorium on the death penalty has been in place since 2008, a debate on commuting it to life imprisonment has been raging for decades.

Those proselytising against the concept of Biblical revenge are free to campaign for the abolition of the death penalty, but they need to remember that it is the prerogative of the victims’ heirs to demand life for life.

Legislators can draft as many laws as they like; they cannot impose a piece of legislation on people unwilling to accept it, especially if it violates Quranic injunctions as enshrined in the constitution.

Any attempt to erase the death penalty from the statute book without a fundamental change in the nation’s belief system and cultural and religious norms may lead to greater anarchy as murder victims’ heirs are forced to take the law into their own hands.

Even the president should not be vested with the authority to grant pardon to ruthless killers.

The argument that the wrong man may be convicted should spark sweeping reforms in the police and judiciary but does not apply in a case where witnesses identified the assailants who were confirmed as members of the most notorious gang in Gujranwala by the police. Former leaders have been killed in police encounters or reprisal attacks.

On July 19, Ahmad Ghaffar was murdered inside the patwarkhana (a government building that houses land records) in Gujranwala. He was unarmed when the murderers opened fire. Three bullets were fired at his mouth, another pierced his left cheek and the fifth bullet tore through his lower abdomen. He was still bleeding when he was lowered into the grave the next day.

No, I do not believe his murderers deserve to live.

My uncle was killed because the progeny of his former tenant and their accomplices could not bear to lose possession of his ancestral lands which he had won from the courts after decades of legal battles. The lands are prime property, bifurcated by the Gujranwala Bypass on the city’s periphery.

Not even one of the four killers has so far been arrested. Before making good their escape, the assailants smashed his car window and stole firearms. The only witnesses willing to testify are his nephews – if they manage to survive that is, considering the threats hurled at them.

For the first time this Independence Day, I could not bring myself to celebrate the creation of a country where elected representatives, irrespective of party divisions, tripped over themselves to free the killers’ accomplices. People are more inclined to commit murder when they know they can get away with it.

To deter their patrons, complicity for murder should also be punishable by death.

There is no greater torment than the constant reminder that while he lies cold and solitary in his grave, his murderers roam free. The doomsday prediction for 2012 has come true in a way we had never imagined.

The world as we knew it has ended.

It is a world in which he is not.

Our blood has flowed through the ages and if more is spilled in our quest for justice, we are willing to make the sacrifice. If the death sentence is commuted, convicts will be freed after serving life imprisonment, which is 14 years in Pakistan.

The question is not whether the death penalty acts as a deterrent, but whether it serves the ends of justice.

It is precisely because life is precious that people in favour of the death penalty believe justice can only be served if the killer forfeits his own. It is fine if people wish to engage in philosophical discourse proclaiming the value of a murderer’s life to argue that sparing killers is a necessary milestone in the evolution of human progression.

It is an entirely different matter, however, when the debate focuses on the ‘satisfaction’ the aggrieved family will get out of the killers’ death. There can be no closure for the loss of a life brutally cut short; just a sense of vindication.

May you never be confronted with the question over the bullet-riddled body of a loved one.

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Hajra Khizran Ilahi

Hajra Khizran Ilahi

A journalist and a documentary filmmaker. Official designation: Senior Sub-editor on The Express Tribune Islamabad Desk

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.