Public execution only kills the rapist, not the problem

Published: February 21, 2018

Public hanging will cause more damage until institutions for child protection are repaired. PHOTO: FACEBOOK/FIX IT

The Senate Standing Committee on Interior has proposed an amendment in the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) to publicly hang convicts found guilty of kidnapping, murdering or raping children less than 14 years of age. The Criminal Law Amendment Act 2018, if passed, would amend the PPC’s Section 364-A (kidnapping or abducting a person under the age of 14), which currently states,

“Whoever kidnaps or abducts any person under the [age of 14] in order that such person may be murdered or subjected to grievous hurt… or to the lust of any person [sic] shall be punished with death.”

If amended, the words “by hanging publicly” would be included in the end.

Law feeds ideology, and the beliefs and values of politicians and rulers determine legal frameworks. If the Senate moves toward public executions, it will be showing a cynical preference for violence and terror as a desperate solution to child abuse and murder rather than something more thoughtful and result-based. This display of violence – the spectre of a limp body hanging from a bridge – is created for public consumption, to instil fear, and as the Interior Minister says, to ‘send a strong public message’. It is seen as retributive and having a deterrent effect.

Firstly, it is not retributive. Retributive principles uphold equivalent punishment. However heinous the crime, however deeply it shocks our conscience, a public hanging is not an equivalent punishment. It is premeditated, followed by anticipatory period in jail in poor conditions. Moreover, it degrades human dignity, not just that of the person being hanged, but also that of the viewers. People watching such violent spectacles are reduced to the abstract legal subject of neck-breaking state sanction. The simple act of bearing witness to a vicious display of state power stamps viewers irrevocably with scars of brutal violence. It also normalises such violence. Thus, it cannot be an equivalent punishment as it goes beyond the desired aim of justly punishing the offender.

It may also have negative effects on society, especially children. Rather than being retributive, it resembles revenge killing. And if it is revenge killing and mere symbolism the senators want, then they are seeking to unravel the very basis of a democratic, rule-based society with courts that use principles in sentencing. Then there is nothing stopping us from also assaulting the accused first and then tearing up his body later.

Secondly, we do not know that it will lead to deterrence in crimes against children. No study has been cited by any lawmaker regarding the deterrent effect of a public execution. Most studies from other countries conclude that people are deterred by the prospect of being caught rather than facing the death penalty. Laws are based on sound policy and research. The public execution debate in the Senate appears whimsical and aimed at garnering public support when real solutions are not forthcoming.

Child abuse in Pakistan needs serious remedies based on an array of policy changes in education, labour, health and economy, along with copious amounts of healthy public dialogue about sex and sexual violence, about sexual diseases, reproductive health and physical safety.  It needs a real look at the preventative criminal justice system, police practices of tracing missing children, and the politics of a nation where the most vulnerable of society – children – are left unprotected. There has to be categorical consensus on the age of juvenility as under 18 – so that all under this age are free from labour exploitation, sent to school, and protected in the criminal justice system.

There is no shortcut method of exorcising child abuse from our society. Public hanging will cause more damage until institutions for child protection are repaired. Moreover, those who do not trust the criminal justice system as effective should not trust that the actual criminals will be hanged. The mere act of a hanging in public, rather than the premises of a jail, does not magically make the system better or the factually guilty face gallows.

The state and law are ideological instruments in the hands of those in power. This is a state that cannot feed its hungry children. There are growing rates of malnutrition and stunting caused by simple, curable illnesses in childhood. The ‘strong message’ being sent is that while the state abdicates its responsibility towards citizens, especially the children, to provide universal health care, safe neighbourhoods, nutritious meals in school, quality education, safe drinking water, and ultimately, employment prospects with a living wage, it will use its repressive machinery to publicly hang the errant.

Some progressive lawyers opine that there is no crime in the world that cannot be solved by medication and education. These very aspects are missing in society at large –health and intellect, good public hospitals and education that will build up children, welfare and humanity. A call for public execution is thus analogous to solving hunger with more hunger, settling anger with morbid rage, eliminating rape and murder of children with state-sanctioned murder. It is almost as hollow as solving school shootings in the US with prayers while guns are sold freely.

The fact that we are not a welfare state is not a surprise. It is, however, that we are so easily duped into seeing violence as a solution. We’re consenting too easily to the Senate’s call for an easy, repugnant and symbolic solution rather than demanding they actually work for real change at the grassroots.

The Senate’s effort comes at the heels of the Rao Anwar scandal. It is reported that Anwar was involved in 444 extrajudicial killings, many of these in staged encounters. Secret detentions, harassment of ordinary citizens, torture of political activists are coming to light. With Naqeebullah Mehsud, we are, perhaps, seeing a new dawn where victims are no longer invisible, but named; they had rights, personalities, families and lives. The state seems to have gotten itself into a bind. It can’t account for extrajudicial murders of those like Naqeebullah. It doesn’t seem to possess the capacity to fix the criminal justice system to ensure people like Zainab’s killer are apprehended and prevented from continuing. So, the answer seems to be judicial killing or legislated murder – public, brutal and pornographic display of state power.

Of course, this will isolate us in the world community, deprive us of collateral economic benefits in the globalised economy, and paint us as a rogue nation. We have to accept that we are a liberal nation and have never put ourselves, as lawyers, judges and citizens, behind public executions despite violent ideological messaging and negative portrayals from everywhere. Let’s keep up the tradition.

Abira Ashfaq

Abira Ashfaq

A law teacher in Karachi who works with human rights organisations. She tweets @oil_is_opium. (

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

  • Raghu

    Mind it, your statement is very wrong.
    Public execution not only kills the rapist but also suppresses the problem. But instilling fear in those who think of doing it! Even a lame person can understand that but liberals wont.Recommend

  • MuhammadSaadRashid

    I’m boggled at this.

    The fact that you’re finding public hanging to be a disgrace to human dignity and that it should be cured through medication or education simply shows you’ve lost the sense of the gravity and severity of the heinous crime in the first place.

    Having a soft corner for such criminals can never be justified. Why would a criminal stop himself when he doesn’t even have a fear of facing capital punishment afterwards and when all he would face is jailing and then to be educated/cured later on?Recommend

  • Bilal Nabi

    If public hanging is not the solution then why Islam tells to execute in public? Why Saudia has minimum crime and why everyone fear of Saudi authorities?Recommend

  • Keyboard Soldier

    It will start with pedophiles and will end up with civilian elected leaders being hung in the street by a dictator.

    We should not become animals because someone else decides to.Recommend

  • Israr Khan

    Abira :) there are certain facts in this world we live in lets talk about physics so if i see fire i do not close to it , it burns it will burn me if i go inside a fire, i will not be feeling good if i jump in deep water when i do not know i can swim, if i put a knife in my neck i will die, if i jump of the 15th floor i will not survive … so this law is saying or will say if u rape kills or abduct kids U WILL DIE just like when u jump off the 15th floor or u offer urself to fire or u put a knife through ur neck … so basically DONT DO THIS Islam suggests a punishment for sinners to discourage others not them as they are punished already or dead already so the law will discourage others for sureRecommend

  • vinsin

    How? When and where that has ever happened?Recommend

  • saeed

    People are not interested in issues but they want to show other they are serious by witness other death and with few selfies it will extra fun for whole family. People are turning into animal.Recommend

  • M Sarmad

    You seriously need too use google more oftenRecommend

  • Parvez

    Interesting article.Recommend

  • Waqas Khan

    Hang in public or shot them on the road, unfortunately we the people of Pakistan has surpassed the point where things can be fixed by discussions and treatments. We need to man up and kill them ASAP so next person or the one after that will think atleast once before doing such a horrable act.Recommend

  • Ryan

    are you out of your mind? Saudi Arabia is the worst place to live on this planet. get out of your backward bubble.Recommend

  • Ryan

    Public hanging is not the solution for sure. This is the 21st century and we are not savages. Certainty of the punishment is more important than the cruelty and severity of punishment.
    Just don’t do it cuz saudis do it.Recommend

  • vinsin

    use it but didnt find.Recommend

  • vinsin

    Because they kill the victim. There are no laws in Saudi. It is a kingdom.Recommend

  • Keyboard Soldier

    Saudi is a hell hole for its citizens. Pakistanis are treated like dirt there.Recommend

  • shiv

    In olden times during the time only the Kings ruled and the word ‘democracy’ was not even coined, the convicted criminals were given death sentences in full view of the people. There used to be a celebration as people thronged to watch a man die of his sins. New methods of killing a man was devised so that the viewing public got the hang of it. No doubt, the criminals did not bother about that and continued their ways as many innocent ‘criminals’ were also crushed under the feet of an elephant, got their heads severed in a guillotine, devoured by a tiger live, crucified and given a tortuous death. People watching them enjoyed it all – as the old stories tell about it.
    Even now there are people who celebrate some killing of encounter deaths. Policemen are given weapons that can kill which clearly means the state sanctions the killing. If a policeman uses his weapon to kill an innocent and the the state punishes the policeman with three year imprisonment, the satisfaction of justice done can be achieved? That innocent man died and the state killed him. That the judges and courts are spared the pain of sentencing a man to die. Death penalties should continue because if not that, more encounter deaths will take place. Also, as happened in the earlier times, the death penalties in full view of public will help deter at least some of the would be criminals.Recommend

  • Javed Jabbar

    I am surprised to see this article and some of the comments. Public hanging or any punishment act as deterrent which have long lasting positive effect on the society and ultimately the crime rate goes down. This is valid in every time and these times need it more than ever.Recommend

  • Sane

    All rapist and murderers must be hanged in public.Recommend

  • Sane

    arrest a rapist and murderer for discussion and treatment and after that set free. This will eliminate crime in the society. Ha….ha….ha….. Live in fools paradise.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    Sir, Islam prohibits human killings! Though shall not kill is one of the first ten commandments for the believers. the house of Saud practices 7th century pre-islamic barbaric rituals. Pakistan should abolish capital punishment and work towards healing those who commit ferocious crimes against fellow humans.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Rex Minor

    The law will discourage the sane people not the insane ones who commit heinous crimes. The parents received their punishment for having lost their loved ones by leaving them unattended.


  • Sane

    They kill the victim… you can prove your baseless statement? Would you throw some light as why you kill beef eaters and rape women.Recommend

  • Israr Khan

    no no that is not what we want surely .. but can we treat animals like animals ? do go back on ur words now :)Recommend

  • Afsheen

    No .Rape is not a ‘problem’ that requires sympathetic ‘understanding’. It is a crime against humanity for which there must be zero tolerance. The people who commit the crime of rape in Pakistan have no fear of accountability. The most that’ll happen to them is that they’ll get locked up for life and the taxpayers expense. Unless a clear message sent out to those potential and actual rapists who abuse their power and privilege that they will be caught and made to suffer a humiliating punishment they will continue with their evil.Recommend