On Friday, Pakistan’s parliament passed a non-binding resolution demanding the public hanging of those convicted of sexually abusing and murdering children amid increasing incidents of crime against them. The resolution referred to the killing and sexual assault of an eight-year-old girl in Nowshera area of Khyber-Pakhtunwala province in 2018 and was passed with majority votes, supported by all lawmakers except those belonging to the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). It was opposed by Pakistan’s Human Rights Minister, Shireen Mazari and Fawad Chaudhry, the Minister for Science and Technology.
The resolution says the following, “This House strongly condemns the brutal killing of 8-years-old Iwaz Noor in Nowshera and demands that to stop these shameful and brutal killings of children and give a strong deterrent effect, the killers and rapists should not only be given death penalty by hanging but they should be hanged publicly.”
According to child rights organisation Sahil, 1,304 cases of child sexual abuse were reported in Pakistan between January and June 2019.
What is the significance of public hangings?
Nigel Cawthornen in his book “Public Executions: From Ancient Rome to the Present Day” explains that public executions were outlawed in Britain and the US in 1868 and 1936, respectively. Cawthorne writes that in earlier times, an execution behind closed doors was regarded as little more than murder. “It robbed the victim of the opportunity to make his final speech from the scaffold and certainly deprived the State of the chance to parade its power before those who fell under its jurisdiction, be they criminals, enemies, or political opponents,” he writes. He also goes on to mention how closed door executions would deprive people of being able to witness spectacles, such as Christians thrown to the lions in Rome’s Colosseum and guillotined aristocrats at France’s Place de la Concorde. In fact, when King Charles I of England was beheaded for treason in 1649, he was forced to lie face down instead of kneeling down, a position, which his executioners thought to be more humiliating.
The case for and against capital punishment
In 2014, following a terrorist attack on schoolchildren in Peshawar, Pakistan lifted its moratorium on capital punishment. As per Amnesty International figures, Pakistan carried out 360 executions in 2016. In 2017, China carried out the most number of executions, believed to be more than a 1000, followed by Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan.
In response to the resolution passed in Pakistan’s lower house, Amnesty International’s Deputy South Asia Director said in a statement published on the organisation’s website said that public hangings are acts of “unconscionable cruelty” and that they have no place in a rights-respecting society. “Executions, whether public or private, do not deliver justice. They are acts of vengeance and there is no evidence that they serve as a uniquely effective deterrent. If human life holds then highest value, then taking it away is lowest act. The state should not perpetuate the cycle of violence by putting people to death.” he said.
On the other hand, one of the widely used arguments in favour of capital punishment is that it may deter a potential criminal from committing a crime, given the punishment that awaits him if he is found guilty. Even so, there is little evidence to prove capital punishment as an effective means of ensuring deterrence.
In their “Ethics Guide”, the BBC has quoted Cardinal Avery Dulles who said the following about capital punishment, “Executions, especially where they are painful, humiliating, and public, may create a sense of horror that would prevent others from being tempted to commit similar crimes……In our day death is usually administered in private by relatively painless means, such as injections of drugs, and to that extent it may be less effective as a deterrent. Sociological evidence on the deterrent effect of the death penalty as currently practiced is ambiguous, conflicting, and far from probative.”
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines