THE BLOG

A Sad Response to a Terrible Tragedy

24/12/2014 17:46 GMT | Updated 23/02/2015 10:59 GMT

The mass slaughter of 142 people, most of them children, in Peshawar last week was a disgusting act. Unfortunately, the Pakistan government's reaction has been unwise, following the pattern set by the United States in 2001: pouring oil on the fire, while ultimately undermining the rule of law.

The Government has announced an immediate end to the death penalty moratorium - effective last Friday night, when the first two men were hanged. Four more executions took place after that, and several more are due to take place this week. The Chief Justice of Pakistan has joined the debate, promising to ensure that everyone on death row will be executed in short order. The Government is effecting immediate reprisals against the terrorists.

Except, they are not. First, let us state the obvious: all nine deranged extremists who killed the children died themselves, either when they blew themselves up, or in the subsequent shootout with the Army.

Second, the scale of the bloodshed contemplated by the Chief Justice will dwarf even the horrors of Peshawar. It is a little known fact that there are 8,261 prisoners on Pakistan's death row, making it the largest in the world. If we execute ten people every day including Sunday for the next two years, there will still be thousands left, given the rate at which they are being sentenced.

The government replies that they are setting dates against terrorists. Except, they are not. Consider the case of Shafqat Hussein, slated for the noose this week. While he was tried in the 'terrorism court', the case had nothing to do with terrorism: it was a kidnapping, where whoever did commit the offence apparently (according to the appeals court) killed the victim by accident.

Shafqat was just 14 years old when he was sentenced to die, based almost exclusively on a confession extorted from him. He was tortured so badly, he said, that "they could make you say that a deer was an elephant." There is strong evidence that he is innocent, if anyone is willing to listen.

Can we exact revenge for extremists killing innocent children by killing another child who is probably innocent himself? Hardly, and it would anyway be illegal to do so. Pakistan has long since accepted that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child forbids executing juveniles - and only three countries in the world (Iran, Saudi Arabia and Sudan) have violated this rule in recent history.

Does it solve the problem to kill someone who was tortured? The police tied Shafqat's hands and legs together and beat him with sticks. He was electrocuted and burned with cigarettes on his arms - leaving scars readily visible today. It is troubling that torture is so rife in Pakistan, and the government could do more to better the lives of its citizens by stopping the torture, instead of executing the torture victims.

Does it solve the problem to kill someone who never received a proper defence? Shafqat's lawyer was paid only 30,000 rupees (roughly £190) for the entire capital trial - roughly what a UK barrister would expect for a couple of hours. You get what you pay for; he barely challenged the prosecution case at all, and did not even point out that a child was not subject to execution.

Shafqat could not defend himself: at the time of his trial, he was an illiterate child, a refugee from Kashmir. On death row, he was not eligible for education (why teach him when we are going to kill him?), but he has taught himself to read and write.

We should never forget the innocent children who died in Peshawar - but they would be crying out to us not to compound the tragedy by killing another child in revenge.