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September 17, 2020

PTI leaders split on public hanging

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September 17, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The midnight gang rape of a mother of two on a motorway in Punjab last week has not only shocked the country and the government, it has evoked strongest possible reaction from Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has called for public hanging and chemical castration of the rapists. “They [rapists] should be given exemplary punishments. In my opinion, they should be hanged at the chowk [intersection],” said the prime minister in a televised interview. A debate is raging ever since on multiple media platforms if the prime minister and his supporters are justified or not in asking for “exemplary” punishment for serious sex offenders. Some of the key members of PTI government are not with their prime minister on this issue and party mind-set is clearly split.

Law Minister Barrister Farogh Nasim was shown in a TV programme commenting generally on the issue of public hanging for criminals [not this particular case] wherein he said he would not support such a punishment for this was against the teachings of Islam, the country’s constitution and the rulings of the highest court. “There is a Supreme Court ruling in a 1994 case wherein the court ruled that public hanging was against the Shariah and the Constitution of Pakistan. That’s why I said I would not make any law that is against the Shariah, against the constitution and against the rulings of the Supreme Court.”

Public anger grew and the tragedy drew a number of protesters to the streets in several cities, including Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi, denouncing attacks on women and children. Looking clearly disturbed during the interview, Prime Minister Khan said: “The way murders are graded as first degree, second degree and third degree, rape should also be graded this way, and the first grade rapists should be castrated and incapable completely.”

Speaking in the Parliament, however, PTI’s Minister for Human Rights Shirin Mazari said the law did not all hanging criminals in intersections. “I have reservations on public hanging because it does not bring the crime rate down. It can [on the contrary] enhance the murder of the victims of sexual offences.”

Similarly, Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudary, himself a lawyer, told the National Assembly that the public and the leaders do demand public hanging for the criminals and argue that such incident would have been greatly curtailed had the criminals been hanged in public. “Sadly, figures do not correspond to such arguments. Had public hangings solved the issue, it would have been a simpler solutions.”

Other ministers have the diametrically opposed views. Ali Mohammad Khan, State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs and a lawyer by profession, said those who commit crimes like rape and gang rape should not only be given capital punishment, they should be hanged in public. “They must not be hanged in their cells at night time. They must be hanged in street intersections. And unless that is done, other criminals would not be deterred.”

Another ardent backer of the prime minister’s point of view is Faisal Vawda, the Minister for Power Resources. In his opinion public hanging would frighten the would-be criminals. “Only exemplary punishments would deter others from committing crime. A convict must die every moment thinking what has he done and once reduced to impotency, next natural step should be hanging in a street intersection.”

Babar Sattar, a legal expert of note, however, remained glued to the legality and constitutionality of the issue. “What are the tenants of Islamic Law and what constitutes Islamic punishments is a matter of interpretation. Unless there has been determination that such and such punishment is to be deemed Islamic punishment by law promulgated by Parliament or by the Supreme Court after adjudication of the matter, no individual has a right to impose his interpretation or understanding of what constitutes Islamic Law or Islamic punishment under the garb of the Constitution.”

On the issue of punishments being Islamic or otherwise, Fawad Chaudhary said the Islamic punishments are subjected to a set of principles of Islamic [standard of] evidence. Anyone suggesting or advocating Islamic [punishments] must first look up for Islamic evidence. This means witnesses those conform the standards of Tazkiya Al Shahood. Tazkiya means only those witnesses who have refrained from Kabira sins and the list of Kabira sins is available in [Tafseer] Al-Kabeer. I encourage all those advocating Qisas punishments under Islamic law to read Tazkiya Al Shahood and Kabeer. Once the Islamic evidence is there Islamic Law’s applicability is absolute. However, in Pakistan 100 per cent cases are decided on Tazir and not on Qisas because of non-availability of Qisas standards. Those who want Quranic law of evidence to be altered are advocating something not acceptable to any Muslim.

Ayesha Salman, a development work from Karachi said: “For all of those screaming for public hangings and applauding barbaric punishments like chemical castration, stop for one minute and think about what you are actually endorsing. Punishment is not a deterrent to rape. Rape is about power not uncontrolled sexual desire triggered by watching vulgarity. The solution is complex and involves a change in gender dynamics, power structures, education, and system’s reform and there is no quick fix. It might feel better to talk about punishment but as a society do we really desire more violence? Don’t we have enough? Can’t we think about how that cycle of violence is contributing to the very issues we want to fix? We scream for punishment only to see the very people we need to protect be further violated by our laws.