"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

Monday, September 21, 2015

Don't Execute Paralyzed Pakistani Prisoner

Pakistan: an execution frenzy
Pakistan has conducted most executions in world in 2015
Government Reportedly Conducts Most Executions in World in 2015

The Pakistan government should halt the scheduled September 22, 2015, execution of Abdul Basit, who is paralyzed from the waist down, Human Rights Watch said today. The case underscores the inherent cruelty of capital punishment by the execution of a person with a severe disability.

Basit, a former administrator at a medical college, was sentenced to death in 2009, after being convicted of murder. He became paralyzed after contracting tubercular meningitis in 2010 while in the central jail in Faisalabad.

"Rather than confronting the inherent cruelty of capital punishment, Pakistani officials are puzzling over how to hang a man in a wheelchair," said Brad Adams, Asia director. "The government should urgently commute Abdul Basit's sentence."

Basit's execution was earlier scheduled for July 29. On July 28, the Lahore High Court accepted a petition challenging Basit's execution on the basis that it would constitute cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, contravening Pakistan's prison rules and violating Basit's fundamental rights under Pakistan's constitution and international law. On September 1, the Lahore High Court dismissed Basit's petition, ruling that since the hanging of a paralyzed prisoner was not expressly forbidden by the prison rules, there was no bar to the execution.

On December 17, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif rescinded a 4-year unofficial moratorium on capital punishment in apparent response to the December 16 attack by the Pakistani Taliban splinter group Tehreek-e-Taliban on a school in Peshawar in northwestern Pakistan that left at least 148 dead - almost all of them children.

The Pakistani government has executed 236 people this year, making Pakistan responsible for the largest number of reported executions in the world in 2015. Despite government claims that the death penalty is necessary to confront terrorism, only a small percentage of those executed were linked to militancy.

Pakistan has more than 8,000 prisoners on death row, one of the world's largest populations of prisoners facing execution. Pakistani law mandates capital punishment for 28 offenses, including murder, rape, treason, and blasphemy. Those on death row are often from the most marginalized sections of society, such as Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death by the Lahore High Court on charges of blasphemy. In many cases, particularly those involving the poor, accused persons facing capital punishment do not receive adequate assistance of counsel.

Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty and irrevocability. Pakistan's use of the death penalty is inconsistent with international human rights law, according to statements of United Nations human rights experts and various UN bodies because of the fundamental nature of the right to life, the unacceptable risk of executing innocent people, and the absence of proof that the death penalty serves as a deterrent to crime.

Pakistan should join with the many countries already committed to the UN General Assembly's 2007 resolution calling for a moratorium on executions and a move by UN member countries toward abolition of the death penalty.

"The death penalty is an inherently cruel and irrevocable punishment that doesn't solve any of the complex security problems facing the Pakistani people," Adams said. "The Pakistani government should strengthen its justice system rather than sending more people like Abdul Basit to the gallows. The government should place an official moratorium on capital punishment until the practice is abolished."

Source: Human Rights Watch, Sept. 20, 2015


Death penalty for the disabled

Rather than challenging the inherent cruelty and injustice of capital punishment, it seems that the state has embarked upon an unyielding spree to execute hordes of prisoners-ones that have not seen any semblance of justice towards them for decades. The story of Abdul Basit echoes the appalling state of Pakistan's criminal justice system and reaffirms that capital punishment means those without the capital get the punishment. Whilst the wealthy and influential escape through the loopholes, the poor, disabled, mentally ill, and the most vulnerable just like him, are rushed to the gallows - celebrated as an indicator of its success in eradicating terrorism. The state is apathetic to the violations of their human dignity, and it has become evident with Basit, where despite his permanent disability and humiliating imprisonment, Abdul Basit faces execution on Tuesday, 22nd September 2015.

Abdul Basit was convicted for the murder of another man during a heated altercation in 2009. The deceased was a 3rd year law student, the younger brother of a noted local advocate. No lawyer from Okara would take the case, and even a respected advocate from Faisalabad came under pressure, not to represent the Petitioner. Abdul Basit has always claimed his innocence, asserting that Asif Nadeem was the one who first offered violence. It was on the basis of evidence given by just 2 relatives of the deceased that Abdul Basit was convicted of murder.

Gallows at an unidentified Pakistani prison
Gallows at an unidentified Pakistani prison
The police investigation reeked of corruption (Basit's family was too poor to pay the bribe asked by the police) and implanted evidence: there was a gun allegedly found at the scene, but the police officer did not take the fundamental step of writing down its serial number and there was no ballistics evidence to show that Basit's gun was the one used in the killing. Nevertheless, Basit was sentenced to death and his subsequent appeals to the High Court and Supreme Court were rejected.

In 2010, Abdul Basit was transferred to Central Jail, Faisalabad. Later that year, the prisoners in Faisalabad jail rioted against the torturous practices of the jail administration especially, the Superintendents. Several prisoners died in the riots, and many more injured. The Superintendent was suspended and the new Superintendent, confined most of the prisoners to the "punishment wing" in Central Jail. For, months, Abdul Basit was held in the filthy and unhygienic conditions of the punishment ward where disease is rampant. While there, he began complaining of severe headache and an extremely high temperature. His family narrated that his headache became so severe that he would scream and bang his head against the wall for any form of relief. His anguish was only met with apathy by jail authorities despite repeated pleas from his family. It was discovered later that based on his symptoms Abdul Basit had contracted Tuberculosis (TB) meningitis in prison. Despite the knowledge that TB, if left untreated, could result in permanent damage, the jail authorities denied him any access to the requisite healthcare and simply confined him to a solitary cell to prevent an outbreak. It was only after Abdul Basit succumbed to a month of indelible pain and lost consciousness that he was transferred to DHQ hospital in Faisalabad.

At DHQ hospital, Faisalabad, it was discovered that his condition was so critical, that he fell into a coma for 3 weeks. Eventually his family was informed that as a result of neglect and a lack of timely treatment he had contracted Tuberculosis (TB) meningitis. Over the course of thirteen months his condition plummeted - he became paralyzed from the waist down and would suffer from long-term consequences of spinal cord permanently. Abdul Basit would never walk again, and lost all control of his basic bodily functions permanently. In 2011, a Medical Board at Services Hospital Lahore deemed that management of his medical condition "would be very difficult in jail". In April 2012 it was established that he was suffering from paraplegia and long term complications of spinal atrophy. More recently in August, a new medical board was convened at the order of the Lahore High Court, where it was concluded that Basit was "permanently disabled ... He is likely to remain bed-bound for the rest of his life."

Under Rule 107 (iv) of the Prison Rules (1978) ill health is a ground for clemency from execution. However, despite this, the President of Pakistan in January 2013 rejected a petition from Abdul Basit's family requesting to commutation of his death sentence to life imprisonment on the basis of his disability.

On 28th July 2015 the Lahore High Court accepted a writ petition challenging Basit's execution on the basis that it would constitute cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, contravening the Pakistan Prison Rules and violating Basit's fundamental rights as protected by the Constitution of Pakistan and international law. This was made clear with the Pakistan Prison Rules 1978, a binding statutory legislation, which governs the manner and procedure to be adopted at the time of executing a condemned prisoner. Here, rule 356 (Regulation of drops) has been specifically designed in order to avoid the possibility of a botched execution and contains procedures that simply cannot be carried out in respect of a disabled prisoner.

The prison authorities once again showed their indifference and incompetence when they appeared in court on 1st September, unable to give exact details of the procedures they intended to use, but instead suggesting that there were a number of possibilities, including hanging Basit from his wheelchair or from a stool placed on the gallows. This led to the Lahore High Court dismissing Basit's petition, vehemently stating that "international laws should be set aside".

Abdul Basit remains in prison, with only 3 days left till his execution. He has spent the past several years lying on the floor of his cell, reliant on jail officers to assist him with even the most basic hygiene. He also suffers from fecal and urinary incontinence. He has even been denied access to a wheel chair with the result that he suffers from bedsores. Despite these horrendous conditions, he occupies himself by copying out verses from the Qur'an, perhaps, this being his only cradle of hope. He leads an undignified, inhumane and unhygienic life - failed by the government, prison system and the criminal justice system.

The state refuses to look past it incongruity, and look at Abdul Basit as a paraplegic prisoner, especially one who has suffered for seven years in prison. Under the guise of combating terrorism, it seems that it is obliviously using the death penalty- clearing out its prisons, one helpless casualty at a time. Abdul's disability is permanent. His execution would constitute a cruel and inhuman punishment under our constitution and Islamic jurisprudence.

His lawyers have petitioned for a stay, one that has to fight the labyrinthine and archaic procedure of testimony and evidence, that has been used to pass death sentences. These courts are blind to justice and norms, where saying enough is enough is only the beginning. The justice system has proved to be nothing less than vengeful and futile. The constitution has also been amended to speed up the prosecution of terrorism-related cases, and move them from civilian to military courts. On 11 March 2015, the Pakistan government announced that it was unconditionally lifting the moratorium for all capital crimes and threatened to send up to 1000 prisoners to the gallows who had exhausted all legal options and mercy petitions. Pakistan has executed more than 200 people since reintroducing the death penalty, where its initial use of combatting terrorism seems to be long forgotten.

Abdul Basit is not a terrorist nor does he pose a violent threat to society. He has already forsaken his dignity and freedom to try to fight an inequitable justice system. It is time for the President of Pakistan, our self-proclaimed gallant state, and the inadequate justice system to look at what they have taken from Abdul Basit. It is time to take a stand and halt his execution- not making him another faceless number, hung from his wheelchair from the gallows.

Source: The Nation, September 19, 2015


Pakistan court gives go-ahead for hanging of paraplegic, despite fears of botched execution

Abdul Basit
Abdul Basit
Pakistan’s Supreme Court has refused to grant a stay of execution to a paraplegic man set to be hanged tomorrow (Tuesday), despite fears that hanging someone from their wheelchair may breach the country’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

At a hearing today at Pakistan’s Supreme Court, the court refused to order a stay of execution for Abdul Basit, 43, who is paralyzed from the waist down and uses a wheelchair. The court has ordered that the hanging must comply with the Pakistan Prison Rules. However, because the procedures set out in those rules only provide for prisoners who are able to stand, any attempt to hang Basit could see him either facing decapitation or prolonged strangulation.

According to Basit’s lawyers at Justice Project Pakistan, the judges today ignored the inadequacy of the prison guidelines, with one judge remarking that Pakistan’s courts “cannot oversee every execution,” and claiming that there is no way for the Supreme Court to know how many executions have not been carried out in the prescribed manner. Justice Dost Mohammed Khan told the court that he was aware of at least one botched hanging that had already taken place in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in which a miscalculation of the prisoner’s weight caused the rope to break. He said that the man subsequently received treatment and was hanged again within 24 hours.

Basit has been paralyzed since he contracted meningitis while in prison, which was not properly treated. The Supreme Court failed to take issue with the Lahore High Court’s position that international law should not be taken into account in his case.

Yesterday, Basit’s mother publicly begged the Pakistani Government to stop the hanging, saying “Who says that this is justice? How can they do this to a paralyzed man? Please have mercy on my son.” 

The Presidency is capable of halting the execution, but has yet to respond to a mercy petition filed by Basit’s lawyers.

Commenting, Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at human rights organization Reprieve, said: “The court has set the prison an impossible task - there is no way of hanging Basit according to the rules, leaving the real risk that he will face a needlessly cruel and horrific execution. This would be in direct violation of Pakistan’s domestic and international commitments, and show that its claims to be living up to human rights standards are false. If international law is to have any meaning, the international community must stand up against this outrage and call on the President of Pakistan to halt the execution of Abdul Basit without delay.”
  • Pakistan’s execution protocols can be found in its jail manual, here, while a recent report by the Pakistani medical board into Abdul Basit’s condition can be found here
  • Further details on Abdul Basit’s case can be found in a petition for mercy submitted by his lawyers to the President of Pakistan, here
  • A recent Reuters report on those prisoners already executed can be found here.
Source: Reprieve, Sept. 21, 2015

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