Death Penalty Advocacy

Death Penalty

There are over 8000 people on death row in Pakistan, making it amongst the largest death row population in the world. In 2011, as many as 313 people were sentenced to death by various courts, including six women. Over half of them (161) were convicted of murder.

Death row prisoners constitute over 10 percent of the prison population in this country. 63 years ago, only ‘murder and treason’ carried the death penalty in Pakistan. Today, 27 crimes carry the sentence of capital punishment

On average, death row inmates in Pakistan spend 10 years in incarceration before they are executed, usually by hanging. This can also be much lengthier, some prisoners having been known to spend more than 18 years behind bars. Moreover, there is tacit tolerance of torture for those facing capital punishment. Often condemned inmates are discovered to have developed horrendous injuries as a result of the heinous treatment meted out to them behind bars. Ironically, sometimes torture is also the cause of these inmates being behind bars in the first place – in some cases the only ‘evidence’ linking these prisoners to the alleged crimes are confessions extracted under extreme duress and/ or torture.

The main challenge in the criminal justice system particularly with capital offences is that within the lower ranks of police and even across the spectrum in our society, torture is commonplace to the extent of being unofficially recognized as a practiced norm. With hardly any use of forensic evidence and no proper investigation police officers see torture as the means of extracting a confession and false evidence which often becomes the sole evidence used for charging prisoners with crimes that can give them the death penalty. People with money are able to bribe the police to secure a release before they are tortured so that leaves the poor majority of Pakistan to face inhuman –but largely accepted-practices such as the ‘inverse strapadd’ (being hung from a hook and kicked and punched repeatedly, causing shoulders to dislocate), and ‘falaka’ (whipping of the foot with a rod or cane).

Through its donor, Reprieve (UK), the Foundation for Fundamental Rights conducts investigations, carries out advocacy campaigns and provides legal representation in cases involving breaches of fundamental rights on a pro-bono basis. FFR’s main objective is to address individual human rights violations by engaging in a critical study of, and a battle against, injustice and corruption in the Pakistani criminal justice system. Article 14 of the Constitution of Pakistan which condemns all forms of torture is an integral aspect of our work. Where capital offences are concerned, training lawyers on how to expose flawed investigations or to get bail at the correct time, as well lobbying for the availability of mental health defences, can save a life.

Foundation for Fundamental Rights, therefore, includes in its charter , investigating, advocating for ,and legally representing under trial and condemned prisoners on death row on a pro-bono basis.

Similar to Reprieve (UK), which prioritises the cases of prisoners accused of the most extreme crimes to prevent human rights from being jettisoned or eroded, FFR will pursue a case if:

  • The defendant has no legal counsel or has had inadequate legal representation,
  • The defendant lacks financial resources,
  • The defendant is of unsound mind and a mental health defence should be raised
  • The defendant has undergone torture or faced other injustices such as corrupt police practices during arrest, imprisonment or detention
  • The defendant has been accused of a capital offence but incarcerated without trial for a very lengthy period of time. thus incurring what is referred to in the case law of the Federal Shariat Court as “double punishment”