Knee -jerk hangings are making “martyrs” of prisoners like Niaz Mohammad who do not fear death
Niaz Mohammad (40) a former Pakistan Air Force (PAF) junior technician, who was sentenced to death for making an attempt on the life of former army chief Pervez Musharraf in Rawalpindi in 2003, became the latest prisoner to hang on 31st December 2014. Mohammad was caught up in the sweep of “revenge” killings by the state in retaliation for the attack on Peshawar Army School and College on 16th December which left 150 people, mostly children, dead and around 100 injured.
Pakistan has the world’s largest death row, with over 8,000 people currently awaiting execution. Following the assault on the school, the Nawaz Sharif government decided to lift the country’s six-year moratorium on executions and hang those not related to the attack. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) group took responsibility for Peshawar incident releasing official statements and videos.
Around 500 convicts are expected to hang in the coming weeks. Seven people have been hanged so far, six were involved in the failed attempt to assassinate Musharraf in Rawalpindi in 2003 and another was connected to a 2009 attack on the Army headquarters.
Musharraf who is currently on trial for treason is a controversial figure who drew criticism for allegedly selling suspected “terrorists” to the US. Many ended up in Guantanamo Bay detention centre but were never charged or tried. In his published memoir In the Line of Fire, Musharraf states.
“we have captured 689 and handed over 369 to the United States. We have earned bounties totalling millions of dollars. Those who habitually accuse U.S. of not doing enough in the war on terror should simply ask the CIA how much prize money it has paid to the Government of Pakistan.”
A call to bring Musharraf to the noose
A movement began on Twitter this week to ” first hang Musharraf” before considering other cases. One tweeter, Nabeel Warraich alleged Musharraf to be the “founder and mastermind of terrorism in Pakistan” while Nabeel A Khan accused him of “Baluchistan Genocide, Lal Masjid Massacre, Treason and Coup..”
With regard to the latest concerns over hangings and human rights violations in Pakistan, Maya Foa, head of the death penalty team at Reprieve, highlighted the case of Shafqat Hussain, who was sentenced in 2004 when he was just 14 years old. She said,
“Mr Hussain was charged with the kidnap and murder of another local child and convicted on the strength of one piece of evidence: a forced confession made after nine days of police torture. When his case was reviewed by the Sindh High Court his conviction for murder was quashed and replaced with a conviction for involuntary manslaughter – accidentally causing death.
Our research suggests that many of the individuals who would be first in line for execution are simply not terrorists, and that the law is being abused in a way that perverts justice and fails to keep anyone safe. The swift execution of large numbers of people, convicted in trials falling well short of basic standards, is not justice. The tragic events in Peshawar require a measured and reasoned response, not a knee-jerk reaction that could see thousands of lives wantonly put at risk.”
The recent hanging frenzy is counter-productive and helping to make “martyrs” of some prisoners who do not fear death. Funerals are well attended and pages are springing up on social media in memory of the dead. However not all are as strong minded or physically capable of withstanding such news, two prisoners have actually died on hearing of their forthcoming execution. One prisoner Nazim, a chronic heart patient died of a heart attack before he could be hung whilst death row convict Umer Rasheed suffered a “huge shock/depression” leading to a brain hemorrhage which kept him from the noose.
The move to execute convicts is also expected to result in retaliation attacks with security at prisons across the country now being put at further risk. A friend of Niaz Mohammad who did not want to be named confirmed the bribing of prison guards (which could be a security breach) and had the following to say about the deceased,
“he was a good person, here people are so happy celebrating. He was married, he had a daughter, I saw the pic of his daughter when she was a baby. In every prison where he used to get shifted he used to find if there were cats and pet them. He used to drink green tea a lot and workout in the prison every morning. After praying he would recite the Quran and could also speak in English. He used to speak with a lot of people secretly they somehow smuggled cellphones. They used to bribe the guards. He had a cellphone and we used to send him money and then we made a Facebook account for him and he activated the internet on it.”
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad. She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”. She is also a survivor of US “collateral damage”.