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Dawn Editorial 9 February 2020

Public executions: a bad idea

IN an apparent response to ghastly cases of child sexual assault in the country — including the recent brutal killing of an eight-year-old in Nowshera — the National Assembly on Friday passed a resolution with a majority vote calling for publicly hanging those found guilty of sexually abusing and murdering minors.
Although PTI ministers Shireen Mazari and Fawad Chaudhry later condemned the resolution and opposed its passage, it was approved by lawmakers across all parties, with the exception of the PPP.
In an attempt to justify its passing, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan, who tabled the resolution, asked the PPP: “If our children’s life is unsafe, why should we care about international NGOs?”
It would serve Mr Khan well to know that there is a reason that the death penalty is considered the ultimate cruel and inhuman punishment.
This paper has time and again stated its opposition to the death penalty for the simple fact that, apart from being an inhuman penalty, it does not deliver justice. There is also no evidence that executions act as a deterrent or lower the rate of crime.
Although National Assembly resolutions have no legal effect, they signal the mentality and mood of the lawmakers in parliament.
No doubt, incidents of child abuse must be unequivocally and strongly condemned, but a resolution of this nature is by no means a practical step towards solving the problem. Not only is this resolution high on rhetoric, it also signals the extent to which our society has become brutalised.
Our lawmakers have utterly failed to consider the psychological effects such an act would have on the public. Instead of passing an inhumane resolution that does nothing to accord greater state protection to our children, Pakistan’s lawmakers should fulfil their obligations and enact legislation that strengthens law-enforcement agencies and builds their capacity to successfully prosecute criminals.
The focus should be on what can be done by police and investigating agencies to dismantle child trafficking gangs and strengthen prosecution.
One example of turning outrage into action is the effort the Assembly made to pass the Zainab Alert Bill, which among other things aims to establish a helpline for missing children, set up a Child Protection Advisory Board and take action against police officials who delay investigations.
Therefore, passing a resolution in favour of public executions which defy humanity and logic is a half-hearted attempt at solving a grave problem. There are many gaps in the system where lawmakers can act instead of simply reacting through a resolution.
Through their strongly worded statements denouncing the move, Amnesty International and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan have correctly pointed out that public executions have no place in a rights-respecting society, nor do they absolve the state of its responsibility to guarantee protection to children.


Lal Masjid déjà-vu?

THE Lal Masjid episode of 2007 is one of the darkest chapters of the Musharraf era. The incident, in which the state confronted heavily armed militants holed up in the Islamabad mosque, was a textbook case of how not to handle a crisis. In the bloody aftermath, Lal Masjid became a rallying cry for jihadi groups in this country and beyond. With the passage of several years, one would have assumed that the state and its institutions had learnt numerous lessons, specifically where tactful handling of armed violent actors who challenge the administration’s writ is concerned. However, as events in Islamabad over the past few days have shown, this apparently has not been the case. Maulvi Abdul Aziz — former prayer leader of the mosque and a central character of the Lal Masjid saga — is back in the news. As reported, he has occupied the state-owned mosque along with a number of female seminary students. The administration has responded by laying siege to the mosque and the stand-off was continuing at the time of writing.
There are many questions that emerge from this worrying series of events. Most importantly, how has a person with a violent background been able to defy the writ of the state with such ease, and that too in the federal capital? Moreover, Maulvi Aziz has issued a number of ‘demands’ to the government; he wants his old job back at Lal Masjid, along with Rs250m and a plot to construct a new madressah. This is sheer blackmail and it is not understandable why the state seems to be playing along with such a hardened militant. The 2007 debacle should not be repeated and the administration must act now to handle this situation in a firm but non-violent way before the crisis balloons into something worse. Unfortunately, the state is quick to swoop in on critical rights activists and political workers whom it feels have gone against ‘national interests’. However, the response to violent actors who openly challenge the state, mock its Constitution and threaten to take up arms against Pakistan is much more slothful. The message to the Lal Masjid agitators and all others who take the law into their hands must be clear. Democratic protest is every Pakistani’s right. But those who condone and promote violence against the state and its citizens will be tried and punished for violating the law.


Coronavirus concerns

SO FAR, there have been hundreds of deaths from the coronavirus outbreak in China, while some 35,000 others may potentially be infected. Even though the exact source of this new strain of virus remains uncertain, it is believed to have spread to humans from an animal. Most recently, researchers have traced a possible link to the endangered pangolin: a shy creature hunted ruthlessly for its meat and scales, which is used in traditional Chinese medicine. At this point, only this much is certain that the coronavirus is spreading around the world at a pace that exceeds our understanding of it. Away from mainland China, there have been other deaths in Hong Kong as well as in the Philippines. At least 25 other countries have reported that some of their citizens are suffering from the virus. Among them are Japan, Thailand, South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, Australia, Canada, India, and the UAE.
Tragically, the latest list of victims includes the Chinese doctor Li Wenliang, who is believed to have contracted the disease from a patient he was treating in Wuhan city, the epicentre of the storm. In December last year, the 34-year-old doctor had taken to social media to break the news of a deadly “SARS-like” new virus — but instead of paying heed to his warning, the Chinese authorities tried to silence him for “rumour-mongering” and began an investigation against him for having “severely disturbed the social order”. Posthumously, the young doctor is now being hailed as a hero, and there is simmering anger towards the way the initial warnings were handled. There is a lesson here: when states do not listen to experts, and instead, persecute them for speaking up, or when they try to control the narrative to such an extent that it glosses over harsh realities, problems do not disappear. They only fester and return in the shape of a bigger monster. Had Li’s warning been heard, perhaps more lives could have been saved — including his own.


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