Shahzeb Khan case and the role of Capital Punishment

It is our responsibility to prevent the Shahrukh Jatois from killing many Shahzeb Khans in the future.

It is our responsibility to prevent the Shahrukh Jatois from killing the Shahzeb Khans in the future.

Recently the conclusion of the Shahzeb Khan case has angered a lot of people in Pakistan. People feel that Shahzeb Khan’s family was coerced to pardon Shahrukh Jatoi and Siraj Talpur, who were earlier sentenced to death by the Anti-Terrorism court.

While this case has received a lot of media and public attention, the outcome is not unfamiliar. From the actual fight between Siraj Talpur and Shahzeb Khan to the car chase and murder of Shahzeb, this incident highlights most of the core issues which need to be addressed by the concerned authorities. These issues include lack of police control and the rule of law, increasing gap and unequal treatment of high, middle and lower classes of the society, lack of swift judicial process and strict punishments, corrupt and incompetent police force, political influence within the law enforcement agencies, lack of strict weapon monitoring and control, lack of effective witness and victim protection programs, the widespread feudal mindset, landlords being considered above the law, lack of good parenting and last but not least, public witnessing a crime as silent spectators instead of mediating or trying to stop the culprit.

One of the biggest issues that needs to be addressed is the inability of the police to maintain law and order and uphold the rule of law. One of the steps that can be taken to resolve this issue is capital punishment through public execution of criminals. Capital punishment is a legal process in which a person is sentenced to death as a punishment for his/her crime. In order to control the crime rate, a number of sanctions are imposed on the criminal. The criminal is arrested in order to curb the specific criminal behavior in that region. The criminal is then punished so that he/she doesn’t commit the crime again. Punishment of a single criminal also discourages other criminals from participating in the specific criminal activities. By doing this, the law enforcing agencies draw a line for the public between acceptable and unacceptable actions. Moreover the punishment is equally severe and harmful as the crime, this serves as justice for those who were targeted by the specific crime.

Capital punishment through public execution can create a big impact in the society and improve the law and order situation. Execution of dangerous criminals and murderers in the presence of a group of random people from the public is the most effective mechanism to deter people from committing a crime. Through public execution the law enforcement agencies send a message to the habitual and potential criminals that their crimes will have fatal consequences. This instills a fear of strict punishments in the criminals’ minds and hence it discourages them from committing the crime. At the same time law enforcement agencies send a message through public execution to the law abiding citizens that there is someone working to protect them. This makes the citizens (especially the family of the victims) feel safe and increases their trust in the law enforcement agencies and the judicial authorities. Consequentially this can create a positive impact on the mental state and productivity of the society generally and the economy specifically.

Opponents of Capital punishment often argue that the death penalty is a violation of the so-called human rights of the murderer as he has the right to live. They also argue that capital punishment risks wrongful execution of innocent people. It is disturbing to think that these people completely ignore the violation of the human rights of the deceased. A person who intentionally and without a lawful excuse kills another obviously does not respect the meaning of life and has no right to demand others to respect his/her own life. Hence it is absurd to protect the murderer’s right to live while overlooking the right to life of the murdered person. These people lose credibility to their claim when they express double standards by demanding the most severe and heinous punishments for rapists despite the risk of wrongful execution. No one in his/her right state of mind can possibly think that depriving someone of his/her right to live can be less atrocious or sickening a crime than rape.

In the presence of a credible and strong legal system where all the authorities and individuals are held accountable for their actions so that there is no room left for foul play or mistakes, the risk of wrongful execution ceases to exist. Moreover, in the modern era where law enforcement authorities have access to latest technologies to process evidence and even the testimonies of witnesses, the risk becomes negligible. It is interesting to note that despite the heavy criticism of their legal systems and penal codes, Saudi Arabia and Iran have some of the lowest intentional homicide rates in the world.

It is also our duty as Muslims to deliver justice to the family of the victim by giving the appropriate punishment to the culprits unless they agree to let the killer live in exchange for payment of some amount of blood money, or they pardon him/her without coercion. Allah says in the Holy Qur’aan:

إِنَّمَا جَزَاءُ الَّذِينَ يُحَارِبُونَ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ وَيَسْعَوْنَ فِي الْأَرْضِ فَسَادًا أَنْ يُقَتَّلُوا أَوْ يُصَلَّبُوا أَوْ تُقَطَّعَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَأَرْجُلُهُمْ مِنْ خِلَافٍ أَوْ يُنْفَوْا مِنَ الْأَرْضِ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ لَهُمْ خِزْيٌ فِي الدُّنْيَا ۖ وَلَهُمْ فِي الْآخِرَةِ عَذَابٌ عَظِيمٌ

“Indeed, the penalty for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive upon earth [to cause] corruption is none but that they be killed or crucified or that their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides or that they be exiled from the land. That is for them a disgrace in this world; and for them in the Hereafter is a great punishment” [5:33]

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الْقِصَاصُ فِي الْقَتْلَى ۖ الْحُرُّ بِالْحُرِّ وَالْعَبْدُ بِالْعَبْدِ وَالْأُنْثَىٰ بِالْأُنْثَىٰ ۚ فَمَنْ عُفِيَ لَهُ مِنْ أَخِيهِ شَيْءٌ فَاتِّبَاعٌ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَأَدَاءٌ إِلَيْهِ بِإِحْسَانٍ ۗ ذَٰلِكَ تَخْفِيفٌ مِنْ رَبِّكُمْ وَرَحْمَةٌ ۗ فَمَنِ اعْتَدَىٰ بَعْدَ ذَٰلِكَ فَلَهُ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ

“O you who believe! Al-Qisas (the Law of Equality in punishment) is prescribed for you in case of murder: the free for the free, the slave for the slave, and the female for the female. But if the killer is forgiven by the brother (or the relatives, etc.) of the killed against blood money, then adhering to it with fairness and payment of the blood money, to the heir should be made in fairness. This is an alleviation and a mercy from your Lord. So after this whoever transgresses the limits (i.e. kills the killer after taking the blood money), he shall have a painful torment.” [2:178]

The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Whoever is killed or is wounded, has the choice of three things, and if he wants the fourth then restrain him. He may kill (the killer), or forgive him, or take the diyah (blood money).” [Narrated by Abu Dawood].

To conclude, I would like to say that Shahzeb Khan is gone, we cannot change the past and we cannot bring him back to life. However, it is our responsibility to prevent the Shahrukh Jatois from killing the Shahzeb Khans in the future. Capital punishment through public execution is the best mechanism available for this purpose. If the opponents of the death penalty have a better deterrence mechanism, they are more than welcome to try it. But unfortunately, so far they have been all talk and no action. Since 2008 only one person has been executed by the Pakistani authorities as a punishment for his crime. If the law enforcing agencies and judicial authorities are serious and honest in their claims about fighting crime and upholding the rule of law in the country, they need to reintroduce capital punishment through public execution as soon as possible.

The blog was first published on on 22 October, 2013.


2 thoughts on “Shahzeb Khan case and the role of Capital Punishment

  1. You have very aptly made out a case for Capital punishment to deter people like Sharuk Jatois from killing Shazeb Khans. Moreover, the Islamic Qisas & Diyat Law also needs to be reviewed. Any lacuna in the law should be removed and if necessary additonal clauses may be added to the existing Law so as to protect the innocent from the mighty in such a way that the killer no longer can get away with muder merely by taking recourse to pardon in the name of Allah. I would like more readers to express their views and comments.

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