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Trading justice for money: Prisoners on

Pakistans death row can pay off their


victims families in exchange for
freedom - Asia
independent.co.uk (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/trading-justicefor-money-prisoners-on-pakistans-death-row-can-pay-off-their-victims-families-inexchange-for-freedom-9966027.html)

Trading justice for money: Prisoners on Pakistans death row can pay off their
victims families in exchange for freedom - Asia - World - The Independent
Although the prison is only 10 miles away, it takes her four hours to make the
journey, a journey so expensive she can only afford to make it once every four
weeks. Her son, Ubeid, was only 16 when he was convicted as an accomplice in
the brutal stabbing of a woman and her two sons. He has remained on death
row, pending appeal, for 12 years. His situation is bleak.
Death row cells, measuring no bigger than 10ft x 8ft, are occupied by, on
average, eight to 10 prisoners. Legally it is meant to be one inmate per cell.
While wealthy prisoners can bribe guards for a larger cell, amenities and more
time outside, the average prisoner is allowed outside only twice a day, for 40
minutes in the morning and evening. The lack of space means inmates are
forced to sleep in shifts, head to toe.
Standing at the centre of the prison, set among the manicured lawns and
tended gardens surrounded by the daily cycle of chaos, corruption and abuse
sit the gallows. Above the scaffold is a prayer for the dead written in Urdu and

a message which reads, We dont hate the criminal, we hate the crime!. On
their journey from cell to noose, this is the last thing a prisoner will see before
they are hooded for execution.
There is a stillness, described a former inmate, in a prison of 5,000 people,
around the gallows you can feel death, you can hear it, it is heavy around the
air.
Following Decembers Taliban attack on a school in Peshawar which left 162
people, including 132 children, dead, Pakistans Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif
lifted the countrys six-year moratorium on executions. While supposedly only
applying to terrorism-related cases, there are fears from human rights
organisations and the international community that this precedent will be used
by the government to try non-terrorism-related offences under the AntiTerrorism Act. As it stands, each sentence is now assessed on a case by case
basis, with the next execution just one executive order away.
In September, days before the original moratorium was due to expire, inmates
were subjected to a very public show of psychological baiting. In full view of the
prisoners, the guards responsible for executions began to ceremonially clean
and paint the gallows which had lain covered and unused for more than half a
decade. The effect was to send the death row inmates into a state of delirium,
forcing the prison into a three-day lockdown.
While, as a signatory to the ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights) and reliant on international aid (446m from Britain this year
alone), the government is under pressure to extend the moratorium, the
spectre of death at any moment hangs permanently over the prisoners.
Sabir Anokha falsely confessed to murder on his brothers behalf to protect his
siblings family. He was subsequently sentenced to death. He describes his
daily torment: When a person is sent to a death row cell he is hanged on a daily

basis. Every day he is hanged, every day he dies and every day he comes back to
life this is a very long and brutal punishment.

Ilyas Khokar with his father and mother-in-law. Khokars murder conviction
was pardoned by his victims family (Anna Huix)
In 2008, when the moratorium was introduced, Pakistan had ranked fifth in
the world for state executions (averaging between 250 to 350 a year). With
death sentencing currently at a record high, over the past six years the number
of prisoners awaiting execution on death row has risen to over 8,500 the
highest in the world. The exact figure is not known.

With a corrupt police force and an intransigent and inefficient judicial system,
the only thing saving Sylvias son Ubeid from the gallows is the temporary stay
of execution afforded him by the governments partial moratorium.
However, with no indication as to how long this will last, and fears that the
recent lifting for terrorism- related offences will affect other death penalty
cases, there is only one avenue left open to Sylvia to save her son: the
possibility of a blood money pardon.
Introduced in 1990, as part of a wider Islamification of the Pakistan Penal
Code, the Qisas and Diyat Ordinances enshrined in law the practice of blood
money. This included the right for the victims next of kin to pardon those on
death row for the sake of God and for financial compensation (blood money
diyya) in lieu of eye-for-an-eye punishment (Qisas).
Traditionally valued in terms of livestock, gold or silver, today the price of
diyya is set according to the current market value of 30.63kg of silver (roughly
34,000). In reality, the exact amount paid varies considerably from case to
case depending on the relative economic circumstances of the families
involved.
Sarah Belal, co-founder and lead partner in Justice Project Pakistan (JPP), a pro
bono legal firm specialising in cases of death row and torture, cites the case of
Zulfiqar Ali Khan to demonstrate the differing motivations which drive families
to forgive in exchange for blood money.
Zulfiqar, whose newspaper plea inspired Belal to start JPP six years ago, was
convicted, along with his brother Khursheed, of murdering two men in a
roadside argument in 1997.
Here you have two victims and two separate families from different
backgrounds, describes Belal.

One family is economically strong and socially powerful within their


community, while the other is very poor. That money to the widow of the
second victim and her children is essential in order to afford them
independence, ensure their survival and secure the children some form of
inheritance.
For the economically strong family, their willingness to forgive is not driven by
financial incentive, but by a desire to fund the construction of a mosque. They
do not need nor want the stigma of having accepted blood money.
Even after 16 years, states Belal, the murder and its effect within the
community is such a sensitive issue that they dont want people to think that
they have taken blood money and, in effect, sold the murder of their son.

A panchaat (bench of elders) in the town of Chichawatni. The panchaat act as


negotiators between victims and perpetrators (Anna Huix)
Over the intervening 16 years, Zulifiqar has had his date of execution set three
times, only for the judge to grant a stay in the final few minutes before the
sentence was to be carried out. For his father, this ordeal, combined with the
pressure of having to raise the 34,000 needed for his sons diyya, has slowly
driven him towards a mental breakdown.
While cases settled by diyya remain relatively low (around 200 to 300 a year)
the attention they receive both within Pakistan and internationally remain
disproportionately high.

In recent years, the practice of blood money has been pushed into the spotlight
by a series of highly publicised cases. In 2011, CIA contractor Raymond Davis
was convicted of murdering two Pakistani civilians but pardoned amid
widespread protest following a reported payment of $2.3m. In June 2013,
Shahrukh Jatoi, a member of one of Pakistans wealthiest and most powerful
families, was sentenced to death for murder only to be released following a
blood money settlement. In June this year, the bludgeoning of Farzana Parveen
outside the High Court in Lahore was condemned as the latest example of an
honour killing involving blood money.
However, despite increasing criticism over the way in which blood money is
being manipulated by wealthy families, over 70 per cent of the population
support the Qisas and Diyat laws and while they receive the greatest publicity
and attention, cases involving wealthy perpetrators represent the extreme
exception.
Through a combination of duress, political connections and access to the best
legal representation, any case involving a rich or powerful perpetrator never
makes it to the trial stage. They are either thrown out, dropped by the
complainant due to pressure from the police or, as in the Jatoi case, paid off.
For many in the West there remains an overwhelming ethical rejection of blood
money, seeing it as a relic not in keeping with a 21st-century legal system. This
is reflected by the attitude of most human rights groups who operate in
Pakistan on death row cases.
Many NGOs involved in fighting the death penalty simultaneously campaign
against the practice of blood money. There is unease towards a social justice
system which condones a murder + money = freedom equation. Whether
these positions are driven by expediency, playing to their supporters (and
benefactors) preconceptions, or by an attempt to change a system which on the
surface seems to benefit only the rich, in reality, aligning these two objectives

is contradictory and mutually disadvantageous. For many prisoners, their only


hope of avoiding the gallows lies in the reconciliation process afforded through
blood money.

A street in Gulgasht Colony, Lahore, part of the route taken once a month by
Sylvia Pershaad to visit her son on death row (Anna Huix)
IA Rehman, Pakistans Commissioner for Human Rights, believes that the
international bias against blood money as a barbaric exchange is accentuated
by a culture of fear and social rejection.
People are generally not willing to discuss [Qisas and Diyat] because it has
been wrapped in the filament of ideology and belief.
What it has served to do is to change the nature of the offence, turning serious
crime into a civil action. For Rehman, murder is a crime against society, but
Qisas and Diyat has made it a private affair between the culprit and the victims
family.

The Qisas and Diyat laws are often accused of privatising justice to a point
where the state is increasingly removed from its responsibilities of judicial
authority. According to Rehman, a lack of understanding and poor
implementation has led to the law being manipulated. He gives a common
example of a man who killed his own daughter and asked his son to take
responsibility for the crime. The son was arrested but later pardoned by his
father as the next of kin. Other such cases often involve the collusion of
household servants who, through bribery or threats, act as proxies and ensure
their masters never face trial.
Intimidation is often used to force many poor (or poorly connected)
complainants to forgive. Similarly, there is no provision within Qisas and Diyat
to prevent wealthy offenders repeatedly paying blood money and reoffending.
In most cases, the realities of poverty outweigh any moral consideration. For
Ishtiaq Rasool, whose father was killed when he was just 15, the choice to
forgive was a simple one of survival.
When we talk about reconciliation and pardoning, it is very clear that Shariat
allows us compensation for the care of our brothers and sisters. Since we are
very poor, labourers with no land, we must do what we can to survive.
Ishitaq is quick to emphasise that he has not forgiven the murderer of his father
but will pardon him purely for the sake of his family. There is a mutual desire
to save him and to save us, as well.
The blood money acts as its own form of punishment, just as the provision for
financial compensation and damages functions in Western legal systems.
However, Ishitaqs fathers killer, Boota Mashi, and his family can never hope
to raise the necessary amount of 1 million PKR (around $9,450). With both her
son and grandson (the latter for a separate crime) on death row, Bootas mother

oversees a household with no recognised bread winner, relying on community


hand-outs and a monthly donation from a sympathetic judge.
This financial purgatory leaves many in a legal limbo for years with no end in
sight. One way out of this impasse involves the exchange practice of vennii,
where daughters are offered as brides in place of money. Although not
technically condoned within Qisas and Diyat, this practice is still widespread,
especially in rural areas, and we learnt that such a compromise was suggested
by Ishtiaqs family. At the time the girls were nine and 11, and their betrothal
came with the added complication of having to convert from Christianity to
Islam. Despite pressure to accept the compromise, their mother refused to
sanction the marriage, leaving her only son on death row and her family
fighting for its survival.

Allama Syed Ziaullah Shah Bukhari (on the right), a Muslim scholar who
specialises in the implementation of Islamic law (Anna Huix)
In 2011, a 10-year-old boy was imprisoned for shooting dead his neighbour in
Yahounabad, one of the poorest suburbs of Lahore. The boy, whose name
cannot be disclosed, now 13 and working as a house servant in a wealthy
district of Lahore, was pardoned by the victims daughter in order to support
her two younger sisters who had been left effectively homeless. Previously,
their only source of income had come from their mother who had worked as a
prostitute.
When implemented correctly, Diyya, therefore, functions as a mutually
beneficial transaction. Furthermore, Qisas and Diyat is seen as a means to stop
the vicious cycle of retribution which plagues family disputes that drag on for

generations.
Zahid Aslam Malik, the lawyer representing Sylvias son during his appeal,
echoes the view held by many in Pakistans legal community, that the
voluntary act of forgiveness is good for society as long as it is not done under
duress.
The murderer has been forgiven by the legal heirs, and as such by Allah. This
stops the cycle of revenge between the victims family and the family of the
accused. The payment of diyya is, therefore, essential for the smooth running
of society.
But without Qisas and the threat of eye-for-eye justice the law provides
incentives for the whole of society to commit such acts. This is a universal law
but people do abuse it. On the basis of how it is written, the law is perfect and, if
implemented as such, results in peace and harmony. Islam has given us two
methods for social stability; one is Qisas, the other Diyat.
This represents stability, but stability based on the stick of retribution and
carrot of reconciliation.
It is only in the very rarest of cases that retribution, be it financial or penal, is
surrendered entirely for the sake of reconciliation.
Sixteen years ago, Ilyas Khokar, who works in an ice factory on the outskirts of
Lahore, was sentenced to death for murder. Although Ilyas claims there were
other people involved with him, he does not deny the charges. When I was
sent to prison I thought it was the end of my life. I had lost all hope.
Having been refused bail and exhausted all other legal avenues, Ilyass father
Samuel decided he would bypass the state and contact the victims family
directly.

I would visit their shop daily, Samuel says. I started to investigate their
relatives and in this way I was able to meet and involve most of the women in
their family. I would meet each relative every two or three days. I would go to
their home every week. I tried to build a relationship with the complainant.
After 22 months of daily visitations, conversations and discussions, the family
agreed to pardon Ilyas for the sake of God.
We never paid a single penny, claims Samuel. However, while no money was
paid, their agreement to pardon came with one condition: that, following his
release, Ilyas make the journey to the victims family to ask for forgiveness in
person.

Kursheed Ahmed Khan and his father Rasheed (seated). Kursheeds brother
Zulfiqar was sentenced to death and his family were asked to raise 34,000 for
his release (Anna Huix)
Although it has been over 13 years, we track down the relatives of the victim,
still working in the same flower shop in the centre of Lahore. We ask the
complainant, Haji Rasheed, if he would be willing to discuss the familys
motivations for pardoning Ilyas without blood money, but after agreeing a

meeting he goes off-radar and all subsequent attempts to meet come to naught.
No one who works or lives near the Rasheeds would acknowledge their
existence or that the crime even took place. Both family and community closed
ranks.
Even in cases such as Ilyass, where the decision to pardon was not driven by
financial incentive, the reaction of the victims family reveals the social stigma
still associated with blood money pardons.
Belal acknowledges that while forgiveness in and of itself remains incredibly
difficult, whether they take the money to forgive or whether they waive the
money, there is a necessary process of forgiveness that has to take place.
For Muslim scholars such as Allama Syed Ziaullah Shah Bukhari, who
specialise in the implementation of Islamic law, what differentiates Shariat
from other secular justice systems is this provision, enshrined in the Quran, to
forgive. This process of atonement, or Qyfadda, forms the central component
of the Diyat Ordinances, prioritised in Islam over the supposed material
motives in accepting blood money.
What we are seeing over the past 15 or 20 years, since diyya really came to
prominence within the law, is a change in cultural value. This represents a shift
from pardoning as a part of a culture which has existed within communities for
centuries to one based on the financial rewards afforded by diyya.
Nevertheless, for Belal, this emphasis on forgiveness positions Islamic
jurisprudence as a transformative experience, precisely because the victims
family and the perpetrators fates are bound from not just when the crime is
committed but from when the sentence is passed.
While Pakistans endemic corruption and labyrinthine bureaucracy favours a
localised panchaat system (councils made up of local politicians, religious
figures and landowners) which seeks to resolve disputes for the good of both

parties, the prioritisation of reconciliation over punishment has led to calls for
a form of transformative justice to be integrated into legal practice in Britain.
Now they are trying this in Western judicial systems, concludes Belal,
experimenting with restorative justice, whose programmes are successful
both for the defendants who have less chances of repeat offending as well as for
the victims families who achieve some sense of catharsis and closure.
Yet while the debate intensifies in Pakistan and the international community,
for those who are on death row or in abject poverty, as either the perpetrator or
victims of murder, blood money remains perhaps the only means of escape.
For people like Sylvia, it is the only light at the end of the tunnel.
Elliott Goat was the winner of The Independents 2013 Wyn Harness Prize for young
journalists

Death states
Until its moratorium against the death penalty began in Pakistan in 2008, it
was the country with the fifth highest number of state executions. The top five
now, according to Amnesty International, is:
1. China
2. Iran
3. Iraq
4. Saudi Arabia
5. North Korea