21 December 2022

By Rehan Piracha


LAHORE

 A National Assembly Amendment Bill has abolished the death penalty for drug smugglers, commuting the sentence to life imprisonment, as is specified in Section 9 of Clause 2.

The Control of Narcotics Substance Amendment Bill 2022 was passed by the lower house on December 20, in its session following the joint sitting of both houses in Parliament, and was presented by the State Minister for Law, Shahadat Awan under the supplementary agenda. 

In the objects and reasons statement, Federal Law Minister Azam Nazir Tarar said that the death penalty is used in a disproportionate manner under the Control of Narcotics Substance Act that violated the fundamental right to life which happens to be the most basic of all human rights.

“The risk of executing innocent people in narcotics cases exists and the arbitrary application of the death penalty can never be ruled out under the said law,” he added.   

Meanwhile, Aliya Kamran from the JUI-F opposed the abolition of the death penalty in the bill. She noted that a “different kind of thinking was behind the current amendment”, adding that the purpose was to abolish the death penalty from the books of statute for committing such a “heinous crime” and said that the act was regrettable.

 

Amendment Bill appreciated

Speaking to Voicepk.net, Abid Saqi, former vice chairman of the Pakistan Bar Council, welcomed the passage of the amendment bill for the abolishment of the death penalty in drug smuggling cases. He said the lives of innocent people were at risk because often had planted false evidence of drugs in order to show their efficiency. In his view, it was a good step towards the abolishment of capital punishment in the country. 

“The amendment bill will help Pakistan meets its international obligations regarding the matter of capital punishment including the preferential trade status with the European Union under the GSP Plus,” he added.   

In a 2019 joint study on capital punishment in Pakistan by Reprieve and Fundamental Rights Foundation (FFR), the findings noted that the Supreme Court did not uphold death sentences for drug offences in cases heard between 2010-18. 

“The Supreme Court’s jurisprudence reveals a troubling trend wherein trial courts impose death sentences for drug offences on an almost strict liability basis — if an accused is apprehended with a sufficient quantity of drugs, a death sentence is imposed. The Supreme Court consistently acquits the accused where there is insufficient evidence of their possession or knowledge of the drugs,” the study said. 

According to data collected by the study from interviews of 57 prisoners convicted of capital drug offences, 41% of these prisoners were entirely illiterate and the majority were not educated past the age of 9 years old. “Nearly two-thirds of the individuals interviewed earned below the minimum wage prior to conviction, and the average value of the narcotics that were seized from their possession was roughly 1,600 times their median income,” the study added.  

According to Justice Project Pakistan (JPP), at the time of Pakistan’s independence in 1947, only two crimes – murder and treason — were punishable by death. Now, there are 33 crimes that merit the death penalty, most of which fail to meet the “most serious crimes” threshold.

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