ISLAMABAD: Gulping her tears she restlessly skims her purse looking for her most valued possession. With the fear of losing her wallet, she safely tucks it in the side pocket of a little black diary that she carries with her at all times. As her eyes welled up Silvia Henry Pershad says “This is all that I have of him”. Sliding out the only picture that she has of her son Obaid Henry Pershad, She claims to fight for the right her son’s life who is currently on death row in Central Jail Punjab.
Silvia Henry Pershad can barely check her tears as she holds up the only picture of her son. “This is all I have of him.” She is talking about Obaid Henry Pershad, presently on death row. “He was 16 when the police took him,” said Silvia, a retired teacher and a widowed mother. For Silvia, life has been at a standstill since he was taken. She visits Obaid once a month. “He demands snacks and candies but I try to take fresh fruit for him. Last week I took a cake and a card. It was his 23rd birthday.” Obaid is among 8,300 prisoners presently facing the death penalty in Pakistan.
With more than 139 countries having abolished the death penalty in law or in practice, the number of death row inmates seems to be bloating in Pakistan every year. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) at a seminar, “Death penalty – the way forward,” highlighted some of the key issues in this regard. Presenting a paper, “10 demands on 10/10,” human rights experts pressed the government to abolish the death penalty and sign the second optional protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Until such time, Pakistan should renew the moratorium on death penalty which has been in existence informally since 2008, they suggested. Moreover, the number of offences attracting the death penalty need to be curtailed.
Kamran Arif, a lawyer, said religion is often invoked to justify capital punishment in Pakistan, adding that the government should abolish the death penalty for over two dozen capital offences which does not religiously justify death. Of the 41 countries, including Pakistan, which voted against the 2012 moratorium resolution, 16 have not executed any person for at least a decade.
Maryam Haq, a lawyer working with the Justice Project Pakistan, said a death cell is eight by 12 and houses more than three people with a toilet inside. “Death penalty is not a quick fix.”
Anees Jillani, an advocate said The Justice System Ordinance prohibited the award of death penalty to children under 18. In 2004, however, the Lahore High Court revoked it, due to which 1,200 children are behind bars. He said the system was corrupt to the core. “Everyone has a price, if you are Shahrukh Jatoi, you can get away with murder.”