Public hanging: Effective or a cause of more violence?

Will witnessing their own fate give existing or premeditating child sex offenders a scare for their life and change their mind? Since the passing of Pakistan’s parliamentary resolution in support of public hangings of child abusers and murderers, nationwide debate about its efficacy as a crime deterrent has sprung up. 

Though popular opinion is divided, most Pakistani parents seem to support publicizing of death penalty for extreme offenses of child rape, torture and murder. They believe that publicizing capital punishment is an efficient way of communicating to a morbid criminal mind that they shall pay the highest price for their crime.

In support of public hangings, 30 year old Bushra Zaheer, a Rawalpindi-based housewife and a doting mother to a 3 year old toddler said, “Public hanging will set an example so no one dares to do it again,” while Fauzia Abbass, a Karachi-based fashion entrepreneur and mother of two school going children said, “Extreme punishments need to be given for such extreme crimes, and witnessed openly by public to inspire fear and awe in the minds of criminals. Anything for the safety of a child.”

Contrary to popular belief, many Pakistani parents, academics, researchers and human rights activists point out the lack of empirical and historical evidence on public hanging as a crime deterrent and its role in changing the socio-psycho attitudes of a society.

Zaheer Fasih, a 34 year old Dubai-based Pakistani engineer and father, summed it up in a simple sentence, “The entire point of public hangings is that one should not get to the stage of being hung publicly.”

Another reason why people are supporting the resolution is because they believe that a democratic society must get to “see” how justice is served, allowing them to form an unbiased opinion regarding its future policing. Not being able to see how the execution is done and what effects it has on the victim’s family and on society will not make for a fair public debate on the outcome and hamper democratic evolution.

Waqar Ahmed, a 36 year old Pakistani sales director at a multinational firm and father of two says, “People have a right to see for themselves if public hangings will have a positive impact on the attitudes and behavior of the society in terms of children’s safety. For this reason, I support this resolution.”

Many Pakistani parents, academics, researchers and human rights activists point out the lack of empirical and historical evidence on public hanging as a crime deterrent, and its role in changing the socio-psycho attitudes of a society.

Omar Waraich, Amnesty International’s Deputy South Asia Director, responded to this resolution by saying “(Hangings) are acts of vengeance and there is no evidence that they serve as a uniquely effective deterrent,” and urged Pakistan to instead focus on “strong safeguarding policies and procedures before abuse happens.”

The idea of publicizing and telecasting an execution is seen by some as barbaric and traumatizing. Fawad Chaudhry, the Minister for Science and Technology, called the resolution “a grave act in line with brutal civilization practices” and “an expression of extremism.”

Clinical psychologists point out that the unique temperament of some individuals does not allow them to process trauma or violent images as well as others, especially children. For this reason, parental vigilance is a must in shielding children from violent images.

Moreover, repeated watching of public hangings on TV or social media can acclimatize people to them, turning it into a sporting spectacle and creating negative outcomes. Paul Finkelman, an American professor of law and public policy, wrote in one of his articles, “Public executions serve no purpose except to entertain the masses, and lower public morality and good taste.”

And if the phrase “Violence begets violence” is true, a morbid fascination could seep into people, encouraging the mob mentality and making them take the law into their own hands before the completion of a fair trial.

Moreover, public hangings can create undue media sensationalism and attract criticism on international stage, where many developed nations are not only severely critical of public executions, but of death penalty itself.

More level headed are those who think that public hangings will be have no impact on child crimes as long as the legal system and policies aimed at preventing and curbing child molestation are stuck in a rut. In the words of Badar Rasheed, a 29 year old Lahore-based businessman, “Public hangings are of no significance, except allowing the government to appear effective and give people a false sense of comfort in the short-term.

What Pakistan needs to get rid of such crimes are programs and policies designed to alter social attitudes and increase social monitoring. Moreover, it needs to revamp its legal system for fair and timely prosecution and convictions… we need to focus more on an effective and all-pervasive law enforcement rather than putting up a show.”

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1 Comment

  1. Tasneem says

    Worthy piece

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