Scapegoating by violence

Imran Ali was hanged in Kot Lakhpat Central Jail on Wednesday. In all honesty, I do not know how to feel about this. Were his actions condemnable? Of course. They were despicable, horrendous and barbaric. He was a serial killer fitting the profiles of notorious names such as Ted Bundy or Gary Ridgway or our very own Javed Iqbal. It was unfortunate that so many young girls had to die before he was apprehended; before this machinery that worked so effectively post the public outcry on Zainab’s murder did the job it should have been doing after the very first murder. I hope that once the patting on the back subsides, the tardiness of the officials is also brought to question.

Anyways, Imtiaz Ali was caught. The whole process shines a potential of a TV serial. DNA analysis zeroed in on him (with him, reportedly, acting as if he was having a heart attack to avoid submitting his DNA) and then his jacket’s big buttons further confirmed his identity. As per some news reads, his mother was helpful in capturing him; the same mother who had earlier ignored the stark resemblance of her son with the released footage of the suspected abductor of Zainab.

Once caught, the judicial system too worked efficiently to grant him his punishment. Zainab’s father insisted that Imran should be hanged publicly. His petitions were denied. Then, the serial killer was hanged till death.

The hanging comes about amidst the rather painful contemplation one continues to indulge in after being an audience to the last 24 hours of Prisoner Z. Yes, there was an exaggerated sympathy given it was a soft spoken ‘masterjee’ and not a serial killer. That said, the agony of the waiting and the hopelessness does not differ regardless of the profile of the prisoner. As difficult as it may be, imagining Imran go through what Sarmad went through should, normally, trigger the same emotions of despondency in us. Needless to say, this does not negate the horrendousness of his crime. That is not, and never was up for question. 

Weber, famously, insisted that the State must have the monopoly of violence in order for effective governance. Foucault, in a way, reiterated the same when he insisted that the prison systems that standardizes criminals helps the state maintain its power. While that stands true, it is important to question if these acts of violence are in fact effective beyond their potential as tools of the State. More importantly, and through a humanist and legal lens, do punishments such as capital punishment really lead to deterrence? 

John Donohue, Professor of Law at Stanford University, has published an important study that emphasizes that there is ‘zero evidence that the death penalty provides any tangible benefits’. In the study, he refers to the case of the state of California which spent an upwards of $4 billion on the execution of 13 individuals. The cost was distributed as thee expenditure for special lock ups and lawyer fees that were directed to argue for and justify the death penalty. But, even beyond the economic price there is the moral question of whether the whole process of capital punishment adheres to widely recognized and accepted benchmarks for human rights. A 2007 UN resolution unequivocally criticized capital punishment for ‘undermining human dignity’. A statement by the International Commission of Jurists reiterated the same terming death penalty a ‘violation of the right to life and the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment’. Professors from University of Colorado conducted a survey of leading criminologists of U.S. and found that 88% of them accepted ‘that the death penalty does not add deterrent effects to those already achieved by long imprisonment’.

Returning back to Pakistan: An Amnesty international report counting State sanctioned executions reported Pakistan to be one of the top 5 countries in the world. So, Imran was already living in a country where executions were happening and yet, he chose to commit his crime. Certainly, the fear of hanging did not impede his rancid motives. Let’s make a note of that.

So, what else is the solution then? To be honest there is no quick solution to this problem. For one, it requires an overhauling of what we understand as prisons. Prisons need to be sanctuaries of reformation and rehabilitation. The problem with capital punishment is simple: serial killers such as Imran don’t care about their deaths. Hence, future serial killers will not shy away from their motives seeing Imran hanged. Also, and more importantly, hanging Imran is like brushing dirt under the carpet. It pushes a premature end to a story that deserves a larger audience. Imran is both a product of psychological and social experimentation. His actions are both a result of innate frustrations and the inability of the State infrastructure to work to mitigate these frustrations. The death of Zainab is both a brutal deed of a serial killer and a policing system that acted too late. It is unfair of us to only highlight the formers in these sentences. If seen more objectively and through a more societal lens, it is obvious that Imran’s hanging didn’t really bring us anything and maybe, it is time we stop these futile exercises.


The writer is a Dissertation Researcher based in Finland. He conducts research onpolitical, regional and societal changes withspecial focus on religious minorities in Europe.

The writer is a Dissertation Researcher based in Finland. He conducts research on political, regional and societal changes with special focus on religious minorities in Europe.

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