Posted on Saturday, May 3rd, 2008 at 9:29 am
Author: Feature Writer
Gc contributor: Mustafa Adam-Noble
I attended a silent vigil outside the Pakistani High Commission in London last week. It called for the abolishment of the death penalty in Pakistan and came just one week before the planned execution of a man held on death row for 18 years. Amnesty International expressed concern that this could be a case of mistaken identity.
Amongst the overly opulent urbanity of Lowndes Square, ten people quietly held banners. One stated: “7,000 Prisoners on Death Row” – a controversially large number.
The small group of protesters included two students, a Member of Parliament, and a spokesperson for Amnesty International.
In a handing over of letters, John McDonnell MP was invited inside the High Commission’s office to present the case for the potentially wrongly accused prisoner, and to appeal for the end of the Pakistani death penalty.
Amnesty said it was very likely that the execution of the man will be stopped in order to have his identity verified independently. Moreover, they are hopeful that the new government in Pakistan may suspend the death penalty as early as this week.
I spoke to Niall Couper, the Amnesty spokesperson, who argued that the death penalty presents a serious moral cost to the societies in which it is practiced. A government’s legal system that sponsors the killing of its citizens, he explained, sends a message that homicide is an acceptable punitive measure. This, he said, can actually increase the rate of murder rather than reduce it.
Towards the end of the vigil, as banners were packed and the demonstrators began making their way back, another moral cost emerged.
With a certain degree of suspicion, one of the students inquired about the publication for which I was writing. After I answered his question, he looked at me unfavourably and said that my writing would be permissible only if it were humanitarian.
I did not think that my article should be dictated by another person’s beliefs. Trying to keep freedom of speech within prescribed humanitarian parameters is un-humanitarian in itself, and can deter others from reaching similarly altruistic conclusions independently.
The silent vigil offered observers space to contemplate and understand serious grievances. Combined with the efforts of Amnesty International and other groups and individuals, the vigil helped increase the likelihood of significant and positive change in Pakistan.
Demonstrators that articulated unprejudiced arguments for the abolishment of the death penalty and were concerned by the incarceration and imminent execution of a potentially innocent man were fighting for a great cause.
Unfortunately, the student’s dogmatism and inability to generate an open dialogue manifested a desire to force a mode of thinking rather than inspire it.
The oppressive preaching of compassionate beliefs produces a worrying paradox; creating enemies rather than allies, and carries the risk of leaving humanitarians to protest alone and in vain.
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