Pakistan's hangman says no regrets after 300 executions

Islamabad, PakistanUpdated: Jan 16, 2019, 03:43 PM IST
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Photograph:(Agencia EFE)

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A hangman in Pakistan who has executed some 300 convicts doesn't regret continuing with his family's profession that dates back generations in a country counted among top global executioners.

A hangman in Pakistan who has executed some 300 convicts doesn't regret continuing with his family's profession that dates back generations in a country counted among top global executioners.

Sabir Masih's father, grandfather and great-grandfather have all been executioners, and he considers hanging convicts to death a routine for the family.

"It's a routine for me. I don't regret if I have hanged many people. I just obey the orders," the tall 34-year-old with pronounced features told EFE calmly.

He was 22 when he carried out his first execution in July 2006 of a man convicted for a murder during a bank robbery. He had to carry out the job because his father was occupied with another hanging in a different city.

"He (the convict) was reciting some Quranic verses. The superintendent signalled I pulled the lever and the convict was hanging. I was not afraid because I had seen one hanging before," Masih recalled, with a stammer.

He executed over 100 convicts in the next eight months, and the figure kept increasing until the government imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in 2008. But during the years of moratorium, Masih continued to receive his salary as a government employee of prisons in the Punjab province.

After Taliban insurgents attacked a school in the northwestern city of Peshawar on Dec. 16, 2014, and killed 125 students, then-prime minister Nawaz Sharif lifted the moratorium for cases of terrorism. Three months later the moratorium on death penalties was lifted for all offences.

With three days Masih was back at the job. He hanged two prisoners for the first time in years. Since then, he has executed around 100 more. Some 506 people have been executed in Pakistan since the moratorium was lifted, making it one of the countries with the highest rates of capital punishment, behind Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq.

Masih's latest execution was of Imran Ali, a man convicted of raping and killing a seven-year-old, in a case which led to violent protests in the country, demanding security for women and speedy punishment for the accused. Ali was hanged in October last year.

"He (Ali) remained silent. The jail superintendent asked him to seek forgiveness from Zainab's (the victim) father but he remained silent," Masih said.

Human rights groups like Amnesty International allege that Pakistan violates rights and international norms in its application of the death penalty. Local nonprofits have also criticized police and the judicial system as inefficient, which leads to unjust sentences. None of this affects Masih though. He said the death penalty helps in reducing crime.

"I like my profession as it is the profession of my family. I am happy with what I am doing and I don't feel any discomfort," he said.

His family has carried out this work for six generations and the grandfather of his father was an executioner during the British rule. His uncle Tara Masih was tasked with executing former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1977 after he was ousted in a coup and sentenced to death.

The inefficiency of the Pakistani judicial system was evident in 2016 when the Supreme Court acquitted two brothers Ghulam Qadir and Ghulam Sarwar of murder charges, only to find out that they had been executed months earlier.

Masih, who carried out the executions, has no regrets.

"If an innocent is hanged it's not my fault, it is the fault of the judge who ordered the execution," he said.
Masih gesticulates enthusiastically while explaining how he carries out the execution, displaying how he ties the rope around the convict's neck, covers their head, ties the hands and feet and tells the prisoner to not stick out their tongue as it could be cut during the execution.

He said convicts are hanged for half an hour to ensure that they are dead. This is because some of them die within minutes while others take longer and asphyxiate slowly. Masih said he has seen all kinds of behaviour from the convicts, ranging from those who cry, some who pray and some who stay silent. Some convicts even appear to be proud.

"People from terrorist and extremist organizations chant slogans like Allah hu Akbar (Allah is the greatest) and say they have won, it's the triumph not defeat," he said.