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Controversies over the pardoning of murderers

Achieve justice, protect society and distinguish between he who robs a shop and he who intentionally kills a human being

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

This is yet another sickening narrative in the world of crime that has given us the right to ask: isn't it about time to reconsider provisions that allow criminals to be released and escape punishment under the excuse of a victim's family pardon? Doesn't the society also have the right to punish this criminal - a right that's as important as that of the victim's family?

Five years ago, four men killed an Ethiopian maid in a Gulf country. The police described the incident as "one of the most sickening crimes of assault and rape" witnessed in Gulf societies. The Ethiopian girl, in her 20s, was found with her head smashed. She was also stabbed in several places in her body and the perpetrators had tried to strangle her.

The horrific extent of the crime clearly shows the perpetrators are violent criminals who must be tried without any pity whatsoever. The Ethiopian girl had arrived in the Gulf country three months prior to her death, and she was found killed after her employer reported she was missing.

Investigations revealed that the crime did not happen spontaneously, but was actually planned and carried out by the four perpetrators. Criminality is in their blood and it actually turned out that one of the defendants had committed a terrible crime in the past. Twelve years before this incident, he along with two other men were convicted of abducting a 13-year-old Pakistani girl and killing her in the same atrocious manner in which the Ethiopian girl was killed. The court sentenced all three men to execution. Two men were executed while the other man - who participated in murdering the Ethiopian girl - escaped execution after the girl's family pardoned him. He then committed another crime and received the same ruling of pardon from execution following a decision by the victim's family.

A threat to society

We are not saying these criminals in particular must be condemned and severely punished - though it's a must to severely punish them - but we hope that those in charge of the judiciary reconsider the concept of the public's right to punishment as how can people who commit premeditated murder escape maximum penalty? How can they escape any severe penalty after spending a few years in jail and be released just because the victim's family pardoned them! What about the society's right? Isn't there a purpose to punishment in sharia? Isn't it the justice institutions' duty to achieve justice, help protect people and deter evil people? Releasing the criminal who participated in killing a Pakistani girl a few years after jailing him is what led to him committing the second crime of murdering the Ethiopian girl.

There is a private right and a public right when considering major felonies. The private right is that of the victim's family has the right to pardon the killer. We don't rule out the possibility that this pardon might result from fear of the criminal and his family or it might be a result of greed in blood money that's sometimes worth tens of millions. However even an honest concession of this private right must not make the authorities commute the public right's to punishing criminals as jailing a defendant who intentionally kills an innocent person for only five or ten years makes this killer equal to someone who committed theft.

This leniency has made criminals look forward to the pardon of the family's victim as this pardon saves them from execution. Crimes have become many and so sickening that the judiciary is asked to become stricter. Victim families are also asked to be less lenient when giving up their rights and severe punishment must be no less than 30 years. This is how it should be in order to achieve justice, protect society and distinguish between he who robbed a shop and he who intentionally killed a human being.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Nov. 30, 2014.

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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.