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Judicial CP - November 1979

Corpun files 16593 and 20655


Time, New York, 5 November 1979


Whips of God

A lovely day for Islamic justice

Flogging in progress

It was a perfect day for an outdoor event in Rawalpindi, the former capital of Pakistan: balmy temperatures and sunny skies. But the 10,000 people who gathered last week at a large open field next to the Central Government Hospital were not there to watch a cricket game or polo match. They had come to witness a demonstration of the Islamic justice that General Mohammed Zia ul-Haq had decreed for his country: the public flogging of prisoners convicted a day earlier in a 29-hour Summary Military Court session. In the audience -- with considerable distaste -- was TIME New Delhi Bureau Chief Marcia Gauger. Her report:

Press cutting

By Western standards, the crimes were relatively minor ones: pimping, consorting with prostitutes, violating customs laws. But the sentences meted out to the 27 prisoners ranged from five to 15 lashes, plus prison terms at hard labor. In preparation for the whippings, an 18-ft. raised platform had been erected. On it was a large A-shaped scaffold, with straps for the prisoner's wrists attached near the top and thick padding along the crossbar to absorb the impact of the whips on their bodies. As VIPs looked on, two muscular men pranced about, slashing Malacca canes through the air to limber up their muscles. They were convicts, who would be rewarded for successful floggings with extra rations. A doctor stood by, empowered to stop the beatings if a prisoner's life seemed in danger.

At precisely 2 p.m., the first convict was brought forward, and the show began. Since he was over 45, he was, by law, exempt from whipping. Instead, his face was painted black -- considered a great humiliation in Islam -- and then he was led off to prison. Dressed only in white shorts, knotted in front, the next convict was fastened to the scaffold. He was the first prisoner's son. Both men had been found guilty of running a brothel. A heavy, padded belt was wrapped around his waist to protect his kidneys. An assistant painted a 2-in.-wide red stripe across the prisoner's buttocks to define the target zone; then the two floggers, alternating strokes, began to whack his rump. After each blow, the whipper would dance back a few steps; turning with acrobatic grace, he would twirl his cane like a drum major's baton and rush forward to strike the next blow. The victim's body writhed in agony with each fall of the cane. He cried out: "Allah Akbar!" (God is great). After four strokes, the young convict screamed out for the doctor. After six, he was given a few sips of water. After twelve, he made no sound. After the 14th, one of the military officials warned the whippers not to go easy. The 15th stroke fell, and the beating was over.

The crowd's reaction to the next 26 beatings, which lasted for 3½ hours, varied. When convicts cried out under the lashes, onlookers occasionally tried to crash through police barriers to get a better look. When a prisoner managed to walk away unaided after his flogging, the people cheered. Midway through the proceedings, officials sidelined one of the whippers, whose strokes were not thought to be hard enough.

Brutal as last week's floggings may have been, they were more humane than those carried out when Zia first imposed Islamic justice. Among other things, the government has replaced cat-o'-nine-tail with the relatively less lethal Malacca canes. Prisoners sometimes died when beaten with the multilash whips. Now the worst that they suffer are scars that they may carry for the rest of their lives.

Copyright © 2005 Time Inc. All rights reserved.

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