To commemorate the World Day Against the Death Penalty on 10 October, Justice Project Pakistan (JPP), in collaboration with Olomopolo Media, successfully hosted “Limbo – A Dramatic Reading Of Letters of Prisoners on Death Row.” The performance, held on 10 October 2022 at the Pakistan National Council of Arts (PNCA) in Islamabad, featured renowned artists Sarmad Khoosat, Samiya Mumtaz, Erfan Khoosat, and Hassan Wajid Baig as they read letters penned by inmates incarcerated in Pakistan’s penal system. The letters were interspersed with passages from George Orwell’s essay, ‘A Hanging’, as well as regulations from the Pakistan Prisons Rules. An interactive session preceded the performance. It featured This Is (Not) A Game, a multi-platform game following the story of a woman thrown into the intricate web of Pakistan’s criminal justice system, after her husband’s arrest late one night. Guests also engaged with the interactive website of Serving Time: Pakistan’s Prisons Through the Ages, JPP’s flagship book written by Radha Shah, highlighting prisoners’ narratives and centring experiences with arrest and incarceration. The session showcased videos of JPP’s successful cases, clients and past advocacy events, including No Time To Sleep, a ground-breaking live performance showing the final 24 hours of a death row prisoner presented for the 2018 WDADP. The event was also the occasion of the launch of JPP’s report on death penalty statistics, titled ‘Death Penalty in Pakistan: Data Mapping Capital Punishment.’ The event was well-attended, with members of the Supreme Court and judiciary, lawmakers and human rights activists present for the performance, as well as journalists, media personalities and university students. Members of the European Union delegation were also in attendance, and EU’s Chargé d’Affaires Mr. Thomas Seiler provided the keynote address. “This event is important because it humanises convicts on death row: members of our society who we so often think of as mere statistics, as outcasts who no longer belong to this world,” stated Mr. Seiler. JPP’s Executive Director Sarah Belal stressed that “these are stories of real people, of JPP’s clients, who spent decades in a death cell, in despair and hopelessness. We tell these stories to remember. We remember the poor and marginalised whom society has forgotten and condemned. We tell their stories to honour their memory, remember their humanity and remind society of the consequences of sentencing someone to death – someone who might or might not have done something wrong at a point in their lives.”
The performance’s director Talha Mufti said that “Limbo presented an opportunity to look at the death penalty from a different perspective. Whether you agree or disagree with it as an audience, what is most important is that we have a discourse, that we ponder, that welook at the bigger picture together, that we don’t shy away from topics of conversation that might seem too grave or even distant to many of us.” The dramatic readings highlighted the dysfunction of Pakistan’s justice system – torture, false confessions, juvenile detention – and shined a light on the humanity of those behind bars. With this production, JPP and Olomopolo Media raised important questions around crime, punishment and the justice system. Justice Project Pakistan is a legal action non-governmental organisation which represents the most vulnerable Pakistani prisoners facing the harshest punishments at home and abroad.