ISLAMABAD: The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) Friday, showing deep concerns on the government’s recently announced decision to resume executions, urged it to renew the moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.
Pakistan has had a moratorium on the death penalty since June 2008, with only the exception of Muhammad Hussain’s execution in November 2012 following a court martial.
An anti-terrorism court in Sindh province had issued ‘black warrants’ for the execution of two members of the banned sectarian and militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). Attaullah alias Qasim and Muhammad Azam alias Sharif were convicted by the anti-terrorism court in July 2004 for the killing of a Shia doctor. They are scheduled to be executed between 20 and 22 August 2013.
In an open letter addressing Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, President Asif Ali Zardari, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Secretary for Law, Justice and Human Rights Muhammad Raza Khan, the NGOs said they oppose the death penalty under all circumstances as an inherently cruel and irreversible punishment that violates the right to life.
It said the ICJ and HRW believe that those who commit acts of terrorism should be prosecuted before competent, independent and impartial courts that meet international due process standards.
Despite threats by the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the government on Wednesday had decided to carry out the execution of condemned prisoners. The interior minister said the new government was determined to establish the writ of law.
In recent years, the debate on the abolition of the death penalty has intensified in Pakistan. In 2008, the federal cabinet adopted a proposal to commute death sentences to life imprisonment. Before its term expired, the Pakistan People’s Party-led government reportedly planned to table a bill in the parliament to commute death sentences to life imprisonment. Currently, a petition calling for the commutation of death sentences is also being considered by the Supreme Court.
The resumption of the death penalty puts Pakistan in opposition to the global and regional movement towards the abolition of the death penalty.
Currently, 150 countries worldwide, including 30 states in the Asia-Pacific region, have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice. The decision not to renew the moratorium on executions and carrying out executions constitutes a major step back for human rights in the country. This decision is all the more alarming given that more than 7,000 people are on death row in Pakistan.