Pakistan Lifts Death Penalty Moratorium Completely

Pakistan Lifts Death Penalty Moratorium Completely

File photo: The auditorium of Peshawar's Army Public School after the attack by the Taliban gunmen. (Associated Press)


Pakistan has lifted its moratorium on the death penalty in all capital cases, officials said on Tuesday, after restarting executions for terrorism offences in the wake of a Taliban school massacre.

The interior ministry has directed provincial governments to proceed with hangings for prisoners who have exhausted all avenues of appeal and clemency, a senior official told AFP.

Another government official confirmed the news.

Pakistan has hanged 24 convicts since resuming executions in December after Taliban militants gunned down more than 150 people, most of them children, at a school in the restive northwest.

The partial lifting of the moratorium only applied to those convicted of terrorism offences, but officials said it has now been extended.

"The government has lifted the moratorium on the death penality," the senior interior ministry official told AFP.

"The interior ministry has directed the provincial home departments to expedite the executions of all condemned prisoners whose mercy petitions have been rejected by the president."

The official said there are around 1,000 condemned prisoners around the country whose appeals and clemency petitions have failed.

The home secretary of southwestern Baluchistan province, Akbar Hussain Durrani, confirmed to AFP the government had issued instructions to resume executions.

"We have received a letter from federal government asking to expedite all death penalty cases for executions whose mercy petitions have been rejected," Durrani told AFP in provincial capital Quetta.

Warnings of injustice

Until December's resumption, there had been no civilian hangings in Pakistan since 2008.

Only one person was executed in that time -- a soldier convicted by a court martial and hanged in November 2012.

Rights campaign group Amnesty International estimates that Pakistan has more than 8,000 prisoners on death row, most of whom have exhausted the appeals process.

Supporters of the death penalty in Pakistan argue that it is the only effective way to deal with the scourge of militancy.

The courts system is notoriously slow, with cases frequently dragging on for years, and there is a heavy reliance on witness testimony and very little protection for judges and prosecutors.

This means terror cases are hard to prosecute, as extremists are able to intimidate witnesses and lawyers into dropping charges.

Human rights campaigners and the European Union have been highly critical of the resumption of executions.

Sarah Belal of the Justice Project Pakistan (JPP) rights group condemned the move to extend executions as "irresponsible", saying it put the lives of vulnerable citizens at risk.

"We've seen time and time again that there is immeasurable injustice in Pakistan's criminal justice system, with a rampant culture of police torture, inadequate counsel and unfair trials," she said in a statement.

In the latest case, an anti-terrorism court in Karachi on Monday issued death warrants for two men convicted of murder during a house robbery.

The two men, Mohammad Afzal and Mohammad Faisal, are due to be sent to the gallows on March 17.

Tuesday's announcement could also pave the way for the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, a former police bodyguard who shot dead Punjab governor Salman Taseer in Islamabad in 2011.

On Monday a court in Islamabad upheld the death sentence passed on Qadri for the attack, which he said he carried out to punish Taseer for questioning the country's strict blasphemy laws.

But the judges also cancelled Qadri's conviction terrorism charges, which before Tuesday's announcement made it unlikely he would be hanged.