‘End of moratorium to affect those convicted under anti-terror laws’

Updated December 18, 2014

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Shops in a market in Rawalpindi have been closed to protest the killing of schoolchildren in Peshawar. — Photo by Tanveer Shahzad
Shops in a market in Rawalpindi have been closed to protest the killing of schoolchildren in Peshawar. — Photo by Tanveer Shahzad

ISLAMABAD: The government’s decision to lift the moratorium on the death penalty will pave the way for the execution of 7,135 condemned prisoners. However, some legal experts believe that except for terrorists and those convicted by the military court, other convicts may not be affected by the government’s latest decision.

These figures were provided to the Supreme Court by the federal government submitted in the Supreme Court in a petition filed by Barrister Zafarullah seeking the release of the condemned prisoners who had completed 18 years imprisonment.

The government figures are however contested by independent observers. According to Amnesty International, the number of prisoners on death row is over 8,000.

According to figures provided by the government, there are 6,424 death row prisoners in Punjab, 355 in Sindh, 183 in the Khyber Pukhtunkhwa (KP), 79 in Balochistan and 15 in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB).

As per detail, in Punjab, 4,981 appeals against death sentences are pending in the Lahore High Court (LHC), 15 in the Federal Shariat Court (FSC), 893 in the Supreme Court (SC); in addition three such appeals are also pending at the General Headquarters (GHQ).


Punjab has most prisoners on death row, highest number of pending appeals


The mercy petitions filed before the President are 463 while executions have been stayed in 69 cases.

In Sindh, 266 appeals against the death sentence are pending in the Sindh High Court (SHC), five in the FSC, 48 in the SC, three in GHQ, 27 mercy petitions are lying with the Governor and executions have been stayed in six cases.

The three petitions from Punjab that are lying with the GHQ are separate from the ones from Sindh.

In KP, 102 appeals have been filed in the Peshawar High Court (PHC), 49 in the SC, while 29 mercy petitions have been sent to the governor and execution have been stayed in three cases.

From Balochistan, 29 appeals against conviction are pending in the Balochistan High Court (BHC), one in the FSC, and 41 in the SC. There are also 13 mercy petitions.

Recently, in a case in the LHC, a lawyer, Rana Kashif, produced an official letter from the President Secretariat before the court which disclosed that 78 mercy petitions have been rejected by the president.

The death moratorium dates back to the PPP regime.

President Asif Ali Zardari imposed the moratorium in 2008, unofficially.

It has lasted till present even though the PPP has been replaced by the PML-N and Zardari no longer occupies the presidency.

However, there was one exception – in 2012, one death row prisoner was sent to the gallows. The convicted was a soldier who had been court-martialed.

According to military sources, the soldier, Mohammad Hussain, was sentenced to death for murdering the wife of a senior officer.

It is said that in this case, the civilian leadership could not stop the sentence from being carried out because the military was involved.

Some observers also link the moratorium to Pakistan’s success in securing the General Scheme of Preference (GSP+), under which Pakistan will get preferential trade access to the European Union.

However, the GSP status does not stop the execution of death penalty awarded to terrorists.

Barrister Zafarullah who filed the petition against the execution of the death penalty is of the view that the government announced the limited execution of the condemned prisoners in order to ensure its GSP+ status in the European Union.

“But the 170 convicted in the terrorism cases whose sentences have attained finality, can still be executed.”

However, as the government was reluctant to provide its reasoning or policy, there were also reports that the PML-N government was averse to carrying out the death penalty because it feared a backlash from the militants.

Former Judge Advocate General (JAG) of the army, retired Brigadier Wasaf Khan Niazi is of the opinion that the military court awards death sentence to those accused of sedition, mutiny and espionage.

“Since these offences are identical with some sections mentioned in the Anti Terrorism Act (ATA) therefore those convicted under these sections of the ATA can also be executed.”

Amjad Iqbal Qureshi, former judge of Islamabad High Court (IHC), told Dawn that many civilised countries had already abolished the capital punishment as they believe awarding death sentence is against the human rights. He said the lifting of moratorium may put Pakistan’s status of GPS+ at stake. He however said that the international community should be taken into confidence on this matter if the lifting is indispensible.

The cases in which military officials are on death row include the GHQ attack case. These included soldier Imran Siddiq who was convicted in connection with the GHQ attack in 2009.

In another case, a soldier, Ghulam Nabi, was also awarded the death sentence by a military court for aiding the suicide attack at the National Bank in November 2009 on Mall Road. The bank was located near the GHQ and army personnel used the branch to withdraw their salaries. Six former officials of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) were also convicted by the PAF court for attacking Gen Musharraf in 2003.

A civilian, Aqeel alias Dr Usman, was also awarded the death sentence by the military court for the GHQ attack. His appeal against the sentence was rejected by the LHC last year.

All these prisoners are currently imprisoned.

Published in Dawn, December 18th, 2014